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Recorder virtuoso Pamela Thorby collaborates with Andrew Lawrence-King in this delightful selection of unusual and eloquent pieces for recorders, harps and psaltery.
In his 1553 Trattado (treatise), Diego Ortiz describes three ways for instruments to play together: free invention, variations over the repeating harmonic sequence of a ground, and decorated versions of well-known madrigals. He writes not for a renaissance consort of similar instruments but for a soloist, with the polyphonic lines combined into chords for the accompanist. The bare outline of the melody is swathed in embellishments – glosas: standard cadence formulae that could be improvised in any performance; subtle progressions through each melodic interval, to be prepared in advance; complex ornamentation jumping across the polyphonic texture from one voice to another (or even adding an additional voice), so elaborately worked as to create a new composition.
Ortiz’s glosas literally ‘gloss’ the melody, replacing a single long note by a flurry of shorter notes, ‘dividing’ slow notes into ‘diminutions’ – lots of little notes. This ‘music of division’ relies on the strength of the underlying melody, adding rhythmic sparkle with subtle patterning in the diminutions. Later division settings – passaggi – feature note radoppiate, even faster ‘redoubled’ notes, mixing languorous, delightfully agile and breathtakingly rapid articulations in complex rhythms assembled from fragments of scales and conventional passagework.
The explosion of ‘new music’ in the early seventeenth century – Cavalieri’s Anima e Corpo, the first oratorio, and Peri’s Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, both in 1600; Caccini’s continuo-songs, Le nuove musiche, in 1601; Viadana’s continuo-motets in 1602 – was ignited by the new technique of composing directly for solo voice and basso continuo. Renaissance polyphony and the serene harmony of the spheres gave way to baroque solo display and to music of drama and emotional change, all designed to sway the listener’s mood – muovere gli affetti – to tears, noble anger, love, or laughter. Where Ortiz had re-arranged polyphony to create a chordal accompaniment, Caccini published the accompaniment to his songs as a figured bass, from which the continuo player would improvise harmonies and essential counterpoint. Peri’s recitar cantando (declaiming in song, i.e. recitative) employed forbidden dissonances to imitate an actor’s spoken delivery, sudden contrasts of syllable speed to indicate passion, and extreme harmonies to express emotion.
Instrumentalists continued to play variations on grounds and embellished versions of vocal music (Ortiz’s second and third recipes), but soon found an equivalent to the free invention of recitative song in the instrumental sonata. Just as the form of an operatic recitative or seventeenth century madrigal would be dictated by the changing moods of the text – ‘emotional logic’ rather than structural design – so instrumental sonatas were assembled in short, contrasting sections. Instruments imitated voices in the simple rhythms of the canzona, in the operatic drama of strong dissonances and in the poignancy of recitative-like affetti sections. Special effects – tremolo, arpeggio figures, extreme high and low notes – demonstrated the power of instrumental music, as charming, persuasive and awe-inspiring as that icon of early opera, the lyre of Orpheus, the mythical, hell-harrowing cetra.
Music historians have tended to characterise the philosophy of this ‘new music’, of Florentine opera and Venetian sonatas, as a reaction against the earlier diminution style. However singers and instrumentalists continued to write instruction manuals for diminutions and enriched the earlier tradition, developing the fashion for radoppiate and other new embellishments. In his Nuove musiche (Florence, 1602), Caccini gives detailed instructions for the realisation of the messa di voce, intonazione and esclamazione (starting a note with a crescendo, with an upwards slide, or with a sudden accent, decrescendo and renewed crescendo), the trillo (repeated-note trill) and ribattuta di gola (literally ‘beating in the throat’, a reiterated, rapid flick from the note above). His intention was not to abandon ornamentation, but to reform it by unifying it with the text, and thus with the emotional content of the song. In imitation of such vocal models, instrumental sonatas similarly drew on the diminution players' arsenal of ornamental passaggi and special effects.
Conversely, elaborate diminution-pieces from the last decade of the sixteenth century onwards transcend mere virtuoso display to become new solo compositions in their own right, wholly within the new aesthetic of dramatic contrast and changing emotions, even when they are built on the stable foundation of a polyphonic madrigal or renaissance chanson. Diminution-composers usually chose pieces that had already become well known in their original form; pastoral chansons, fresh and lively (Frais et galliard), or nostalgic (Doulce mémoire). Many of the originals have strongly memorable harmonic sequences, as in the final phrases of Susanne un jour, Doulce mémoire and Amarilli. Many have distinctive, easily recognised characteristics: the descending notes of Lachrime; the famous Amarilli motive; the upwards leap of a fourth and descending scales of Frais et galliard; the melodic minor third that begins Susanne un jour; the strong, simple harmonies that announce Doulce mémoire.
In Elizabethan England, Dowland’s Second Booke of Songes (1600) appears to follow contemporary Italian fashion for solo settings with plucked accompaniment. But his lute-tablature songs are far from Caccini’s continuo recitatives, not only in notational presentation, but also in musical and emotional content. Dowland’s music remains polyphonic, with strong contrapuntal interest in the lower voices even when the principal voice is set apart as a solo. Where Italian texts revel in the dramatic contrast of opposing affetti, the motto of the composer of Lachrime was ‘Semper Dowland, semper dolens’: forever Dowland, forever melancholy. Contemporary English writers regarded strong emotions as ‘perturbations of melancholy’, whether ‘sadde and fearful’, ‘furious’ or ‘merry in apparaunce’, in which the ‘hart … breaketh out into that inordinate passion, against reason’.
In English literary sources, the ‘sweet notes’ of recorders are heard ‘under a sweet arbour of eglantine’. Recorders, ‘the delight of each melody and grove’ are associated with pastoral shepherds and singing birds, with dancing, and with the ‘pleasures of Love’, once ‘the toils and the hazards of war’s at an end’. But the recorder too could be melancholy, a Shakespearian metaphor for the ‘woes’ and ‘distresses’ heard in the ‘nightingale’s complaining notes’. It could also create an eerie atmosphere for night scenes, funeral processions or druidic rites.
In marked contrast to its present-day identity as a woman’s instrument played by angels, the Italian harp’s seventeenth-century image shows a young man, the incarnation of Pleasure. Orpheus plays aboard ship to ‘calme the Seas with his Harp’, or most famously of all, in Hell. Harps are associated with King David the psalmist, but also with love-scenes and dancing: many paintings show David dancing with an impracticably large double-harp embraced in his arms. Harps with two rows of strings crossing each other (in the way that the fingers of clasped hands interlace) were already known in sixteenth-century Spain. In Italy, the seventeenth-century arpa doppia (meaning a large harp, usually a tre ordini, with three parallel rows of strings) was prized as a continuo accompaniment for opera, songs or sonatas and as a solo instrument for ornamented madrigals and variations on ground basses.
In England, harpists, keyboard players and lutenists shared a common repertoire of instrumental settings of well-known vocal music, alongside division-sets based on ballad-tunes and dance-tunes. Many of these English popular tunes are linked to Italian ground basses, those repeating chord sequences referred to by Ortiz as tenores. Boffons, danced as a mock battle with wooden swords, and Ortiz’s Recercada segunda de tenore are variations over the same passamezzo moderno bass. This ground, Shakespeare’s Passymeasures pavin, was known to lutenists as the Quadran pavan and to barber-shop gittern players such as Gregory Walker. Gregory was a famous hairdresser, and this is the original ‘walking bass’!
One of the paradoxes of early music is that the period aesthetic did not favour ‘authenticity’. French chansons are given Neapolitan glosas and Venetian passagi; vocal polyphony is transformed into diminution solos for instruments. In the ‘excellent cabinet’, Schop adds European echoes and continental chromatics to Lachrime, that beloved icon of English melancholy. Van Eyck’s flowery Amaryllis in his ‘flautist's garden of delight’ ignores Caccini’s Florentine principles. And the very concept of an instrumental sonata is at odds with the vocal model that inspired it, the desire to move the emotions by the dramatic recitation of a text. The composers represented here took music and philosophies of past generations, and made them new. In that spirit, this programme’s first set of glosas is in every way a passamezzo moderno.
Andrew Lawrence-King © 2008
To coax an instrument to sing, to breathe colour and sophisticated nuance without mannerism into a musical line is an intricate challenge and one which this repertoire certainly demands of the performer. With regard to the instruments on this recording, the historical copies I have chosen could be variously described as ‘renaissance’, ‘ganassi’ or ‘transitional’ models. I have used articulations that are mentioned in historical sources and found these particularly necessary in the quicksilver flights of demi-semiquaver runs; to achieve something more than just machinegun precision, a fluent, expressive line at high speed demands an array of flexible articulation possibilities. The ‘fruity’ temperament serves to heighten the delicious moments of – sometimes intentionally uncomfortable – tension and release.
I have picked freely from our musical ‘Garden of Early Delights’ to form a mixed bouquet of diverse, joyous, unusual and eloquent pieces. The quixotic drama of the experimental sonatas ‘in stil moderno’ is countered with bursts of good humour in our treatment of van Eyck’s popular variations: the sensuous melancholy of Dowland’s fabulous melodies contrasts with the formality of diminutions on favourite madrigals.
Having worked on previous Linn projects with continuo-players of the calibre of harpsichordist Richard Egarr and lutenist William Carter, I am delighted to be collaborating with the extraordinary harpist Andrew Lawrence-King on this project. The intention for this album is not to create a dry historical document, but simply that it becomes part of the ever evolving tradition of musicians discovering and bringing to life a repertoire full of surprise, beauty and delight.
Pamela Thorby © 2008