Celebrate the Folger Consort's 30th anniversary with this digitally remastered collection of our most popular recordings from across the years. This England showcases early 17th century country dances, jigs, and lute ayres by English composers John Dowland, Thomas Morley, Anthony Holborne, and others with virtuoso instrumental and vocal performances by the Consort and special guests.
Considered one of the nation’s leading early music ensembles and a prominent element in the cultural landscape of the nation’s Capital, Folger Consort has been at the forefront of the Washington area’s distinguished tradition of chamber music for 30 years. With twelve commercially available recordings and the experience of more than 750 local and touring performances, Folger Consort has contributed substantially to the interest in and knowledge of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music and as resident ensemble, has shared the resources of one of the world’s great collections.
This disc has been compiled to celebrate the Folger Consort’s 30th Anniversary season, and contains some of the music from Shakespeare’s time we have recorded over the years. Looking back is something that probably is all right for an ensemble that has persevered as long as we have; and we have enjoyed selecting these tracks from CDs and even a cassette (remember those?) recorded, in some cases, years ago. It is gratifying for us to hear is that these newly remastered recordings sound at least as good as they originally did and in many cases sound even better. We are also pleased with how well all this material goes together, since it comes from many different analog and digital sources. But one of the nice things about performing early music is that there is so much of it. We will never run out of recording project ideas, and we hope to follow this release with new ones very soon! Brief notes on some of the music follow.
Although music is an integral part of Shakespeare’s plays and serves many dramatic purposes, it is a more difficult problem to identify what music was used in the plays than one might think. There are more than one hundred songs or quotations of songs found in the plays. These range from lyrics specially written by Shakespeare for art song settings, or adaptations of existing art songs, to popular ballads and other traditional material. However, for almost all of these we have no proof that any known tune was used in a performance by the King’s Men. In the case of instrumental music, things are even worse. With ballads and art songs there are likely candidates. Often one or more tunes with the right title or words can be found in manuscript or printed sources from Shakespeare’s time. However, almost no contemporary instrumental music from the popular stage survives. Here, though, we do have something to go on—a lot of the music for Stuart court masques is extant, and from these we can probably get some idea of the kinds of arrangements used in the theaters. So all in all, while we cannot say with any certainty what specific songs and instrumental pieces were used in the plays, we can say with a good deal of assurance what kinds of music would have been used in most dramatic contexts.
We begin with a set of country dances from John Playford's collection of 1651 called The English Dancing Master, or Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance. No fewer than eighteen editions of this book were issued by 1728. Many of the dances in the 1651 collection are much older—a number of them go back at least as far as 1560. Unlike the dances in French court tradition, which are always for couples, these country dances (or contredanses) are danced in "squares," "rounds," or "longways." In other words, they are for groups of people dancing together. As far as the tunes are concerned, they are simple, memorable, and timeless. Many have a characteristic minor but merry flavor, some are exhuberant, others may be ballad tunes. Although Playford printed these dances as simple fiddle tunes, we have arranged them, as Elizabethans often did, for the instruments at hand.
Next up are two selections from The First Booke of Consort Lessons, Made by Divers Exquisite Authors, published by Thomas Morley in 1599. Morley, who was Shakespeare’s London neighbor, was one of the greatest Elizabethan musicians.
O Mistresse Mine, sung by the Feste in Twelfth Night to bon vivants Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, is one of the best known songs from Shakespeare. Three musical settings of the tune survive but none with the lyrics found in the play. Although it does not match up very well with the poem (lines have to be repeated to make it work at all), we use the version from Morley’s Consort Lessons, simply because it is so good. Kemp’s Jig is a tune named after Will Kemp, the famous clown in Shakespeare’s company who once danced from London to Norwich in nine days. The word ‘Jig’ has two meanings: either the lively dance itself or a bawdy theatrical entertainment which followed the main play performance, sung and danced mostly to popular tunes. We conclude this section of the disc containing music directly associated with Shakespeare with Morley’s famous lute ayre, It was a lover and his lass, which may have been used for the first production of As You Like It.
We know quite a bit about John Dowland's life—more than we know about most of his contemporaries. This is because, as his biographer Diana Poulton says, he was "far from reticent about his own affairs." In the preface to The First Booke of Songes, Dowland writes about "the ingenuous profession of Musicke, which from my childhood I have ever aymed at, sundry times leaving my native country, the better to attain so excellent a science." There has been much said about Dowland's gloomy temperament. It is true that Elizabethans in general were capable of cultivating a fashionably melancholic demeanor, but in Dowland's case it does not seem calculated. He seems to have been a man of contradictory and powerful emotions so tremendously affected by his early failure to achieve a court appointment that he was not able to enjoy his great successes. It is probably fitting that the air Flow my tears, on which the Lachrimae pavans are based, was his most popular piece in his own time. However, he was capable of a wide range of emotions and expressed them all with unsurpassed intensity. The Earl of Essex galliard and Sir Henry Umpton’s Funeral are from Dowland's 1605 collection for lute and viols or violins titled Lachrimae or Seaven Teares figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, with divers other Pavans, Galiards, and Almands. The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux, was the last in a succession of Elizabeth’s favorites until his disastrous expedition to Ireland in 1599. He then conspired against Elizabeth with James VI of Scotland and Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of South Hampton and was beheaded by the Queen in 1601. Henry Umpton was educated at Oxford and in the law at the Middle Temple at court, and then he studied abroad. It is possible that he brought the umbrella back with him from Italy.
The next group of pieces by Morley demonstrate his great interest in Italian music. La Volto and La Couranto are Italian dances in the Consort Lessons, while Now is the gentle season is one of the most beautiful examples of the new English vogue for the madrigal. Sing we and chant it is a masterful reworking of a canzonet by Giovanni Gastoldi.
The pieces by Tobias Hume are from his Poeticall Musicke of 1607, a very fine copy of which is in the collection here at the Folger Library. The Earl of Pembrooke’s Galliard is a lovely example of writing for viol played lyra-way—in other words, a style making much use of the instrument’s chordal possibilities. Pembrooke, an important courtier, was a patron of Shakespeare. De la court is an example of a fantasy for viols, probably the Elizabethan gentleman’s instrument of choice.
The next few pieces are theatrical, although not associated with Shakespeare. Johnson’s flat masque and Sir Roger Bacon’s masque are dances from the splendid Jacobean court entertainments, and Robert Johnson’s Have you seen a bright lily grow is a charming song from a Beaumont and Fletcher play.
The dances by Anthony Holborne are from his Pavans, Galliards, and Almains for Viols, Violins, and other Musicall Wind Instruments, published in 1599. Holborne, a lutenist, was no doubt after maximum sales when he specified virtually all possible buyers for this collection. We opted, in these performances, for a mixed consort of viols, recorders, flute, and lute. The multi-talented poet, composer, and physician Thomas Campion (1567-1620), is often considered the second best composer of lute ayres after John Dowland. Songs like The cypress curtain of the night, however, do not seem second best to anything.
Finally, the Cries of London is a consort song for voice and viols, a uniquely English genre of the time. Often these were sung by choirboys. This one, by Weelkes, is part of a witty sub-genre imitating the street cries of London and/or sounds of the countryside and contains some lines in the middle that do not seem to be choirboy material.
Artistic Directors and founding members Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall form the core of the ensemble and are joined by magnificent guest artists, including the world’s leading vocalists and instrumentalists in the field of early music. Robert Eisenstein is also the director of the Five College Early Music Program in western Massachusetts, where he teaches music history, performs regularly on viola da gamba, violin, and medieval fiddle, and directs colloquium performances. Christopher Kendall is Dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he has launched “Arts on Earth,” a university-wide initiative recognizing the fundamental role of the all the arts in the human condition and in human culture.
The Washington Post recently described the Consort as “seasoned artists deeply involved in everything they perform and sensitive to the expressive dimensions of music centuries old—some ardent, some playful—while making it relevant to the present.” The Washington Times described the Consort’s enormously successful 2007 performance of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen—with legendary Shakespearean actors Lynn Redgrave, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Richard Clifford—as “outstanding” and “delightful.”
Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-class center for scholarship, learning, culture, and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). Learn more at www.folger.edu.
To learn more about Folger Consort, visit www.folger.educonsort or contact the division of Public Programs at Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St., SE, Washington, DC 20003, 202.544.7077, fax 202.544.7520.
Michael Witmore, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library
Janet Alexander Griffin, Artistic Producer
Donnajean Ward, Manager, Folger Consort
Curt Wittig, Recording and editing engineer