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Saturday morning quotes 7.44: Dowland’s texts

DowlandEdition4blogAs a dazzling performer on the lute, John Dowland gained a reputation in courtly circles as a songwriter who could set greatand sometimes not so greatpoetry that would most certainly be  heard by the most delicate, discerning and despotic ears.  Employing a superstar musician to showcase one’s wit and worth was an essential aspect of Elizabethan “branding”, and was an important vehicle for an upwardly mobile courtier, including the likes of Robert Devereux, the ambitious 2nd Earl of Essex.

Having recently had the opportunity to savor every syllable of his collected lute songs, today we focus on the effectiveness of Dowland’s text-setting as observed by Dowland specialists Edward Doughtie and Diana Poulton, and we briefly touch upon the contributions of David Hill to our new edition of John Dowland: Complete Ayres for Voice & Lute.

“The books of airs, madrigals, and part-songs are second only to the poetical miscellanies as sources of the lyric verse of the period.  In a sense, these songbooks are themselves poetical miscellanies, and I would suggest that the poems from the songbooks can be most profitably studied as part of the miscellany tradition.”

– Edward Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 10.

“It should be admitted that poetry is most likely to be treated unfairly in a union with music.  Composers sometimes pander to performers by writing settings in which melismatic ornamentation and other vocal pyrotechnics obscure the text.  Composers sometimes alter the text, or break up lines and repeat phrases until any sense of the poem’s rhythm or coherence is lost.”

– Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 19.

“Suppose a composer who has a reputation for treating poems with respect is commissioned to set a poem such as Sir Henry Lee’s “Farre from triumphing Court” for some ceremonial occasion.  The poem consists of four stanzas of the common Venus and Adonis stanza.  The composer can write either a strophic setting or a through-composed setting; the second possibility he immediately rejects as too long and laborious, and likely to become formless.  He turns to a strophic setting.  But if the subsequent stanzas are to be sung to the music of the first, other problems arise.  How is he to set the first line, “Farre from triumphing Court and wonted glory,” so that the corresponding line of the second stanza will fit the music?  The stresses in the first two syllables are reversed, and the phrasing is different.”

“One might expect a composer concerned with his own art to do what Dowland did with “Farre from triumphing Court”: do as good a job as possible with the first stanza and leave the performer to handle the others as best he can.  Dowland exploits the contrasts in the first stanza between court and country, heaven and earth, joy and melancholy…The final result is a musically interesting song…with considerable variety of note-values and freedom of movement.”

– Edward Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, ppg. 32–33.

“The demand for simplicity in words for music is large, but there is room in a successful song for some of the subtleties that make one return to a work of art with an expectation of finding something new.  Dowland’s “Weepe you no more sad fountaines” (Do1603.XV) is such a song.  It is first a beautiful whole, music and poetry balancing and complementing each other.  But it is also an example of a kind of poetic effect that is possible only in a strophic song.”

“The song will bear repeated hearings, not only because of its formal and musical beauty, but also because of the subtleties that gradually reveal themselves.  The mood and general meaning of the poem are clear on the first hearing…But in later hearings, the memory juxtaposes the two stanzas because the same melody is used for both; one hears the echo, so to speak, of the first stanza while hearing the second stanza.”

– Edward Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 40.

“‘Weepe you no more sad fountaines’ (No. 15) is among the most beautiful of all Dowland songs.  Here he has freed himself from all conventions of word-painting, and relies on the purely musical effect of each phrase to express the words.  Even on ‘but my sunnes heauenly eyes’, although the voice rises, as might have been expected, it does so more to balance the preceding descending phrase than in deference to convention…The rhythmic structure is entirely dictated by the flow of the words, and bar lines are reduced to a minimum so that no preconceived idea of accentuation shall interfere with the verbal rhythm[.]”

Diana Poulton, John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 283.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to include in our new edition David Hill’s insights on the texts Dowland set so eloquently for voice(s) and lute.  David’s detailed notes and paraphrases of Dowland’s texts represent a significant resource that opens the door to deeper and more meaningful interpretations of this repertory.

“The purpose of my paraphrases, or translations into modern English, is to help to provide an accessible introduction to the often obscure and difficult poems that were set to music (and in some cases probably written or adapted) by John Dowland. Many musicians who enjoy performing this repertoire, may have English as their second or even third language, and that complex Early Modern English poetry of the early 17th century can prove very hard work for all of us, even native speakers. Singers must understand what Dowland is saying with this poetry (and how he is saying it) to present those ideas to an audience, especially as they too may be struggling with the meanings of the text. ‘Flow my Tears’ and ‘Come again’ are songs in almost every singer’s repertoire, yet many struggle with the meanings of these and other poems. Dowland’s use of symbolic figures and personifications, mythological entities, gods and goddesses, and what are today obscure references can all act as a seemingly impenetrable barrier to the student.”

– David Hill, Introduction to John Dowland: Complete Ayres for Voice & Lute, Mignarda Editions, 2020.

Weepe you no more

Saturday morning quotes 7.43: Dowland

DowlandEdition4blogHaving released our new edition of John Dowland: Complete Ayres for Voice & Lute just last week, we pause to reflect on some of the insights gained performing this magical music over a span of decades, and what we have learned from having touched each and every note of Dowland’s significant body of work for voice and lute.

But first, just what is an ayre for voice and lute, and why should we care about such moldy oldies? As a genre, where did it come from, where did it go?  Isn’t a lute song like a madrigal but barely audible and less fun? Does the music have a beat, can I dance to it?  For clarification, we turn to the words of Edward Doughtie.

“Although singing to an instrument was an old practice, and songs with lute tablatures had been published in Italy as early as 1509, the air as practiced by Dowland and his contemporaries used the lute in a new way.  Dowland was a virtuoso performer on the lute and wrote many purely instrumental pieces…Yet Dowland’s ability to compose idiomatically for the lute, and to write songs that were not merely tunes with improvised chords on old ground basses, or transcribed part-songs, added to the expressiveness and art of his settings.”

– Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 123.

“The lute song or air is a close relative of the consort song, and songs may be found in arrangements for both lute and voice, and viol consort and voice.  They differ mainly in the difference between the dynamic of the consort of viols and the lute.  A song accompanied by a lute or lute with supporting bass viol focuses even more attention on the solo voice, for however separate and dominant the voice part in a consort song, there is always as sense in which it is only the most articulate of the five (or four, or six).  In the air, solo and accompaniment are more in balance.”

– Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 122.

“In the English madrigal at least, the texts are often inconsequential as poetry because their main function was to provide syllables for singing, words simply naming a mood or action or emotion that the composer could exploit.  Since the different voices were often singing different words simultaneously, the sense of the words was frequently obscured to all but the singers themselves.  This is not said to condemn the madrigal but to define its appeal, which is mainly musical; like other chamber music, it was composed for performers rather than audiences.  The air, especially when performed as an accompanied solo, is more likely to be sung to an audience.  It appeals to literary as well as musical interests because the music allows the words to be heard and understood, and because the words are frequently more satisfying as poetry than the madrigal verses.”

– Edward Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, ppg. 2 – 3.

Many who appreciate lute songs are at first drawn in by the cracking cool factor of the lute and its sound, but the non-specialist listener is often repelled by the unbalanced interplay between barely audible lute and OPERA HOUSE VOICE.  But Mignarda followed a different path.  Simply by reading historical source material and observing historical performance practice, we fixed the problem of balance.  But the real point of any Dowland ayre for voice and lute is the satisfyingly subtle melding of poetry and music, and the intimate format of solo singer and quiet instrument can draw the susceptible listener into a different dimension where nuance rules.

Among the insights gained from transcribing every note and word in Dowland’s song books was that the composer was clever in his use of what is known today as “branding.”  Dowland identified strongly with his famous “Lachrimae” musical falling tear motif, and even signed his name “Jo : dolandi de Lachrimae his own hande” to an artful little fuga he composed.  Part of Dowland’s branding strategy was to weave a quotation of the Lachrimae motif into his songs or instrumental works, sometimes with subtlety and other times not so much, as in the closing of his Fancy from what was known as the Cosens lute manuscript (Cambridge University Library Ms. add. 3056, f.17v).

As for the ayres in Dowland’s First Booke, the Lachrimae theme appears discretely in several selections including IIII. If my complaints could passions move, where the theme is in the cantus on the words, “passions move.”  It also makes an appearance in the cantus of VII. Deare if you change, in the opening figure as an upside-down inversion, and with more subtlety in IX. Go christall teares, where in second bar the lute part alludes to dropping tears with the dotted minum followed by quaver figuration, in XV. Wilt thou unkind thus reave me, where the opening notes in the treble of the lute part alludes to the theme, and of course in XVI. Would my conceit that first enforst my woe, which is really a re-working of Luca Marenzio’s “Ahi dispietata morte” (Madrigali a quatro voci, Libro primo, 1585, XIII).  In the latter, Dowland wished to pay homage to Marenzio, but the anonymous English text that Dowland used can best be described as lumpy. Although rhythmically square, the lachrimae theme is outlined in the cantus on the words “enforst my woe.”  In XX. Come heavy sleepe, the opening figure in the lute accompaniment may be considered a “major-key” version of the Lachrimae theme.

Musical insights aside, a very important feature of our new edition is the complete setting of all verses of each song to the music, giving vocalists the materials they need to create an informed and cohesive interpretation of Dowland’s songs without the sometimes frustrating effort of underlaying additional verses.  Great care was taken to solve problems of setting additional verses with clarity and sensitivity, allowing singers the opportunity to get to the heart of the music straightaway.  Add to this the immensely helpful paraphrases and interpretive notes by David Hill, and we have a winning combination.

More on the poetry of Dowland’s ayres next time.

Saturday morning quotes 7.42: Dowland Lute songs

liz and luteLast week’s Unquiet Thoughts closed with a promise of more on the theme of lute songs, and today we can finally announce the news that, after years of concentrated work, our new edition, John Dowland: Complete Ayres for Voice & Lute is now available. 

The music has been carefully transcribed, edited for accuracy, formatted for optimal legibility, has received our “last foile and polishment” and is ready to fill the need as an exceptional performance edition of the most iconic repertory for voice and lute.

The new edition divides Dowland’s eighty-eight songs into two volumes that are available in three different formats: 1) voice with lute tablature as in the original publications, 2) voice with lute accompaniments in newly transcribed standard notation on two staves, and 3) voice with both lute tablature and parallel two-stave transcription in standard notation.  A distinguishing feature of the new edition is the use of the important 1597 print of Dowland’s First Booke, with Dowland’s original lute parts finally restored as he intended. With attention to detail, layout, accuracy and legibility, this new edition will fill the need for singers and lutenists wishing to explore the most evocative historical repertory for voice and lute.

Volume One of our edition used the 1597 print of Dowland’s First Booke as the single source. The First Booke was so popular that it was reprinted several times, but Dowland sold the rights in 1597 and the changes that appear in the later reprints cannot be considered the work of Dowland. It turns out that, in most cases, the lute tablatures in the 1597 edition are much more idiomatic, justifying its use as a single source for transcription in the present edition.

Volume One, lute tablature version:

Unquiet Thoughts TAB

Volume One, two-stave transcription version:

Unquiet Thoughts KB sample

Volume One, lute tablature with two-stave transcription:

Unquiet Thoughts FULL

A Pilgrimes Solace, transcribed in Volume Two, includes a few pieces with essential choral refrains, as well as three pieces for obbligato treble and bass viol conceived as independent parts. These vocal and instrumental parts are appended to Volume Two in an optimal format that includes the cantus.

Volume Two, From silent night, lute tablature with two-stave transcription:

From Silent Night Full

Volume Two, From silent night, instrumental parts:

From silent night parts

Dowland’s original prints set only the first verse of each song and other modern editions have followed suit, creating a challenge for modern singers in performance of this important repertory.  In our new edition, the texts of all additional verses are underlaid for ease of performance, and the words appear as in Dowland’s prints with intelligent accommodations to facilitate singing from the original texts. But there is an educational component to our new edition: The introductory notes include a cogent modern paraphrase of the poetry as well as extensive and articulate interpretive notes to clarify obscure words, usage and imagery, all provided by David Hill, informed singer, astute observer, wry commentator, longstanding denizen of the realm of early music, and a disciple of the late and much lamented Robert Spencer (1932 – 1997).

As Mignarda, we are known for our interpretive insights and we have been fortunate to receive accolades from other scholars and performers whom we respect, like Anthony Rooley, who wrote to say of our performance of Dowland, “such intelligence shines behind every word and sentiment.”  While we have our own unique and synergistic approach to music for voice and lute, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to those who came before, including the late Edward Doughtie (1935 – 2014), author of Lyrics from English Airs 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970.  Ed Doughtie shared many insights with us during more than a decade of frequent correspondence, and we are grateful to have inherited his annotated copies of facsimiles from his valuable research on English lute songs.

In Lyrics from English Airs and other published analytical works, Doughtie traced with conciseness and clarity the evolution of the unique marriage of words and music that became known as the Golden Age of English lute songs.  His excellent survey of English Renaissance Song describes how the sound of words alone in poetry can have their own function, and an adept poet employs the sounds of spoken language to achieve a quasi musical effect. But the phonetic sounds alone:

“…if divorced from words—any words—make no sense, have no value. Music has a life and dynamic of its own, and many songs can and do thrive without their words. It is this potential for independence that gives the best songs their strength. The union may be difficult, and may come about only through much wrestling and attempts at musical understanding between the partners. But when the poet adjusts his language and form to the composer’s advantage, and the composer understands the words and empathizes with their content and then causes the dynamic forces of his music to support those of the poem, it is possible to have a synergistic whole that is better than either of the parts.”

Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 17.

Why produce a new edition of Dowland lute songs?  While Mignarda’s primary focus is polyphonic music of the 16th century, we have nurtured an affinity for Dowland’s music from the very beginning of our work as a duo, at times performing the part-song arrangements with our vocal ensemble.  Like other professional early music specialists, we discovered early on that existing modern editions are of limited use for our purposes, and we always scrupulously examined the facsimiles to produce our own performing editions.  During routine organizing of collected music files, we found that we had already edited much of Dowland’s output of lute ayres, and when David Hill reinforced the need for a new edition that included all texts underlaid to the music, we were already well along the way.

It was our intention to only make the new edition available in print copies.  We are aware that many are now using various forms of electronic reader for performing, and we considered making our edition available as pdfs.  But in this day and age we are certain that Google or some other blackguard will without a doubt pirate our content and spread it across the globe to all and sundry, turning our years of hard-won expertise and endless hours of toil and refinement into yet another characterless pdf file.  In the end we decided that, since we are in desperate need of a new lute to complete our recording of Dowland lute songs, we will just be done with it and happily make pdfs available for $5000 per copy.  Printed copies are much less.

Fifty years


Fifty years is an ample span of time to absorb the meaning and digest the lasting effects of any event, and at risk of playing the finger-wagging geezer, those lasting effects need to be aired if we are to learn from history.

Today is Monday morning May 4th, 2020.  I recall with absolute clarity a different Monday morning May 4th, 1970.  We had recently celebrated the first Earth Day, one important event that sparked this idealistic sixteen-year-old to volunteer to clean up a quarter-mile stretch of riverbank by himself.  The particular river was infamous for having repeatedly caught fire, although the worst of the pollution was introduced many miles downstream from the small university town of my birth.  But there was a whiff of optimism in the air as young people were wising up to the consequences of consumerism gone mad, and were rejecting the greed of the corporate culture that had led us to believe that they were with the best of intention spreading democracy across the globe.

In May 1970, the Spring sky was lightening by degrees, the air was warming and the gloom of Winter was washed away with the rains.  The world seemed a slightly more innocent place.  It was a time when the public still trusted what the news outlets were reporting, although young people were beginning to peek behind the curtain and point out the smoke-and-mirrors aspect of our collective lifestyle.  University students were having none of it, and shouting to the world that those manipulating the levers had no one’s interest at heart but their own.  There was a growing awareness that some of the widespread misery that was reported in the news was indeed caused by the cabal that had wrested control of the US and had imposed absurd and abhorrent policies on the population, both foreign and domestic.

In context, only six and one-half years had passed since the assassination of JFK, and the public did not really believe the fairy tale concocted by the Warren Commission.  The unjust war in Southeast Asia was consuming the airwaves, and was also consuming those of us at or near the age where being drafted into the military was a certainty.  University students had ample reason for concern, and the stories that were filtering back from those who had been to Vietnam were very different from the mythology reported on the news.  It was no wonder that young people were disturbed by the report that the US was now indiscriminately bombing another country.

My home town was small enough that the student population of the university significantly outnumbered local residents.  There was the usual amount of friction between small-town locals and students originating from larger population centers, but there was a meeting place where distinctions were largely put aside for the sake of the commonality of consuming vast amounts of alcoholic beverage.  Water Street was one of the two main cross streets of our small city center, and the north stretch of the narrow street was largely given over to a collection of bars and nightclubs that featured mostly local bands and their fans, whose enthusiasm was fueled by watered-down beer and whatever else could be smuggled past the bouncers.

A favorite meeting place was Walter’s Cafe, a bar that was closed off to all under 21 years of age, but was a melting pot of local regulars and university professors wanting to distance themselves from the hormone-driven students.  A regular townie always in residence at Walter’s was Andy Anderson, a lanky, angular man, probably in his 50’s, who sported a crooked pair of horn rim glasses with lenses thick enough to add an air of blurred indifference to his personality.  Andy was a quiet relic of a different era, a man who spent his days ruminating at the bar over an unknown and probably unfulfilled past.  But whenever those who knew his particular talent teasingly dropped a quarter in the jukebox and played the antiquated music of Benny Goodman and Glen Miller, Andy would spring to his feet like lightning and perform a solo dance that summoned a time when he was even more limber and the music was new.  It was a sight to behold.

For whatever reason, I was given the stamp of approval to hang out at Walter’s even though I was obviously 16 and looked my age.  The bartenders just ignored me and I managed to sit in with the rowdy collection of outlandish Art and English professors and soak up the ambience, if not the alcohol.  It was there and then on Friday May 1st the subject of the illegal bombing of Cambodia was brought up and discussed with much vigor.  It was there and then that young people began pouring out onto Water Street and expressing their rage at a government that not only put the world at risk, but put young Americans at risk as well.

I had the sense to go home when the window smashing began, but the rage was palpable and it spread like wildfire.  Within 24 hours, the National Guard occupied my small town and imposed a curfew on all residents.  Within 60 hours, the Guard had gathered in formation on the campus commons, knelt into position and opened fire on students, many of whom were  merely on their way to their next lecture.

The ensuing finger-pointing resulted in nothing substantive, and those who were responsible for the deed literally got away with murder.  Popular novelist and millionaire James Michener was engaged to chronicle the event and divert the blame for the Reader’s Digest populace. The culture of corporate greed only intensified as the years passed, reaching absurd proportions during the next decade of Reagan, and the rage at the policies of our leaders was effectively numbed by a culture and lifestyle that was increasingly dependent upon technology.  Young people cared less about the outrageous actions of their leadership, and more about lifestyle choices and electronic devices that eventually became essential to daily life.  Now we have new corporate villains that include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

Today is Monday May 4th, 2020, and the world is currently facing a serious crisis that threatens our lives, our liberties and our pursuit of happiness, presumably from a random and uncontrollable source.  There are responsible things we all must do individually to weather the crisis and emerge whole.  But the lesson learned from living under occupation all those years ago, is that resistance is essential.  We cannot let those in power assume they can control the narrative without adequate justification.  We must use our intelligence and question the motives of our leaders and their corporate mouthpieces at every step as they, without checks and balances, determine our reality and control the message.  And we must always remember what the MS of MSNBC stands for.

Saturday morning quotes 7.41: Lute songs

Time Stands Still

Commentators tend to treat John Dowland as the first and, if survey courses in music history are a guide, the only composer of lute songs. In fact, his First Booke of Songes or Ayres published in 1597 was astonishing in many respects, but the genre did not arise from thin air.

Although not specifically designated for lute, the collection titled Songes and Sonettes Written By the Ryght Honorable Lord Henry Howard, late Earle of Surrey, Thomas Wyatt the Elder and others, 1557, also known as Tottle’s Miscellany, was essentially an anthology of poetry meant to be sung to commonly known tunes or formulaic grounds like the romanesca.  Not long after, Thomas Whythorne, a professional musician and composer who played and taught the lute, published his Songes for Three, Fower, and Five voyces in 1571.  And William Byrd, not a lutenist and primarily a composer of sacred music, made a foray into setting popular texts to music when he published, Psalmes, Sonets and Songs in 1588.

The first actual music published specifically for lute was William Barley’s A New Book of Tabliture, which Thurston Dart referred to as “Barley’s exasperating collection of 1596, which is a mishmash if ever there was one.” Dart went on to bewail the inclusion of ten pieces for the bandora, which he described as “a kind of loud ugly bass guitar much used in the theater and in other places where loud noises were best liked.”  Dowland, newly returned from his tour of the continent, may have been inspired to publish his own collection of songs the following year as a reaction to Barley’s less-than-wonderful effort.

“Dowland’s First Booke of Songes established a format that was followed by all the English composers in the same medium for the next twenty-five years.  Each of the books contains about twenty-one items.  Some have precisely this number, others have twenty or twenty-two.  It has been suggested that some special significance was attached to the number twenty-one…It seems more probable that it was some more mundane reason, possibly connected with the economics of publishing, that dictated this particular size.”

“The music is disposed with the Cantus and the lute tablature together on one page, visually coinciding with each other, not absolutely exactly, but within the limit of the bar.  Where other voices are added, they are unbarred, and are placed on the opposite page, facing outwards from the centre, so that all taking part may sit round a table and read from the same book.  As far as the technique of contemporary printing allows, the underlay of the words is treated with care.”

Diana Poulton, John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 212-213.

Lute songs were in vogue for a period of less than thirty years, and probably went out of fashion with the advent of a simpler style of song with basic bass lines that could easily be realized by amateurs on theorbo or keyboard.  But what was apparently a major trend fell into obscurity until the likes of Arnold Dolmetsch and Edmund Fellowes launched a revival in the late nineteenth century.

Producing an astoundingly large body of work, Edmund Horace Fellowes (1870 – 1951) published the first 20th-century printed editions of lute songs, The English School of Lutenist Song Writers, Winthrop Rogers, London, 1923.  Fellowes is a perfect example of the sort of musicologist who paved the way for our modern understanding of historical music.  His Memoirs of An Amateur Musician, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1946, details a privileged and cultured childhood that gave him the leisure to collect and transcribe music that lay in obscurity for three hundred years.  Fellowes’ work still stands as a monument on its own merits.

“Nevertheless, it must be admitted that at times he was less perceptive about the meaning of Elizabethan forms of construction, and occasionally his alterations are far from justified.  Unhappily he has not noted his changes in the song-books and many quite erroneous versions of the words have become firmly established.  Furthermore, the proof reading has been inadequate and even the the revised edition of 1960, many mistakes, particularly in the tablature, are present.”

– Diana Poulton, p. 214.

John Dowland’s ayres for voice and lute represent the pinnacle of an appealing musical form that existed in manuscript and printed sources throughout Europe for at least 100 years prior to the publication of Dowland’s First Booke in 1597.  Earlier continental examples of lute songs essentially represented the arrangement of polyphonic vocal music, assigning the lower parts to be played on the lute, but music for voice and lute in England prior to Dowland’s first fruits mainly consisted of psalm harmonizations and secular poetry set to well-known dance grounds.  Dowland built upon this foundation of unwritten art and, while retaining the rhythmic vitality of dance forms, added a unique gift for melody and expressive text setting with a result that is superior to the work of any of his contemporary imitators.

Stay tuned for more on Dowland’s lute songs next week.  Until then, rimanere in salute.

Saturday morning quotes 7.40: Intertextuality


“…There are no innocent readers anymore.  Each overlays the text with his own perverse view.  A reader is the total of all he’s read, in addition to all the films and television he’s seen.  To the information supplied by the author, he’ll always add his own.  And that’s where the danger lies: an excess of references…”

– Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Club Dumas, p. 335.

We live in very interesting times that require advanced survival skills just to unravel basic essential information that lands on our digital doorstep every minute of every day.  The only certainty is that we simply cannot trust one shred of news without questioning the motive of the source.  Nor can we even trust ourselves to interpret information objectively without stepping back and questioning our own history, our influences and our perspective.  This all sounds a bit mad but, as previously mentioned, we live in very interesting times.

Intertextuality, in simplistic terms, is defined as the shaping of the meaning of a particular text by the reader’s conscious or unconscious reference to another text.  In practical terms, our interpretations will always be influenced by our own frame of reference.  And as our opening quotation states, the problem for a modern thinking person dwelling in the madness that is 2020 lies in our massive cumulative excess of references.

Those of us involved in early music are all influenced by our own unique experiences that have, for whatever reasons, caused us to consciously cast aside music of today to explore the rich treasure trove of historical music.  But as much as some scholars and performers would like us to believe otherwise, it is nearly impossible to cancel from our psyche the enormous storehouse of music to which each and every one of us has been exposed from childhood.  Most professional performers are conservatory trained, meaning they possess hard-won indelible muscle memory of all the technique that has been drilled into them in order to perform the accepted classical, romantic and modern masterworks.  Unlearning that modern technique and leaving it at the doorstep is the first order of business before one steps through the portal to embrace early music.

Despite the best of intentions. early music scholarship has also led us astray.  After nearly a century of hacking away at early vocal music singing the exact notes on the page as delivered to us by scholars and using a modern singing technique, we eventually are treated to the work of a few clear-thinking individuals who have “discovered” that one does not sing the music of Ockeghem with the same technique employed for the music of Offenbach.

“The modern classically trained voice cannot be used as the model for vocal sound, and the practice of performing exactly what is on the pageno matter how beautifully it is doneis simply incorrect as a reconstruction of the sounds of the past.”

– Timothy J. McGee, The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style according to the Treatises, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, p. viii.

As Richard Taruskin so aptly pointed out many years ago, the early music movement did not re-discover old music as much as it imposed modern concepts and constructs on old repertory.  In short, the early music movement projected an approach that says more about modern researchers and performers and their collective influences than it does about the meaning and context of the original music.  How could it be otherwise?  The only path to understanding the context of early music is to attempt to approach and understand the lifestyle of our forebears; embrace 500 year-old technology like the printed page and read old books.  Not many takers for that time-consuming challenge today.

In more recent news, Bob Dylan released a song just a few weeks ago that has more to do with the proper aesthetic of early music than many of our modern pantomimes featuring old music staged for the modern attention span (-).  At nearly 17 minutes, the song is really an intimate setting of narrative poetry that tells the story of popular culture beginning in the latter part of the 20th century.  The narrative is rich in cultural references that describe a society molded and shaped by events that have landed us in the less-than-ideal pickle we are experiencing today: A society that has been deliberately turned into a consumer culture and deliberately fed a pack of lies by an unpleasant cabal of the corporate elite, the politicians they own, and their media mouthpieces.

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

– William Casey, Director of Central Intelligence, February, 1981, via former Reagan White House aide, Barbara Honegger

Bob Dylan has been the chronicler of an Age for the past 60 years, and judging “Murder Most Foul” by its popular appeal is missing the point. With Dylan, it’s always been about the lyrics and what lies beneath the surface. Sadly, even people who at one point in their lives may have memorized all the words to “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” are now conforming to the idiotic standard of “too-long-didn’t-read.”  What does Dylan have to do with early music?  It takes the same sort of concentration to appreciate the lyrics of a seventeen-minute song as it does to appreciate a seven-minute rondeau by Busnoys.

Slow down and invest some time in unraveling the poetry and its meaning.


Saturday morning quotes 7.39: In tempus pestis


“Once the faintest stirring of hope became possible, the dominion of plague was ended.”

Albert Camus, The Plague

Times are particularly troublesome for many just now, and we offer condolences and support to our many friends in disquieting circumstances around the globe.  Particularly Italy.

Rather than rehash the awful news, we offer a few songs produced cooperatively by some of our favorite Italians, Francesco Petrarca, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Bartolomeo Tromboncino.  We had originally planned to perform a house concert this evening but instead we offer a video with two of the songs that were to have been on the program.

Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470-1535) was a singer, lutenist and a prolific composer of popular songs from circa 1500. Tromboncino served at the court of Isabella d’Este until his unauthorized departure in 1505, at which time he entered the service of Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara.

Vergine bella, che di sol vestita”, poetry by Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374)

Among Tromboncino’s relatively small output of laude, or devotional songs, this setting of the passionate poetry of Francesco Petrarca employs a gentle but consistent pulse in contrast to the more complex earlier setting by Guillaume DuFay (c.1397 – 1474), also available as a single by Mignarda.

Vergine bella, che di sol vestita,
coronata di stelle, al sommo Sole
piacesti sí, che ‘n te Sua luce ascose,
amor mi spinge a dir di te parole:
ma non so ‘ncominciar senza tu’ aita,
et di Colui ch’amando in te si pose.
Invoco lei che ben sempre rispose,
chi la chiamò con fede:
Vergine, s’a mercede miseria extrema de l’humane cose
già mai ti volse, al mio prego t’inchina,
soccorri a la mia guerra,
bench’i’ sia terra,
et tu del ciel regina.

Vergine pura, d’ogni parte intera,
del tuo parto gentil figliuola et madre,
ch’allumi questa vita, et l’altra adorni,
per te il tuo figlio, et quel del sommo Padre,
o fenestra del cielo lucente altera,
venne a salvarne in su li extremi giorni;
et fra tutti terreni altri soggiorni
sola tu fosti electa,
Vergine benedetta,
che ‘l pianto d’Eva in allegrezza torni.
Fammi, ché puoi, de la Sua gratia degno,
senza fine o beata, già coronata nel superno regno.

Virgin fair, arrayed in the sun, crowned with stars,
You who found such favor with the highest Sun that He hid his light in you,
Love drives me to speak of you.
But I cannot even begin without your aid
and the aid of Him who established Himself in you.
I invoke her who has always answered those
Who called upon her with faith.
Lady, if extreme misery in things of earth
ever turned you to pity,
Bend down to to my prayer, help me in my struggle
Though I be clay,
and you the Queen of heaven!

Virgin pure, perfect in every part;
Noble daughter and mother of your gentle Child,
You who lighten this life and adorn the other:
Your son, Son of the Father,
Through you (o shining window of heaven)
Came to redeem us at the final day!
God selected you alone
among all who dwell on the earth.
Blessed virgin,
who turns the tears of Eve to rejoicing:
O make me worthy His grace,
You, eternally blessed, crowned in heaven above.


“Come harò donque ardire”
Bartolomeo Tromboncino, poetry by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

The famous artist, Michelangelo, wrote the poem, “Come harò donque ardire” sometime between 1510 and 1520, after completion of the magnificent ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Tromboncino’s setting of Come harò donque ardire was published in 1520 by Andrea Antico in a sparse arrangement for voice and lute.

Mignarda’s performance adds characteristic movement to the lute accompaniment that is typical of Tromboncino’s style. The performance adheres to a quiet, flexible but regular sense of pulse which, as reinforced by contemporary description, is vital to effective performance of music from this era.

Come harò donque ardire
senza voi mai, mio ben, tenermi’n vita,
s’io non posso, al partir, chiedermi aita ?
Quei singulti, quei pianti e quei sospiri
che ‘1 miser cor a voi acompagniorno,
madonna, duramente dimostrorno
la mia propinqua morte e’ mei martyri.
Ma se ver è che, per absentia, mai
Mia fidel servitù cada in oblio,
II cor come presago di mei guai,
per adimpir el vostro van desio,
vi fa lexequie del sepulchro mio.

How, then, can I ever dare to keep hold on life
without you, my beloved,
if at our parting, I cannot find help within myself?
Those sobs, those cries, those sighs
– companions of my miserable heart –
I hardly show to you, my lady,
the torments of my approaching death.
But if it is true that once I am gone
my faithful servitude may be forgotten,
my heart, anticipating my woe
at the loss of your desire,
makes preparations for my entombment.

Saturday morning quotes 7.38: News

With apologies to those readers who are on our email newsletter list and have already seen our updates, we are taking a moment to give you our readers a status report on Mignarda. Those of you who are regular visitors to Unquiet Thoughts will know that, as usual, we have a lot of irons in the fire.  But we are particularly gratified that our dedication, our hard work and our ability to get to the heart of early music have been successful far beyond the expectations of independent exponents of a seriously small niche market.

Insights: Who’s Listening?

In the second decade of the 21st century, it’s hardly surprising that our music has found its way across the globe.  Our YouTube channel has over 5,000 subscribers from 122 countries and, despite our complete lack of promotion and infrequent posting, our videos have had an extraordinary number of views. We are pleased to report that as of Saturday 14 March 2020, Donna’s video of Tantum ergo sacramentum has had more than two million views.  People seem to like what they hear because they have discovered our music on their own rather than having been led to it through slick promotion.  You know, the old-fashioned authentic way.

Gratifying as this may be, what we find really surprising – and what gives us hope – is this:

60.5% of our viewers are under 45 years of age
Mignarda audience by age

Despite conventional wisdom with respect to the greying of early music audiences (and perhaps due to our distinct lack of hype), younger audiences are discovering that our music speaks to them.

A few more numbers:

– We have over 500 Spotify followers

47,205 Bandcamp plays

– A steady monthly average of 15,000 streams for a single track: our recording of Duo Seraphim

Beyond streams & downloads…

We have received multiple requests to license our music from choreographers for classical and modern ballet companies, for plays in Germany, for museum exhibits, in films, documentaries and to provide historical authority for lecture-presentations.  We received a request to quote from the CD liner notes for our Pilgrimes Solace recording for concert program notes by the New York Virtuoso Singers for a joint concert with Parthenia, a consort of viols.

We were honored when respected Dowland scholar Anthony Rooley requested (and obtained) permission to use our recording of music from Pilgrimes Solace as an interpretive example for teaching his course at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland.  And more recently Mignarda’s 2013 release of Dowland’s A Pilgrimes Solace was selected as a reference recording in the new book by K. Dawn Grapes, John Dowland: A Research and Information Guide, Routledge Music Bibliographies, New York, 2019.  The book is a much needed guide to currently available music editions and literature focused on the most influential historical lutenist composer, John Dowland, and includes a numbered catalog of works, a discography, an annotated bibliography of secondary sources, all thoroughly indexed.

And just this week, a track from our 2010 CD Harmonia Caelestis was featured on the nationally syndicated weekly radio program HarmoniaListen here.

Recordings in the works

Mater Dolorosa
We are nearly ready to release our recording of music from circa 1500 featuring the setting of Stabat Mater dolorosa by Josquin des Prez.  Josquin’s sublime setting of the Stabat Mater was quite popular well into the 16th century, and our performance for solo voice and lute is edited from an historical version published by Pierre Phalese in 1552, with the addition of a bowed viol on the important tenor line. The recording will also feature a circa 1500 two-part a cappella setting of the Stabat Mater dolorosa text as found in Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale  modern edition by Danish musicologist Peter Woetmann Christoffersen.  As far as we know, our recording is the first performance of this setting in 500 years.

Unquiet Thoughts: English ayres for voice and lute
We are also hard at work recording a special collection of English lute songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, and hope to make it available by the end of 2020.

New and Forthcoming from Mignarda Editions

The Mignarda Songbook, Volume One: English Ayres (published December 2019)
Our 14th music edition and the first in a series of selections from the Mignarda songbook, in response to requests from musicians who seek to emulate Mignarda’s practice of performing lute songs in a manner that communicates the texts to best advantage. This first volume contains 43 English ayres and lute solos, both familiar and rare, and all are among our favorite songs. We are pleased to share our unique repertory with professional and amateur musicians in the hope that our approach to lute songs will thrive through informed and engaging performance.

John Dowland: Complete ayres for solo voice and lute (coming April 2020)
We are pleased to announce the April 2020 release of a brand new performing edition of the complete lute songs of John Dowland.  Working in collaboration with long-time specialist in the interpretation of Dowland songs, David Hill, the new edition will feature a lucid paraphrase of all texts as well as in-depth interpretive notes on the poetry for each song.

The new edition will be available in three formats: 1) voice and lute as in the original publications, 2) voice with lute accompaniments in newly transcribed standard notation, and 3) voice with both lute tablature and parallel transcription in standard notation.  An important feature of the new edition is the use of the first 1597 print of Dowland’s First Booke, with Dowland’s original lute parts finally restored as he intended. With attention to detail, accuracy and legibility, this new edition will fill the need for singers and lutenists wishing to explore the most evocative historical repertory for voice and lute.

Independence is paying off

When we first formed Mignarda, we were offered an opportunity to sign with the Naxos label but, after careful consideration, we decided that we had the acumen and skills to form our own independent recording label that would give us complete artistic control over both repertory and product. Naxos Music Online is now one of many distributors which offer our music, but Mignarda remains an independent label.

Likewise, we had the chance to publish our music editions through a well-known music publisher but instead forged our own publishing arm and created Mignarda Editions.

Since then…

– We’ve produced 12 CDs, with physical and digital distribution worldwide.  Our downloads and streams are now numbering in the millions.
– We’ve published 14 music editions, which are now in the hands of lutenists and librarians from New Zealand to the Netherlands.
We are pleased to report that what seemed like a risky strategy all those years ago has paid off, and our music continues to find its way across the globe.

We want to thank you, our friends, listeners and colleagues, for helping us keep historical music alive and giving us the opportunity to touch so many lives with music that matters.

Timely commentary

Apologies to those readers who visit our blog solely for our insights into early music.  We typically avoid what may be viewed as political commentary, but must vent after witnessing an example of class warfare at work.

Last evening after a long day of recording, we decided we were both a bit too knackered to think about cooking at home.  The solution was to stop at a Chipotle restaurant on the way home for fairly simple and reasonably healthy food.  We have frequented this particular place and know the staff to be capable, friendly and courteous.  Sorry to say we could not say the same for the clientele, but we have even more disapproving commentary about the restaurant management.

Sadly, what we witnessed was a snapshot of how modern life has simply gone mad and is certainly unsustainable on so many levels.  There was a bit of a wait line, possibly a dozen people in front of us blithely ignoring one another and listlessly thumbing their phones for no apparent reason.  But clustered around the cash register, another dozen annoyed, irritated and outright angry people were grimacing at one another and at the world at large.  They were the tech-savvy people who had phoned in their order and paid in advance online, thinking they could waltz in and out to enjoy their meal without the bother of waiting in line.

It turns out that Chipotle has instituted a call-in and pickup scheme that very likely boosts sales by a large margin, but they seem to have forgotten to increase staffing commensurately to keep up with the increased workload.  In fact, you can see the workers piling up the call-in orders while at the same time facing a fairly significant line of hungry people, some of whom have very specific ideas of what they would like to ingest and how they would like to have it prepared.

The workers, all of whom were African-American and all of whom were aged 16-20, were pushed far beyond the limit and were doing their best in the face of adversity, but there was an air of desperation combined with resignation behind the counter.  They knew they would be unable to make their customers happy and they also knew that they would likely be admonished by management for the inevitable deluge of raging customer complaints that were surely streaming in at that very moment.

What we witnessed was class warfare at work: a customer base of primarily entitled white middle-class people using technology to instantly and painlessly fulfill their wishes, and demonstrating unbridled rage directed at another set of victims after having their dreams of fast food dashed by the inconvenience of waiting.  The villian in this situation is the corporate culture that set up an untenable situation to increase sales without providing staffing to meet increased demand.

We are not certain what sort of wage Chipotle pays, but it is most certainly not enough to survive.  We are not opposed to the idea of young people learning to advance in life by working hard, but the demands placed on this particular group of young people were exponentially over the limit.  We cannot consider young people to be expendable cogs in the machinery of technocracy, a “human resource” to be used up and replaced by someone less experienced and willing to take a pittance in wages.

Young people are the future, and, sadly, they will be burdened with cleaning up an absolute mess left behind by the insatiable corporate culture that bases an ever-increasing profit upon exploitation of workers.  It is our responsibility to offer young people opportunities to make the world a better place and to instill a sense of optimism in order to nudge them toward that goal.  You know what you must do.



Saturday morning quotes 7.37: Notes


First, we state that we are emphatically pro-primate and do not wish to appear to depict our very important friends in an unfair light.  However, even advanced practitioners of solfeggio are not necessarily the best musicians.

Dwelling on the fringe of the ubiquitous choral community, we seem to encounter two features among singers that, while they appear to take great pride in these skills, we are compelled to state that, contrariwise, they are nothing more than defects when it comes to singing early music.  The first is so-called “perfect pitch,” which we can dismiss readily.  The reference tone of A=440 Hertz was not adopted by the International Organization for Standardization until 1955, and therefore it is not an acceptable pitch reference for early music.  Modern “perfect pitch” is categorically linked to a reference pitch of A=440 and when alternative reference pitches are employed these singers are simply at sea.  Since we follow historical practice and always take care to pitch music where it is most effectively conveyed, we usually refer to singers with so-called “perfect pitch” as suffering from “inflexible pitch reference.”

The second characteristic professional singers often trumpet is a highly developed skill in sight-reading.  While this may be considered a positive as applies to modern choral repertory, in actual practice we find that good sight-readers often rely upon their spontaneous reading skills in lieu of focused practice, and they can be indifferent musicians who are frequently under-prepared.

“I make a great distinction between a musician and a note-player.  The former is he who, considering music as the science of sounds, regards the notes only as conventional signs representing them, and which by the sight convey the result to the mind, as letters communicate words, and words ideas.  The latter is he who considers it the science of notes, who attaches great importance to their names, the real acceptation of which is unknown to him…”

“The note-player succeeds, by dint of practice, in making an acquisition, which is to music what the motions of a rope-dancer are to dancing: he considers an isolated sound, how it is named, and to what key of the pianoforte it corresponds; but, while guessing at it, frequently it happens that he sings out of tune, as it might happen to a rope-dancer that, with all his equilibrium, he might not be able to make a regular pirouette on the floor.”

– Fernando Sor, Sor’s Method for the Spanish Guitar, translated from the original by A. Merrick, London, c. 1850, “Knowledge of the finger-board,” p. 18.

Effective interpretation demands much more than just singing the notes, and a large proportion of the better sort of early music requires intimate familiarity with text and musical phrasing that can only be gained through intensive and interactive rehearsal.  In fact, historical evidence clearly indicates that polyphonic music was sung with deep understanding and sung from memory:

“…[T]ext underlay cannot be taken literally and that adequate singing of even the discantus demands first that the singer have a complete memory, knowledge and understanding of the vocal lines.  Sight reading—or anything approaching it—is out of the question.”

– David Fallows, Commentary to the facsimile of the Manuscript Rothschild 2793 (I.5-13) in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Valencia: Vicent García Editores, 2008.

The way to get to the heart of the music is to absorb the un-notated nuances through repeated performance.  Sight-reading and then blithely moving on to the next piece does a great disservice to both the music and the audience.  If we wish to follow historical practice, we will develop the skill of interpretation to the point where magic happens.

“What shall we say of musicians and singers to the lute, who with their songs and instruments lead even unwilling men now to anger, now to compassion, now to arms, now to worship, as the reports of Orpheus, Timotheus, and innumerable others show?  Therefore it is not unreasonable or unnatural to alter and compel minds with sounds—which minds, once altered, clearly will alter their bodies.”

Pietro Pomponazzi (1462 – 1525), De incantationibus, p. 35, quoted from Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993, p. 202.

The enchantment of early music is made manifest through commitment to communication of the sounds that the written notes are meant to represent, and it is essential to get light years beyond the notes—if you believe in magic.