musica Dei donum
"The Triumphs of Oriana"
The King's Singers
rec: March 9 - 12, 1998, Mandelsloh, St Osdag
em records - 02999-001 (67'13")
John Bennet: All creatures now are merry-minded a 5;
Richard Carlton: Calm was the air and clear the sky a 5;
Michael Cavendish: Come, gentle swains a 5;
William Cobbold: With wreaths of rose and laurel a 5;
Michael East: Hence stars! too dim of light a 5;
John Farmer: Fair nymphs I heard one telling a 6;
Ellis Gibbons: Long live fair Oriana a 5; Round about her charret a 6;
John Hilton: Fair Oriana, beauty's queen a 5;
John Holmes: Thus Bonny-boots the birthday celebrated a 5;
Thomas Hunt: Hark! did ye ever hear so sweet a singing? a 6;
Edward Johnson: Come, blessed bird a 6;
Robert Jones: Fair Oriana, seeming to wink at folly a 6;
George Kirbye: Bright Phoebus greets most clearly a 6;
John Lisley: Fair Cytherea presents her doves a 6;
George Marson: The nymphs and shepherds danced a 5;
John Milton: Fair Orian, in the morn a 6;
Thomas Morley: Arise, awake, awake a 5; Hard by a crystal fountain a 6;
John Mundy: Lightly she whipped o'er the dales a 5;
Richard Nicolson: Sing, shepherds all, and in your roundelays a 5;
Daniel Norcombe: With angel's face and brightness a 5;
Thomas Tomkins: The fauns and satyrs tripping a 5;
Thomas Weelkes: As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending a 6;
John Wilbye: The lady Oriana a 6
David Hurley, Nigel Short, alto; Paul Phoenix, tenor; Philip Lawson, Gabriel Crouch,
baritone; Stephen Connolly, bass
"The Triumphs of Oriana" is a collection of 25 madrigals on English texts by
English composers of the second half of the 16th century. It was compiled by
Thomas Morley, as a way of thanking Queen Elizabeth for granting him the monopoly
to print music. All 25 madrigals end with the same line: "Then sang the shepherds
and nymphs of Diana: Long live fair Oriana" (there are two madrigals with a
textual variation). 'Oriana' was the heroine of the chivalric romance Amadis
de Gaul, with whom Elizabeth had been equated. And it was appropriate that
the nymphs and shepherds of Diana - goddess of chastity - were singing the praise
of the unmarried Elizabeth, the 'Virgin Queen'.
Although Morley wanted to show that English composers were able to write madrigals,
just like the Italians, the Italian influence is unmistakable. First, the
collection itself was modelled after an Italian original, Il Trionfo di Dori,
published in Venice in 1592, in which all madrigals ended with "Viva la bella
Dori". Secondly, in these English madrigals there are many cases of Italian
madrigalisms, like word-painting. One of the most impressive examples is Weelkes'
As Vesta was from Latmos descending.
Setting aside the last line there is
no unity in this collection: all composers who were invited to contribute,
followed their own ideas. So even the way the last line ist set, varies widely.
In some madrigals it is fluent, gentle and smooth, in others
declamatory, like a statement or conclusion. Most madrigals are pastoral in
character, referring to shepherds, nymphs, the singing of birds and the beauty of
flowers. Some have a very short 'story', like George Marson's The nymphs and
shepherds danced. It is no wonder that most madrigals have a dance-like
character. There are exceptions, like Fair Cytherea presents her doves by
John Lisley, a composer whose identity has not been discovered yet.
Most composers may be little known to many listeners today, in the time this
collection was published, the list of contributors was like a "Who's who" of the
world of English church music. Most of the composers were organists or masters of
the choristers at one of the important cathedrals in England, some were at the
service of aristocratic families. The whole collection is an impressive token of
the vitality of English musical life in the Elizabethan era.
The madrigals are performed here in the best possible way by the King's Singers.
I have never been a great fan of this ensemble. When I heard it in the past, I was
often irritated by the somewhat superficial performance of renaissance music. To
me it was as if they sung everything in the way they used to sing close harmony.
This is the first time I have heard them in their present constitution, and that
is a great improvement in comparison with the past. The intonation and diction
are immaculate, and they underline the differences in character between the
individual pieces quite well. The balance between the voices is excellent. The
upper voices never sound stressed, although some upper parts are quite high. Only
the bass has problems with the lowest notes now and then.
My only serious objection to this interpretation is the modern English pronunciation.
Enough is known about pronunciation in the Elizabethan era to allow recordings of
vocal music of that period so sound more 'authentic' than is the case here.
Johan van Veen (© 2003)
The King's Singers