Emma Kirkby & Jakob Lindberg, 17 March 2016

Programme notes

The Golden Age Revived

The time of Creation – Love and the elements
Metamorphosis – Apollo and Daphne
The struggles of Classical heroines
Lyric themes of Anacreon, Horace and Sappho

Every era has had its coterie of sensitive souls, nostalgic for earlier, purer and more beautiful times; some of them merely bemoaned what was lost but others strove to revive and refashion those previous achievements.  Through the Renaissance a recurring fascination with Greek and Roman art, literature and philosophy informed the work of the finest artists, writers and composers.   While often they turned out to be working on inaccurate information, still the results at times were wonderful – witness, for example, Monteverdi’s generation, in its search for the expressive power of Classical Greek tragedians, which resulted in the prototypes of opera in Europe – or, in a similar spirit, the search for Greek ‘pykna’ (‘points of colour’) in the chromatic madrigals of Gesualdo and his colleagues, themselves the spur for Stravinsky’s experiments four centuries later.

One could see the late sixteenth century in Italy as a Golden Age of song, and another such came to fruition in England around 1600. In the time of Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney and the young John Donne, the eloquence of poets was matched in song by Dowland, Danyel, and the rest, and this tradition continued all through the seventeenth century, surviving upheavals, even the Civil War and the beheading of a king, and underpinning the efforts of Lawes, Blow, Purcell and others.

Renaissance and early baroque players saw the lute as their lyre of Orpheus, queen of instruments. It was a thing of great subtlety, whose magical sound could soothe the most savage or desperate soul, and also offer ideal partnership for any eloquent singer who sought to relive the age of Arcadia, land of primal innocence where men and gods lived side by side; a scenario recreated again and again in the courts of Europe.  Confronted on the other hand with the harsh realities of actual life, with its events of struggle, violence and betrayal, artists looked again to Classical literature for models and archetypes.

But all this can give no more than a hint of the richness of the Golden Age idea, because, even with our intimate forces, we are still spoiled for choice!  



So Beautie on the Waters Stood: Alfonso Ferrabosco 2nd (1578-1628)

Alfonso Ferrabosco 2nd was decended from a Bolognese family of musicians; his father, Alfonso 1st, settled in London in 1567. Alfonso 2nd held a series of royal appointments, and was particularly noted for his music for viols and his songs. ‘So Beautie on the Waters Stood’, from his collection, Ayres, published in 1609, sets a lyric from Ben Johnson’s Masque of Beauty, staged in the banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace in January, 1608.


When Daphne from fair Phoebus did Fly: Anon.
Coy Daphne Fled: John Danyel (1564-c.1626)
When Phoebus first did Daphne Love: John Dowland (1563-1626)
Preludium - Fantasia: John Dowland

In the myth the water-nymph, Daphne, running from the god Apollo (also known as Phoebus), cries for help to her father, the river-god Peneus, and is changed into a laurel bush. The story would have been most familiar to educated English speakers from this period as told by the Roman poet Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, in the translation by Arthur Golding published in 1567.

‘When Daphne from fair Phoebus did Fly’ is an anonymous lyric from the early 17thcentury; the equally anonymous tune appeared later in the collection The English Dancing Master issued by the London publisher John Playford in 1651.

Lutenist and composer John Danyel studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and was awarded his degree in 1603. He worked with theatre companies in Bristol and Blackfriars, London, and is recorded as one of the musicians at the funeral of King James I in 1625. His setting of the anonymous ‘Coy Daphne Fled’ opens his collection Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice, published in London in 1606.

John Dowland was the greatest lutenist-composer of his age. His setting of another anonymous lyric, giving the tale an ironic twist, comes from his Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires, published in 1603. It is followed by one of his lute pieces, which appears, under the title ‘Preludium By Mr Dowland’, in the manuscript collection known as the Margaret Board Lute Book, first copied in about 1620.


Constant Penelope: William Byrd (c 1540-1623)
Ariadne’s Lament: Henry Lawes (1596-1662)
Almain: Robert Johnson (c.1583-1633)
The Nightingale: Anon.

Penelope was the wife of Odysseus, who spent the twenty years he was away at the Trojan War fending off the unwelcome attentions of suitors by various subterfuges.  Byrd’s ‘Constant Penelope’, setting an English translaton of Ovid, appears in his Psalmes, sonnets, & songs of sadness and pietie, published in 1588.

Ariadne helped Theseus find his way through the labyrinth at Minos to kill the Minotaur, but after sailing with him to the island of Naxos she woke up the following morning to find herself abandoned and Theseus’ ship diappearing in the distance. The story has drawn a number of composers over the centuries including, most notably, Monteverdi and Richard Strauss. Henry Lawes was a musician ’for the lutes and voices’ to Charles 1st. His reputation rests mainly on his nearly 450 secular songs. ‘Ariadne’ is from the first of his three books of Ayres and Dialogues, published in 1653. After Byrd’s ‘Constant Penelope’, Lawes’ more declamatory style of vocal writing tells us immediately that we have entered a new musical era.

Robert Johnson was appointed lutenist to King James 1st in 1604. He also worked in the theatre, setting to music lyrics from masques and plays by Ben Jonson, John Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, Thomas Middleton and William Shakespeare. Almain, one of a number of lute pieces by him with this title, is a dance, basically slow but with a florid melodic line, also known as ‘almaine’ and ‘allemande’.  It is followed by an anonymous lute piece, ‘The Nightingale’.

Lyric poets

Thelo legein Atreidas (Anacreon) & I long to sing (Anacreon Englished): Henry Lawes
Diffugere Nives (in Latin, translation provided): John Wilson (1595-1674)
If Mighty Wealth: John Blow (1649-1708)
Cebell; Ritornell; A New Irish Measure; A New Scotch Measure; A New Ground;
Hornpipe: Henry Purcell (1659-1695)


The Greek lyric poet Anacreon (c. 582 BC – c. 485 BC) was popular in his lifetime and continued to be widely admired after his death. Lawes set two of his poems, which appear in the first edition (1655) of Book 2 of his Ayres and Dialogues. In each case he made separate settings of both the original Greek and an English version by John Berkenhead; this afternoon we hear both settings of Anacreon’s wry observation that, while he would much prefer heroic subjects, his lute has other ideas.

Like Anacreon, the Roman poet Horace (65 BC – 8 BC) remained popular for several centuries, particularly the lyric poetry collected in his four books of Odes. John Wilson was a singer and lutenist as well as composer. He was court musician to both King Charles 1st and 2nd and, in between, professor of music at Oxford University. ‘Diffugere Nives’ sets a stoical reflection on mortality and passing time from Book 4 of Horace’s Odes.

A chorister in the Chapel Royal, John Blow went on to hold various posts at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Chapel Royal, and at one point in his career was working for all three establishments at the same time. ‘If Mighty Wealth’, setting ‘a translation out of Anacron’, appears in Amphion Anglicus, a collection of his vocal music published in 1700.

This is followed by a sequence of keyboard pieces by Blow’s best-known pupil, Henry Purcell, in lute transcriptions by Jacob Lindberg. Cebell was written in imitation of the chorus from Lully’s opera Atys which accompanies the descent of the goddess Cybele. A New Irish Tune is Purcell’s keyboard version of the tune better known as ‘Liliburlero’; A New Scotch Measure sets the Scottish song ‘Peggy I must Love You’; A New Ground is a transcription of the counter-tenor aria ’Here all the deities approve’ from Purcell’s 1683 Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, Welcome to all the pleasures.

Venus and Cupid

Cupid Once, When Weary Grown: Pelham Humphrey(1647 or 1648-1674)
Sappho to the Goddess of Love: John Blow

This recital ends by directing our attention to Venus, the goddess of Love. Humphrey was one of the first generation of choirboys at the newly restored Chapel Royal in 1660. He went on to become one of the most influential composers of his day, particularly in opening up English music to contemporary French influences, following his stay in France. ‘Cupid Once...’ tells the charming story of Venus’ son Cupid, stung by a bee, but reminded by his mother that his love-darts cause much more pain than he is feeling. Blow sets an English version of a text by the Greek poet Sappho, in which she complains to Venus about her unrequited love, and is reassured that the boy in question will soon change his mind.

© Mike Wheeler, 2015