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8.554284 - Elizabethan Songs and Consort Music
Elizabethan Songs and Consort Music
Although the Golden Age of Elizabethan music-making is commonly linked with the upsurge in popularity of the madrigal, this was really only a phenomenon of the very last years of the Queen's life. The earlier part of her reign (1558-1603) saw the production of a wealth of secular music, both instrumental and vocal. Consort songs for solo voice and viols were particularly esteemed, since their rich polyphonic fabric shared musical interest between all the parts without detracting from the clarity of a single voice declaiming the text. The voice was often the highest part, and therefore most clearly audible, as in the simple beauty of Pattrick's Send forth thy sighs , though it was common to have one treble viol spinning a descant above the voice: the anonymous lullaby Ah, silly poor Joas  is a good example.
Many consort songs stem from the entertainments and dramatic presentations made at court and other London venues by troupes of choirboy musician-actors from the Chapel Royal and the choir schools of Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral, whose boys were in great demand in the early years of Elizabeth's reign. Some songs, like Rennet's Eliza, her name gives honour , were addressed directly to the chief guest. More often, music was used in plays to heighten moments of great tragedy or distress: the texts make frequent use of alliteration, as parodied by Shakespeare in the Pyramus and Thisbe play produced by the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream. So Pour down, you pow'rs divine  by Robert Parsons, who drowned in the River Trent in 1570, contains such lines as 'Unless my hurted heart have help, My hopes are but my hates'. The second part of this piece survives only as an early seventeenth-century lute song, whose written vocal embellishments give some idea of the virtuosity with which such songs might have been performed. The viol parts have been reconstructed here by Richard Rastall.
Many of these dramatic songs take the form of elegies or 'death songs', either evoking death as a relief, as in the gentle O Death, rock me asleep , or railing against fate like Panthea in Richard Farrant's Ah, alas, you salt sea gods  as she prepares to die next to the body of her husband Abradad. O Jove, from stately throne  is from Farrant's play King Xerxes, one of a series of annual entertainments he produced each winter for the Queen from 1567 to 1579, performed by the boys in his charge as Master of the Choristers of the Chapel Royal. Farrant was clearly something of an entrepreneur, for in 1576 he leased a rehearsal room in Blackfriars, London, to prepare for that year's royal entertainment, but was subsequently sued for charging the public to attend these 'private' rehearsals.
Another type of consort song took moralising rather than dramatic texts: Climb not too high  by Nathaniel Pattrick, Master of the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral between 1590 and 1595, sets a poem from The Arbor of Amorous Devises on the theme of 'pride comes before a fall'.
The composer who developed the consort song furthest in terms of variety and intensity of expression was William Byrd, who was associated with the Elizabethan court and Chapel Royal from 1570 onwards. Byrd's contributions to the consort song repertory are of the very highest quality. He too could turn his hand to music for plays: Quis me statim  was probably written for a performance of Seneca's Hippolytus at Christ Church, Oxford in 1592. Its text closely parallels the dramatic laments of the choirboy dramas: ‘Who forbids me to die at once, my destiny having been destroyed? Alas, while you, too cruel, forbear, let Death pierce my bowels with your sword Scatter the bones of your beloved, O Hippolytus!’
Byrd also wrote heartfelt elegies for his patrons and colleagues, marking the death of his friend, teacher and colleague Thomas Tallis in 1585 with Ye sacred Muses . Although Byrd published Penelope that longed  in his 1589 collection Songs of Sundrie Natures with all parts texted, the altos part has many of the characteristics of a consort song voice part: it enters last, has the narrowest range and presents the poem in the clearest way, following the spoken word rhythms with little embellishment and with the most important syllables placed on the highest notes of each phrase for natural emphasis So this performance restores the song to its probable original form, with the altos sung and the remaining four parts played on viols.
Many Elizabethan choirboys were skilled viol players as well as singers: records of a banquet in 1561 tell how 'All ye dynner tyme ye syngyng children of paules played upon their vyalls and songe very pleasaunt songes to ye great delectacion & reioysyng of ye whole companie.' One of our chief sources for the sort of music they may have played is now in the British Library (Add. MS 31390), written in table-book format with each player's part facing outwards to a different side of the table on which the book was placed. Most of the instrumental tracks on this recording are taken from this manuscript.
The single genre most frequently found in this London consort table-book is the In Nomine. The origin of this refined and fascinating collection of pieces is John Taverner's elaborate six-part festal mass Gloria tibi Trinitas, possibly written for the celebrations of Henry VIII's meeting with François I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. In the Benedictus, when the voices sing the words in nomine Domine, the texture reduces to four parts, the plainsong cantus firmus is clearly heard in the alto voice in relatively quick note-values, and the often complex triple rhythms are replaced by a more square-cut duple pulse. These may be the reasons that this short section was lifted out of its original context and written into keyboard and consort books without its words.
Between Taverner and Purcell, a period covering 150 years, there is at least one example of an In Nomine by virtually every major English composer, as well as by many less well-known ones. Many of the earlier settings used the same four-part texture as Taverner: Tallis adopts the undulating phrases characteristic of the plainsong and ends his setting with serenely rising scales while the cantus firmus holds a long final pedal. Christopher Tye, choirmaster at Ely Cathedral and possibly music tutor to Elizabeth's brother Edward, wrote more In Nomines than any other single composer. They are in five parts, often with enigmatic titles; Reporte  is unusual for its lilting triple-time pulse and wayward cross-rhythms, while Crye  is characterised by a strident repeated-note figure typical of the calls of the Elizabethan street traders. While many In Nomines recall the vocal origins of the genre, the anonymous six part setting  seems purely instrumental in conception. It opens with a jaunty duple-time theme, and continues in an often homophonic style that seems colourfully at odds with the linear counterpoint of other settings.
It was a common Elizabethan procedure to perform vocal music such as motets without words. Singers might employ sol-fa-ing (pitching and naming the notes of the hexachord, the six-note scale of Elizabethan music theory), or even replace voices altogether with instruments. Several of the textless pieces performed here on viols may well have once been motets: Mundy's Fantasia  with its unusual scoring for two equal high parts and its bright major tonality suggests a celebratory theme, while Parsons' Song  is more melancholy, its harmony coloured by numerous 'false relations' (the simultaneous sounding of sharp and natural leading-notes). The title of Tallis' A Solfing Song  suggests that it was intended for singers to practise sol-fa-ing, while its closely woven musical imitative counterpoint shows the great English composer's adoption of a continental device.
If none of these motet-like fantasias shows signs of intrinsically instrumental writing, there are others that do, particularly in the works of Robert Parsons, Byrd's immediate predecessor as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The Song called Trumpets  imitates the marching rhythms and signal calls of military bands before launching into a hectic gallop. In contrast, De la court , one of the most frequently copied pieces of Elizabethan instrumental music, begins each of its two substantial sections with serious vocal-style polyphony, but gradually introduces increasingly skittish ideas before ending with vivacious flourishes from the two treble viols. Parsons' Ut re mi  may well have been intended as teaching material for the choirboys of the Chapel Royal; while the treble simply plays up and down the six-note hexachord, the lower three parts play counterpoint of some rhythmic complexity. In one source an Elizabethan performer commented, 'The second part is good, but that it is so hard, I will not sing this part'.
Dance music made up another most important element of Elizabethan music making. During the sixteenth century two dances in particular swept to popularity: the pavan, with its majestic stylised walking step, and the galliard, in which six beats were matched to five steps, the penultimate one taking two beats as the dancers sprang into the air. The Pavin of Albarti  and its related Gallyard , found in the Lumley partbooks, probably date from the 1560s and are typical of the continental dances imported into England at that time. Their jaunty air and robust rhythms provide a lively counterbalance to the prevailing melancholy of the dramatic songs and elegies so central to Elizabethan music making
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