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IV. The High Renaissance (16th Century)

IVm. England Through 1635

IVm4. English Song in the Elizabethan and Stuart Periods

When, in 1597, John Dowland published his First Booke of Songes or Ayres with alternative versions to be performed either as solo songs with lute accompaniment, or as four-part ayres, he was following a practice well established on the Continent. The first printed collection of songs catering for this mode of performance consisted of arrangements of frottole published by Petrucci in 1509. Thereafter numerous collections of frottole, chansons, villancicos, lieder, madrigals, psalms and religious songs were printed in Italy, France, Spain and Germany. In England, nothing of this sort came out until near the end of the century, though a few manuscripts furnish evidence that lute-accompanied song was practiced, for which, in any case, there is considerable literary evidence.

The contents of these manuscripts hardly prepare us for the wealth and comparative sophistication of lutesong publications beginning in 1597. It was probably the undoubted success of Dowland's first book that encouraged the others thereafter: that and the probability that Peter Short, the music printer, had recently acquired a font of lute tablature to facilitate such publications. (William Barley's New Booke of Tabliture, published the year before and containing songs with bandora accompaniment, used wood blocks.) Short printed Morley 's Canzonets or Little Short Aers the same year as Dowland's book, and, in the remaining period of his activity, lutesong books by Cavendish (1598), Jones (1600 and 1601), Rosseter and Campion (1601) and Dowland (1603).

Unlike the madrigal, which was an exotic import, the lute song belongs to the main development of indigenous English song, which in the sixteenth century had passed from the ' freemen's song ' of Henry VIII's time, through the simple partsongs of the middle of the century, to the Elizabethan consort song brought to its perfection in William Byrd 's Psalmes, Sonets, & songs (1588) and surviving in Orlando Gibbons ' so-called Madrigals (1612). It is from the consort song with its 'first singing part' that the contrapuntal element in the serious lutesong derives, rather than the madrigal. Instrumental preludes and interludes between the lines are, of course, transferred to the lute, but the same relationship between voice and accompaniment persists. The influence is clear in the ayres of Michael Cavendish where an initial point is frequently worked out on the lute before the voice enters, and continues dove-tailing cadences with anticipatory imitations of subsequent lines. This was a fairly common procedure for dealing with an unfrivolous text among the more conservative and contrapuntally inclined lutesong writers Thomas Morley, for example, though his opening preludes are usually free.

Lighter songs draw on the tradition of the ballad and the dance; their characteristics are therefore melodic and rhythmic. It has been suggested that the important dance element in the songs of Dowland represents a French influence, but though he was in France for a time (1580-84) direct indebtedness is difficult to pin-point. In any case, songs were made to dances in England as well as France. As the grammarian Webbe said:

... neither is there anie tune or stroke which may be sung or plaide on instruments, which hath not some poetical ditties framed according to the numbers thereof: some to Rogero ... to Galliardes, to Pavines, to Iygges, to Brawles, to all manner of tunes which everie Fidler knowes better then myself.'

To some extent it may have been the presence of a number of already popular instrumental pieces with 'ditties framed' that helped to make Dowland's First Booke of Songes or Ayres such a success--enough to warrant further editions in 1600, 1603, 1606 and 1613. It includes Sir John Souch's Galliard ('My thoughts are winged with hopes'), Captain Piper's Galliard ('If my complaints could passions move'), the Earl of Essex's Galliard ('Can she excuse my wrongs'), the Frog Galliard ('Now, O now, I needs must part'), and 'Awake sweet love' which is also known as an instrumental piece. But significantly, pride of place is given to the song 'Unquiet thoughts.' Dowland's obsessive melancholy thus appears from the outset and is never far away in any of the song books. Sleep and death are sought to provide a longed-for release from earthly cares, and although this was very much an affectation of the time it was one which clearly excited an acutely personal response in him. Death, of course, has a sexual connotation too--but even when this is absent or heavily overlaid, his treatment of the idea frequently has an erotic intensity. In 'Come heavy sleep' we are wrenched from the key of G major by an impassioned plea which breaks through all restraints of counterpoint.

Although Dowland provided an alternative partsong version of this song (as he did for all the others in his first book) such highly personalized sentiments presuppose a solo singer, and there is evidence that some of his partsong arrangements are adaptations of instrumental accompaniments (just as Campion admitted his own were). For not only are they aesthetically inappropriate in many cases, technically they are often unsatisfactory. The technical deficiencies mostly relate to the awkward verbal underlay of the lower parts, and though an accompaniment of viols would mitigate these defects, it is clear that frequently we are dealing with lute texture rather than true polyphony. The individual lines are, in themselves, neither vocal nor instrumental in character, and it is significant that Dowland gives himself away in small details such as in 'Burst forth my tears', where the lute's idiomatic treatment of a suspended fourth at 'love provokes' is literally transcribed into the alto in a way quite foreign to vocal or instrumental polyphony.

Increasingly the soloistic nature of the lutesong is asserted. Beginning with his Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600) Dowland left certain songs as solos--the first eight--though the bass part remains texted and the table of contents describes them as 'Songs to two voices'. But the underlay suggests that this part is instrumental rather than vocal in conception. The title page does indeed stipulate that these songs are to be performed 'with the Violl de Gamba' supporting the lute; more over, the repetition of the words of the opening line of 'I saw my lady weep' three times in the bass can only be regarded as foreign to the essential -nature of the song, forced on the music as some sort of compromise.

In this book the 'semper dolens' side of Dowland--passionate, melancholy, resigned-appears still more clearly. The prevailing mood is established at the outset. Following 'I saw my lady weep' comes the famous Lachrimae Pavane 'Flow my tears', then 'Sorrow, sorrow stay', No other song book can ever have begun with three such songs. In 'Sorrow, sorrow stay' counterpoint and the sustained vocal line give way to declamation and chords at the words 'pity, pity, pity' and 'no hope, no help', a throwback to the idiom of the Elizabethan choirboy playsongs in moments of anguish (and to Dowland's own 'Come, heavy sleep') and a foretaste of the electrifying outburst towards the end of 'In darkness let me dwell'. But generally the lute accompaniment of these expressive songs is a continuous web of polyphony, sometimes participating thematically with the voice but more often content to unwind in long lines drawn out by suspensions and prolonged by avoidance of direct cadences, superbly subtle in harmonic and rhythmic nuance.

In the latter part of the book the mood lightens a little in such songs as the exquisite 'Shall I sue, shall I seek for grace', but the only one that is completely carefree is 'Fine knacks for ladies'. The more extrovert side of Dowland is revealed in his Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires (1603). Here and there gay chanson rhythms and a general lack of complication bring other composers to mind; Rosseter , for example in 'What if I never speed', Jones in 'Fie on this feigning'. And while only Dowland could have written 'Weep you no more sad fountains', the collection as a whole is less emotionally indulgent than the earlier books. Yet restraint, far from inhibiting force of expression is able to sublimate it, raising it to a higher level where it can outlast the heat of the moment. One song in particular has this sublime quality 'Time stands still', a rapt contemplation of feminine beauty seen in eternity. Nothing is allowed to disturb the mood of breathless wonder. The harmonic materials are of the simplest, the melody itself does not exceed a fifth in range, yet the song is as affecting as anything Dowland wrote.

Despite the title of the third book, Dowland's last lutesong publication was A Pilgrimes Solace (1612). The tone of its preface suggests a disappointed man resentful of intrigues-real or imaginedagainst him, and envious of the recognition given to younger men while he still lacked a court appointment. He wrote:

I againe found strange entertainment since my returne [from Denmark]; especially by the opposition of two sorts of people that shroude themselves under the title of Musitians. The first are some simple Cantors, or vocall singers, who though they seeme excellent in their blinde Divisionmaking, are meerely ignorant, even in the first elements of Musicke ... yet doe these fellowes give their verdict of me behinde my backe, and say, what I doe is after the old manner ... The second are young men, professors of the Lute, who vaunt themselves, to the disparagement of such as have beene before their time, (wherein I my self am a party) that there never was the like of them ...

As if to defy those who criticized him for being old fashioned, many of the songs in this book are retrospective in style. The links with the consort song are unmistakable, especially in the sequence of religious pieces (nos. 12-17), and there are three songs (nos. 9-11) which actually have an obbligato treble-viol part in consort with the voice (lying beneath the viol), lute and bass viol. Needless to say the expressive idiom of these songs, 'Go nightly cares', 'From silent night' and 'Lasso! vita mia' differ from the consort song of his youth, but the basic constituents-'first singing part' and polyphonic accompaniment -remain the same. Nor is the technique of contrapuntal continuity vastly different. However, there are distinctly modern features in some of the songs in this book too. The declamatory element is more pronounced, not so much in the 'Mille, mille' repetitions of 'Lasso! vita mia', which are illustrative rather thin expressive (and anyway the presence of consort parts precludes free declamatory treatment) but in 'Welcome black night' and 'Cease these false sports' where we may perceive a new orientation. The fact that these were probably written for a masque celebrating the wedding of Theophilus, Lord Walden (Dowland's patron) to Lady Elizabeth Home in March 1612 is, as we shall see, significant. Here declamation begins to oust melody, and continuo homophony all but replaces polyphony in the accompaniment.

The finest example of Dowland's 'old manner' is not to be found in any of his own publications, but among the three songs he contributed to his son's A Musicall Banquet (1610). 'In darkness let me dwell', though probably written in 1606 or soon after, recalls the style of 'I saw my lady weep' in the restless counterpoint of its accompaniment and the long sustained vocal phrases. But the emotional intensity is even greater, and at the climax it bursts out uncontrollably.

Dowland has discovered the limitation of the polyphonic style. The pathetic repetition of the first line at the end of the song, and the final cadence, which, being phrygian, gives no promise of rest or ease, confirm this as one of the most profoundly moving songs ever written. It typifies Dowland at his best; the brooding melancholy and the conservative technique pushed as far as it will go to achieve an intensity of expression unequalled in England until Purcell.

But Dowland speaks only for Dowland. There is another view of the lutesong that Campion propounded:

What Epigrams are in Poetrie, the same are Ayres in musicke, then in their chiefe perfection when they are short and well seasoned. But to dogg a light song with a long Praeludium, is to corrupt the nature of it. Manie rests in Musicke were invented either for necessitie of the fuge, or granted as a harmonicall licence in songs of many parts: but in Ayres I find no use they have, unlesse it be to make a vulgar, and triviall modulation seeme to the ignorant strange, and to the judiciall. tedious ... But there are some, who to appeare the more deepe, and singular in their judgement, will admit no Musicke but that which is long, intricate, bated with fuge, chaind with sincopation, and where the nature of everie word is precisely exprest in the Note, like the old exploided action in Comedies, when if they did pronounce Memeni, they would point to the hinder part of their heads, if Video, put their finger in their eye. But such childish observing of words is altogether ridiculous, and we ought to maintaine as well in Notes, as in action a manly cariage, gracing no word, but that which is eminent, and emphaticall. ...

Such were Campion's views on the elaborate and artificial style of the consort song, and lute ayres derived from that style. The Booke Of Ayres which he and Philip Rosseter published in 1601 provides persuasive justification of this view. The collection contains 21 songs by each composer; Campion's, on the whole, being a shade dull and four-square compared with his friend's. Rosseter's songs compel enthusiastic admiration despite the narrow range in which he worked. 'Ayres have both their Art and pleasure' Campion said, but whereas the pleasure is easily grasped, the art is elusive. Rosseter has an exquisite melodic sense which we recognise in terms of the contour of line, rhythmic structure and tonal organization. A seemingly infallible gift enables him to vary phrase-lengths while still holding them in balance, an attractive feature exemplified in such songs as 'If I hope, I pine'. This natural feeling for balance functions at a higher level too. Almost all his songs are in two sections; the first opening out freely, usually without recourse to direct repetition; the second, closing in again and focusing the material through sequential repetition towards the 'point' of the song. It is a truly organic process of expansion followed by contraction-like breathing-and somehow, with Rosseter, as natural. 'What then is love but mourning' provides a short but perfect example.

Although Campion's songs are slightly disappointing after Rosseter's there are some good ones among them. In their joint collection he does, in fact, cover a wider range of style than Rosseter, but without quite discovering where his true talents lie. He is most agreeable in triple-time songs like 'Follow your saint', 'Thou art not fair' and 'The cypress curtain of the night', of which there are quite a number-considerably more than in Rosseter's half of the book. His success is less marked in common time. Nevertheless, there are some charming ones, among which 'Hark all you ladies that do sleep' is perhaps the most delicate. Mention should also be made of 'Come let us sound with melody'--musique mesuree a l'antique according to the principles of Balf's Academie. Though Campion was an opponent of rhyme and a firm advocate of quantitative metres in his Observations in the Art of Englisb Poesie (1602), this is the only setting in which he applies these principles. The result was hardly promising.

Campion was to die before Rosseter, to whom he left his whole estate wishing 'that it had bin farr more'. Rosseter published no songs after 1601; Campion another 95 in four books, besides a few in his masque publications. In this respect it is Rosseter's legacy one wishes had been the greater. Although the title-pages of Campion's songbooks give no dates, it seems probable that the Two Bookes of Ayres came out in 1613 or soon after, the first 'Contayning Divine and Morall Songs', the second 'Containing Light Conceits of Lovers'. Unlike the 1601 collection, and unlike the later pair of song books, these songs are also furnished with partsong arrangements. As Campion says:

These Ayres were for the most part framed at first for one voyce with the Lute, or Violl, but upon occasion, they have since been filled with more parts, which who so please may use, who like not may leave ...

It is interesting to note that only two of the 42 songs in these books are in triple time, compared with the generous sprinkling of such songs in half the number in the joint work. This fact is hard to account for--it is perhaps a sign of increasing literary self-consciousness, and a move from the dance--but it very much limits the variety and overall attractiveness of the collection. Indeed, there is really very little of musical interest in the first book. Most of them are in simple hymn-tune style, 'Never weather-beaten sail' being a quite well-known and above average example. The first song in the collection, 'Author of light' is probably the best and at the same time the least typical. The flexibility of the vocal line even suggests Dowland, while chromaticism at the end gives force to the concluding line of the poem:

And their sharp pains and grief in time assuage

Campion is more at ease when it comes to the 'Light Conceits of Lovers'. Most of them are in the same AA:B: form as the'moral' songs, but in general they show more variety and rhythmic interest. There is even one song in the book which begins in five time.

Again, one of the best is one of the least typical. 'Give beauty all her light' has a lovely supple line, extremely free (for Campion, with pairs of triplas expanding and contracting the natural phrase.

The Third and Fourth Booke Of Ayres were dedicated to Sir Thomas Monson and his son respectively. Thus publication dates from about the time of Sir Thomas's release from prison early in 1617, cleared of suspected complicity in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. The dedication seems to imply that some of the songs had been written in earlier years:

These youth-borne Ayres then, prison'd in this Booke,
Which in your Bowres much of their beeing tooke ...

and the preface to the fourth book mentions 'three or foure Songs that have beene published before, but ... you shall finde all of them reformed eyther in Words or Notes'. However, taking the two books together some general advance in style is discernible. The rhythmic element has become noticeably more subtle and Campion less open to the charge of being foursquare. Implied triplas, even changes into and out of triple time as in 'Break now my heart', are absorbed naturally into the melodic flow, which is now more graceful. But this increased freedom brings in its train the danger of diffuseness, something he does not altogether avoid even in a song like 'O never to be moved' which begins so promisingly. One or two songs show incipient declamatory traits, the opening of 'Kind were her answers' for example; still more 'O sweet delight'. But it is as a simple melodist that Campion appears at his best in these books, in such songs as 'Shall I come sweet love to thee' where words and music, meaning and mood, come together as perfectly as can be expected when composer and poet are one.

Campion's reputation as a song writer has probably been exaggerated in the past. The fact that he was a notable poet probably helped to bring his songs into greater prominence than they would have achieved otherwise, while songs like 'Never weather-beaten sail' and 'There is a garden in her face' may have recommended him to a taste raised on hymns and sentimental ballads. A composer like Robert Jones was at a disadvantage in both respects. The trouble with them both is that they wrote too much. The best songs of each would fill a delightful book and make one thirst for more; as it is, there is a surfeit.

In fact, Jones as a melodist pure and simple is arguably superior to Campion, though the contrapuntal element is present in his songs to a much greater extent, and rarely to advantage. Of his five books of ayres, the second and last contain exclusively solo songs. His output as a whole shows him to have been an uneven composer, becoming increasingly careless and unselfcritical, prone to tediousness in serious mood yet with a lively rustic vein. Between these two extremes he offers a number of songs rivalling the best of Campion and Rosseter.

Even so, there is no denying Jones a prominent place among the lutesong writers, despite obvious deficiencies. It would be invidious (and impossible) to rank the others, for each can show a song or two which wins our admiration. After all, it is the definition of a minor composer, perhaps, that he is capable of producing a small-scale masterpiece at least once in his life. And though for convenience, we may make comparison with Dowland on one hand and Campion on the other, it is rarely a clear case of imitating one or the other. Minor composers they may be, but each establishes his own identity.

Michael Cavendish and Thomas Greaves are, in some ways, old fashioned, though fortunately they do not inherit the legacy of 'woeful wights' and 'doleful dumps'. Both are Arcadians: Cavendish a country gentleman; Greaves lutenist to one. The former's Ayres in Tabletorie (1598) adapt the consort song to voice and lute. But he is able to avoid that cumbrous heaviness which is all too frequently a feature of the style. He manages equally well whether the mood is serious, as in 'Fair are those eyes' or light-hearted, as in 'Love, the delight of all well-thinking minds'. He can slip in and out of three time easily and occasionally throw counterpoint to the winds and produce as good a tune as anybody--'Love is not blind' for example. The first fourteen songs in the collection are printed with lute accompaniment and without partsong versions (though the bass is texted). Two appear later in the book as five-part madrigals. A further six are provided with alternate four-part settings, and the book ends with eight madrigals.

Greaves' Songes of sundrie kindes (1604) include solo songs, consort songs ('for the Viols and Voyce') and five-part madrigals. There are distinct echoes of Cavendish's book here, even direct quotation, as we find comparing 'Ye bubbling springs' with Cavendish's 'Cursed be the time.' On the whole Greaves is less dependent on polyphonic texture and has a stronger melodic sense although his lute parts often bandy motifs with the voice. His metrical structure is varied, but at the same time easy and natural. 'Shaded with olive trees' shows all these qualities at their best.

For all that it survives incomplete, Morley 's First Booke of Ayres (1600) comes as close as any single volume to encompassing the complete range of expression found in the lutesong repertoire. Hardly surprisingly, his technique is superb, yet nothing could be more artless than 'With my love my life was nestled.' 'Mistress mine, well may you fare' is equally entrancing, while 'It was a lover and his lass' (sung in As You Like It ) epitomizes Morley's unique ability to combine musical sophistication with popular appeal. Yet there is a side to Morley at variance with the common notion of him, one which emerges in such songs as 'Come, sorrow, come' and 'I saw my lady weeping', and even challenges comparison with Dowland in his 'semper dolens' mood. Indeed both composers published settings of 'I saw my lady weep[ing]' in 1600 which show striking similarities not only of mood but also of material. Both are in A minor and maintain a rhapsodic, non-imitative, yet contrapuntal continuity in the accompaniment. The songs begin similarly, and there are even closer resemblances later.

Whether this may be taken as indicating the influence of one composer on the other (and if so, which on which) is doubtful, but it certainly underlines the similarity of their idiom, and shows that Morley was a match for Dowland on his home ground.

Tobias Hume 's Musicall Humors (1605) consist primarily of instrumental pieces but should be noticed if only on account of 'Fain would I change that note', and absolute nonpareil among the works of the worthy but woeful Captain, and as graceful a song as any of the period. 'Tobacco, tobacco' is something of a curiosity; so too is 'The Souldier's Song' ('I sing the praise of honour'd wars'), a programmatic battle piece in which the accompaniment imitates 'The great Ordenance', 'Kettle Drumme' and 'Trumpets'. Hume advocated the bass viol rather than the lute as the ideal instrument for song accompaniments, and believed that 'from henceforth, the statefull instrument Gambo Violl, shall with ease yeelde full various and as devicefull Musicke as the Lute'. His Poeticall Musicke (1607) is unremarkable for any reason connected with the few songs it contains.

Francis Pilkington shares something of Dowland's approach to the lutesong. But many of the contents of his First Booke Of Songs (1605) are rather turgid, the melodic line conceived as an element of polyphonic texture rather than as a focus in itself and rarely shaped with anything like Dowland's expressive elegance. Within the galliard form he can forget counterpoint for a while and allow his gift of melody free rein, but even at its best it is somewhat stiff. There is little that is easy and natural; the simple, unaffected line of 'Rest sweet nymphs' is unfortunately not ty pical. For the rest there is some evidence of technical competence (he was, after all, an Oxford B.Mus.) but little of the true spark of genius. His literary taste was refined but conventional, and he did better when he turned to the madrigal.

John Bartlet reminds one of Jones. Two-thirds of the contents of his Booke of Ayres (1606) were furnished with alternative four-part arrangements and these are often the more successful versions. There are some engaging pieces. The duet 'Whither runneth my sweet heart?' is well known, as is 'Of all the birds that I do know'--somewhat indelicate beneath its symbols yet as delicate musically as one could wish. The serious songs are afflicted by dullness and the old fashioned consort style, though 'Go wailing verse' approaches Dowland's technique and mood quite successfully. With Bartlett one imagines that the partsong versions came first; the imitations are, generally speaking, so integral to the texture and superior in this respect to Jones's. Yet he can also think melodically and 'I would thou wert not fair' has the elegant simplicity of Rosseter or Campion at his best.

This is not the place to consider Giovanni Coprario 's two songbooks published in 1606 and 1613 to mark the death of the Earl of Devonshire and Prince Henry respectively; nor Alfonso Ferrabosco 's Ayres (1609) which bear more directly on the development of the declamatory style--they will be dealt with below. But John Danyel 's Songs (1606) mark one of then peaks of the lutesong school. Undoubtedly there are a number of attractive light ayres in the book, but it is not on them that Danyel's claim to fame rests. It is the serious songs which mark him out as second only to Dowland in expressive power. If anything, his writing is even more intense than Dowland's; the emotions seem more tortured, whereas Dowland's convey a resigned, world-weary quality.

Beside Danyel, Thomas Ford seems facile, yet this is a view not altogether fair. Charm such as his is always welcome. His Musick Of Sundrie Kindes (1607) contains only ten songs and a dialogue, but among them are not only such justly admired pieces as 'Since first I saw your face' and 'There is a lady sweet and kind', but the deliciously swooning 'Fair, sweet, cruel', the wistful 'What then is love', or the more forthright 'Now I see thy looks were feigned'. The taste is exquisite, the technique that of the harmonized tune with here and there some motivic interplay between tune and accompaniment.

Although George Handford 's book of Ayres in manuscript bears a dedication to Prince Henry dated 1609, it was never published. It was not a great loss. Nor, had the same fate befallen John Maynard 's XII Wonders Of the World (1611) would we have been much the poorer. Maynard's 'wonders' are, in fact, 'characters'--The Courtier, The Divine, etc.,--but the music is feeble and adds nothing at all to the subjects represented.

Robert Dowland 's miscellaneous collection entitled A Musicall Banquet (1610) is an important publication deserving attention on account of a number of Italian songs in it, and three by his father. It is also interesting because it supplies us with songs by several composers not otherwise known as songwriters: Anthony Holborne , Richard Martin , Robert Hales and Daniel Batchelar among them. Two of the poems set are by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex: Richard Martin's attractive 'Change thy mind since she doth change' and Batchelar's 'To Plead my faith' the beginning of which is virtually the same as that of his best-known galliard.

William Corkine 's first book of Ayres (1610) contains a number of charming songs. One or two would have done more than justice to Campion. Some are simple and tuneful like 'Think you to seduce me so', others are more elaborate in style, such as the delightfully teasing 'Sweet, let me go'. His setting of Anthony Munday's 'Beauty sat bathing' is superior to both Jones's and Pilkington's. It is more than usually complicated for Corkine, with an imitative introduction for the lute and some charming details, notably the word-painting on 'cool streams ran beside her' and some high spirited 'Fie, fies' towards the end. His Second Booke of Ayres (1612) is less rewarding, though 'Shall a smile or guileful glance' is as pleasing as anything in the earlier collection. It is worth noting that 13 of the songs in this book are without tablature accompaniment or alternative partsong versions. Instead, they are to be sung 'to the Base-Violl alone'. This, of course, was how nearly all the songs of the next generation were written, though Corkine makes no reference to realizing the bass as a continuo--indeed, the title seems to preclude it.

Though the title-page of Martin Peerson 's Private Musicke (1620) refers to the possibility of a kind of continuo accompaniment ('. . . for want of Viols, they may be performed to either the Virginall or Lute, where the Proficient can play upon the Ground . . .') the music, like the words, is really quite old fashioned. The songs are, in fact, consort songs with verse and full sections, though melodic in their appeal. Among the best in the book are 'At her fair hands', and the gently complaining 'Ah, were she pitiful as she is fair.'

There is little in John Attey 's First Booke Of Ayres (1622) to give cause for regret that he failed to produce a second, or, for that matter that it brings the English school of lutesong publications to an end. (No more solo songs came out in print for the next 30 years.) 'On a time the amorous Silvy' is poor Jones; 'Vain hope, adieu!' is poor Dowland. Only 'Sweet was the song the Virgin sung' invites a second look, though hardly meriting Warlock's description of it as a 'flawless work of serene beauty which forms a fitting conclusion to this golden period of English song.'

And so the English lutesongs come to an end, not with a bang but a whimper. It need hardly be said that Dowland's genius overshadows the whole school. In style, too, he covers the complete range, for though Danyel challenges strongly as a composer of undoubted power in his serious songs, and Rosseter is matchless in lighter ayres, no one comes as close to spanning these extremes as Dowland. Morley alone suggests that he might have done so had he lived long enough to follow up his First Booke of Ayres with a second or third. The others - Bartlett, Cavendish, Corkine, Ford, Greaves and Pilkington -were minor composers each of whom came close to perfection once or twice. Yet Dowland alone has real stature , and as a composer of songs dominates the beginning of the century just as surely as Purcell does the end. It is hard to follow such geniuses; inevitably some sort of fresh start needs to be made.

English Song Beyond the Lutesong

The accession of King James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603 was an event which promised great things; certainly, for better or worse, it was to usher in a new era. New men looked to the Court to advance themselves and their causes, and while the King turned to matters of state and religion, his Queen, Anne of Denmark, took up the arts--in particular the arts of poetry, design and decoration, music and dancing, lavishly combined in the Masque. Inordinate sums were spent on these entertainments, and the talents of Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones were employed in their production. Not only the King, but the Queen and Prince Henry each had their own households, including sizable musical establishments. Indeed, Whitehall in its Jacobean heyday stood out in contrast to the pinch-penny conservatism of Elizabeth's court which as an artistic centre had lacked distinction. In her reign it had been to the country house and the great families that musicians and poets looked for patronage. The dedications alone of many madrigal and lutesong publications bear testimony of this, and the role of household or personal musician was one which many respectable composers enjoyed; that, or the service of the Church. Elizabeth's court musicians on the other hand included few composers of repute, apart from those in the Chapel Royal.

It is true that country house patronage did not disappear during the seventeenth century, but undoubtedly, it diminished. Increasingly the court became the artistic focal point of the nation, and its glamour and prestige drew the best musicians in a way which Elizabeth's had not done. The move from the country house to the court was, of course, a reflection of a larger social and political phenomenon. No doubt the process had already begun in the latter years of Elizabeth's reign, but it accelerated in the early Stuart period. Economically it was a time of increasing difficulty for the gentry, and while many sought an easy way out of their troubles by installing themselves in town in the hope of pickings at court, others who stayed at home in the country failed to live up to their responsibilities as landowners. Both James I and Charles I had occasion to order those gentlemen without a London house of their own to return to the country and perform their traditional duties. The feudal concept of the landowner was declining, and with it the obligation of patronage.

For those young gentlemen who desired a place at court, the way in (appropriately enough) was through one of the Inns of Court. Young blades down from Oxford or Cambridge sharpened their wits there. Free from the discipline of the University and diverted with all London had to offer, it was natural that an atmosphere of youthful high spirits and intellectual vigor should give rise to new ideas--in the arts, science, religion and politics. A new wave was about to break and (as always) it is not difficult to sense that an older generation disapproved of the way things were going:

'More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise',' puts the sober Elizabethan view nicely.

So too in music. As we have seen, John Dowland felt it personally, and set himself against the avant-garde. Admittedly he was given to peevishness when he felt that his reputation had been insufficiently recognized. He had long coveted a place among the royal musicians. As early as 1594 he had hoped for preferment, but his Catholicism (he said) was against him, and it was not until 1612 that he was appointed to the King's Musick as composer and lutenist. Approaching 50 and famous throughout Northern Europe, he probably resented the upstarts whom he found there already, among them Alfonso Ferrabosco who had come strongly into the limelight by providing songs for court masques since 1605 and whose praises were sung in verse by Ben Jonson. Similarly, the still younger Robert Johnson (whose father's place as a lutenist Dowland had sought in vain in 1594) could have come in for some obloquy.

These two composers were certainly in the vanguard, and Nicholas Lanier --who may already have appeared on the scene under the powerful patronage of the Earl of Salisbury--even more so, whereas Dowland could not, or would not, refute the imputation that 'what I doe is after the old manner'. It was not entirely true, however. One or two of his songs do foreshadow the new declamatory style, notably 'Far from triumphing court.'

Ferrabosco 's songs for the Masque of Beauty (1608)--nos. 18-22 in the Ayres --demonstrate this new 'heroic' style as does 'If all the ages of the earth' from the Masque of Queens (1609) sung 'by that most excellent tenor voyce, and exact singer (her Mties servant, mr Io Allin)'. In particular, the opening illustrates the declamatory nature of the voice part and the continuo type of accompaniment. The effect is immediately arresting, and matches the high-flown verse admirably. Its ceremonial character is obvious, and as far removed from the delicious trifling of Rosseter as from the fervor of Danyel. Above all the aim seems to have been to make the words audible in a large hall (a new Banqueting Hall had been opened in Whitehall in 1608), clearly declaimed above an accompaniment sometimes of several lutes. Subtleties of harmonic nuance or polyphonic elaboration were unnecessary.

Now and again there is word repetition, sequence or imitation towards the end of a song, but only rarely. The general harmonic treatment is simple, with the same chord frequently held or repeated over several bars and stereotyped use of particular cadences. The style is thoroughly diatonic, though as a personal idiosyncrasy Ferrabosco often equivocates between tonic major and minor.

A possible parallel with developments in Italy comes to mind immediately, and the question arises as to how far Italian influences, direct or indirect, are involved. It has to be admitted that the vogue for things Italian was at its height at the end of the sixteenth century and that it persisted into the seventeenth. The taste for Italian madrigals, and the Italian influence on the English madrigal, is the most persuasive evidence of this ultramontanism, and we can be sure that printed books from Italy, madrigals and (after 1602) monodies, were sought after and studied with interest. Yet their availability in the early years of the seventeenth century does not seem to have extended much beyond the madrigalian repertory, and indicative of this is the fact that Francis Tregian did not include any monodic pieces in his vast anthology of mainly Italian vocal and instrumental music compiled while in the Fleet Gaol as a recusant from 1609 to 1619.

However, there is little doubt that certain composers affected the Italian style (either as they knew or imagined it) and even set Italian words. But Dowland 's 'Lasso! vita mia' is not a monody. Nor are Jones ' Petrarch settings, 'Ite, caldi sospiri' and 'Samor non è' for they are tied down by written-out lute parts. The freedom of declamation which comes with the basso continuo and an improvised accompaniment is denied this music, whereas it is the essence of le nuove musiche. Indeed, the fact that figured basses are virtually nonexistant in England before the 1630's itself suggests that Italian monody was not well known.

The presence of Italian musicians in England could have facilitated the dissemination of the new music. Someone who may have played a part in introducing it was Giovanni Maria Lugario, Queen Anne's Italian musician, who entered her service in 1607 after employment at the court of Mantua where he was a colleague of Monteverdi . Apparently he was in correspondence with Ottavio Rinnuccini in 1606 and he may be assumed to have been familiar with the Italian musical scene. Likewise Angelo Notari of Padua, one of Prince Henry's lutenists, who arrived from Venice about 1610, and whose Prime Musiche Nuove containing a few solo items was published in London in 1613. It has been shown that he was the compiler of a manuscript containing--among other things--Italian monodies and continuo madrigals, some of which are found in printed books dating, preponderantly, from around 1620. The presence of a string of eleven items from Monteverdi's Seventh Book of Madrigals (1619) suggests that the contents were assembled after Notari's arrival in England, probably after 1620. Apparently Caccini is unrepresented in the manuscript, and so far the only traceable monodies are from Raffaello Rontani's fifth and sixth books of Varie Musiche (1620-22).

No doubt there was more coming and going between England and Italy than we have record of now, and more Italian music available (apart from madrigals, etc.) than the few samples that survive. Even so, it is surprising that there is not more evidence of Italian traits in English songs of the period. By and large the lutesong writers were untouched, and one gets the impression that Italianate composers such as Ferrabosco and Lanier had not so much heard the 'new music' as heard about it.

But from about 1610 onwards examples of Italian monody began to be accessible to English musicians through publications such as Robert Dowland 's A Musicall Banquet (1610) and Notari's collection. Caccini 's 'Amarilli, mia bella' seems to have enjoyed wide popularity, and was even adapted to English words ('Miserere my maker'). It is among the Italian songs printed in the Musicall Banquet ,and occurs in three other manuscripts, including Tenbury MS 1018-9 which contains numerous songs by Caccini and seems to derive from Italian sources prior to the appearance of Le Nuove Musiche in 1602. The same manuscript contains five Italian settings by Alfonso Ferrabosco ; one, a setting of Guarini's 'Occbi stelle mortale' (probably earlier than the others since an English version was published in the Ayres as 'O eyes, O mortal stars') and three of passages from the same poet's Pastor Fido. Clearly these songs are conscious attempts at imitating Italian monody. In them Ferrabosco manages to achieve a degree of expressive force and declamatory power surpassing his English masque songs.

Similar traits have been noticed by some in Coprario 's Songs of Mourning (1613) bewailing the untimely death of Henry, Prince of Wales. Coprario had travelled on the Continent and probably visited Italy, adopting the Italian form of his name (Cooper) which he retained on his return. Dowland may have come into contact with the Camerata in 1595 while in Florence, early enough to have heard Caccini's songs; and Coprario, too, may have had first-hand experience of the new music, though the report that he had taken part in 'the production of the first opera' has not been substantiated. Whatever (if any) his experiences in Italy may have been, he does not show much trace of them in his Funeral Tears (1606) on the death of Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire. Nor do the Songs of Mourning argue convincingly in favour of first-hand Italian influence, for though the solo voice is more declamatory, the accompaniment is a long way from being conceived as a continuo. His three songs in Campion 's Masque for the Earl of Somerset's wedding (1613) are even less remarkable--from any point of view.

Quite the opposite applies to Nicholas Lanier 's single contribution to the same masque, 'Bring away this sacred tree,' which he himself sang in the role of Eternity. This song represents a concentration of most of the tendencies we have been considering. The vocal line is suitably heroic in its declamation and has much in common with the style of Ferrabosco's masque songs, though the wide leaps which characterize the latter's line have been restricted. But it develops the older musician's methods a stage further, by reducing the accompaniment to mere chords, and stabilizing the harmonic range. This song is really the earliest ayre that is clearly of the same type as that which was to flourish over the next 30 years. Without being more than a thoroughly effective piece it marks the point to which Fertabosco had been leading.

The new style, then, was born and grew up in the masquing hall. Actually, fewer masque songs survive from the period immediately after 1613 than before; however, the Ayres that were Sung and Played at Brougham Castle ... in the Kings Entertainmen t(1618) by George Mason and John Earsden put the declamatory techniques already observed in the masque songs of Ferrabosco and Lanier to good effect, notably in 'The Farewell Song' ('O Stay, sweet is the least delay') and the gypsy's atmospheric incantation 'The shadows dark'ning our intents.' Following the break-up of the Jonson-Ferrabosco partnership sometime after 1612, Nicholas Lanier became the principal composer for the court masques.


No sooner had declamatory elements appeared in the songs of the court masque than they began to emerge in playsongs. At first it might be thought that such a sophisticated style could have no place in the tough and tumble of the theatre, but the character of the theatre itself was changing. In 1609 Burbage and the King's Men took over the 'private' theatre at Blackfriars; an enclosed hall measuring only 66 feet by 44. In using it for his winter quarters, Burbage was doing more than bringing the drama in out of the rain. The Globe Theatre had been much larger and open to the sky. It catered for all classes of society and gave them drama larger than life, broad comedy and bloody murder. At Blackfriars the audience was smaller, more select. It cost more to get in and, in general, conditions approached those of the masquing hall rather than the public theatres. And as playhouse and masquing hall came closer, so did playsong and masque song--technically at any rate, although the different levels on which they functioned prevented a complete merger of their styles.

In the masque, music was a means of magnifying the theme of majesty, creating an aura of solemnity and splendor. Through it reality was suspended and a world of symbolism conjured up. Everything became possible, except (paradoxically) those particular effects which song could produce within the context of spoken drama. Thus in this magical world, its power to create atmosphere, to delineate character and to express feeling was diminished simply because song, as such, was no longer used as a special effect. But in the play its role was to deepen, not suspend reality; to make certain things more credible within the human situation.

The playsongs surviving from the period 1609 to 1629 show that first Robert Johnson then John Wilson were employed as composers for the King's Men. Johnson's indenture to Sir George Carey in 1596 doubtless facilitated his entry into the world of the theatre, for almost immediately Carey succeeded his father (Lord Hunsdon) in the office of Lord Chamberlain. He thus became patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theatrical company otherwise known as Hunsdon's Men and after 1603 called the King's Men. Of immediate interest are several of Johnson's songs written for the company between 1609 and 1617. Those for Shakespeare's Tempest (1610)--'Full fathom five' and 'Where the bee sucks' are after the tuneful manner of Campion or Jones, and his beautiful song 'Away delights' from Beaumont and Fletcher's The Captain (c.1612) would do honor to any composer. But mere tunefulness Johnson was willing to sacrifice in the cause of expression and characterization. The song 'Care charming sleep' from Valentinian (c.1614), sung to soothe Valentinian dying of poison, is perhaps the best example of his expressive use of the early declamatory style, while his special talent for depicting the horrific and bizarre is well illustrated in his eerie setting of 'O let us howl some heavy note' from Webster's Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613).

Although Johnson's 'characteristic' songs are a remarkable feature of his output from the technical point of view, his sterling worth as a song writer is best seen in his 'straight' songs. Leaving aside the exquisite setting of Ben Jonson's 'Have you seen the bright lily grow?' which may or may not be his, there are at least half a dozen serious songs which are among the best of their time: 'Away delights' and 'Care-charming sleep', already mentioned, would certainly merit inclusion.

John Wilson 's playsongs display less versatility. He could write a good straightforward tune; indeed, he had the common touch, and some of his songs may easily be mistaken for genuine ballads. In more sophisticated vein he could occasionally handle the declamatory style effectively, but he lacked Johnson's ability to explore deeper levels of character and feeling. After what may have been a period of collaboration he seems to have taken over from Johnson in the role of principal song writer for the King's Men about 1617, continuing in that capacity for a dozen years or more.

With few exceptions Wilson's playsongs offer little evidence of refinement; plenty of a frank, unsophisticated melodic gift, carelessly applied. In the next chapter we shall observe how these qualities carry right through his creative output. To be sure) they reflect the man, who, despite (or because of) them became successively city wait, court musician and Professor of Music at Oxford!

The Declamatory Style

Beyond the range of masque and theatre songs the declamatory element was somewhat slow in becoming established. It hardly makes an appearance in the works of the lutesong school down to 1622, and among manuscripts dating from before 1620 or thereabouts only those at Tenbury, Dublin and Cambridge contain an appreciable number of songs in a more advanced style. Soon after 1620, however, declamatory songs are more frequently encountered in the sources, which include manuscript collections made by two ladies, Elizabeth Davenant and Anne Twice, and smaller books in the Bodleian Library and the British Museum.

Only a very few items in these sources are ascribed. Some are known from later sources to be by Robert Johnson , Nicholas Lanier , John Wilson , Henry Lawes and William Webb , but apart from these (and those by lutesong writers which are also identifiable) a high proportion are by unknown composers. For example, all 76 songs in the Dublin manuscript are anonymous, though 42 are by known lutesong writers and four by later declamatists. Similarly, of the 28 songs surviving in Anne Twice's Book, only one is ascribed (to 'Mr. Johnson') but the composers of a further nine are known, eight by declamatists, John Wilson and Henry Lawes among them.

It will, therefore, be seen that the proportion of songs by unknown composers is high, and this goes for other contemporary manuscripts. Of necessity it follows that the many anonymous items in these manuscripts include (a) songs by lutesong writers omitted from their published songbooks or composed later, (b) songs by minor contemporaries who never achieved publication, or (c) early songs by declamatory composers who never subsequently laid claim, or had claim laid, to them. It is not proposed to speculate at any length on this matter, but the possibility should be borne in mind that among the run of songs by Campion and Jones in the Dublin manuscript may be some not previously known to be by them: 'Must your fair inflaming eyes' would be a candidate.

Although not numerous, there are enough songs by later composers to show that not only Lanier and Wilson, but Henry Lawes and--rather surprisingly--William Webb were active before 1620.

There is a tranquil quality in the songs of John Hilton , even the suspicion of Elizabethan temper and technique. He is, of course, better known as the composer of Ayres or Fa-Las (1627) and editor of Catch that Catch Can (1652), but if we depended on Playford for our knowledge of him as a songwriter we should know next to nothing about him. For the only solo song that ever seems to have come out in print was the rather poor and not at all typical 'Well, well, 'tis true, I am now fall'n in love.' Yet certain manuscripts represent him quite strongly and show him to have written some of the best ayres in the transitional style.

At first sight one would judge that they were fairly early, for the lutesong idiom is heavily upon them. But this is more likely attributable to his own conservatism, for the sources themselves date (probably) from the 1630's, 40's and 50's and he is totally unrepresented in the earliest manuscripts. A dozen or more of his songs are extant and they betray a fine literary taste. In addition to Donne's Hymne to God the Father, Wotton's On his Mistress the Empress of Bohemia, and two Herrick settings (not surprising in view of their Cambridge connections) we find among the anonymous verse some lovely poems: 'Arise, arise fair sun', 'Hang golden sleep', 'If that I for thy sweet sake' and 'Love is the sun itself .' They indicate a pre-Cavalier taste and some common ground with the lutenists. The Egerton manuscript probably contains the older songs which mostly occur in the opening part of the book. Unfortunately this manuscript is unreliably notated and certain points of detail must remain doubtful in the absence of corroboration from other sources. Even so, we can see enough to deplore the fact that though his fa-las and catches achieved print, these songs did not. In this same manuscript we find such songs as Herrick's 'Thou may'st be proud' which Robert Ramsey set too, but whereas Ramsey adopts the newer declamatory technique, Hilton preserves the melodic flow of the serious lutesong. Another Herrick setting, 'Am I despised' also contrasts with a declamatory setting of the same words by Henry Lawes.

This manuscript contains, in addition, Hilton's simple and unaffected setting of Donne's Hymne to God the Father ('Wilt thou forgive the sin'), though it is no match for the gravity of the poem. It is more like one of Campion's 'moral' songs, yet as this is the only musical setting of these words that has survived contemporary with Donne himself there is a strong probability that it is the one to which Izaak Walton refers in a famous passage:

I have the rather mentioned this Hymn, for that he caus'd it to be set to a most grave and solemn Tune, and to be often sung to the Organ by the Choristers of St. Pauls Church, in his own hearing; especially at the Evening Service, and at his return from his Customary Devotions in that place, did occasionally say to a friend ... O the power of Church-Musick! that Harmony added to this Hymn has raised the Affections of my heart, and quickned my graces of zeal and gratitude; and I observe, that I always return from paying this publick duo of Prayer and Praise to God, with an unexpressible tranquillity of mind, and a willingness to leave the world.

Still in the same manuscript we have the song 'Hang golden sleep', the opening phrases of which reveal a breadth and unruffled beauty matched only by the best songs of the lutenists. Unfortunately it is spoilt by increasing diffuseness of the musical material towards the middle, and rather conventional imitative treatment in the final line. This is hardly a continuo song at all; it seems to call for a full-flowing accompaniment throughout.

As a source of Hilton's songs a later manuscript is probably much more reliable and the frequent occurrence of his songs in it suggests an origin close to the composer. They show a greater addiction to the declamatory technique and may thus be later. Most of them are weaker as a result, but 'If that I for thy sweet sake' manages to combine elements of old and new, introducing triplet rhythms (a) into an otherwise square-cut phrase structure.

Taking his songs as a whole one forms the impression that Hilton belongs to the transitional phase which Lawes and Wilson outgrew, where tuneful and declamatory elements mingle, where melody has a life of its own and the bass (apart from the cadences) is still fairly free of the pull of fixed harmonic relationships. The fact that each song seems flawed in some way is perhaps the inevitable result of being a transitional composer--owing to the difficulty of satisfying different sets of criteria and lacking genius enough to establish new ones--or the versions as they survive may be corrupt. Even so, the blemishes hardly obscure the emergent picture of Hilton as an important song writer of the first half of the century, making one regret keenly that he did not prepare his own songs for publication.

See Also: Catches and Glees
Useful Links:Sixteenth Century English Ballads

Composers bibliography and music

Name and link to Whents Bibliography Years Country # of PDF/Midi Discography MP3
Atkins, John ? - 1670 England . Discography .
Attey, John fl. 1620s England . . .
Bartlet(t), John fl. 1606 - 1610 England cpdl=5 . .
Batchelar, Daniel c. 1574 - afetr 1618 England . Discography .
Brewer, Thomas 1611 - c. 1665 England . Discography .
Byrd, William c. 1540 - 1623 England cpdl=343 Discography MP3
Campion, Thomas 1567 - 1620 England. . Discography .
Caesar, aliasSmegergill, William fl. 1615 - 1667 England . . .
Cavendish, Michael c.1656 - 1628 England . Discography .
Chilmead, Edmund 1610 - 1654 England . . .
Coleman, Charles 1605 - 1664 England . . .
Coprario (Coperario), Giovanni c.1570 - 1626 England . Discography .
Corkine, William fl. 1610 - 16209? England cpdl=2 Discography .
Danyel, John 1564- after 1625 England . . .
Dowland, John 1563 - 1626 England cpdl=78 Discography MP3
Dowland, Robert c. 1565 - 1638 England . . .
Ferrabosco II, Alfonso 1572? - 1628 England . Discography .
Ford, Thomas c. 1580 - 1648 England>. cpdl=7 . .
Gibbons, Orlando 1583 - 1625 England cpdl=23 Discography .
Greaves, Thomas fl. 1604 England . . .
Hales, Robert fl. 1583 - 1616 England . . .
Handford, George fl. c. 1609 England . . .
Hilton, John 1599 - 1657 England cpdl=4 . .
Holborne, Anthony 1545? - 1602 England . . .
Hume, Tobias c. 1569 - 1645 England . Discography .
Ives, Simon 1600 - 1662 England . Discography .
Jenkins, John 1592 - 1678 England . Discography .
Johnson, Robert c. 1582 - 1633 England cpdl=1 Discography .
Jones, Robert c. 1577 - after 1615 England cpdl=4 Discography .
Lanier, Nicholas 1588 - 1666 England . Discography .
Lawes, Henry 1596 - 1662 England . Discography .
Lawes, Williams 1602 - 1645 England . Discography .
Mace, Stephen fl. 1627 - 1635 England . . .
Martin, Richard fl. c. 1610 England . . .
Mason, George c. 1565 - ? England . . .
Maynard, John 1576/7 - betw. 1614-33 England . Discography .
Morley, Thomas c. 1557 - 1602 England cpdl=67 Discography .
Peerson, Martin 1572 - 1650 fl. end 16th C. England . Discography .
Pilkington, Francis c. 1565 - 1638 England cpdl=4 Discography .
Ramsey, Robert ? - 1644 England . . .
Webb, William c1600 - after 1656 England . Discography .
Wilson, John 1595 - 1674 England . Discography .

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