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Poet and composer Thomas Campion was an almost exact contemporary of John Dowland, by whom his reputation has since to some extent been overshadowed. Which is a pity, because Campion's music makes an ideal complement to that of the mournful and melancholic Dowland. Rather than concerning himself with 'tears, sin, darkness and death' (quoting Grove), Campion portrayed life much more cheerfully, not to say earthly, in his many tuneful songs and instrumental pieces.
This disc worthily follows 'English Lute Songs' by these artists (CDA67126), and will give equal pleasure. Also fresh in mind is the recent 'Salve Regina' (CDA67225) for which Robin Blaze (together with The Parley of Instruments under Peter Holman) received great critical acclaim.
His mother Lucy—a rich widow when she met Campion's father—used her money to fond their son's legal training. Thomas was christened in February 1567. Ten years later Lucy, widowed again, signed over ail her possessions to husband number three. She died soon afterwards, leaving Thomas only modestly provided for. He spent lime at Peterhouse Cambridge reading Classics in the conventional fashion, but not enough of them to take a degree.
Campion entered Gray's Inn in April 1586. He developed a taste for theatrical entertainments and masques of the sort regularly put on by students there, remaining uninspired by the law itself. He tried his hand at writing—Latin poems first (they make up a third of his output), chronicling his passionate friendships with artists such as Sidney, Spenser and John Dowland and including much smutty humour. Sorne of the early poems draw attention to bouts of insomnia and disturb.ing dreams, later vividly conjured up in songs like 'The cypress curtain of the night'. Twenty years later, far from putting such things aside, he lovingly revised them for an edition of 1619.
He spent (or claimed to have spent) time in the 1590s following the Earl of Essex in his mission to aid Henry IV in the French Wars of Religion. By now his poems were appearing alongside those of Sir Philip Sidney, the great poet-soldier. Homage to and imitation of Sidney led Campion to a certain amount of confusion in the Observations in the An of English Poesie, published in 1602: Sidney's attempts to adapt classical metres to English verse had been ill-advised; and most English poets preferred rhyme despite the purists (even Campion when it came toit). Samuel Daniel's ln Defence of Ryme succinctly pointed out a division between theory and practice, describing Campion as 'a man of faire parts and good reputation whose commendable rymes, albeit now himself an enemy to ryme, have given heretofore to the world the best notice of his worth'.
Also in 1601, Campion's close friend, the lutenist Philip Rosseter, self-published A Booke of Ayres to texts by Campion. Campion had written tunes for about half of them; Rosseter set the other half and provided stylish lute parts for the whole collection—a 'two faced Janus thus in one bodie united'. The book was dedicated to Campi on 's patron Sir Thomas Monson. Sorne of Campion's best-loved songs are from this book, as if he was especially inspired in collaboration. 'My sweetest Lesbia' finds him giving an effortless nod to Catullus. He plays the courtier chasing country pleasures in 'l care not for these ladies and slyly uses royal names ('Jarny', 'Bessy') for his everyday tale of country folk, 'lt fell on a summer's day'. In 'Blame not my cheeks' the game is crueller: 'Poor Cupid sits and blows his nails for cold'. We pair this one with a galliard by Campion's colleague Robert Johnson, on a strikingly similar tune. Likewise the tune used for 'Icare not these ladies' is likely to have inspired the unattributed Galliard from Lord Herbert of Cherbury's lute book, which we use as an introduction to the song.
Between 1602 and 1606 Campion studied medicine for a time at the University of Caen in France. By 1607 he was back in London: licensed to practise, and back on the literary scene with a masque commission to celebrate Lord Hay's marriage. We've created a sequence of some of the magical music: Flora waving her flowers in a ritual display of marital harmony, and the golden trees soon revealed as Apollo's dancing knights ('Now hath Flora robbed her bowers'; 'Move now with measured sound'. 'Shows and nightly revels' was included as a song in the published description of the masque, although originally it was 'devised only for dancing'. We play it as a dance for viols and lutes. Both this and 'Move now' feature divisions by Rosseter, giving a glimpse of what a performer cou Id do to enhance—rework?—Campi on 's ideas. With this close collaboration in mind we've included a fantasia by Rosseter, showing the virtuosity and profound musical intelligence at Campion's disposal.
1613 was the height of Campion's creative good fortune, but also a year in which political disgrace came dangerously close. He published his Songs of Mourning for the death of Prince Henry, in whom hopes of Stuart greatness had been placed. John Coprario turned it into an exquisitely moving song cycle. We put two side by side ('All looks be pale'; 'So parted you': both 'Campion' songs, one interpreted exquisitely by himself, the other set in Coprario's more Italianate, more demonstrative manner. Henry and Prince Charles's sister Elizabeth married Count Frederick of the Palatine. and the marriage was celebrated with another masque by Campion: The Lordes' Masque of April 14. 'Woo her, and win her', with its Frenchified style and sentiment—each woman having two lovers, scandale resolved when music and the dancers move into proper pairs—seemed suited to suave yet virile viols. The second dance from the masque found its way into the Margaret Board lute book along with 'Mr Confess's Coranto' 'Mr Confess' himself worked on the choreography for Campion's Squires' Masque (1613). He may have been over-zealous in his coaching; one nobleman 'over-heating himself with practising … fell into the small packs and died'.
But voices were raised against him. The Lordes' Masque was described as 'long and tedious'. Campion was embroiled in scandai surrounding the marriage of Yiscount Carr to Frances Howard, Countess of Essex. following her messy divorce. Carr, members of the countess's circle and Campion's patron Manson succeeded in getting Sir Thomas Overbury imprisoned—Overbury a prominent objector to the Howard-Carr marriage. Their plot to kill him necessitated the removal of the upright Keeper of the Tower Sir William Warde, and the installation in his place of more co-operative Sir William Jervis. Jervis bought his office: the bribe was handed over to 'Doctor Campion' by Monson's arrangement. The plot succeeded, though Overbury showed an almost farcical reluctance to die despite blue vitriol, poisoned tans and poisoned enemas. Campion wrote The Somerset Masque to celebrate the marriage in December that year.
By 1615 the conspirators had fallen from grace. Manson was imprisoned and Campion was questioned about his involvement. Monson denied ail knowledge of the plot to kill Overbury. The preface to Campion's Third Booke of Ayres (c 1617) is a heartfelt tribute to a sense of justice—and no doubt personal relief—at his patron's eventual release. From this book 'Break, now my heart, and die' speaks eloquently of world-weariness. The manie text of "Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire" belongs to the 'inflammable' rather than the smooth Campion, the music on the page suggesting an improvised, lyra-viol-led dramatic accompaniment.
Campion died in 1620 at the age of 53, avoiding the dignity of old age even in his last published works. A new edition of his Latin juvenilia had appeared in 1619, The Fourth Booke of Ayres a year or two before. This includes a risqué parody of the 1601 song 'Mistress, since you so much desire', which had traced the source of Cupid's fire chastely to her eyes. ln 'Beauty since you so much desire' it slipped rather lower. The other 'vaine dittie' in the book, 'Fain would I wed' lm was meant for a woman's voice originally (about a reluctant virgin). A wisecracking seventeenth-century author changed the pronouns in verse one so a coy man could sing it instead. We employed our own parodist to finish the job …
Campion left 'all that he had unto Mr Philip Rosseter, and wished that his estate had bin farr more'—a sum amounting to £22. We can take this as the noble altruism of a kindly old man wishing he could do more for his friend (the Victorian biographical tradition). Or, more likely, it's the last word from one who had lived in the fast lane, had been the chameleon artist and associate of the rich and famous, but who never managed to save and prosper.
Elizabeth Kenny © 2001
A naked Ayre without guide or prop or colour but his own is easily censured of every ear and requires so much more invemion to make it please …
...yet he rails against music that is 'long, intricate, bated with fugue, chain'd with syncopation'. That this aesthetic gives prominence to the declamation of the words has often been noted. So has the corresponding simplicity of Campion's tunes and their accompaniments, seeming to support the notion that Campion wished his own texts to be respected and not overshadowed by music.
The only evidence we have of what an actual performer made of the material is Rosseter's versions of the lute parts, published in 1601, and his divisions in consort versions of the masque songs. These are much more intricate than the lute parts in later books. It is just as likely that Campion, not himself a professional performing musician, thought it the rote of the performer to fashion his own: 'For the notes and Tableature, if they satisfie the most, we have our desire; let expert masters please themselves with better'. Throughout Campion's published Booke of Ayres it seems likely that the music printed is a framework for improvisation not clouding but ornamenting the text:
Preface to First and Second Booke of Ayres (c1613):
These Ayres were for the most part framed for one voyce with the lute or viol but upon occasion they have since been filled with more parts which who so please may use, who like not may leave … [one am compose a tenor to fill the] gaping between the two exrreame parts.
This we have done with viols improvising in a chordal or lyra style, and sometimes adding an extra voice. ln Campion's music for masques, the published format is invariably a simply transcribed version for solo voice and lute that bears little resemblance instrumentally to the opulent tonal forces used at court and in the Inns of Court. Obviously this music existed in different forms depending on the occasion and the forces available.
The traditional image of Campion's songs as, musically speaking, sober and foursquare does have some truth with reference to specific kinds of song—the 'holy' sangs in particular, where he took devoted care not to obscure the text. The role of sacred song in the worldly context of published Bookes of Ayres was one that Campion was sensitive about. 'Tune thy music to thy heart' is almost like a psalm tune. 'Never weather-beaten sail', made famous in later choral versions, is all the more beautiful in its simple original. The anguish of a deeply personal relationship with God provokes a more complex declamatory response for 'Author of Light' however.
The strongest case for re-considering Campion's music is his musical theory. Picturing music more in terms of intervals numbered up from the bass, Campion anticipated the shift away from old-fashioned counterpoint weaving round tenor lines towards the more modern tune-and-bass. Italians like Angelo Notari, the ltalian-influenced Lanier and Campi on himself were edging -half-consciously—towards an Italian figured bass system. Far from being a foursquare musical Mr Average, Campion shows himself to be a musical revolutionary. While the florid vocal writing of the Italians was an innovation to which the clear declamation of his poetry was not suited, his sense of harmony and—perhaps even more importantly—the responsibility given to the performer in 'creating' the music from a tune and a bass was new.
To be briefe, all these songs are mine, if you expresse them well, otherwise they are your owne. Farewell.
Elizabeth Kenny © 2001