Music in the English Courtly Masque, 1604–1640. By Peter Walls. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. [xix, 372 pp. ISBN 0-19-816141-7 $70.]
Reviewed by Janet Pollack*
1.1 The challenge presented to the musicologist
studying the court masque is like the challenge paleontologists face reconstructing
extinct species: the fossils remain, but the soft tissue is rarely preserved.
Like fossils, the dramatic texts often survive in print, but the masques
music, not usually published, did not fare as well. The scholar trying
to understand the nature and function of masque music is thus forced to
rely on circumstantial evidence, stylistic contexts, and reasoned speculation.
Peter Walls does just this. In prose both energetic and engaging, Walls
approaches the problem with a wide-angle lens that allows him to delve
into a variety of disciplines and contextual issues. The result is a marvelous
book—a major contribution to masque scholarship, certain to become a yardstick
for later studies of the genre.
2.1 There are a number of provocative premises underpinning Wallss concept of the masque, the most important of which are that 1) music had a far more important role in the structure than hitherto believed, and 2) the creation of any masque depended on the loose cooperation between various artistic departments. That Walls focuses on the function of music in the masque is not totally new, but his approach to reconstructing the nature of masque song and dance, and his premise that music at times overwhelmed the text and defined the action—thus freeing music from its traditionally supporting role—is indeed novel. A central concern of the study is the interface between the masques imaginary integrity and the real world (p. 4). This opens wide the door for all sorts of interdisciplinary topics, and calls up a host of questions. How was music connected with a masques central idea or device? What was the hierarchy between artistic groups and was there a prescribed sequence of tasks? How did the masque convey a social and coherent artistic vision? These are questions that Walls does not shy away from; his is a wide-ranging, contextual study reaching into every corner of seventeenth-century society, by an author who is clearly well-read and knowledgeable in many areas, not only in matters musical, and not only in England.
2.2 The book is organized in such a way that it can be read as a more or less chronological survey of the development of masque music, beginning with the songs and dances of earlier Jacobean masques and going on to consider the music of the Caroline. Chapter headings reflect the way in which music was composed by different groups of composers working on specific types of music. Chapter 1, for instance, deals with the variety of songs composed by the more important court composers, and Chapter 2 looks at dance and instrumental music, usually prepared by the violinists / dancing masters.
2.3 After briefly setting the stage with a quotation from the prologue of Middleton and Rowleys A Courtly Masque, the introduction offers us what Walls envisages as the underlying matrix of the early Stuart masque (the matrix, on pp. 2–3, is Wallss hypothetical timetable outlining the approximate moment music was performed in a typical masque and the type of music heard at a performance). From this, it is clear that for Walls dance occupied far more time than the spoken drama (pp. 2–3). Now, a premise that prioritizes music is always attractive to the musician, and Wallss scouring of masque descriptions, texts, literary commonplaces, financial records, and manuscript collections to persuade us of his bold claim, to prove that indeed music was more important in giving meaning and shape to the masque than previously assumed, is very compelling if inconclusive.
2.4 The first chapter provides a fascinating survey of relevant intellectual and political ideas as a backdrop to viewing the masques inextricable connection with the social fabric of its time. The topics touched upon range from musica speculativa to the literary epithalamia, to the masque as insubstantial pageant and court propaganda, to consideration of the dramatic text as authorial accounts of performances and commercial enterprise. These are all crucial to understanding how the masque was understood by contemporary audiences and exemplify the breadth of the authors knowledge of seventeenth-century priorities. I only wish that some of the discussions were longer, and some of the terms better explained. For instance, I found Wallss definition of the term musica speculativa—an important concept that he threads throughout the text—unclear; he tends to use it like an umbrella for Boethiuss three musical categories (musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis) making little distinction between the speculative and practical—a distinction important for the time.1
2.5 The remainder of the chapter is divided into musical sources for the Jacobean masque (and here Walls looks to Thomas Campions masque texts with extant music, John Dowlands books of airs, Alfonso Ferraboscos Ayres of 1609, and other manuscript collections in British libraries), and ends with naming masque composers. Here, a host of colorful characters make their appearance, including Thomas Giles, Jeremy Herne, Thomas Lupo, Robert Johnson, along with the major players Ben Jonson, Thomas Campion, Alfonso Ferrabosco, and nearly every other musician associated at the time with the court establishment. This chapter is wonderfully stimulating, so much so that a number of questions and other possibilities come quickly to mind. For instance, I would like to know more about the nature and function of the epithalamium (wedding poem) in the masque, and whether masques specifically intended for nuptials differed in ways from non-wedding tributes. Walls hints at such differences when he points out that aubades in masques associated with wedding celebrations have a rather different emphasis (p. 49). Other avenues of inquiry might include seeing if nuptial masques reflect the general thematic conventions and structure of traditional Jacobean epithalamia. Still other possibilities might include a recognition of hermetic and alchemical symbolism in certain masques, particularly the three presented at the 1613 Palatine wedding, and a consideration of how such symbolism may have informed the music.
2.6 The books next two chapters focus on the type, structure and function of masque music. The second chapter suggests the probable nature of main-masque songs and shows how they were used as agents of transformation (songs as sung commands to introduce and interpret the set dances and revels) and structural delineators that give emphasis and a sense of triumph at important moments (p. 50). For support Walls looks to descriptions of songs in the texts, examination of pieces confidently identified as masque tunes, and to types of solo ayres generally encountered in the early seventeenth century. In contrast, the anti-masque songs were low induction, rude and of a more popular nature. Equally provocative is the concluding section of the chapter, The Origins of English Recitative where Walls re-examines the topic with a thoroughness unencountered in previous studies. Specifically targeting two references to stylo recitativo in the 1640 Folio of Ben Jonsons Works, Walls concludes there is no reason to think the Folios account false for a number of convincing reasons. For one, English musicians would have been familiar with the new Italian monodic style early in the century by their acquaintance with Italian musicians at court, and through Vincenzo Galileis Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna shown to be widely read in England early on. Secondly, an examination of the metrical structures of a number of masque verses leads Walls to conclude that recitative would have been perceived as an appropriately noble vehicle for main-masque verse, as a means of differentiating between various modes of speech and singing (pp. 102–103).
2.7 The third chapter focuses on the masque dances, examining in turn their interpretation, the approach to choreography, kinds of metrical structures, and probable instrumentation, and finishing with Thomas Campions Lord Hayes Masque (1607) as a case study. Wallss conclusion that dances show no intrinsic connection to a masques all-important device (i.e., its emblem or controlling idea) is startling, and his demonstration that certain internal features (namely, symmetrical versus asymmetrical rhythmic groupings) separate main-masque from anti-masque dances, is a major contribution. A dances meaning, however, remains dependent on the songs that introduce them. A number of beautifully edited musical examples and two charts convincingly illustrate Wallss point and demonstrate the care and thoughtfulness that has gone into this study. Also expanded upon here is the subsidiary claim that the masque is a social vision, a vehicle for societal integration established through the linking of main-masque dances to notions of cosmic harmony and the Renaissance idea of decorum. The dance is thus transformed into a model of the Interweaving of the planets with the fixed stars, and the elegant and harmonious organization and wonderful order (p. 113). James Shirley / William Lawess The Triumph of Peace (1634) and the sources for the Caroline masque are the subjects of the fourth chapter. The shorter ensuing chapter entitled Music for the Eyes considers Inigo Jones as the major force behind the invention of the later court masque and reviews the quarrel between Jonson and Jones, which Walls sees as a battle for artistic control, not simply a matter of whose name appears at the top of the title page. The French influences in the Caroline masque (namely, the ballet de cour and Charles Is Queen Henrietta-Maria) are the subject of the sixth chapter.
2.8 Courtly in the books title allows
inclusion of entertainments presented away from Whitehall. Thus the seventh
chapter examines court-like masques presented by the Inns of Court (William
Browns 1615 Inner Temple Masque or Ulysses and Circe; Middletons
1619 Inner Temple Masque or Masque of Heroes), and royal entertainments
put on at the homes of aristocrats for the king during his summer progresses
(Campions 1613 Entertainment at Caversham, and especially his
1633–4 The Gypsies Metamorphosed; Jonsons 1633 The Entertainment
at Wedbeck; and John Miltons remarkable private 1634 masque Comus,
presented at Ludlow Castle). Realizations (Chapter 8) pulls together
a number of important themes woven throughout the book and demonstrates
one of Wallss major arguments, that artistic groups were more concerned
with general stylistic congruity than with detailed interconnections
between the musical and the literary. As a case study, Walls gives us
a detailed account of the making of Oberon: The Faery Prince (1611),
which seems an excellent choice, since for this masque there are more
than the usual number of surviving documents and masque pieces. The chapter
closes with a discussion of the revels, the masques defining feature.
An epilogue follows that looks at the decline of the Caroline masque just
after Charles I left London in 1642 (James Shirleys 1646 The Triumph
of Beauty and 1653 Cupid and Death; William Davenants 1656
operatic The Siege of Rhodes). A useful appendix listing masques
referred to in the text is also given.
3.1 If there is a weakness in the book, and I use weakness reluctantly, it may be that Walls occasionally looks for support for his principal argument in places that just cannot provide it. That entries in the Revels Books frequently mention sumptuous music but not dramatic structure and poetry is viewed by Walls as evidence of musics elevated position. However, descriptions in the Revels Books often can be laconic, and usually there is mention of the masques devices (a term with broad connotations), machinery, and lighting, suggesting that many theatrical features affected the audience, music being but one. Similarly, Wallss claim that allusion to all sorts of musical imagery in the dramatic texts indicates succinctly the symbolic importance of music may be so, but it helps little in determining whether music was actually heard at these points to enhance the text, as Walls would like to imply. Having said this, I must emphasize that these quibbles are minor, for they do not detract from the overall quality of the study. Wallss interpretations are for the most part extremely convincing, his research meticulously carried out, and his observations do not strain ones credulity.
3.2 Another grumble of mine concerns the
user-unfriendly index and bibliography. I find it frustrating that numerous
subsidiary arguments of considerable interest, and topics (such as epithalamia,
emblematics, numerology, among many others) useful in their own right
were omitted from the index, and that the bibliography excludes important
references, though admittedly cited initially in a footnote. A more comprehensive
index, particularly of a sophisticated type that does more than list names
and works, and footnotes that provide at the least cross-referencing would
greatly bolster the books usefulness as a research tool. On the other
hand, the carefully selected and well-produced musical examples, and the
books overall clean presentation should be highly commended, although
the editors have occasionally allowed duplicated lines to creep in, a
regrettable by-product of cut-and-paste technology (e.g., pp. 102 and
4.1 With just the right mix of well-reasoned speculation supported by sound research and meticulous musical analyses, Walls extends earlier masque scholarship beyond its self-acknowledged limitations and more deeply into a thorough consideration of the music. Laudable is Wallss ability to remain focused—not to digress too far into beguiling tangential issues—yet to provide at every turn enough background on disciplines and topics to make his connections among philosophy, verse, architecture and music intelligible. This is certain to please both musicologists clamoring for contextual relevance as well as those with an interest in performance practice. In the end, Walls has painted for us a vivid and engaging picture of the most ephemeral of art forms.
* Janet Pollack (email@example.com)
is Assistant Professor of Music History and Theory at the University of
Puget Sound. Her most recent research focuses on the keyboard anthology
Parthenia and its cultural and intellectual context.
1. Such ideas derive from musica speculativa—the
theories describing the ultimate position of music in the created universe
transmitted from ancient Greek sources to the mainstream of Western European
thought by Boethius in the early sixth century. The most basic tenet of
speculative music is that music is divided into three species, music
mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis . . . .
These three species were understood, not as separate phenomena, but as
different aspects or manifestations of a universal harmony (pp. 8–9).
However, Thomas Morley in 1597 emphatically claimed that: As for the
division, musicke is either speculative or practical (Thomas
Morley, A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music [London,
1597; facsimile reprint, with introduction by Edmund H. Fellows, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1937], Annotations [upon the first part], 1).
Morleys more polarized view makes it clear that the gap between speculative
and practical music had significantly widened by the end of the sixteenth
century; Wallss discussion does not, to my mind, convey this distinction.
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