Epitaph: The Venetian Lament and its English Imitators
Nigel North, lute
Ave virgo sponsa Dei
Adrian Willaert (c. 1490-1562)
Sassi, Palae, Sabbion, del Adrian lio
Andrea Gabrielli (1532/33-1585)
Concordes adhibete animos
Cipriano de Rore (1515/16-1565)
From Songs of Mourning (John Coprario, 1570-1626)
i. To the most sacred King James
ii. To the most sacred Queen Anne
iii. To the most high and mighty Prince Charles
iv. To the most princely Lady Elizabeth
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
Epitaph for Thomas Tallis: Ye Sacred Muses
William Byrd (1543-1623)
Epitaph for William Byrd: Too Much I once Lamented
Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)
Passions on the death of Prince Henry (1612)
Then David Mourned (Thomas Tomkins)
Sleep, Fleshly Birth (Robert Ramsay, c. 1590-1644)
Melpomene, bewail thy sister’s loss (Thomas Vautor, c. 1592-1619)
Weep forth your tears (John Ward, 1590-1638)
From Songs of Mourning (John Coprario)
v. To Frederick the Fifth, King of the Rhine
vi. To the most disconsolate Great Britain
vii. To the world
Two Venetian settings of Dido’s Lament:
At trepida et coeptis (Virgil Aeneid IV, 642-645)
Jakob Arcadelt (1507-1568)
Dissimulare etiam sperasti (Virgil Aeneid IV, 305-319)
Cipriano de Rore
Lamentabatur Jacob (a12)
Luca Marenzio (1553-1599)
Notes on the program:
The expression of personal and communal grief has provoked potent and inventive music throughout history, never more so than in post-Elizabethan England, when melancholia was ennobled in popular culture and found beguiling manifestations in music and literature. Appropriately, given the theme of this program, the English cult of melancholia has been traced to the writings of the Italian cleric and humanist Marsilio Ficino, who successfully revived an Aristotelian idea that humor (in the temperamental sense) was directly related to intellect, and that creativity could only successfully alchemize into great art in the crucible of a melancholic soul.
As an example of England’s fascination with all things Italian, the popularity of Italian humanist philosophy in Renaissance England was merely the tip of the metaphorical iceberg: England’s great universities were aligning themselves closely with Italian scientific and classical scholarship as early as the 15th Century; successive royal courts in the 16th Century recruited Italian courtiers and intellectuals to elevate the tone of discourse in the household and promote the Italian ideal of the perfect ‘Renaissance Man’; and in the Elizabethan period especially, the great dramatists, poets, satirists and musicians established themselves on the shoulders of their Italian counterparts with often disarming honesty. Among the many volumes published at the time, Thomas Watson produced his ‘First Set of Italian Madrigals’ after the works of Marenzio and others, which he claimed to have simply ‘Englished’; whilst Thomas Morley, the greatest English madrigalist, published a collection of madrigals in London in 1595 with a dedication composed in perfect Italian. The ‘real thing’ was in abundant supply in England at this time too, with the Italian composers Ferrabosco, Bassano and Lupo all at Elizabeth’s court - the former an especially influential figure in the transforming of this arch Italian art form into a staple of English musical life – and for those who sought even deeper immersion, there existed the opportunity to explore Italy’s variegated principalities and mini-states in person. Dowland was an eager Italian tourist, as perhaps was John Cooper, whose presence in Italy we can’t exactly pinpoint but whose love affair with its culture and music cannot be seriously doubted as a man who assumed the name of Giovanni Coprario.
This program charts a series of musical ‘epitaphs’ – on the one hand revealing something of the evolution of the Venetian School at the hands of Flemish composers who were brought from northern Europe to burnish the courts of northern Italy, and on the other, some great English music composed under the influence of this marriage of Flemish and Venetian art.
Though his music is not widely disseminated today, Adrian Willaert is a musical name to be reckoned with. Born a Fleming, in 1490, he traveled to Italy as a young man and remained there for nearly fifty years, initially in the employ of the courts of Ferrara and Milan, and from 1527 onwards as the maestro di cappella at the great Basilica of San Marco in Venice. Alongside Josquin, Willaert was the musical patriarch of the Renaissance, drawing an astonishing number of significant composers to his tutelage, and establishing a compositional approach which fused the contrapuntal music of his training with a new ‘antiphonal’ style, exploiting the large numbers of performers available to him at St Mark’s, and the peculiar and challenging qualities of its cavernous transepts. The motet Ave Virgo sponsa Dei is an example of Willaert adhering to the music of his roots, with broad sweeps of imitative counterpoint sustained over three lengthy, and gloriously rich sections of music. The composers who flocked to pay musical tribute to him when he died in 1562 were participating in a long-established Franco-Flemish tradition, in which musical epitaphs were written by the pupils and devotees of the late composer, often quoting passages of their most influential music, and mentioning their master by name. The first significant work of this type was written in the cantus firmus style by Johannes Ockeghem in memory of Gilles Binchois, and his techniques were emulated in Josquin’s famous lament on Ockeghem’s death - Nymphes des Bois. Years later, Josquin’s own death provoked a huge number of epitaphs, including great examples by Appenzeller, Vinders and Gombert, but the response to Willaert’s passing was almost as voluminous: Tonight we hear two examples by his pupils – Andrea Gabrieli’s rather curious Sassi, Palae, Sabbion, del Adrian lio – a ‘gregescha’ (combining elements of Venetian, Greek and Dalmatian dialects) which calls on the fauna and marine life of the Adriatic Sea - shad, anchovies and much else, exhaustively detailed - to proclaim its united grief at the death of the great master; and a Latin work by Willaert’s fellow Fleming and successor at St Mark’s, Cipriano de Rore, which uplifts, rather than bewails the memory of ‘omniscient Adrian… the glory of the Muses…’
Later in the program comes the English version, beginning with music of the great English patriarch Thomas Tallis. His Videte Miraculum, like Willaert’s motet which opened the concert, reflects the composer’s early style and occupies a similarly broad musical footprint. William Byrd’s epitaph on the death of his friend and mentor, Ye Sacred Muses, employs a peculiarly English form - the ‘consort song’ – intended for solo voice and viols, but adaptable, as in tonight’s performance, for performance by five voices. The gentle lilts of the opening phrases give way to the dreadful pronouncement that ‘Tallis is dead’, delivered with an aching sincerity that is mirrored in some of the laments for the death of Prince Henry that we shall encounter later. Thomas Tomkins, for his part, produced a masterpiece of musical and psychological invention when Byrd died in 1623 – Too much I once lamented. Laden with extended suspensions and heaving musical sighs, Tomkins seems so twisted with grief that he resorts to bitter irony in his delivery of the hackneyed madrigalian ‘Fa la la’ refrain.
At the beginning of November 1612, the 18-year-old Prince Henry, eldest son of King James I, took a dip in the heavily-polluted River Thames. Flu-like symptoms followed, which rapidly developed into a debilitating fever, now believed to be typhoid. Sir Walter Raleigh sent medicine from the Tower of London which the dying prince refused, and he passed away on the 6th November, attended by his brother Charles and sister Elizabeth. Henry’s premature death robbed England of its anticipated restoration of the glories of the Elizabethan age, and replaced it with an uncertain future under Charles, always considered a feeble and vacillating candidate for the throne. The cleaving self-pity was therefore understandable, and from it sprung an enormous quantity of laments from some of the country’s most important creative figures: John Donne, John Webster and Thomas Campion were among the more than 100 who published eulogies or poems, and perhaps more than 40 pieces of music were composed. There was a conspicuous abandonment of British reserve, and it fuelled the composition of emotionally-charged and text-driven vocal music inspired by the new sounds emerging from the Italian courts of Mantua and Venice, combined with the fashionable melancholy of the late Elizabethan era. The rest of the English music on this program formed part of this national outpouring of grief at the death of this most precocious of adolescent boys, and can be divided into two categories: those which bear the prince’s name, either in the text itself or in a dedication at the top of the score; and those which refer analogously to Henry through the story of David’s lament over the death of his son Absalom.
In the first category falls Robert Ramsey’s touching lullaby for a dead prince Sleep, fleshly birth, and Thomas Vautor’s ravishing duet Melpomene bewail thy sister’s loss, with keyboard part here adapted for lute, and also the lute songs composed for Henry by John (Giovanni) Coprario entitled Songs of Mourning. Each of the Coprario songs (there are seven in total) is dedicated to those who survived Prince Henry and who now mourned his loss: The first names King James as the dedicatee, the second his mother Queen Anne of Denmark, the third is for his brother Charles, the fourth for his sister Elizabeth, the fifth for King Frederick V of Prussia (who later married Henry’s sister Elizabeth), and the final two are dedicated to the wider public, with the sixth song bearing the subtitle “To the most disconsolate Great Britain”, and the final song is simply addressed “To the World.” Into the second category can be placed the sacred madrigal by Thomas Tomkins which begin tonight’s second half, which use the analogy of David weeping over the death of his son to express the grief a king over the loss of his son.
The remaining elements of the program were all composed in Italy, and published in Venice. The settings from Virgil’s Aeneid of Dido’s Lament by Cipriano de Rore and Jakob Arcadelt (another relocated Fleming, this one employed at the Sistine Chapel) present a chance to engage with the Latin language in its classical, poetic guise. De Rore’s approach to this iconic account of the disintegration of pride in the face of love’s devastating power feels particularly revolutionary – a chorused declamation with a loose, almost recitative-like approach to rhythm which allows the performer to find a naturalized pattern of speech, occasionally punctuated by passages of judiciously repeated text, and a couple of lines which show fidelity towards the dactylic scansion of Virgil’s original. It is, as Jessie Ann Owens has said, ‘closer in spirit to opera than to madrigal’, and it confirms de Rore’s place alongside Willaert and Monteverdi as one of the pioneering figures of Venetian music.
Members of the Yale Voxtet are current students of James Taylor at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale School of Music, where they are candidates for graduate degrees in voice. The ensemble sings as part of the Yale Schola Cantorum and presents two chamber concerts a year.
Literally meaning ‘rooster song’ or ‘cock crow’, Gallicantus takes its name from monastic antiquity; the name of the office held just before dawn, it was a ceremony which evoked the renewal of life offered by the coming day. Dedicated to renaissance music and directed by Gabriel Crouch, the membership of this early music group boasts a wealth of experience in consort singing.