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Volume 11, no. 1:

John Hilton: Ayres, or Fa La’s for Three Voyces (1627). Edited by John Morehen. Recent Researches in Music of the Renaissance 137. Middleton, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 2004. [xvii, 114 pp. ISBN 0-89579-549-3. $53.]

Reviewed by Amanda Eubanks Winkler*

1. The Composer: A Problem of Reputation

2. The Texts

3. The Music

4. The Edition

References

1. The Composer: A Problem of Reputation

1.1 John Hilton the younger (1599–1657), the son of the organist and composer John Hilton (d. 1608), is best known for his contributions to Catch that Catch Can (1652). Scholars have largely criticized or ignored his other compositions, including the Ayres, or Fa La’s for Three Voyces (1627), a collection of English madrigals in the form of the Italian balletto. Edmund Fellowes dismissed Hilton’s madrigals as “somewhat inferior.”1 Joseph Kerman acerbically commented that Hilton’s set was “so poor that it could not even make the grade for the English Madrigal School,” the thirty-six-volume series edited by Fellowes.2 Others, however, found ample charms in Hilton’s pieces. The venerable Sir John Hawkins claimed that Hilton’s madrigals exceeded Thomas Morley’s in quality3 and in Grove Music Online, Peter Le Huray and Ian Spink assert that Hilton’s Fa La’s “hardly deserve their neglect since many are attractive pieces, different, rather than inferior to [Thomas] Morley’s.”4

1.2 Given such accolades, it is surprising that Hilton’s madrigals haven’t received more scholarly notice. The complete collection of Ayres was edited in the mid-nineteenth century for the Musical Antiquarian Society, but as John Morehen, the editor of the new edition of Hilton’s Ayres, points out, the MAS folio is rare and unreliable.5 Indeed, Morehen’s edition is the first to apply modern scholarly editorial methods to the complete collection of Hilton’s madrigals. In addition to Hilton’s Ayres, Morehen’s publication includes an appendix of three madrigals that are attributed to Hilton in manuscript additions to the Folger Shakespeare Library exemplar of Nicholas Yonge’s Musica transalpina.

2. The Texts

2.1 The anonymous texts set by Hilton are typical of the early seventeenth-century English madrigal. The poems are mostly about the pains and pleasures of love, although in keeping with the lighthearted nature of the balletto, the texts dwell considerably more on the pleasures: one of the commendatory verses that opens the collection recommends Hilton’s Ayres, or Fa La’s as a cure for melancholy. The text “fa la” in both the Italian balletto and the English madrigals modeled on the continental genre is generally used as a simple refrain, devoid of poetic meaning. Hilton’s collection breaks the mold in one case. In “My mistress frowns / You lovers that have loves astray” (nos. 2–3) the “fa la” appears to be a synonym for cheerful music:

My mistress frowns when she should play,
I’ll please her with a Fa la la.
Sometimes she chides, but I straightway
Present her with a Fa la la.
You lovers that have loves astray,
May win them with a Fa la la.
Quick music’s best, for still they say
None pleaseth like your Fa la la.

Hilton also modifies the typical balletto form (a single quatrain with a “fa la” refrain after each couplet) in other selections; and in “When Flora Frowns I Hope for Peace” (no. 17), the "fa la" is omitted all together.

3. The Music

3.1 The majority of the pieces, for example, “To Sport Our Merry Meeting” (no. 1), feature cheerful homophony and dance rhythms. Madrigalisms abound in Hilton’s collection, with rests portraying sighs, ascending lines representing flight and descending lines imitating the actions of “drooping” maidens. Hilton’s music is generally appealing and holds its own against comparable pieces by Morley and Thomas Weelkes.

3.2 Two pieces featuring the sorrowful Philomel are particularly powerful. Philomela, according to Greek and Roman mythology, was raped and then had her tongue cut out to enforce her silence before she was turned into a bird (either a swallow or a nightingale, depending on the source). These madrigals, while not directly addressing Philomel's sorry plight, are more serious than the other pieces in the collection; indeed, the narrator seems to realize the incongruity of Philomel’s presence in a cheerful collection of balletti. The unhappy Philomel is advised to save her sadness for winter, a more appropriately melancholic season, or to fly to a landscape that better suits her mood. “Leave Off, Sad Philomel” (no. 11), one of the most striking pieces, effectively uses typical devices—suspensions, slow note values, and chromaticism—to represent the “doleful notes” sung by the maiden. This selection also shows Hilton’s proficiency with imitative counterpoint. “Fly, Philomel, to Deserts Fly” (no. 25) continues the plea for Philomel to take her misery elsewhere. As with the previous selection, chromaticism and suspensions abound and Hilton incorporates imitation to give his madrigal a more serious tone.

4. The Edition

4.1 Morehen, a veteran editor known for his work on the Early English Church Music series, the Musica Britannica series, and The Byrd Edition, has created an exemplary edition that will be useful to both performers and scholars. Ayres, or Fa La’s presents an interesting source situation (there are no available manuscripts), but Morehen has gracefully surmounted this potential problem. Morehen examined all the surviving exemplars of the 1627 print, which are located in various British and American libraries, and his diligence was rewarded, as he discovered some valuable information about early modern printing practices.

4.2 In one of the more useful passages Morehen describes the publication background of Hilton’s collection, giving a short biography of the printer, Humfrey Lownes (fl. 1590–1630) and a description of the printing process, reconstructed through his examination of all the available exemplars of Ayres, or Fa La’s. Morehen corrects Donald Krummel’s suggestion that Lownes may have subcontracted part of the printing to George Wood, a theory Krummel forwarded because the finished product uses two distinct fonts. In a meticulous table, Morehen demonstrates that in all three partbooks almost every form (type matter and blocks assembled into pages) consists of “an apparently arbitrary mixture of the two music fonts” (p. xii). Given this mixture, it would have been quite difficult to divide the typesetting between two printing houses.

4.3 I only have one small criticism of Morehen’s edition. Morehen’s editorial policy states that he tacitly rationalized the durations of final notes, but I would have liked him to document the original note values. In all cases, I think it’s useful for an edition to give scholars and performers a precise idea of the contents of the original source. This is, admittedly, a very small quibble with an otherwise exemplary edition. The Introduction is informative, the music of the edition is clearly presented, and the critical notes are thorough and accurate. It is gratifying that Morehen and A-R Editions have paid John Hilton, admittedly a minor composer, such respect. Hilton has been unfairly neglected, and Morehen has done a service to those interested in seventeenth-century music by making his Ayres, or Fa La’s for Three Voyces available in a scholarly critical edition.

References

* Amanda Eubanks Winkler (awinkler@syr.edu) is an Assistant Professor of Music History and Cultures at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on English theater music of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Her most recent publications include Music for Macbeth (A-R Editions, 2004) and an article on the musical settings of William Congreve’s The Judgment of Paris (Cambridge Opera Journal 15, 2003).

1 Edmund H. Fellowes, The English Madrigal Composers, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 26.

2 Joseph Kerman, The Elizabethan Madrigal: A Comparative Study (New York: American Musicological Society, 1962), 254.

3 Sir John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 5 vols. (London: T. Payne, 1776; reprint in 2 vols., New York: Dover, 1963), 2:578, n.

4 Peter Le Huray and Ian Spink, New Grove Online, s.v. “Hilton, John (ii),” (accessed July 21, 2004).

5 John Hilton, Ayres, or, Fa Las, ed. Arthur Goodchild (London: Stainer and Bell, 1955–60), ix.

 


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