musica Dei donum
John MAYNARD (1576/77 - 1614/33): "The XII Wonders of the Worlds - Character Songs"
The Consort of Musicke
Dir: Anthony Rooley
rec: Jan 1975, London, Decca Studios, West Hampstead
Decca Eloquence - 480 2145 (© 2010) (R) (60'19")
A poor soul sat sighingbg;
Come live with me and be my loveadfg;
O let us howleefg;
The dark is my delightafg;
What is't ye lackefg;
Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620):
Jack and Joanabeg ;
Tobias HUME (1569?-1645):
Tobacco, tobaccoef ;
The XII Wonders of the World, 1611:
The Countrey Gentlemandfg;
The Marryed Mandfg;
Richard PARSONS (?-?):
Joan quoth Johnadfg;
Thomas RAVENSCROFT (c1582/1592-1635):
Yonder comes a courteous knightbfg
 Tobias Hume, Captaine Humes Poeticall Musicke, 1607;
 Thomas Campion, Two Bookes of Ayres, the First contayning Divine and Morall Songs, the Second Light Conceits of Lovers, 1613
Emma Kirkby, soprano;
John York Skinner, altob;
Paul Elliottc, Martyn Hilld, tenor;
David Thomas, basse;
Trevor Jones, bass violf;
Anthony Rooley, luteg
The closer music is connected to the culture of a country, the harder it is for foreigners to understand what it is about. That is also the case with the repertoire recorded on this disc, which was written in the Jacobean era, the first quarter of the 17th century in England. Some aspects can be explained in liner-notes, but there is a good chance the finer details will escape those who are not familiar with English traditions and who are not native English speakers. The producers here have not been very forthcoming as no translations of the lyrics in any other language are given. Anthony Rooley does some explaining in the case of the songs by Maynard, but is rather economical in his notes at to the other pieces of the programme. I have to admit that I only get the broad tenor of what this music is all about.
About half of the programme is devoted to a cycle of songs by John Maynard, The XII Wonders of the World. He belongs among the least-known composers of the era, and biographical data are scarce. He was born in St Albans in Hertfordshire in 1576 or 1577, and was active as a player of the lute and the lyra viol. The songs on this disc are from the only collection of music by Maynard ever published. It appeared in 1611 and in addition to the twelve songs contains six dances for lute and bass viol and seven pavans for lyra viol and bass viol ad libitum. Apart from this collection only a pavan and galliard for lyra viol has come down to us. A Voluntary for organ is a transcription of the last song from the cycle and an incomplete two-part almain is of doubtful authenticity.
The songs are character pieces which describe, sometimes in a rather ironic way, the various personalities or occupations. What exactly was the reason they were written? I rather quote Anthony Rooley in his notes in the booklet than try to explain it myself. "Here is music from the very heart of elite Jacobean society; this is functional music intended to entertain and delight Noble Society and Intelligentsia, and specifically at the end of the Feast of Christmas, at Twelfth Night partying. Painted 'roundels' were customarily placed at each guest's seat at the banquet where one side was plain, turned upmost, with the underside painted in characterful style with one of the basic human characters (there were thought to be twelve basic personality types according to renaissance psychology). Loaded with grapes and 'sweetmeats', when these roundels were cleared of food, they were turned over to reveal which 'character' the reveller had been given by chance. 'The Wife', 'The Widow', 'The Maid' were female, all the other nine male, and as each was turned over, no doubt to squeals, giggles and laughter, in 1611 the appropriate musical setting was performed - to general amusements".
All songs by Maynard are for one voice with bass viol and lute. From a historical point of view they are notable for the fact that the lute and viol parts are to some extent independent, which was unusual at the time. In The Consort of Musicke's performance the three female characters are sung by Emma Kirkby while the males are divided across Paul Ellliott, Martyn Hill and David Thomas. They try - with some success - to express the various characters in their way of singing, making a clear difference between, for instance, 'The Souldiour' (soldier) and 'The Courtier'.
When this disc was recorded Anthony Rooley could have decided to perform the whole collection. In a way it is unfortunate that he decided against it. Since then hardly anything by Maynard has been recorded, and I doubt whether the instrumental pieces from this collection will ever be recorded. That allowance being made, the programme as it is certainly makes sense. Among the nicest pieces are Tobacco, tobacco by Tobias Hume, and the anonymous What is't ye lack, whose humorous character is excellently expressed by David Thomas. A beautiful song is the anonymous The dark is my delight, which is nicely sung by Emma Kirkby. The other songs are a bit hard for me to really understand. The lack of translations is a pity, but the understanding is made even harder by the fact that large parts of the lyrics are missing in the booklet. From A poor soul sat sighing only one stanza is printed correctly, the others are missing, and some lines are printed which are not sung. In Come live with me and be my love the first half is sung by Martyn Hill, the second by Emma Kirkby. But the lyrics of her part of the song are missing.
It is great that the recordings by The Consort of Musicke which were first released as part of L'Oiseau Lyre's Florilegium series are being reissued, but the production could have been more careful. And unless this disc is only directed towards the English-speaking market one might expect at least some translations of the liner-notes and the lyrics.
It hasn't spoilt my enjoyment of these performances. My only reservation regards the contributions of John York Skinner. I have never quite understood why Anthony Rooley selected him to be part of his ensemble. I find his voice not very attractive and his singing is rather dull. The anonymous A poor soul sat sighing has been performed so much better by James Bowman in his debut recording. Even so, this disc should appeal to all lovers of English early music and of English culture in general.
Johan van Veen (© 2011)