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English Ayres and Duets

The Camerata of London
Download only
Label: Hyperion
Recording details: August 1980
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Robert Burnett
Engineered by Adam Skeaping
Release date: January 1988
Total duration: 50 minutes 3 seconds


‘Thoroughly agreeable as well as vastly interesting’ (Hi-Fi News)

‘Of immense value and interest … a full recommendation’ (The Monthly Guide to Recorded Music)

‘First-rate’ (Hi-Fi for Pleasure)
The English ayre (or Iute song, as it is perhaps more commonly known) can most easily be defined as a solo song, with an accompaniment played on the Iute. The genre, which flourished briefly and gloriously for only two decades, began with the publication of Dowland's first book in 1597, and went on to inspire almost twenty composers to publish collections of ayres. Although on first inspection the Iute ayre seems to be something of a musicological freak, surrounded by a sea of choral music and madrigals, a closer look at the development of vocal music throughout the second half of the sixteenth century shows the ayre to be a logical development of a number of musical features that were evident at this time.

By the end of the sixteenth century the idea of a solo voice being accompanied by a plucked instrument was not a new one (and indeed, it stretched back to antiquity if the traditions of Orpheus are to be believed). Almost a century before Dowland's first book, the Italian, Franciscus Bossinensis, had been publishing arrangements of four-part frottole for voice and Iute, and this tradition continued throughout the century with publications by Attaingnant and Verdelot. Although no mid-century English publications of music for voice and Iute survive, there is sufficient literary and musical evidence to suppose that the genre was not unknown.

Despite the continental precedents of solo songs accompanied by the Iute, perhaps the most important influence on the English composers of Iute ayres was the tradition of the consort song. This, in contrast to the madrigal (which was essentially Italianate in style), was a truly English idiom. The consort song was usually strophic in form and, like the ayre, had a dominant melodie line called 'the first singing part'. The accompaniment of viol consort consisted of imitative polyphonic lines, which provided both harmony and movement, as the vocal lines of the consort songs tended to be syllabic and rarely employed melismatic phrases.

Although one can detect, in some of the songs from the court of Henry VIII, the beginning of this melodically-dominated vocal style, most of the viol consort songs date from the second half of the sixteenth century. Parsons, Whythorne and Byrd are among the composers who wrote in this form. Very few of these songs remain in versions transcribed for Iute and voice (Pandolpho by Parsons is an exception here), but William Whythorne, speaking of his life in the 1550s, shows that the practice was not uncommon: 'In thes daies I yuzed to sing my songs and sonets sumtym to the liut and sumtyms to the virginals. ' It would seem to be a logicai step, that composers should wish to satisfy the demand for solo songs by transcribing their consort songs for voice and Iute, and indeed most of the Iute song publications offer alternative arrangements of the pieces in four parts.

However, it would be very wrong to suggest that the extremely vital, original and idiomatic Iute ayres were mere transcriptions of outdated part songs. They were a far more important means of musical expression than that; and indeed, as Campion admits, were primarily composed as solo songs to which the four-part version, in many cases, seems very much 'the alternative version'. The 'added parts' in some of Dowland's songs show how clearly he conceived the pieces as solo songs with Iute accompaniment. There are some highly un-vocal phrases, and some of the very typically 'lutenistic' idiosyncracies of the accompaniment have been transcribed note for note in the four part version.

Not all the composers offer the alternative parts (Morley and Danyel are examples), but most do suggest that the songs can be performed with the addition of an optional bass line. This is a much more satisfactory arrangement since the bass, second only in interest to the melody, often incorporates melodic fragments and passages of imitation, and in some cases (e.g. Dowland's In Darkness and Danyel's Eyes look no more) has passages quite independent of the Iute.

By far the largest number of ayres composed between 1597 and 1620 were written in strophic form. These multi-versed songs very often incorporate a repeat of the last two lines of each stanza (ali the strophic songs on this record are in this form except Ifthou long'st). Many of the strophic ayres are very light and melodious, and these songs owe much in their structure to the dance and ballad traditions of the time. The accompaniments tended to be written in a chordal style (e.g. Fine knacks for ladies and If thou long'st). Due to their dependence on repetitive phrase patterns these strophic ayres have a much more regular rhythmic outline than the through-composed ayre or the madrigal. The fact that the same music had to serve a number of verses meant that there was very little opportunity for word painting in the stophic ayre; and this favourite Italianate device had to be left almost exclusively to the madrigal composers. One way of ensuring variation in the strophic ayres was the practice of ornamentation. Unlike Caccini, in his publication La Nuove Musiche of 1602, the English ayre composers did not specify the style of ornamentation that they favoured. It is possible, however, to get at least an inkling of how individual singers ornamented certain songs, from the manuscript collections of ayres that remain. Some of these collections include well-known ayres in highly decorated versions. Although these ornamented songs are only a specific person's jottings, used for learning purposes or as a memory aid, they reinforce the idea that ornamentation was an integral part of the performance of the ayre. This is especially true as the seventeenth century progressed. The version of Shall I come used on this record is taken from one such collection (BL Add Ms 29481).

Not ali the ayres were written in strophic form, and there is a large number of through-composed settings in the collections. These often tend to be songs with a high level of poetical and musical emotion and seriousness. There was a much greater attempt made in these throughcomposed songs, than with the English madrigal of this period, to let the speech-rhythms of the poetry dictate the melodie line of the song. Also the compositional structure was not so episodic as that of the madrigal, which resulted in the musical phrases corresponding closely, in the through-composed ayre, with the lines of the poetry. Although not polyphonic music, these serious Iute ayres do have a contrapuntal texture in the accompaniment, which owes much to the influence of the consort song. Compared to the chordal, rhythmic, strophic songs, composers favoured a more adventurous use of harmony, syncopation and imitative figures in the through-composed style.

In some of the songs the Italianate use of dramatic recitative-like passages is incorporated to interrupt the flow of the contrapuntal texture. Such passages as 'For Quare fremuerunt' from Time's eldest son and 'jarring sounds' from In darkness let me dwell are but two examples of this. Dowland's inventive use of dissonance can also be heard in the latter example, which is one of the not over-abundant instances of word painting that one finds in the Iute ayres. Ferrabosco's dialogue Tell me O love also has a suggestion of recitative in some of its phrases; and in this song one can see how the influence of baroque style, in the form of the continuo bass, was being incorporated into the ayre.

The bass line of Tobias Hume's song Tobacco is also of interest. Hume was a great advocate of the viol being played in 'leero fashion'. In this accompaniment the viol plays chords instead of the usual single line, thereby making the Iute redundant. A number of other composers of ayres (including Robert Jones) offer lyra viol music as an accompaniment to their songs, but none are quite so insistent as to its merits as Tobias Hume.

The influence of the dance played a very important part in the development of the Iute ayre, both in England and on the continent. Indeed the French tradition of solo song accompanied by the Iute, which had started early in the sixteenth century, was based firmly on the dance. It has been suggested that the influence of the French dance-song or 'voix-de-ville' can be seen in the first English publication of ayres, Dowland's book of 1597. This book was heavily biased towards the dance, containing no less than five galliards. Two of these galliard-songs, If my complaints and Can she excuse my wrongs are also well known as instrumental pieces, and it is the anonymous settings for solo Iute, known respectively as Piper's Galliard and The Earl of Essex Galliard that we hear on this record.

This influence of the dance on the English ayre is substantiated by Webbe, who states in his A discourse of English Poetrie, 1586, 'neither is ther anie tune or stroke which may be sung or plaide on instruments, which hath not some poetical ditties framed according to the numbers there of: some to Rogero ... to Galliards, to Pavines, to Jygges, to Brawles, to all manner of tunes wich every Fidler knows ...'.

Although the galliard was the favoured dance form in the ayres, there were a number of pavan song-settings. Dowland's famous Lachrimae, which was set as Flow my tears, was one of the most influential pieces of the early seventeenth century and no doubt was, to some extent, an inspiration for the other pavan setting on this record, Danyel's Eyes look no more.

Glenda Simpson © 1988

The last two decades have seen an enormous revival of interest in, and research into, the field of what for want of a better word has been called 'early' music. The term is an imprecise, one since it covers many centuries, but it is generally understood to mean 'pre-Bach'—that is, to include the multifarious styles and schools and periods which flourished in Europe up to about 1750, the year of Bach's death. To appreciate the vast extent of the field of 'early' music it is only necessary to reflect that it can be said to stretch back to, say, the twelfth-century school of Notre Dame and the medieval period, which is twice the distance—500 years—removed from the death of Bach than is our own time, a mere 250 years or so.

All of these centuries have provided a happy hunting ground for musicians and scholars and a great deal of research has been carried out into such matters as interpretation of manuscripts, performing styles and, not least, instrumentation. Indeed, growing out of all this research has been the concomitant phenomenon of a new minor industry devoted to the reconstruction of authentic instruments. It is, after all, fairly pointless to attempt to reconstruct the music of a vanished age in an authentic fashion if an attempt is not also made to reproduce its timbre.

With regard to vocal music, however, one area of authenticity appears so far to have been largely overlooked, perhaps because it involves an altogether different field of scholarship—that of language. Would an Elizabethan, for instance, magically transported into our own time for, say, a concert of Dowland songs at the Wigmore Hall, understand what he heard? He would certainly feel at home with regard to the Iute with which they would no doubt be accompanied, and to the manner in which it was played. But what would he make of the words? Would they be intelligible to him? Clearly, the only way to find an answer to this question would be to seek the advice of an expert in the field of philology, and that is what has been done for the making of this record which, for the first time, marries the fruits of scholarship in two quite separate fields.

Before making the record, a great deal of study was undertaken by the members of the Camerata of London with Professor E J Dobson, a Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and the British Academy, and the author of English Pronunciation, 1500-1700 (Clarendon Press, 1957; 2nd ed. 1968). Together with notes on the music by Glenda Simpson and full texts of the songs, an extensive note by Professor Dobson accompanies this record and both the Camerata of London and Hyperion Records are deeply indebted to him for his interest in and enthusiasm for the project.

by Professor E J Dobson, MA, D Phil, FBA
Nobody can know exactly how any language was spoken before the invention of sound-recording; not even the most skilled modem phonetic descriptions can record in writing the precise details of intonation, strength of accentuation, or the characteristic timbre of individual speech-sounds. No one ever learnt to pronounce a foreign language like a native by following only written instructions. But with this important qualification, the history of pronunciation is the most soundly based, detailed, and scientific of the branches of philology—scientific not in the sense that it can be verified by experiment or observation, but that it depends on the collection and analysis of a vast body of recorded evidence. It has been of fundamental importance to the comparative study of languages and has been closely investigated since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The history of a language's pronunciation can be known only if it has written records and if it uses an alphabet phonetic in principle, i.e. if its system of writing depends on the analysis of the significantly different sounds used in that language and the provision of a written symbol (a letter or pair or group of letters) to represent each speech sound. Then the task of the philologist is to determine what were the phonetic values of the spelling-symbols at the successive stages of a language's history. The method is primarily the comparison of related languages on the assumption that normally the known variant modem pronunciations of words which are plainly or probably the same in origin derive ultimately from a single spoken form in the parent language. An important variant on this is to study words adopted from one language by another, assuming that at the time of adoption the pronunciation in the adopting language was, as closely as its sound-system allowed, that of the donor language (which of course has to be determined). Again, the modem dialects of a language can be compared to discover how they came to differ from each other; often a dialect preserves an older stage of pronunciation than that of the educated standard language. Work done on one language may have important consequences for the history of another, especially if it is related. The theoretical basis for the fitting together of the pieces of the jigsaw is provided by the science of phonetics, the analysis of the sounds of speech and their method of articulation not just in one language, but in many. Always the philologist is working back from the observable facts of modern pronunciation, which are the only observable facts; statements about earlier pronunciation are hypotheses, however soundly-based, though they may be regarded, with reason, as certain or near-certain.

The earliest stage of English (Anglo-saxon) is amply evidenced in written records and was spelt in an efficient phonetic manner in an alphabet derived mostly from the Roman one with the sound-values of contemporary Latin. The pronunciation of Anglo-saxon was therefore relatively easy to determine, and the further task was to trace the stages of its development to Modem English. Medieval English spelling was less efficient (with surviving consequences) but was largely influenced by that of French, another well-studied language, so that it is possible to allow for its non-phonetic conventions. From about 1500 we begin to get books which, in teaching foreign languages, explicitly compare English with foreign sounds. The imperfections of the traditional spelling, and the study of the relationship between spelling and pronunciation in classical Greek and Latin, led to a movement for the reform of spelling and to the invention of deliberately phonetic scripts, with long transcriptions of comtemporary English as examples, and this in turn led on, in the seventeenth Century, to the study of phonetics for its own sake. There were also very many spelling-books, which necessarily give evidence about the sounds of English as well, and grammars with descriptions of English pronunciation and spelling. Many books contain lists of words pronounced alike but spelt differently, and others give lists of words with rough phonetic spellings, such as the uneducated might use, set beside the correct spellings. Many unintended mis-spellings of this sort have been collected from private letters and documents. There are several rhyming dictionaries, and a little evidence on pronunciation in shorthand books. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the evidence is rich and varied.

An important subsidiary source of evidence is the rhymes of poets which ought to show that the vowels and final consonants of words rhymed together were identical at the time of writing. The emergence of new types of rhyme shows that sounds previously distinct have become the same (which may enable important deductions to be made about the sound-system more generally); the disuse of old types shows that what was once a single sound has split up, in varying phonetic contexts, into more than one (as when put ceases to rhyme with eut). But rhyme-evidence is difficult to use. From the beginning certain licenses of rhyming have to be allowed for, and in post-medieval times rhyming is often traditional, so that rhymes unjustified by current pronunciation may still be used; and after spelling became more or less fixed and people became obsessed by the written forms of words, poets gradually came to use eye-rhymes which had never been justified by pronunciation. Again, many rhymes depend not on general sound-changes, but on special variant pronunciations (which may since have been lost from the standard language) of one or other of the words involved. The use of a style of pronunciation contemporary with the poet, applying merely general rules, will not make all his rhymes good; knowledge of the possible variants of individual words is also necessary, and the same word may have to be pronounced in different ways in a single poem.

At the outset of the seventeenth century there was already, in the speech of educated people in the London area and also in the South and Midlands more generally (but not in the North and South-west), a recognized standard of correctness, but it was not rigid and allowed much variation; and it is possible to distinguish a more conservative and a more advanced mode of pronunciation (and indeed one even more advanced which was probably still vulgar and was certainly condemned). The performers in this recording have chosen not to use the more conservative mode, believing that the singers of lute-songs, then a modem fashion, would not generally have used the more old fashioned style of pronunciation; this chiefly affects the pronunciation of the long vowels of words like nome, meat or mete, and loam or home. It must be said, however, that rhymes indicating the more advanced type are rare in the lute-songs, which suggests strongly that most of the poets relied on the more conservative type; but it is known that in many cases the composers were setting words written by older men. It cannot be claimed that the pronunciations used in the recording would necessarily have been those of every singer about 1600, but they would have been recognizable, as short modem pronunciations would not be. Allowance must also be made for the exigencies of singing, especially when a vowel which is (or was then) short in speech is set to a long note or series of notes.

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