Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"The onely pretiring time"

After marking a couple of M.A. essays on the songs in Shakespeare’s comedies, I thought I’d get busy and post of few mp3’s transferred from my collection of antique vinyl, and so here they all are on a site I rather hastily put together yesterday:

I had no idea that Thomas Morley, Shakespeare’s sometime London neighbour (and who set music for the lyrics ‘O Mistress Mine’ and ‘It was a Lover and his Lass’) had lived a life that was quite so far from ‘Hay ding a ding a ding’. I checked the biography by Michael W Foster in the ODNB, and though Foster seems reluctant to make much of it, Morley evidently set off as a Catholic musician, working under the tutelage of the defiantly Catholic William Byrd. The senior composer was secured by the Queen’s approval of his talent (“process to cease by order of the Queen” ran the note on a document reporting his recusancy). Morley had no such protection: he seems to have been suspected and intimidated by both Catholics and Protestants. Finally he was turned, becoming an informer against his erstwhile co-religionists (“I hear since his coming thither he has played the promoter and apprehends Catholics”, wrote the Catholic exile Charles Paget).

One can see that from their training and employment in the Cathedrals, and by their attachment to their art, senior Tudor musicians would include men strongly attached to the Catholic faith, something which might be reinforced by their travels abroad and contact with Italian musicians. But, living a life in the brazen age, Morley made his compromise: "Morley the singing man employs himself in that kind of service … and has brought diverse into danger".

The memorial brass on Thomas Tallis's tomb had paid a kind of tribute to his adaptability:

He serv'd long Tyme in Chapp[ell] with grete prayse,
Fower sovereygnes reignes (a thing not often scene),
I mean King Henry and Prince Edward's Dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth our Quene.
He maryed was, though Children had he none,
And lyv'd in Love full thre and thirty Yeres …
As he did Lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet Sort (O! happy Man).

Arriving in a younger generation, Morley seems to have had to prove his usefulness to the new regime before he could enter the protective zone of the Chapel Royal.


Adam Roberts said...

Roy, to go slightly off the point of your post: do you have an opinion of (have you heard?) Sting's new Dowland album?

If you go to the Valve [] there's a discussion started up about the differences between Renaissance and modern singing, and music, pendant to a brief review of that CD.

DrRoy said...

Always good to go over to Valve, and I followed the thread. No, I could not face 'The only pretty Sting time', having too many prejudices to overcome. I guess I assume that most of these 16th century guys started in Cathedral choirs. Morley is thought to have continued as countertenor. So might they have sung on the sharp side of the middle of the note, and free of 'vibrato'/'noise' or otherwise 'pure'?
I quite often sit mesmerised by the fuzzy waveforms the 'Audacity' software produces as it embarks on making vinyl sounds into MP3's. You get 'noise' reduction as a process, so you don't do the process too often before you think of removing 'noise' all across a track: and everything turns into a fairground organ piping away. I must study Emma Kirkby letting fall some melodious tears, looking for relative smoothness.