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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 13 (2007) No. 1

Songs with Theorbo (ca.1650–1663). Edited by Gordon S. Callon. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 105. Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 2000. [xlviii, 112 pp. ISBN 0-89579-461-6. $55.]

Reviewed by Andrew R. Walkling*

1. English Song in the Mid-Seventeenth Century

2. Editorial Procedure and Performance Practice Considerations

3. Anomalies and Questions

1. English Song in the Mid-Seventeenth Century

1.1 The repertory of mid-seventeenth-century English song is an extremely fertile yet little-explored field. This rich and fascinating corpus, which spans the gap between the Jacobean lute-song and the cosmopolitan Restoration form developed in the 1670s and beyond, epitomizes the nascent English Baroque style, with all its idiosyncratic richness of harmonic texture and experimentation with melody and ornament. Deriving from the rarefied world of the Caroline court in the 1630s and the cavalier culture of the 1640s and ’50s, the mid-century style is an elevated form: dense in its referentiality, rigorously intellectual, and musically complex, it demanded the skills of performers schooled in elite culture and broadly conversant with music, poetry, and the visual arts. In their artful amalgamation of aesthetic intensity and pastoral simplicity expressed through the language of love, the songs of this period sought not only to articulate a sense of English identity in the face of looming national catastrophe, but to link England culturally to wider European trends as well. Hence, contemporary Italian and French songs circulated freely in English circles, while the most gifted of the English composers incorporated elements of Continental styles into their own works. One consequence of the elite nature of English song during this period is the importance of manuscript circulation to the dissemination of these works. Only in 1651 did John Playford break a nearly twenty-year hiatus in the printing of song-books, and even a decade later manuscripts remained a critical source for music-makers, particularly at the highest strata of society. Thus, any attempt to explore the mid-century repertory in all its breadth and complexity must of necessity begin with the study and editing of manuscripts dating from the period.

1.2 Gordon J. Callon is no stranger to this task, having edited the complete works of Nicholas Lanier (Severinus Press, 1994) and, more recently, the complete vocal works of William Lawes in four volumes (A-R Editions, 2002). In the volume under review here, he presents two important manuscripts copied during the 1650s and early 1660s, both connected with the musician Charles Colman (or Coleman; b.?late 16th century or possibly ca.1605, d.1664), who spent much of his career working for the royal court and highly-placed officials of the Commonwealth. Both manuscripts contain a mixture of English, French, and Italian solo songs, nearly half of which are anonymous. The majority of the songs are scored for voice and 13-course theorbo. The first manuscript, GB-Ob Broxbourne 84.9, which Callon believes to be in Colman’s hand, contains 16 pieces—12 secular songs (7 in English, 4 in Italian, 1 in French), a brief instrumental “La Folia” variation, and three English psalm settings. The second, GB-Llp 1041 (hereafter “Lambeth 1041”), contains 29 pieces—22 secular songs with theorbo accompaniment (12 in English, 6 in French, 4 in Italian), and a set of seven English songs scored for voice and (unfigured) continuo that were probably copied in the late 1660s and mostly represent work by the next generation of early Restoration composers, including Matthew Locke, John Goodgroome, Alphonso Marsh, and Charles Colman’s son Edward. All told, then, Callon’s edition covers over 40 songs, 12 of which are unique to one or the other of the manuscripts (another four represent unique variants of songs found in substantially different form elsewhere). Only one song appears in both manuscripts, albeit in different versions.

2. Editorial Procedure and Performance Practice Considerations

2.1 The volume begins with a detailed and informative scholarly introduction, followed by transcriptions of the song texts (with English translations of the French and Italian) and several plates reproducing pages of the manuscripts. Following the edition proper, Callon provides a full critical report, giving concordant sources, commentary, and critical notes where appropriate for each piece. The volume concludes with an appendix presenting variant versions of nine of the songs. Callon’s editorial procedure balances the thoroughgoing scholarly apparatus with an effort to meet the needs of performers: he provides keyboard transcriptions of the theorbo tablature (with occasional upper-note transpositions to compensate for the low-octave tuning of the theorbo’s first course); he transposes vocal lines as necessary to make the tablature applicable only to theorbos tuned in G or A; and he offers explanations and proposed realizations of the various ornamentation markings found throughout the manuscripts. In one case (p. 25) he replaces a corrupt theorbo line with a corrected version drawn from another source; in another instance (p. 78) he supplies a missing continuo line by adapting a variant version from elsewhere.

2.2 Taken together, the two manuscripts covered in this edition provide valuable evidence, not only of mid-century repertory, but, as Callon points out in his introduction (p. xi), of the styles of ornamentation and continuo realization practiced during this important period in the development of English music. The assignment of florid melismas to inconsequential words—a sort of “anti-madrigalism”—is widely evident, and contributes to our understanding of the declamatory and full-blown recitative styles found in other, more substantial works of the period, for example Locke and Gibbons’s Cupid and Death. In addition, both manuscripts contain a variety of ornamentation markings, some of which appear to have widespread, if sometimes flexible, application, while others are found only in a single piece (e.g., the anonymous “S’io morrò, che dirà” in Broxbourne 84.9). In four instances (two French and two English songs, three of which are unique to this source) Lambeth 1041 provides simple/double versions of the music, further revealing contemporary practice in ornamentation; a fifth song (English and, again, unique) provides varying settings for each of four separate, strophic verses. Given all the information these features of the two manuscripts can provide to scholars and performers alike, it is perhaps surprising that Callon has chosen to omit from his edition the section of Lambeth 1041 (fols. 79v–83r) that contains what he describes as “a remarkably complete set of ‘rules’ for continuo accompaniment as practiced in mid-seventeenth-century England” (p. xi).

3. Anomalies and Questions

3.1 With the exception of the continuo songs added later to the end of Lambeth 1041, all of the attributed English songs in the two sources come from the pens of only four composers: Nicholas Lanier, Henry and William Lawes, and Charles Colman. This may add ammunition to Callon’s argument that Colman himself was the copyist of Broxbourne 84.9 and that his may be one, or possibly two, of the five hands found in Lambeth 1041. Although Callon speculates that both manuscripts “served some instructional purpose, probably for one or more serious amateurs” (p. xii), he does not explore the possible reasons for Colman to have been compiling two different sources, with almost no songs in common, “during approximately the same time period” (p. xii), nor does he address the likelihood of Colman, who was described as “antient” in the record of his burial in 1664, devoting his energies—and with such steady penmanship—to these projects so late in life. Lambeth 1041, in particular, is of interest for its association with Lady Ann Blount, daughter of the parliamentarian-turned-royalist Mountjoy Blount, Earl of Newport, but Callon says little about this connection, or why the earliest copyist (possibly Colman?) might have chosen to begin the volume with the anonymous song “We Do Account That Music Good,” whose text seems ideally suited for use by a private musical society, club, or other established convivial gathering constituted around the singing of songs.

3.2 Apart from the three psalm settings tacked onto its end, Broxbourne 84.9 presents a group of songs devoted exclusively to the theme of love. Lambeth 1041, while also tending in this direction, includes five songs on other topics, whose presence might have elicited some profitable commentary on Callon’s part. These include the brief paean to music and good fellowship mentioned above, Roger L’Estrange’s fashionable cavalier lament “Light in a Dungeon” (“Beat on Proud Billows, Boreas Blow,” no. 5), an unattributed French drinking song (“Ne vous étonnez pas,” no. 13), the young Edward Colman’s famous ubi sunt theatrical piece “The Glories of Our Birth and State” (no. 28, from the appended continuo section of the manuscript), and, perhaps most intriguingly, the anonymous “Sing Aloud Harmonious Spheres” (no. 4), whose text strongly suggests an origin in some now-lost court masque. (In his list of concordant sources for the latter song, Callon does not mention the variant version, with voice part only, found in GB-Och Music MS 1114, fol. 20v.) Another instance in which some further speculation might have proven beneficial is the aforementioned “S’io morrò, che dirà” (Broxbourne, no. 11), whose unique and in some cases indecipherable ornaments, along with the fact that it may be in a different hand, make this a potential case for special study. The same might be said of Nicholas Lanier’s “Silly Heart Forbear” (Broxbourne, no. 2; Lambeth, no. 2—the only song common to both manuscripts), where the Lambeth reading, possibly copied by Colman at an earlier date, seems superior in several respects to what Colman apparently set down later in Broxbourne.

3.3 On the whole, Callon’s edition is thorough and free of significant errors. Only two places in the music seem problematic: on p. 66 (Lambeth, no. 20), measure 62, theorbo part, first beat, one wonders if the f-sharp should be an a (i.e., an “e” rather than a “b” stop on the fourth course in the tablature), and on p. 74 (Lambeth, no. 25), there is something odd about the continuo progression in measures 7–8. A few points in the scholarly introduction also require clarification: Alfonso Marsh senior and junior have been confused on p. xiv and particularly in the accompanying n. 90; the statement in the St. Alfege burial register that the 77-year-old Nicholas Lanier was “corred [i.e., carried] away” prior to his interment on 24 February 1666 probably indicates that he died in the great plague epidemic, and not that “he was buried elsewhere”; and the all-important n. 48 on p. xxi seems to have become garbled through the transposition of two passages. One also wonders why, in his footnotes to the introduction (pp. xix ff.), Callon has chosen in some instances to cite Henry Carte De Lafontaine’s The King’s Musick (1909) and in others to reference the Records of English Court Music series (1986–96) by Andrew Ashbee that superseded Lafontaine’s work. Finally, Callon’s usually reliable textual transcription goes strangely awry in the case of “Blest Be Those Powers” (p. xxvi), which is in actuality a straightforward ten-line poem in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter.

3.4 Such minor issues are, of course, raised here largely for the benefit of those who might wish to pencil a few corrections into their copies. In the grand scheme of things, Gordon Callon has produced an excellent edition that materially advances our understanding of this often overlooked repertory. In facilitating both the performance and the study of these fascinating and important works, Callon has made a significant contribution to the resurrection of English vocal music of the mid-seventeenth century, and we can hope that recorded performances of some of these wonderful songs will be forthcoming in due course.


* Andrew R. Walkling (aw12@cornell.edu) is Dean’s Assistant Professor of Early Modern Studies at the State University of New York, Binghamton. He is a historian of seventeenth-century England with an interest in the royal court, music, and theater in the reigns of Charles II and James II. He would like to thank Ernie Drown for his assistance in the exploration of the pieces in this volume.

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