Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The English Reformation in Art and Music

Two packages arrived on Monday: one containing a fine used copy of of Margaret Aston's The King's Bedpost: Reformation and Iconography in a Tudor Group Portrait and the other a newly released CD from Stile Antico, In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile.

I've listened to the CD twice and am still reading the book.

I'm familiar with the stories of most of the composers on the CD (Dowland, Byrd, Dering, Philips, White, and De Monte) and have CDs with some of the same works (Byrd's "Tristitia et anxietas" and his "Quomodo cantabimus", written in response to Philippe de Monte's "Super flumina Babylonis"; Robert White's "Lamentations a 5", etc).

Richard Dering's "Factum est silentium" was an exciting and exuberant discovery:

Factum est silentium in caelo,
Dum committeret bellum draco cum Michaele Archangelo.

Audita est vox millia millium dicentium:
Salus, honor et virtus omnipotenti Deo.
Millia millium minestrabant ei et decies centena millia assistebant ei.

There was silence in heaven
When the dragon fought with the Archangel Michael.

The voice of a thousand thousand was heard saying:
Salvation, honour and power be to almighty God.
A thousand thousand ministered to him and ten hundreds of thousands stood before him.

Here it is sung by the Choir of Clare College! As another record label, Hyperion, describes Dering and this work, which is the Antiphon for the Benedictus canticle during the Lauds of Michaelmas:

Dering was, like Philips, an English Catholic musician who went into exile in the Spanish Netherlands (or, according to another account, converted to Catholicism while visiting Rome in 1612). By 1617 he was organist to the convent of English nuns in Brussels, and in the same year published his first collection of Cantiones Sacrae; the publisher was the noted Phalèse of Antwerp who also published music by Philips. Factum est silentium comes from a second collection which appeared in 1618; its declamatory, dramatic style shows clearly the influence of the new Italian Baroque style which Dering’s compatriots in England were perhaps slower to embrace.

The new work on the CD, a setting of Shakespeare's poem, "The Phoenix and The Turtle", underwhelmed me. The words were lost in the music of Huw Watkins. The liner notes explain that he "portrays the busy hustle and bustle of funeral preparations, before a slower sublime setting of the concluding threnody." "Busy hustle and bustle of funeral preparations"? I don't hear that in the poem's opening:

Let the bird of loudest lay 
On the sole Arabian tree 
Herald sad and trumpet be, 
To whose sound chaste wings obey. 

But thou shrieking harbinger, 
Foul precurrer of the fiend, 
Augur of the fever's end, 
To this troop come thou not near. 

From this session interdict 
Every fowl of tyrant wing, 
Save the eagle, feather'd king; 
Keep the obsequy so strict. 

Let the priest in surplice white, 
That defunctive music can, 
Be the death-divining swan, 
Lest the requiem lack his right. 

And thou treble-dated crow, 
That thy sable gender mak'st 
With the breath thou giv'st and tak'st, 
'Mongst our mourners shalt thou go. . . .

This sounds more directions first for who should not attend the funeral and then who should, not running around making arrangements! The notes do mention the theory that Shakespeare is paying tribute to St. Anne Line and her exiled husband Roger.

More on Aston's study of the meaning and date of "King Edward VI and the Pope" which is in the National Portrait Gallery in London after I've finished reading the book.

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