Old Hall Manuscript. Madrigals. Lute Songs
Bruno Turner, Geoffrey Mitchell, Ian Partridge
Performers: Paul Esswood, Kevin Smith, Richard Hill, Charles Brett, James Griffett, James Lewington, Ian Partridge, Ian Thompson, Brian Etheridge, Michael George, Christopher Keyte, Christopher Underwood, Stephen Roberts, David Thomas, Alan Cuckston (organ), Christopher Wilson (lute), William Hunt (viol); Direction: Bruno Turner (Old Hall), Geoffrey Mitchell (Madrigals), Ian Partridge (Lute Songs)
Recording dates: July 1977, July 1978; re-released: 1992
All Music Guide
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Old Hall Manuscript o Madrigals and Lute Songs (Ayres)
The achievements of English composers during the Middle Ages and Renaissance were unsurpassed anywhere in Europe, though today they still tend to be undervalued. The series Ars Britannica explores this repertory and illustrates some of its treasures: it aims to show the essential vitality and continuity of the English musical tradition.
Old Hall Manuscript Music for the House of Lancaster
The compositions on this record demonstrate all of the major genres, techniques and styles cultivated by English composers during the early 15th century. They also evince the varied nature of English sacred polyphony during this period.
The early 1400s saw several changes of direction in English politics and diplomacy. With the deposition of Richard II (1367-1400) in 1399 and the accession of Henry IV (1367-1413) the direct Plantagenet line was supplanted by the House of Lancaster. The new king was talented and cultured, with an uncommon skill in and love for music. He passed on many of his qualities to his four sons, the future Henry V (1387-1422), Thomas Duke of Clarence (1388-1421), John Duke of Bedford (1389-1435) and Humfrey Duke of Gloucester (1391-1447). He reorganised the royal household chapel (the institution which performed the daily devotions of the monarch and his court) to allow more emphasis on the musical aspects of the worship; Henry V subsequently augmented its musical personnel. Clarence, Bedford and Gloucester employed in their own chapels some of the foremost composers of the day. While some of this may reflect the conventional desire to advertise wealth and power through patronage, it may well indicate a real piety and an attempt to win divine approval for the upstart royal dynasty; it may also have been a regal counter to the contemporary Lollard movement, with its hostility to sacred music and liturgical elaboration.
The early Lancastrians pursued an active and at time aggressive foreign policy. By sending English representatives to the Councils of Pisa (1409) and Constance (1414-1418) they showed their concern for the welfare of Christendom. Henry V's revival of the English claim to the French crown enjoyed initial success at the battle of Agincourt (1415) and culminated in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) by which Charles VI recognised Henry as his heir. The early conquests and later defence against the French counter-attack kept the royal dukes and other English aristocrats in France as military commanders, often for month or years at a time. English prelates and the lay nobility habitually took their private chapels with them on their travels, and it was probably by hearing these chapel choirs that foreign listeners became acquainted with English music during the 1410s and 1420s. The distinctive English sound - particularly its consonance, its full sonority and its smoothly flowing rhythms and melodies - made a strong impact, initiating a demand for English music which lasted until the middle of the century and influencing the styles of Dufay, Binchois and their colleagues.
Apart from the pieces by Dunstable, these compositions survive in the Old Hall manuscript (London, British Library, Add. MS. 57950). One of the few remaining insular musical sources of the period, it probably belonged to the household chapel of Thomas, Duke of Clarence, apparently passing to the royal household chapel after his death. It is a collection of polyphonic settings of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus, with some interpolated isorhythmic motets and votive antiphons; most of the works are English, although there are a few pieces by Italian and French composers. Lionel Power, Informator in Clarence's chapel, figures prominently in the collection; little is known about his later career although he may have become Master of the Lady Chapel choir at Canterbury Cathedral in about 1438 (he died at Canterbury in 1445). Three of the other composers on this record were members of the royal household chapel: John Cooke (d. 1419) and Thomas Damett (d.1437) from about 1413 and Robert Chirbury (d. 1454) from 1420. Pycard was a singer in John of Gaunt's chapel in the 1390s; of Forest nothing is known. John Dunstable may have sung in the chapel of John, Duke of Bedford; otherwise his career is obscure. These four compositions by him are preserved in continental sources.
Chirbury's Agnus typifies the simpler kind of Mass movement in Old Hall, with three voices moving mainly in note-against-note fashion; the opening chromaticism is indicated in the manuscript. Pycard's Gloria is more elaborate; three lively voices (two of them in canon) sing the text above two more sustained supporting lines. The animated rhythms, canonic writing and closing hocket (the exchange of tiny motives between the voices) attest Pycard's French training. French influence is also evident in Power's ambitious Credo, with its parlando passages, syncopation and ornamental disson ance; the alternation of duet and tutti is, however, characteristically English.
Until the 1420s and 1430s, when it was supplanted by the cyclic Mass (itself an English invention) the isorhythmic motet was the most respected and imposing musical genre. Based on a plainsong tenor cast in a repeating rhythmic pattern, and having two or more upper voices usually singing different texts, its origins lay in the Parisian motet of the early 1200s. Continental composers often gave it a secular and ceremonial function, but in England its usage remained almost always sacred, commonly as part of the cultus of popular saints. Cooke's Alma proles is the nearest English approach to the political motet; invoking the protection of the Virgin and St. George against England's enemies, it may refer to the renewal of hostilities between England and France. Dunstable's Gaude virgo salutata (to the Virgin) and Mbanus roseo rutilat (to St. Alban) are more modern in style than Alma proles, the lines being smoother and the dissonances more carefully controlled; the former also adds a fourth part to the customary three-part texture.
The votive antiphon was a non-liturgical but devotional text in Latin, in honour of a saint or a religious theme, often sung after Compline at the altar of the saint concerned. Damett's Salve porta and Forest's Qualis est dilectus are addressed to the Virgin, by far the most popular dedicatee of such pieces: the former is modest in scale and simple in style whereas the latter is extended and enterprising in its musical contrasts. Antiphons of the Holy Cross are rare; Dunstable's Crux fidelis and 0 crux gloriosa exemplify the mature English style of the 1420s, employing variations of texture and metre in a consonant and mellifluous idiom.
Since there is no evidence that any instrument apart from the organ participated in the performance of sacred music at this time, these works are performed by voices alone, with an organ doubling some of the sustained textless lines.
Madrigals and Lute Songs (Ayres) Secular vocal music under Elizabeth I and James I These two records of madrigals and ayres illustrate two aspects of a native tradition of secular vocal music which extended back to the earlier 16th century. They also show how certain composers reacted to the stimulus produced by greater exposure to Italian and French music.
The madrigal was essentially a polyphonic and entirely vocal genre which employed musical contrasts and expressive devices to reflect the changing moods and imagery of its text. The ayre or part-song was more homophonic, with the melody in the top voice and a strongly harmonic bass, and it made little or no attempt to underline in the music the nuances of the poem. Distinctions between the madrigal and ayre were not totally rigid, however: some ayres (such as Dowland's Where sin sore wounding from A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612 and / must complain from The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires, 1603) are unusually polyphonic, while many of the lighter madrigals (such af Weelkes' Some men desire spouses from or Phantasticke Spirites, 1608) are almost entirely chordal. Nevertheless the stylistic division was real, and composers worded their title pages with care.
Like the Italian frottola and the mid-16th century French chanson, the ayre could be performed either by a vocal group or by a solo singer accompanied by an instrument (often a lute): John Dowland entitled his 1597 collection "The First Booke of Songs or Ayres of fowre parts with Tableture for the Lute: So made that all the partes together, or either of them severally may be song to the Lute, Orpherian or Viol de gambo". Today we are so used to hearing these sung as lute-songs that we need to guard against the assumption that this is the preferable method of performance, whereas it is actually only one possibility. In the interpretations on this record a cappella performance alternates with a vocal ensemble accompanied by lute and viol, and with a solo singer accompanied by the lute.
After its splendid flowering at the courts of Henry VII and the young Henry VIII the secular song seems to have withered. Most of the few songs by mid-century composers such as Tallis, Sheppard and Tye which have survived set sententious poems either in a severely imitative style or in simple harmonisations like those used for setting metrical psalms. The poetry is generally pedestrian, relying excessively on long lines and alliteration, as in Tallis' When shall my sorrowful sighing slake.
It is understandable that the Elizabethan taste for Italian literature, art and architecture should have extended also to music, because the Italian madrigal offered in a mature form qualities which were either absent from or only embryonic in the English song - a polished and versatile contrapuntal idiom wedded to sophisticated poetry which had already amassed a stock of characteristic situations and images.
Printed editions of Italian madrigals were being imported into England in the 1570s and 1580s, and Nicholas Yonge's seminal publication Musica Transalpina (1588), an anthology of Italian madrigals with the texts translated into English, was an avowed attempt to cater for a growing market. The strength of the demand is indicated by the appearance of four more Italian anthologies and some fifteen editions by native composers such as Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes and John Wilbye, all before 1600. The spate of madrigal prints gradually decreased during the early 1600s (Pilkington's Second Set of 1624 was virtually the last significant publication); the fact that increasing numbers of ayres were printed during the same period suggests that the public's taste was changing.
The works in the anthologies and the compositions of the English madrigalists themselves show a clear preference for the more light-hearted type, often in a pastoral setting (as in Hark, jolly shepherds from Morley's Book I of 1594). The musical intensity and highly-charged emotionalism of Weil or Rore was generally not to the English taste, although Ward could create an atmosphere of unusual gravity (as in Retire, my troubled soul and O my thoughts surcease from his Book I of 1613). With a few exceptions English composers did not attempt the chromatic experiments of the Italian madrigal; when they did, as in Come, woeful Orpheus from Byrd's Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets of 1611, there is often a sense of stylistic disunity (though in this case it is possible that Byrd was paradying the style). The quality of the English madrigal really lies in the fluency and charm with which elegantly-turned poetry is set. The unobtrusive perfection of the finest examples, such as Weelkes' Those sweet delightful lilies and Wilbye's Lady, when I behold, makes exaggerated claims unnecessary.
Traditional traits are more evident in the ayre than in the madrigal. The poetry tends to be more substantial, and something of the earlier predilection for moralising or devotional texts remains (see for example Campion's Never weather-beaten sail and Jack and Jone, both from his First Booke of Ayres of c. 1613). Even the simplest ayres, such as Since first I saw your face and There is a lady (both from Thomas Ford's Musicke of Sundrie Kindes of 1607) are pithy in a way which belies their apparent art-lessness. The more ambitious pieces, like Dowland's / must complain, strike the listener with unusual force, partly through the solemnity of their contrapuntal style.
-Nick Sandon (1980)