SHAKESPEARE AND MUSIC
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE MUSIC OF THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES
EDWARD W. NAYLOR, M.A., MUS. BAC.
LONDON J.M. DENT & CO., ALDINE HOUSE, E.C. 1896
All rights reserved.
1. The original text uses a "fraction" format for citations to Shakespeare's plays, e.g.:
3 Rom. ——- 5, 25
For clarity, in this e-text the "fractions" have been converted to a one-line citation, e.g., Rom. III, v, 25 (signifying Act III, scene v, line 25). Where the original does not use the fraction format, the citation style has not been altered.
2. The original text sometimes misspells "Passamezzo" as "Passemezzo" and "viol da gamba" as "viol de gamba." These have been corrected in this e-text.
3. The original text inconsistently uses a breve over the e in "Parthenia" and "Passameso." For clarity, the breve has been removed in this e-text, as it is not part of the usual spelling of these words, and has in fact been omitted from the 1931 revised edition of the book.]
This book contains little that is not tolerably well known both to Shakespeare scholars and musicians who have any acquaintance with the history of music. It is hoped that it may be of some use to a large class of students of Shakespeare who have no opportunity to gather up the general information which will be found here. The author also ventures to believe that some brother musicians will be gratified to see at one view what a liberal treatment the great Poet has given to our noble art. It will be observed that settings of Shakespearian Songs of a later date than the generation immediately succeeding Shakespeare's death are not noticed. The large number of settings of the 18th century, by such men as Arne, though interesting musically, have nothing whatever to do with the student of Shakespeare and the circumstances of his time. It can only be regretted that so much of the original music seems to have perished.
The author is greatly indebted to Mr Aldis Wright, who has kindly looked through the work in MS., and contributed one or two interesting notes, which are acknowledged in the proper place.
LONDON, March 1896.
DESCRIPTION OF FRONTISPIECE ix
TECHNICAL TERMS AND INSTRUMENTS 21
MUSICAL EDUCATION 58
SONGS AND SINGING 65
SERENADES AND 'MUSIC' 96
DANCES AND DANCING 113
PYTHAGOREANISM, etc. 152
USE OF MUSICAL STAGE DIRECTIONS 165
DESCRIPTION OF FRONTISPIECE
[I am indebted for the arrangement of this picture to the kindness of the authorities at South Kensington Museum, where all these instruments may be found, except the Pipe and Cornet, which belong to my friend, Mr W.F.H. Blandford.]
In the middle, on table.
QUEEN ELIZABETH'S 'VIRGINAL.' Date, latter half of 16th century. Outside of case (not visible in picture) covered with red velvet. Inside finely decorated. Has three locks. Is more properly a Spinet, the case not being square, but of the usual Spinet shape—viz., one long side (front view), and four shorter ones forming a rough semi-circle at back.
Top row, counting from the right.
1. TABOR-PIPE. Modern, but similar to the Elizabethan instrument. French name, 'galoubet.' Merely a whistle, cylindrical bore, and 3 holes, two in front, one (for thumb) behind. The scale is produced on the basis of the 1st harmonic—thus 3 holes are sufficient. It was played with left hand only, the tabor being hung to the left wrist, and beaten with a stick in the right hand. Length over all of pipe in picture, 1 ft. 2-1/2 in.; speaking length, 1 ft. 1-1/8 in.; lowest note in use, B flat above treble staff. Mersennus (1648), however, says the tabor-pipe was in G, which makes it larger than the one in the picture. A contemporary woodcut (in Calmour's 'Fact and Fiction about Shakespeare') of William Kemp, one of Shakespeare's fellow-actors, dancing the Morris, to tabor and pipe, makes the pipe as long as from mouth to waist—viz., about 18 inches, which agrees with Mersennus. A similar woodcut in 'Orchesographie' makes the pipe even longer. Both represent pipe as conical, like oboe. The length of the tabor, in these two woodcuts, seems to be about 1 ft. 9 in., and the breadth, across the head, 9 or 10 in. No snare in the English woodcut, but the French one has a snare.
2. CORNET (treble), date 16th or 17th century. Tube slightly curved, external shape octagonal, bore conical. Cupped mouthpiece of horn, 6 holes, and one behind for thumb. Lowest note, A under treble staff.
3. RECORDER. Large beak-flute of dark wood. Three joints, not including beak. The beak has a hole at the back, covered with a thin skin, which vibrates and gives a slight reediness to the tone. The usual 6 finger holes in front, a thumb hole behind, and a right-or-left little-finger hole in lowest joint.
4. SMALL FRENCH TREBLE VIOL, 17th century. Back view, same shape as of all other viols of whatever size. 6 strings, 4 frets.
5. TREBLE VIOL, as used in England and Italy; label inside—Andreas (?) Amati, Cremona, 1637. Side view, shews carved head and flat back. 6 strings, 4 frets, ivory nut.
6. TENOR VIOL. English, late 17th century. Front view, shewing sloping shoulders. 6 strings, 7 frets, plain head.
7. VIOL DA GAMBA BOW. Ancient shape. No screw. This shape in use later than 1756.
8. VIOLONCELLO BOW. Modern shape, with screw.
Bottom row, counting from left.
1. BASS VIOL, or VIOL DA GAMBA, or DIVISION VIOL. Italian, 1600. Carved head, inlaid fingerboard, carved and inlaid tailpiece. 6 strings, 7 frets.
2. LUTE. Italian, 1580. Three plain holes in belly, obliquely. Ornamental back. Flat head. Pegs turned with key from behind. 12 strings—viz., 1 single (treble), 4 doubles, 1 single, and 2 singles off the fingerboard (basses). 10 frets.
3. ARCH LUTE. Italian, 17th century. 18 strings, 8 on lower neck, 10 on higher, off the fingerboard. The latter are 'basses,' and probably half of them duplicates. 7 frets on neck, 5 more on belly.
A principal character of the works of a very great author is, that in them each man can find that for which he seeks, and in a form which includes his own view.
With Shakespeare, as one of the greatest of the great, this is pre-eminently the case. One reader looks for simply dramatic interest, another for natural philosophy, and a third for morals, and each is more than satisfied with the treatment of his own special subject.
It is scarcely a matter of surprise, therefore, that the musical student should look in Shakespeare for music, and find it treated of from several points of view, completely and accurately.
This is the more satisfactory, as no subject in literature has been treated with greater scorn for accuracy, or general lack of real interest, than this of music.
This statement will admit of comparatively few exceptions, one of which must here be mentioned.
The author of "John Inglesant," Mr Shorthouse, whether he "crammed" his music or not, has in that book given a lively and quite accurate picture of the art as practised about Charles I.'s time.
There is no need here to name the many well-known writers who have spoken of music with a lofty disregard for facts and parade of ignorance which, displayed in any other matter, would have brought on them the just contempt of any reviewer.
The student of music in Shakespeare is bound to view the subject in two different ways, the first purely historical, the second (so to speak) psychological.
As for the first, the most superficial comparison of the plays alone, with the records of the practice and social position of the musical art in Elizabethan times, shews that Shakespeare is in every way a trustworthy guide in these matters; while, as for the second view, there are many most interesting passages which treat of music from the emotional standpoint, and which clearly shew his thorough personal appreciation of its higher and more spiritual qualities.
Hamlet tells us, and we believe, often without clearly understanding, that players are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time, and that the end of playing, both at the first and now, was, and is, to hold the mirror up to nature, and to shew the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.
The study of this one feature of the "age and body" of Shakespeare's time, with the view of clearly grasping the extreme accuracy of the "abstract and brief chronicle" to be found in his works, will surely go some way to give definiteness and force to our ideas of Shakespeare's magnificent grip of all other phases of thought and of action.
The argument recommends itself—"If he is trustworthy in this subject, he is trustworthy in all."
To a professional reader at all events, it argues very much indeed in a writer's favour, that the "layman" has managed to write the simplest sentence about a specialty, without some more or less serious blunder.
Finally, no Shakespeare student will deny that some general help is necessary, when Schmidt's admirable Lexicon commits itself to such a misleading statement as that a virginal is a kind of small pianoforte, and when a very distinguished Shakespeare scholar has allowed a definition of a viol as a six-stringed guitar to appear in print under his name.
Out of thirty-seven plays of Shakespeare, there are no less than thirty-two which contain interesting references to music and musical matters in the text itself. There are also over three hundred stage directions which are musical in their nature, and these occur in thirty-six out of thirty-seven plays.
The musical references in the text are most commonly found in the comedies, and are generally the occasion or instrument of word-quibbling and witticisms; while the musical stage directions belong chiefly to the tragedies, and are mostly of a military nature.
As it is indispensable that the student of Shakespeare and Music should have a clear idea of the social status and influence of music in Shakespearian times, here follows a short sketch of the history of this subject, which the reader is requested to peruse with the deliberate object of finding every detail confirmed in Shakespeare's works.
MUSIC IN SOCIAL LIFE.
(Temp., 16th and 17th centuries.)
Morley, "Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music," 1597, pp. 1 and 2. Here we read of a dinner-party, or "banket," at which the conversation was entirely about music. Also—after supper—according to custom—"parts" were handed round by the hostess. Philomathes has to make many excuses as to his vocal inability, and finally is obliged to confess that he cannot sing at all. At this the rest of the company "wonder"—and some whisper to their neighbours, "How was he brought up?" Phil. is ashamed—and goes to seek Gnorimus the music-master. The master is surprised to see him—as Phil. has heretofore distinguished himself by inveighing against music as a "corrupter of good manners, and an allurement to vices." Phil.'s experience of the supper-party has so far changed his views that he wishes as soon as may be to change his character of Stoic for that of Pythagorean. Thereupon the master begins to teach him from the very beginning, "as though he were a child."
Then follows a long lesson—which is brought to an end by Philomathes giving farewell to the master as thus—"Sir, I thanke you, and meane so diligently to practise till our next meeting, that then I thinke I shall be able to render you a full account of all which you have told me, till the which time I wish you such contentment of mind and ease of body as you desire to yourselfe (Master's health had been very bad for long enough) or mothers use to wish to their children." The Master replies—"I thanke you: and assure your selfe it will not be the smallest part of my contentment to see my schollers go towardly forward in their studies, which I doubt not but you will doe, if you take but reasonable pains in practise."
Later on in the Third Part (p. 136) Phil.'s brother Polymathes comes with him to Gnorimus for a lesson in Descant—i.e., the art of extemporaneously adding a part to the written plainsong. This brother had had lessons formerly from a master who carried a plainsong book in his pocket, and caused him to do the like; "and so walking in the fields, hee would sing the plaine song, and cause me to sing the descant, etc." Polymathes tells us also that his master had a friend, a descanter himself, who used often to drop in—but "never came in my maister's companie ... but they fell to contention.... What? (saith the one), you keepe not time in your proportions: you sing them false (saith the other), what proportion is this? (saith hee), sesqui-paltery (saith the other): nay (would the other say), you sing you know not what, it shoulde seeme you came latelie from a Barber's shop, where you had Gregory Walker (derisive name for 'quadrant pavan,' 'which was most common 'mongst the Barbars and Fidlers') or a curranta plaide in the new proportions by them lately found out, called sesqui-blinda, and sesqui-harken-after."
[Footnote 1: See Appendix.]
[These mocking terms, sesqui-paltery, sesqui-blinda, and sesqui-harken-after, are perversions of names of "proportions" used in the 16th century—as, sesqui-altera (3 equal notes against 2).]
We find, on p. 208, that both Philomathes and Polymathes are young University gentlemen—looking forward hereafter to be "admitted to the handling of the weightie affaires of the common wealth."
The lessons end with their request to the master to give them "some songes which may serve both to direct us in our compositions, and by singing them recreate us after our more serious studies."
Thus we find that in Elizabeth's reign it was the "custom" for a lady's guests to sing unaccompanied music from "parts," after supper; and that inability to take "a part" was liable to remark from the rest of the company, and indeed that such inability cast doubt on the person having any title to education at all.
We find that one music master was accustomed to have his gentleman pupils so constantly "in his company" that they would practise their singing while "walking in the fields."
Finally—that part-singing from written notes, and also the extempore singing of a second part (descant) to a written plainsong, was a diversion of such young University gentlemen, and was looked on as a proper form of recreation after hard reading.
In the 16th century music was considered an essential part of a clergyman's education. A letter from Sir John Harrington to Prince Henry (brother of Charles I.) about Dr John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1592, says that no one "could be admitted to primam tonsuram, except he could first bene le bene con bene can, as they called it, which is to read well, to conster [construe] well, and to sing well, in which last he hath good judgment." [The three bene's are of course le-gere, con-struere, can-tare.]
Also, according to Hawkins (History of Music, p. 367), the statutes of Trinity College, Cambridge, founded by Henry VIII., make part of the Examination of Candidates for Fellowships to be in "Quid in Cantando possint"; indeed, all members were supposed capable of singing a part in choir service.
[Footnote 2: This statement of Hawkins' seems a little exaggerated. Mr Aldis Wright tells me that the statutes provided for an examination in singing for Candidates for Fellowships, and that ability gave a candidate an advantage, in case of equality. Singing was not required of all candidates, but the subject was considered on the fourth day of the examination, along with the essay and verse composition.]
(Long before this, in 1463, Thomas Saintwix, doctor in music, was elected Master of King's College, Cambridge.)
Accordingly, we find Henry VIII., who, as a younger brother, was intended for the Church, and eventually for the See of Canterbury, was a good practical musician. Erasmus says he composed offices for the church. An anthem, "O Lord, the maker of all things," is ascribed to him; and Hawkins gives a motet in three parts by the king, "Quam pulchra es."
Chappell's Old English Popular Music gives a passage from a letter of Pasqualigo the Ambassador-extraordinary, dated about 1515, which says that Henry VIII. "plays well on the lute and virginals, sings from book at sight," etc. Also in Vol. I. are given two part-songs by the king, 'Pastyme with good companye' and 'Wherto shuld I expresse.'
A somewhat unclerical amusement of Henry VIII.'s is related by Sir John Harrington (temp. James I.). An old monkish rhyme, "The Blacke Saunctus, or Monkes Hymn to Saunte Satane," was set to music in a canon of three parts by Harrington's father (who had married a natural daughter of Henry VIII.); and King Henry was used "in pleasaunt moode to sing it." For the music and words, see Hawkins, pp. 921 and 922.
Anne Boleyn was an enthusiastic musician, and, according to Hawkins, "doted on the compositions of Jusquin and Mouton, and had collections of them made for the private practice of herself and her maiden companions."
It appears from the Diary of King Edward VI. that he was a musician, as he mentions playing on the lute before the French Ambassador as one of the several accomplishments which he displayed before that gentleman, July 19th, 1551.
There is also a letter from Queen Catherine (of Arragon), the mother of Queen Mary, in which she exhorts her "to use her virginals and lute, if she has any."
As for Elizabeth, there is abundant evidence that she was a good virginal player.
The best known MS. collection of virginal music (that in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge) has at least always been known as Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, and the following quaint story is quoted by Hawkins from Melvil's Memoirs (Lond. 1752).
"The same day, after dinner, my Lord of Hunsdean drew me up to a quiet gallery that I might hear some music (but he said he durst not avow it), where I might hear the queen play upon the virginals. After I had hearkened a while I took by [aside] the tapestry that hung before the door of the chamber, and stood a pretty space, hearing her play excellently well; but she left off immediately so soon as she turned her about and saw me. She appeared to be surprised to see me, and came forward, seeming to strike me with her hand, alledging she was not used to play before men, but when she was solitary to shun melancholy." [Queen Elizabeth's Virginal is in South Kensington Museum.]
To go on with the Royal musicians (who are interesting as such, because their habit must have set the fashion of the day), in James I.'s reign we find that Prince Charles learnt the Viol da Gamba from Coperario (i.e., John Cooper). Also Playford (temp. Charles II.) says of Charles I. that the king "often appointed the service and anthems himself" in the Royal Chapel; "and would play his part exactly well on the bass-violl,"—i.e., the viol da gamba.
George Herbert, who was by birth a courtier, found in music "his chiefest recreation," "and did himself compose many divine hymns and anthems, which he set and sung to his lute or viol.... His love to music was such, that he went usually twice every week ... to the cathedral church in Salisbury; and at his return would say that his time spent in prayer and cathedral music elevated his soul, and was his heaven upon earth." But not only was the poet-priest a lover of church music, for (Walton's Life goes on) "before his return thence to Bemerton, he would usually sing and play his part at an appointed private music meeting." This was fourteen years after Shakespeare's death.
Anthony Wood, who was at Oxford University in 1651, gives a most interesting account of the practice of chamber music for viols (and even violins, which, by Charles II.'s time, had superseded the feebler viols) in Oxford. In his Life, he mentions that "the gentlemen in privat meetings, which A.W. frequented, play'd three, four, and five Parts with Viols, as, Treble-Viol, Tenor, Counter-Tenor, and Bass, with an Organ, Virginal, or Harpsicon joyn'd with them: and they esteemed a Violin to be an Instrument only belonging to a common Fidler, and could not endure that it should come among them, for feare of making their Meetings to be vaine and fidling." Wood went to a weekly meeting of musicians in Oxford. Amongst those whom he names as "performing their parts" are four Fellows of New College, a Fellow of All Souls, who was "an admirable Lutenist," "Ralph Sheldon, Gent., a Rom. Catholick ... living in Halywell neare Oxon., admired for his smooth and admirable way in playing on the Viol," and a Master of Arts of Magdalen, who had a weekly meeting at his own college. Besides the amateurs, there were eight or nine professional musicians who frequented these meetings. This was in 1656, and in 1658 Wood gives the names of over sixteen other persons, with whom he used to play and sing, all of whom were Fellows of Colleges, Masters of Arts, or at least members of the University. Amongst them was "Thom. Ken of New Coll., a Junior" (afterwards Bishop Ken, one of the seven bishops who were deprived at the Revolution), who could "sing his part." All the rest played either viol, violin, organ, virginals, or harpsichord, or were "songsters."
"These did frequent the Weekly Meetings, and by the help of public Masters of Musick, who were mixed with them, they were much improved."
There seems to have been little that was not pure enjoyment in these meetings. Only two persons out of the thirty-two mentioned seem to have had any undesirable quality—viz., Mr Low, organist of Christ Church, who was "a proud man," and "could not endure any common Musitian to come to the meeting;" and "Nathan. Crew, M.A., Fellow of Linc. Coll., a Violinist and Violist, but alwaies played out of Tune." This last gentleman was afterwards Bishop of Durham.
Thus we find that in the 16th and 17th centuries a practical acquaintance with music was a regular part of the education of both sovereign, gentlemen of rank, and the higher middle class.
We find Henry VIII. composing church music, and at the same time enjoying himself singing in the three-part canon composed by his friend, a gentleman of rank.
We find that a Fellow of Trinity at the same time was expected to sing "his part" in chapel as a matter of course. We find Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth to have all been capable players on lute or virginals. We find that it was the merest qualification that an Elizabethan bishop should be able to sing well; and that young University gentlemen of birth thought it nothing out of the way to learn all the mysteries of both prick-song (a written part) and descant (an extempore counterpoint), and to solace their weary hours by singing "in parts."
Immediately after Shakespeare's time, we find a courtier of James I., and the ill-fated Prince Charles himself, both enthusiasts in both church and chamber music; and lastly, two years after the Regicide, we find the University of Oxford to have been a perfect hotbed of musical cultivation. Men who afterwards became Bishops, Archdeacons, Prebendaries, besides sixteen Fellows of Colleges, and sundry gentlemen of family, were not ashamed to practise chamber music and singing to an extent which really has no parallel whatever nowadays.
There is plenty of evidence, though more indirect in kind, that the lower classes were as enthusiastic about music as the higher. A large number of passages in contemporary authors shows clearly that singing in parts (especially of "catches") was a common amusement with blacksmiths, colliers, cloth-workers, cobblers, tinkers, watchmen, country parsons, and soldiers.
In Damon and Pithias, 1565, Grimme, the collier, sings "a bussing [buzzing] base," and two of his friends, Jack and Will, "quiddel upon it," i.e., they sing the tune and words, while he buzzes the burden.
Peele's Old Wives Tale, 1595, says, "This smith leads a life as merry as a king; Sirrah Frolic, I am sure you are not without some round or other; no doubt but Clunch [the smith] can bear his part."
Beaumont and Fletcher's Coxcomb has
"Where were the watch the while? good sober gentlemen, They were, like careful members of the city, Drawing in diligent ale, and singing catches."
Also in B. and F.'s Faithful Friends—
"Bell.—Shall's have a catch, my hearts?
Calve.—Aye, good lieutenant.
Black.—Methinks a soldier should sing nothing else; catch, that catch may is all our life, you know."
[Footnote 3: Drayton (James I.'s reign) in his "Battle of Agincourt," l. 1199, has—"The common Souldiers free-mens catches sing"—of the French before the battle (freemen is a corruption of threemen).]
[In Bonduca, a play of B. and F's., altered for operatic setting by Purcell in 1695, there is a catch in three parts, sung by the Roman soldiers.]
In Sir William Davenant's (Davenant flourished 1635) comedy The Wits, Snore, one of the characters, says—
"It must be late, for gossip Nock, the nailman, Had catechized his maids, and sung three catches And a song, ere we set forth."
Samuel Harsnet, in his Declaration of Egregious Impostures, 1603, mentions a 'merry catch,' 'Now God be with old Simeon' (for which see Rimbault's Rounds, Canons, and Catches of England), which he says was sung by tinkers 'as they sit by the fire, with a pot of good ale between their legs.'
And in The Merry Devill of Edmonton, 1631, there is a comical story of how Smug the miller was singing a catch with the merry Parson in an alehouse, and how they 'tost' the words "I'll ty my mare in thy ground," 'so long to and fro,' that Smug forgot he was singing a catch, and began to quarrel with the Parson, 'thinking verily, he had meant (as he said in his song) to ty his mare in his ground.'
Finally, in Pammelia, a collection of Rounds and Catches of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 parts, edited by Thomas Ravenscroft, and published in 1609, there is a curious preface, which states that 'Catches are so generally affected ... because they are so consonant to all ordinary musical capacity, being such, indeed, as all such whose love of musick exceeds their skill, cannot but commend.' The preface further asserts that the book is 'published only to please good company.'
To go on to instrumental music among the lower classes of Elizabethan and Shakespearian times; there is an allusion in the above quoted passage from Morley (1597) to the habit of playing on an instrument in a barber's shop while waiting one's turn to be shaved. This is also referred to in Ben Jonson's Alchemist and Silent Woman. In the latter play, Cutberd the barber has recommended a wife to Morose. Morose finds that instead of a mute helpmate he has got one who had 'a tongue with a tang,' and exclaims 'that cursed barber! I have married his cittern that is common to all men': meaning that as the barber's cittern was always being played, so his wife was always talking.
There is a poem of the 18th century which speaks of the old times,
'In former time 't hath been upbrayded thus, That barber's musick was most barbarous.'
However true that may have been—at all events it is certain that in the 16th and 17th centuries it was customary to hear instrumental music in a barber's shop, generally of a cittern, which had four strings and frets, like a guitar, and was thought a vulgar instrument.
[Footnote 4: The Cittern of the barber's shop had four double strings of wire, tuned thus—1st, E in 4th space of treble staff; 2nd, D a tone lower; 3rd, G on 2nd line; 4th, B on 3rd line. The instrument had a carved head. See L.L.L. V. ii., lines 600-603, of Holofernes' head. Also the frontispiece, where the treble viol and viol-da-gamba have carved heads, both human, but of different types. Fantastic heads, as of dragons or gargoyles, were often put on these instruments.]
Another use of instrumental music was to entertain the guests in a tavern. A pamphlet called The Actor's Remonstrance, printed 1643, speaks of the decay of music in taverns, which followed the closing of theatres in 1642, as follows:—"Our music, that was held so delectable and precious [i.e., in Shakespeare's times], that they scorned to come to a tavern under twenty shillings salary for two hours, now wander [i.e., 1643] with their instruments under their cloaks—I mean, such as have any—into all houses of good fellowship, saluting every room where there is company with, 'Will you have any music, gentlemen?'"
Finally, in Gosson's "Short Apologie of the Schoole of Abuse," 1587, we find that "London is so full of unprofitable pipers and fiddlers, that a man can no sooner enter a tavern, than two or three cast of them hang at his heels, to give him a dance before he depart." These men sang ballads and catches as well. Also they played during dinner. Lyly says—"Thou need no more send for a fidler to a feast, than a beggar to a fair."
All this leads to the just conclusion, that if ever a country deserved to be called 'musical,' that country was England, in the 16th and 17th centuries. King and courtier, peasant and ploughman, each could 'take his part,' with each music was a part of his daily life; while so far from being above knowing the difference between a minim and a crotchet, a gentleman would have been ashamed not to know it.
In this respect, at any rate, the 'good old days' were indeed better than those that we now see. Even a public-house song in Elizabeth's day was a canon in three parts, a thing which could only be managed 'first time through' nowadays by the very first rank of professional singers.
TECHNICAL TERMS AND INSTRUMENTS
We now proceed to consider some representative passages of Shakespeare which deal with music.
These may be taken roughly in six divisions—viz. (1) Technical Terms and Instruments, (2) Musical Education, (3) Songs and Singing, (4) Serenades and other domestic 'Music,' (5) Dances and Dancing, (6) Miscellaneous, including Shakespeare's account of the more spiritual side of music.
To begin on the first division. There are many most interesting passages which bristle with technical words; and these are liable to be understood by the reader in a merely general way, with the result that the point is wholly or partly missed. With a reasonable amount of explanation, and a general caution to the student not to pass over words or phrases that appear obscure, there is no reason why these passages should not be understood by all in a much fuller light.
The following lines, though not in a play, are so full of musical similes that it may be useful to take them at once.
Lucrece, line 1124.
"My restless discord loves no stops nor rests; A woful hostess brooks not merry guests. Relish your nimble notes to pleasing ears; Distress like dumps, when time is kept with tears."
(Then to the nightingale)—
"Come, Philomel, that sing'st of ravishment, Make thy sad grove in my dishevell'd hair: As the dank earth weeps at thy languishment, So I at each sad strain will strain a tear, And with deep groans the diapason bear; For burden wise I'll hum on Tarquin still, While thou on Tereus descant'st better skill.
And while against a thorn thou bear'st thy part, To keep thy sharp woes waking....
These means, as frets upon an instrument, Shall tune our heart-strings to true languishment."
Here Lucrece tells the birds to cease their joyous notes, and calls on the nightingale to sing the song of Tereus, while she herself bears the 'burden' with her groans.
The first line contains a quibble on 'rests' and 'restless' discord. 'Nimble notes' was used in the Shakespearian time as we should use the term 'brilliant music.' Lucrece was in no humour for trills and runs, but rather for Dumps, where she could keep slow time with her tears. The Dumpe (from Swedish Dialect, dumpa, to dance awkwardly) was a slow, mournful dance. [See Appendix.] There is another quibble in l. 1131, on strain. A 'strain' is the proper Elizabethan word for a formal phrase of a musical composition. For instance, in a Pavan, Morley (Introduction to Practical Music, 1597) says a 'straine' should consist of 8, 12, or 16 semibreves (we should say 'bars' instead of 'semibreves') 'as they list, yet fewer then eight I have not seene in any pauan.'
'Diapason' meant the interval of an octave. Here Lucrece says she will 'bear the diapason' with deep groans, i.e., 'hum' a 'burden' or drone an octave lower than the nightingale's 'descant.' The earliest 'burden' known is that in the ancient Round 'Sumer is icumen in,' of the 13th century. Here four voices sing the real music in canon to these words—
'Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing Cuccu, Groweth seed and bloweth mead and springth the wde nu, Sing Cuccu, Awe bleteth after lomb, lhouth after calve cu, Bulluc sterteth, Bucke verteth, murie sing cuccu, Cuccu, Cuccu, Wel singes thu cuccu, ne swik thu naver nu.'—
while all the time two other voices of lower pitch sing a monotonous refrain, 'Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu,' which they repeat ad infinitum till the four who sing the Round are tired. This refrain is called Pes (or 'foot'), and this is the kind of thing which Lucrece means by 'burden.' The word 'hum' may be considered technical, see the Introduction, where 'buzzing bass' is referred to. The tune, 'Light o' love' [see Appendix], as we know from Much Ado III, iv, 41, used to go without a burden, and was considered a 'light' tune on that account, see Two Gent. I, ii, 80.
'Descant,' in l. 1134, wants explaining. To 'descant' meant to sing or play an extempore second 'part' to a written melody. The point was that it should be extempore; if written down it ceased to be true descant, and was then called 'prick-song.' A rough example may be had in the extempore bass or alto which some people still sing in church instead of the melody. A more accurate example of descant would be this—let A sing a hymn tune, say the Old 100th, and let B accompany him extempore with a separate melody within the bounds of harmony. B is 'descanting' on the melody that A sings.
[Footnote 5: Appendix, Ex. 1.]
The art of descant in Elizabeth's time corresponded closely with what we call 'Strict Counterpoint' (contra, punctus, hence 'prick-song,' or 'written' descant).
The modern equivalent for 'bear a part' (l. 1135) is 'sing a part.' [See also Sonnet VIII.] Any person of decent education could 'bear a part' in those days, i.e., read at sight the treble, alto, tenor, or bass 'part' of the work presented by the host for the diversion of his guests. [See Introduction.]
L. 1140. 'Frets upon an instrument' can still be seen on the modern mandoline, guitar, and banjo. In Shakespeare days, the viol, lute, and cittern all had frets on the fingerboard, but they were then simply bits of string tied round at the right places for the fingers, and made fast with glue. Their use is referred to in the next line, to 'tune' the strings, i.e., to 'stop' the string accurately at each semitone.
There is a quaint illustration of ll. 1135-6, about the nightingale singing 'against a thorn' to keep her awake, in the words of a favourite old part song of King Henry VIII., 'By a bank as I lay,' where the poem has these lines on the nightingale—
'She syngeth in the thyke; and under her brest A pricke, to kepe hur fro sleepe.'
In close connection with this is the conversation between Julia and her maid Lucetta, in Two Gent. I, ii, 76-93, about the letter from Proteus.
Jul. Some love of yours hath writ to you in rhyme.
Luc. That I might sing it, madam, to a tune: Give me a note: your ladyship can set.
Jul. As little by such toys as may be possible: Best sing it to the tune of "Light o' love."
Luc. It is too heavy for so light a tune.
Jul. Heavy? belike, it hath some burden then.
Luc. Ay, and melodious were it, would you sing it.
Jul. And why not you?
Luc. I cannot reach so high.
Jul. Let's see your song.—How now, minion!
Luc. Keep tune there still, so you will sing it out; And yet, methinks, I do not like this tune.
Jul. You do not?
Luc. No, madam, it is too sharp.
Jul. You, minion, are too saucy.
Luc. Nay, now you are too flat, And mar the concord with too harsh a descant: There wanteth but a mean to fill your song.
Jul. The mean is drown'd with your unruly base.
Luc. Indeed, I bid the base for Proteus.
Perhaps it is sufficient to remark that many of the italicized words above are still in ordinary use by musicians—e.g., to 'give the note' in order to 'set' the pitch for singing; to 'keep in tune,' to 'sing out'; or one voice is 'drowned' by another, as the 'mean' (alto) by the 'bass.' Once more we have quibbles on musical terms—Lucetta says the 'tune,' i.e., Julia's testiness about Proteus' letter, is 'too sharp,' and that her chiding of herself is 'too flat,' meaning, that neither is in 'concord' with the spirit of the love-letter. Lucetta recommends the middle course, or 'mean' (alto voice, midway between treble and bass), 'to fill the song,' i.e., to perfect the harmony. Finally, there is a punning reference (somewhat prophetic) by Lucetta, to the 'base' conduct of Proteus, in forsaking Julia for Silvia. Another play upon words should not be missed, viz., in ll. 78 and 79, where 'set' does double duty.
Rom. III, v, 25. Romeo and Juliet's parting at daybreak. The lark's song suggests musical metaphors in Juliet's speech.
Romeo. How is't, my soul? let's talk, it is not day.
Jul. It is, it is; hie hence, be gone, away! It is the lark that sings so out of tune, Straining harsh discords, and unpleasing sharps. Some say, the lark makes sweet division; This doth not so, for she divideth us.
Juliet evidently agrees with Portia that 'nothing is good without respect.' The lark heralds the dawn, so Romeo must leave her, ergo, the lark sings 'out of tune,' his strains are full of 'discords' and 'sharps.' The last two lines contain an interesting allusion in the word 'division,' besides the pun on 'she divideth us.'
'Division' means roughly, a brilliant passage, of short notes, which is founded essentially on a much simpler passage of longer notes. A cant term for the old-fashioned variation (e.g., the variations of the 'Harmonious Blacksmith') was 'Note-splitting,' which at once explains itself, and the older word 'Division.' A very clear example of Divisions may be found in 'Rejoice greatly' in the Messiah. The long 'runs' on the second syllable of 'Rejoice,' consisting of several groups of four semiquavers, are simply 'division' or 'note-splittings' of the first note of each group.
The word, however, has a further use, namely, to play 'divisions' on a viol-da-gamba. This was a favourite accomplishment of gentlemen in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sir Andrew Aguecheek numbered this amongst his attainments, (see Twelfth Night I, iii, 24); and readers of John Inglesant will remember that 'Mr Inglesant, being pressed to oblige the company, played a descant upon a ground bass in the Italian manner.' Playing a descant on a ground bass meant playing extempore 'divisions' or variations, to the harmony of a 'ground bass' which (with its proper chords) was repeated again and again by the harpsichordist, until the viol player had exhausted his capacity to produce further 'breakings' of the harmony.
In 1665 there was published an instruction book in this art, called Chelys Minuritionum, i.e., the 'Tortoise-shell of Diminutions,' hence (Chelys meaning a lyre, made of a tortoise-shell) 'The Division Viol.' The book is by Christopher Sympson, a Royalist soldier, who was a well-known viol-da-gamba player. The work is in three parts, the third of which is devoted to the method of ordering division on a ground.
To give his own words—
'Diminution or division to a ground, is the breaking either of the bass or of any higher part that is applicable thereto. The manner of expressing it is thus:—
'A ground, subject, or bass, call it what you please, is prick'd down in two several papers; one for him who is to play the ground upon an organ, harpsichord, or what other instrument may be apt for that purpose; the other for him that plays upon the viol, who having the said ground before his eyes as his theme or subject, plays such variety of descant or division in concordance thereto as his skill and present invention do then suggest unto him.'
[See the Appendix for an example by Sympson.]
Further on, he distinguishes between 'breaking the notes of the ground' and 'descanting upon' the ground.
This phrase, 'breaking' notes, may be taken as a partial explanation of several passages on Shakespeare, where 'broken music' is referred to, although it is likely that a better account of this may be found in the natural imperfection of the Lute, which, being a pizzicato instrument (i.e., the strings were plucked, not played with a bow), could not do more than indicate the harmony in 'broken' pieces, first a bass note, then perhaps two notes at once, higher up in the scale, the player relying on the hearer to piece the harmony together.
An entirely different explanation is that of Mr Chappell (in Aldis Wright's Clarendon Press Edition of Henry V.), viz., that when a 'consort' of viols was imperfect, i.e., if one of the players was absent, and an instrument of another kind, e.g., a flute, was substituted, the music was thus said to be 'broken.' Cf. Matt. Locke's 'Compositions for Broken and Whole Consorts,' 1672.
[Mr Aldis Wright has given me references to Bacon's Sylva Sylvarum, III., 278, and Essay of Masque and Triumph, which show that 'Broken Music' was understood to mean any combination of instruments of different kinds. In Sylva Sylvarum Bacon mentions several 'consorts of Instruments' which agree well together, e.g., 'the Irish Harp and Base-Viol agree well: the Recorder and Stringed Music agree well: Organs and the Voice agree well, etc. But the Virginals and the Lute ... agree not so well.' All these, and similar combinations, seem to have been described as 'Broken Music.']
In point, see Hen. V. V, ii, 248, where Henry proposes to Katherine.
K. Hen. Come, your answer in broken music; for thy voice is music, and thy English broken; therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break thy mind to me in broken English: wilt thou have me?
Also see Troilus III, i, 52 and ff. (quoted further on).
An entirely separate use of 'break' is in the phrase 'broken time,' which has the simple and obvious meaning that the notes do not receive their due length and proportion. In this connection we will take the passage of King Richard's speech in prison at Pontefract—when he hears music without, performed by some friendly hands.
Rich. II. V, v, 41. King R. in prison.
K. Rich. Music do I hear? Ha, ha! keep time.—How sour sweet music is, When time is broke, and no proportion kept! So is it in the music of men's lives. And here have I the daintiness of ear, To check time broke in a disorder'd string; But, for the concord of my state and time, Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
* * * * *
This music mads me: let it sound no more: For though it hath holp madmen to their wits, In me, it seems, it will make wise men mad.
The simile is perfect, and the play upon 'time broke' admirable. In l. 45 Richard reflects on the sad contrast between his quick 'ear' for 'broken time' in music, and his slowness to hear the 'breaking' of his own 'state and time.' The 'disorder'd string' is himself, who has been playing his part 'out of time' ('Disorder'd' simply means 'out of its place'—i.e., as we now say, 'a bar wrong'), and this has resulted in breaking the 'concord'—i.e., the harmony of the various parts which compose the state.
A few words are necessary about 'Proportion.' This term was used in Elizabethan times exactly as we now use 'Time.' The 'times' used in modern music can practically be reduced to two—viz., Duple (two beats to the bar) and Triple (three beats to the bar). But in Elizabeth's day the table of various Proportions was a terribly elaborate thing. Of course many of these 'Proportions' never really came into practical use—but there was plenty of mystery left even after all deductions.
Morley (Introduction, 1597) gives Five kinds of proportions 'in most common use'—viz., Dupla, Tripla, Quadrupla, Sesquialtera, and Sesquitertia. The first three correspond to what we still call Duple, Triple, and Quadruple Time—i.e., 2 in the bar, 3 in the bar, and 4 in the bar. ['Bars' were not in general use till the end of the 16th century, but the principle was the same. The bars themselves are merely a convenience.]
Sesquialtera is more complicated, and means 'three notes are sung to two of the same kinde'; and 'Sesquitertia is when four notes are sung to three of the same kinde.' 'But' (Morley adds), 'if a man would ingulphe himselfe to learn to sing, and set down all them which Franchinus Gaufurius  hath set down in his booke De Proportionibus Musicis, he should find it a matter not only hard but almost impossible.'
Ornithoparcus, in his Micrologus (1535), gives us an idea of the way this subject of proportion was treated by more 'learned' writers. He says (1) that music considers only the proportion of inequality, (2) that this is two-fold—viz., the greater and the lesser inequality. (3) The greater inequality contains five proportions, namely, multiplex, superparticular, superpartiens, multiplex superparticular, and multiplex superpartiens.
This is more amusing than instructive, perhaps. The three last lines of this passage refer to the various stories of real or pretended cure of disease by the use of particular pieces of music. One of the best known of these diseases is 'Tarantism,' or the frenzy produced by the bite of the Tarantula, in Italy.
Kircher, a learned Jesuit (1601-1680), gives an account, in his "Musurgia," of the cure of this madness by certain airs, by which the patient is stimulated to dance violently. The perspiration thus produced was said to effect a cure. In his "Phonurgia nova" (1673) Kircher actually gives the notes of the tune by which one case was cured.
In this connection, Kircher mentions King Saul's madness, which was relieved by David's harp playing. This is certainly to the point, and may well have been in Shakespeare's mind. [See George Herbert's poem, 'Doomsday,' verse 2.]
Our modern Tarantellas derive their name and characteristic speed from the old Tarantula.
Lear I, ii, 137. Edmund pretends not to see Edgar's entrance.
Edmund (aside). Pat he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy: my cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.—O! these eclipses do portend these divisions. Fa, sol, la, mi.
Songs like 'Tom o' Bedlam,' mad-songs they were called, were very commonly sung in England in the 17th century. The tune and words of the original 'Tom a Bedlam' are to be found in Chappell, Vol. I. p. 175. Its date is some time before 1626, and verse 1 begins, 'From the hagg and hungrie Goblin,' and the whole is as full of ejaculations of 'Poor Tom' as Act III. of Lear.
[Footnote 6: Rimbault's preface to the Musical Antiquarian Society's reprint of Purcell's opera, "Bonduca," says that Mad Tom was written by Coperario in 1612, for the Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn, by Beaumont. This was, 'Forth from my sad and darksome sell.']
The last sentence has yet another play on the double meaning of 'divisions.' A few lines further on Edmund explains what kind of 'divisions' he expects to follow the eclipses—namely, 'between the child and the parent ... dissolutions of ancient amities; divisions in state,' etc. But the very use of the word in the quoted lines brings its musical meaning into his head, for he promptly carries off his assumed blindness to Edgar's presence by humming over his 'fa, sol, la, mi.' [Burney, Hist., Vol. III. p. 344, has a sensible observation on this passage—that Edgar alludes to the unnatural division of parent and child, etc., in this musical phrase, which contains the augmented fourth, or mi contra fa, of which the old theorists used to say 'diabolus est.']
Guido d'Arezzo (or Aretinus), in his Micrologus (about 1024), named the six notes of the Hexachord (e.g., C, D, E, F, G, A), thus—Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. These were the first syllables of certain words in the Hymn for the feast of St John Baptist, the words and tune of which are in Hawkins, p. 163.
"UT queant laxis RE-sonare fibris MI-ra gestorum FA-muli tuorum SOL-ve polluti LA-bii reatum, Sancte Joannes."
A rough translation of which is—
'That thy servants may be able with free hearts to sound forth the wonders of thy deeds; release us, O Holy John, from the guilt of a defiled lip.'
In the ancient tune of this verse, the notes assigned to the syllables in capitals were successively those of the scale, C, D, E, F, G, A, and these same syllables were still used in singing in the 16th century. It was noticed, however, that the scale could be easily expressed by fewer names, and accordingly we find Christopher Sympson (1667) saying, in his 'Compendium,' that Ut and Re are 'superfluous, and therefore laid aside by most Modern Teachers.' In his book, the whole scale of eight notes is named thus—Fa, Sol, La, Fa, Sol, La, mi, Fa. A modern Tonic Solfaist would understand this arrangement quite differently. C, D, E would be called Do (instead of Ut), Re, Mi; then would follow F, G, A, under the names Fa, Sol, La; and the 'leading note' [top note but one] would be called Ti (instead of Si); the octave C beginning once more with Do.
The reader will remember that the tonal relation of C, D, E is exactly the same as that of the next three notes, F, G, A—viz., C—D, a tone; D—E, a tone; and similarly with F—G, G—A. Therefore the two blocks of three notes (which are separated by a semi-tone) might have the same names—viz., Fa, sol, la. Thus we have the first six notes of the scale, Fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la. There only remains one note, the 'leading note,' the B; and this, in Sympson, is named Mi. So the principal thing in the sol-fa-ing of a passage was to 'place the Mi,' or, as we should now put it, to find 'what key' it is in. Thus, in the key of C, Mi is in B: in G, Mi is in F sharp: in F, Mi is in E, and so on, the remaining six notes being named Fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, as explained above.
Edmund's 'Fa, Sol, La, Mi,' therefore, corresponds to F, G, A, B; or C, D, E, F sharp; or B flat, C, D, E, etc.; according to the pitch taken by the singer.
In this connection see the following passage:—
Shrew I, ii, 16.
Petr. 'Faith, sirrah, an you'll not knock, I'll wring it: I'll try how you can sol, fa, and sing it.'
[He wrings GRUMIO by the ears.
Here is a pun on 'wring' and 'ring'; and 'sol-fa' is used as an equivalent for 'sing.'
More important still is 'the gamut of Hortensio,' Shrew III, i, 72. [Gam-ut was the name of the Ut of lowest pitch, corresponding to the low G on the first line of our present bass staff, and was marked specially with a Greek Gamma, hence Gam-ut. The word became a synonym for 'the Scale.']
In this passage the names of the notes are simply those to be found in all instruction books of the 16th and 17th centuries.
'Gam-ut I am, the ground of all accord, A-re, to plead Hortensio's passion; B-mi, Bianca, take him for thy lord, C-fa-ut, that loves with all affection: D sol, re, one cliff, two notes have I: E la, mi, show pity or I die.'
Here Hortensio puts in his love-verses under the guise of a musicmaster's Gamut.
The lines may be taken separately as fantastic commentaries on the syllables themselves, as well as having their ulterior meaning for Bianca.
For instance, Gam-ut the lowest note then recognised in the scale, is called 'the ground of all accord.' A-re, I suppose, represents the lover's sigh 'to plead his passion.' B-mi, may be twisted into 'Be mine,' by the light of the remaining words in the line; while 'D sol re, one cliff, two notes have I' obviously refers to Hortensio's disguise. The 'cliff' is what is now called a 'clef,' or 'key,' because its position on the staff gave the 'key' to the position of the semitones and tones on the various lines and spaces. The six notes here mentioned are the G, A, B, C, D, E, in the bass staff. They could only be written (as they are yet) in one clef—namely, the F clef. The expression 'two notes have I,' as applied to the D, means that, in the key of G, D is called Sol; while in the key of C it would have the name Re; just as Hortensio is Hortensio, and at the same time masquerades as a singing-master.
It has been mentioned that the art of adding an extempore counterpoint to a written melody was called 'descant.' The written melody itself was called the 'Plain-song,' and hence the whole performance, plainsong and descant together, came to be known by the term 'Plain-song,' as opposed to the performance of plainsong with a written descant; which was known as 'Prick-song.'
Morley gives us a clear idea that the extempore descant was often a very unsatisfactory performance, at any rate when it was attempted to add more than one extempore part at a time to the plainsong. As he says—'For though they should all be moste excellent men ... it is unpossible for them to be true one to another.' The following passage will be more clear on this light.
H. 5. III, ii, 3. Fight at Harfleur.
Nym. Pray thee, corporal, stay: ... the humour of it is too hot, that is the very plain-song of it.
Pistol. The plain-song is most just, for humours do abound.
* * * * *
Boy (speaks of the 3 rogues).... They will steal anything, and call it purchase. Bardolph stole a lute-case, bore it twelve leagues, and sold it for three half-pence.
Falstaff's worthy body-guard are getting tired of hard knocks in fight; Nym compares their late activity to a somewhat florid 'plain-song' [meaning an extempore descant, as explained above]; Pistol says it is a 'just' plainsong. A 'just' plainsong would mean that the singer had managed his extempore descant 'without singing eyther false chords or forbidden descant one to another.' Similarly, there is little doubt that both Ancient and Corporal managed to take a part in the skirmishings with as little damage as possible to their sconces.
The speech of the boy at l. 41 hardly enrols Bardolph amongst music lovers. At all events he stole a lute-case, and seems to have liked it so much that he carried it 36 miles before his worser nature prevailed on him to sell it for 1-1/2d.
The next quotation still concerns Jack Falstaff and his crew, all of whom (and strictly in accordance with history) seem to have been sound practical musicians. This time they are speaking, not of descant, but of Prick-song. The chiefest virtue in the performance of Prick-song, by which Falstaff and Nym probably understood both sacred and secular part-music, is that a man should 'keep time,' religiously counting his rests, 'one, two, three, and the third in your bosom,' and when he begins to sing, that he should 'keep time, distance, and proportion,' as Mercutio says Tybalt did in his fencing, see Romeo II, iv, 20.
All this is thoroughly appreciated by Falstaff and his corporal in the following lines:—
Merry Wiv. I, iii, 25.
Falstaff (of Bardolph) ... his thefts were too open; his filching was like an unskilful singer, he kept not time.
Nym. The good humour is to steal at a minim's rest.
['Minims' is a modern conjecture.]
The metaphor is of an anthem or madrigal, say in four parts. We will suppose the Hostess of the 'Garter' is taking the Cantus, a tapster the Altus, mine Host the Tenor, and Nym the Bassus. The three former are all hard at work on their respective 'parts,' one in the kitchen, another in the taproom, the third in familiar converse outside the front door. But Nym has 'a minim rest,' and during that short respite takes advantage of the absorbing occupations of the other three 'singers' to lay hands on whatever portable property is within his reach. 'A minim rest' is not much—but the point remains. Any musician has had experience of what can be done during a short 'rest'—e.g., to resin his bow, or turn up the corners of the next few pages of his music, light the gas, or find his place in another book.
By an easy transition we pass to the following:—
Pericles I, i, 81. Pericles addresses the daughter of King Antiochus.
Per. You're a fair viol, and your sense the strings, Who, finger'd to make man his lawful music, Would draw heaven down and all the gods to hearken; But being play'd upon before your time, Hell only danceth at so harsh a chime.
Pericles compares the lawful love of a wife with the performance of a good viol player, the proper characteristics of which would be, 'in tune,' and 'in time.' The comparison in l. 84 is of this girl's lawless passion with the 'disorder'd' playing of a bad violist, who has got 'out,' as we say; who is playing 'before his time,' thus entirely spoiling the music, which becomes a dance for devils rather than angels.
The viol was decidedly the most important stringed instrument played with a bow that was in use in Elizabethan times. There were three different sizes.
The reader will get a sufficiently accurate idea, both of the sizes and the use of viols, if he will consider the treble viol to have corresponded closely with our modern violin, the tenor viol to the modern viola [which is also called Alto, Tenor, or Bratsche—i.e., braccio, 'arm' fiddle], and the bass-viol, or viol-da-gamba [so called because held between the knees], to the modern violoncello.
The principal difference from our modern stringed instruments was that all the viols had six strings, whereas now there is no 'fiddle' of any sort with more than four. A secondary difference was, that all the viol family had frets on the fingerboard to mark out the notes, whereas the finger-boards of all our modern instruments are smooth, and the finger of the performer has to do without any help of that kind.
[Footnote 7: See Frontispiece.]
John Playford, in 1683, published his 'Introduction to the Skill of Music,' which gives an account of the viols, and Thomas Mace, of Cambridge, lay clerk of Trinity, in his 'Musick's Monument,' pub. 1676, gives full instructions how many viols and other instruments of this kind are necessary. From these we learn that viols were always kept in sets of six—two trebles, two tenors, and two basses—which set was technically known as a 'Chest' of viols. Mace also says that the treble viol had its strings just half the length of the bass viol, and the tenor was of a medium size between these. Also he says that if you add to these a couple of violins (which were then thought somewhat vulgar, loud instruments) for jovial occasions, and a pair of 'lusty, full-sized Theorboes,' 'you have a ready entertainment for the greatest prince in the world.'
[Footnote 8: Theorbo, a lute with a double neck; so called from Tiorba, a mortar for pounding perfumes, referring to the basin-shaped back of a lute.]
The tuning of the six strings on the bass-viol was, on the bass staff, 1st string, or treble, D over the staff; 2nd or small mean, A on the top line; 3rd or great mean, E in the third space; 4th or counter-tenor, C in the second space; 5th or tenor, or gamut, G on the first line; and the 6th or bass, low D, under the staff. On the most complete viol there would be seven frets, arranged semitonally, so the compass of the Bass Viol or Viol da Gamba would be about two octaves and a half, from D under the bass staff to A on the second space of the treble staff. [In South Kensington Museum is a Viol da Gamba with no less than twelve frets still remaining. This would make the compass nearly three octaves.]
The tenor-viol had its top string tuned to G on the second line of the treble staff; and the remaining five were the same in pitch as the top five on the bass viol. The treble viol (as mentioned above) was tuned exactly an octave above the bass.
The tone of the viols is very much like that of our modern bowed instruments, the principal difference being that they are a little feebler, and naturally more calm. The reason is that vigorous 'bowing' is a risky thing on the viol, for, as there are six strings on the arc of the bridge, more care is required to avoid striking two or even three at once than on the violin, which has only four.
The amateur of music would keep a 'Chest' of six Viols in his house, and when his musical friends visited him, they would generally play 'Fancies' (or Fantasias) see H. 4. B. III, ii, 323, in several parts, from two to the full six, according to the number of those present. Amongst a great number of composers of this kind of music, some very well known names are, John Jenkins, Chris. Sympson, William Lawes, Coperario (John Cooper), and the Italian Monteverde. It was common for the Organ or other keyed instrument to join with the viols in these pieces, and thus fill out the chords of the 'consort,' as it was called.
We still have one of the viol tribe left in our orchestra. The double-bass (or viol-one) is lineal descendant of the Chest of viols. Its shape, especially at the shoulders, is quite characteristic, and elsewhere—e.g., the blunt curves of the waist, the outline of the back, and even the shape of the bow.
The practice of playing extempore variations on the viol da gamba has already been mentioned as one of the elegant accomplishments of a gentleman in those days. The following two quotations therefore will not require further remark.
Tw. I, iii, 24.
Maria [of Sir Andrew Aguecheek] ... he's a very fool, and a prodigal.
Sir Toby. Fie, that you'll say so! he plays o' the viol-de-gamboys ... and hath all the good gifts of nature.
Richard II. I, iii, 159. Banishment of Norfolk.
Norfolk. The language I have learn'd these forty years, My native English, now I must forego; And now my tongue's use is to me no more Than an unstringed viol, or a harp; Or like a cunning instrument cas'd up, Or, being open, put into his hands That knows no touch to tune the harmony.
The violin family had only a precarious footing amongst musicians up to 1650. After that time, the viols declined in favour, and so rapidly, that at the very beginning of the 18th century, Dr Tudway of Cambridge describes a chest of viols, in a letter to his son, with such particularity, that it is clear they had entirely fallen out of use by 1700. As the viol fell out of fashion, the violin took its place, and has kept it ever since.
The violin family had come into general and fashionable use under the patronage of the Court of Louis XIV., and thus the English nation, true to their ancient habit of buying their 'doublet in Italy, round hose in France, bonnet in Germany, and behaviour everywhere,' took up the 'French fiddles,' and let their national Chest of viols go to the wall.
This growing tendency to adopt French customs, even in music, is referred to in the following:—
Hen. VIII. I, iii, 41. French manners in England.
Lovell. A French song, and a fiddle, has no fellow.
Sands. The devil fiddle 'em! I am glad they're going, For, sure, there's no converting of 'em: now, An honest country lord, as I am, beaten A long time out of play, may bring his plain-song, And have an hour of hearing: and, by'r lady, Held current music too.
The only word here that has not already been fully explained is 'current music,' which I suppose to mean simply, that the old accomplishments of which Lord Sands speaks would be still thought 'up to date' and in the fashion.
Another instrument in common domestic use was the Recorder. This was a kind of 'Beak-flute,' like a flageolet. Lord Bacon says it had a conical bore, and six holes. So it had the general figure of a modern Oboe, but was played with a 'whistle' mouthpiece instead of a reed.
The six holes may still be seen on any penny whistle, or the brass flageolets in the music-shops.
The Recorder was known for its sweet tone. Poets used the word 'record' to signify the song of birds, especially of the nightingale.
Hawkins identifies it with the Fistula Dulcis, seu Anglica, and gives two pictures which help to explain the next quotation.
In South Kensington Museum there is a Recorder made of a dark wood, which is nothing else but a big flageolet. Its length is 2 ft. 2 in., and its bore is that of the modern flageolet and old flute—viz., conical, but with the wide end nearest the player's mouth.
[Footnote 9: See Frontispiece.]
Hamlet III, ii, 346. Enter Players with recorders.
Ham. O! the recorders: let me see one....
* * * * *
... Will you play upon this pipe?
Guildenstern. My lord, I cannot.
* * * * *
Ham. It is as easy as lying: govern these ventages with your finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.
Guil. But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony: I have not the skill.
Ham. Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me: you would seem to know my stops; ... you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ [the recorder], yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood! do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.
The holes in a flute have always been called 'ventages,' because the 'wind' comes through them when the fingers are removed. They were 'governed' 'with the finger and thumb.' One of the illustrations from Mersennus [b. 1588] shows a conical flute with four holes in front and two at the back. These latter would, of course, be controlled by the thumbs, while the others would occupy two fingers on each hand. (Modern flageolets still keep a thumb hole at the back.) There were other beaked flutes of the same period, of a better class, which had several keys as well as the holes.
'The stops' referred to by Hamlet are merely the 'ventages.' The act of covering a hole with the finger or thumb was called 'stopping'; and further, one example of the Fistula Dulcis given by Mersennus has two different holes for the lowest note, one on the right and the other on the left, so that the instrument might be used either by a right-handed or left-handed person. One of these two duplicate holes was temporarily stopped with wax. [The passing play upon 'fret' in the last line should not be missed.]
In the next passage the meaning of stop as applied to Recorders is punned on by Hippolyta, who carries on the play from Lysander's horsebreaking metaphor.
Mids. V, i, 108. The Prologue speaks with all the punctuation wrong.
Theseus. This fellow doth not stand upon points.
Lysander. He hath rid his prologue like a rough colt; he knows not the stop....
Hippolyta. Indeed, he hath played on this prologue like a child on a recorder, a sound, but not in government.
That is—the Prologue has misplaced all his stops—like a young horse that refuses to stop—also like a child who has not learned to stop the holes on the flute a bec.
It is singular that the Virginal, which was the most popular of all the keyed instruments, is nowhere directly named in Shakespeare. There is, however, a reference to the action of the fingers on its keys in the following.
Winter's Tale I, ii, 125. Of Hermione, Queen of Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, King of Bohemia.
Leon. —— still virginalling Upon his palm?
The Virginal (generally known as 'a pair of virginals') was most commonly used by ladies for their private recreation, and from this circumstance is supposed to derive its name. Queen Elizabeth was fond of playing on it, but as it was in vogue before her time, there is no need to connect the name with the Virgin Queen. (Elizabeth's own Virginal is in South Kensington Museum.) Its keyboard has four octaves, and the case is square, like that of a very old pianoforte. The strings of the virginal were plucked, by quills, which were secured to the 'jacks' [see Sonnet cxxviii.], which in turn were set in motion by the keys. The strings were wire. The oldest country dance known, the Sellenger's (St Leger's) Round, of Henry VIII.'s time, was arranged by Byrd as a Virginal 'lesson' for 'Lady Nevell's booke.' Another well-known Virginal Book, that at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, commonly known as 'Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book,' is being published by Breitkopf & Haertel.
[Footnote 10: See Frontispiece.]
[Footnote 11: Plectra of leather were also in use, as well as those of quill.]
The first music ever printed for the Virginals was 'Parthenia,' published in London, 1611. This collection contains principally Pavans and Galliards by Byrd, Bull, and Gibbons. The title 'Parthenia, or the Maydenhead of the firste musicke,' etc., with a picture of a young lady playing on the virginal, seems to confirm our explanation of the name of this instrument.
Next to the viol, the lute was the most popular stringed instrument. It was used both as a Solo instrument on which to play sprightly 'Ayres,' or as an accompaniment for the voice, or 'in consort' with other instruments. Naturally, it figured frequently in 'serenading' especially when a love song had to be sung outside a lady's window. The general shape of a Lute was that of a mandoline, but about four times as big. Like the mandoline, it had a flat belly, and a great basin-shaped back. But in every other respect it was entirely different. It was used more in the fashion of a guitar, and its strings (which were of gut) were plucked with the fingers.
[Footnote 12: See Frontispiece.]
Adrian Le Roy's book, published in Paris about 1570, says the six strings were tuned as follows—1st (minikin), C in third space, treble staff; 2nd (small mean), G on second line; 3rd (great mean), D under the staff; 4th (counter-tenor), B flat over the bass staff; 5th (tenor), F on fourth line; and 6th (base), C in second space.
Scipione Cerreto, however (Naples 1601), gives quite a different account of the Italian Lute of eight strings, the tuning of which seems to have extended the compass downwards to C under the bass staff. Thomas Mace (Musicks Monument, 1676) tells of several objections against the lute, the most noteworthy of which were—1st, that it was a costly instrument to keep in repair; 2nd, that it was out of fashion; and 3rd, that it made young people grow awry. Mace refutes these calumnies, the last of which no doubt was set about on account of the very awkward shape of the lute back, and the considerable size of the instrument. Hawkins (Hist. of Music, pp. 730 and 731) gives two pieces for the lute by Mace, or, rather, the same piece twice, first for one lute, then arranged for two. [Appendix.]
The five lower strings of the lute were 'doubled'—i.e., there were two of each pitch, duplicates, which helped the tone of the chords by 'sympathetic' vibration. So there were really eleven strings, but only six different pitches. There were eight frets on the fingerboard.
Other varieties were the Arch-Lute and the Theorbo-Lute, both of which had very long double necks, and a large number of strings. One Archlute in South Kensington Museum has as many as 24, eleven of which are duplications.
[Footnote 13: See Frontispiece.]
H. 6. A. I, iv, 92.
Talbot (of Salisbury dying). 'He beckons with his hand, and smiles on me, As who should say, "When I am dead and gone, Remember to avenge me on the French."— Plantagenet, I will; and like thee, Nero, Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn.'
Hen. 4. A. III, i, 206. Mortimer to Lady Mortimer.
Mort. ... for thy tongue Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penn'd, Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower, With ravishing division, to her lute.
For 'ravishing division,' see the remarks on the third of the foregoing passages, the speech of Juliet about the lark's song [p. 28].
The Lute leads us quite easily from Musical Instruments and Technical Terms to the second division.
The following passages give a lively picture of what a music-master might have to put up with from young ladies of quality.
Shrew. II, i, 142. Re-enter HORTENSIO with his head broken.
Bap. How now, my friend? why dost thou look so pale?
Hor. For fear, I promise you, if I look pale.
Bap. What, will my daughter [Kate] prove a good musician?
Hor. I think, she'll sooner prove a soldier: Iron may hold her, but never lutes.
Bap. Why, then thou canst not break her to the lute?
Hor. Why, no, for she hath broke the lute to me. I did but tell her she mistook her frets, And bow'd her hand to teach her fingering, When, with a most impatient, devilish spirit, "Frets call you these?" quoth she; "I'll fume with them;" And with that word she struck me on the head, And through the instrument my pate made way; And there I stood amazed for a while, As on a pillory, looking through the lute, While she did call me rascal fiddler, And, twangling Jack, with twenty such vile terms, As had she studied to misuse me so.
Shrew II, i, 277.
Bap. Why, how now, daughter Katherine? in your dumps?
Shrew. Act III. i. Hortensio and Lucentio, the sham musical and classical tutors, give a lesson to Bianca. They quarrel which is to start first.
Lucentio. Fiddler, forbear: you grow too forward, sir.
* * * * *
Hortensio. But, wrangling pedant, this is The patroness of heavenly harmony; Then give me leave to have prerogative, And when in music we have spent an hour, Your lecture shall have leisure for as much.
Luc. Preposterous ass, that never read so far To know the cause why music was ordained! Was it not to refresh the mind of man, After his studies, or his usual pain? Then give me leave to read philosophy, And while I pause, serve in your harmony.
Bianca settles the question, and orders Hortensio (l. 22):
Take you your instrument, play you the whiles; His lecture will be done, ere you have tun'd.
Hor. You'll leave his lecture, when I am in tune?
Luc. That will be never: tune your instrument.
Lucentio now goes on with his 'classics'; further on—
Hor. [Returning]. Madam, my instrument's in tune.
Bianca. Let's hear. [Hor. plays.] O fie! the treble jars.
Luc. Spit in the hole, man, and tune again.
* * * * *
Hor. Madam, 'tis now in tune.
Luc. All but the base.
Hor. The base is right; 'tis the base knave that jars.
Hortensio now takes his place, and addresses the classical Lucentio—
Hor. You may go walk, and give me leave awhile: My lessons make no music in three parts.
* * * * *
Hor. Madam, before you touch the instrument, To learn the order of my fingering, I must begin with rudiments of art; To teach you gamut in a briefer sort.
* * * * *
Bianca. Why, I am past my gamut long ago.
Hor. Yet read the gamut of Hortensio.
The first of these three passages will be quite clear to the reader in the light of the remarks on the lute already made. The second should be read in connection with the name of the doleful dance above mentioned, the Dump. [See Appendix.]
The third quotation contains interesting allusions to the peculiarities of the lute. Lines 22-25 are very naturally accounted for. The lute, having at least eleven strings, took a long time to get into tune. Even our modern violins, with only four strings, want constant attention in this respect; and the lute, therefore, especially in the hands of an amateur, might well get a name for being a troublesome instrument. The reference to the 'treble' and 'bass' strings (i.e., the 1st and 6th) has been explained before. 'Spit in the hole, man,' Lucentio's very rude advice to Hortensio, will direct our attention to the variously shaped 'holes' which were made in the belly of all stringed instruments to let out the sound. On the lute, this hole was commonly a circular opening, not clearly cut out, but fretted in a circle of small holes with a star in the middle. But this was not the only way. A lute in South Kensington Museum has three round holes, placed in an oblique line, nearly at the bottom of the instrument. The holes on the viol were generally in the form of crescents, and were put one on each side of the bridge. On the modern violins, as everybody has seen, they are in the shape of , and are known as 'f' holes.
[Footnote 14: See Frontispiece.]
Line 59, about 'lessons in three parts,' is of interest. Primarily, it is another form of 'Two's company, three is none'—but its musical meaning is very plainly present. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was very common to call the pieces of music in any volume for an instrument by the name 'Lessons.' The first meaning, of course, was that they were examples for the pupil in music, but the word was used quite freely with the purely general signification of 'Pieces' or 'Movements.'
One more word deserves remark—viz., 'to touch,' in line 63. This is used technically, and means strictly 'to play' on the instrument. The word comes both in meaning and form from Ital., toccare.
Toccata was a common word for a Prelude (often extempore), intended as a kind of introduction to two or three more formal movements. The Italian for a peal of bells is tocco di campana, and we have the word in English under the form tocsin, an alarm bell. The trumpet-call known as 'Tucket,' which occurs seven times in the stage directions of six Shakespeare plays, and is also found once in the text (Henry V. IV, ii, 35), also is derived from toccare. Similarly with the German 'Tusch,' a flourish of trumpets and other brass instruments, which may be heard under that name to the present day.
The next passage confirms Morley's account of the high estimation in which music was held as a part of a liberal education. Baptista evidently considers 'good bringing up' to include 'music, instruments, and poetry.' Moreover, the visiting master was to be well paid,—'to cunning men I will be very kind.'
Shrew I, i, 81.
Bianca. Sir to your pleasure humbly I subscribe: My books, and instruments, shall be my company, On them to look, and practise by myself.
* * * * *
Baptista (To Hortensio and Gremio). Go in, Bianca. [Exit Bianca]. And for I know, she taketh most delight In music, instruments, and poetry, Schoolmasters will I keep within my house, Fit to instruct her youth.—If you, Hortensio, Or Signior Gremio, you, know any such, Refer them hither; for to cunning men I will be very kind, and liberal To mine own children in good bringing up.
We find further on, in the same play, that to bring one's lady-love a music master was thought a handsome compliment.
Shrew I, ii, 170.
Hortensio. 'Tis well: and I have met a gentleman, Hath promis'd me to help me to another, A fine musician to instruct our mistress.
Moreover, in Pericles IV, vi, 185, we find that Marina, daughter of Prince Pericles, can 'sing, weave, sew, and dance.' Also see V, i, 78, where Marina actually does sing, to rouse her father from his melancholy.
SONGS AND SINGING
It is impossible here to give even an outline of the history of Songs and Singing in England. The general statement must suffice that vocal music, accompanied by viols and harps, with songs and catches, were common in the year 1230 in France; and any reader of Chaucer and Gower may see for himself that vocal music was flourishing in the 14th century in England. The English Round or Catch, mentioned above, 'Sumer is icumen in,' is most probably of the 13th century, and that alone would be sufficient to characterise the popular vocal music of that day. This composition is advanced in every way, being very melodious, and at the same time showing that vocal harmony (i.e., singing in parts) was greatly appreciated.
To proceed to a time nearer the age with which we are concerned—in Henry VII.'s reign, there were many songs written, some for voices only, and some with instrumental accompaniment. Amongst the former are two songs in three parts, the music by William Cornyshe, Junior, which are given in Hawkins.
Skelton wrote the words of the first, 'Ah, beshrew you by my fay,' which is very coarse in tone, as was frequently the case with him; and the second one, 'Hoyday, jolly ruttekin,' is a satire on the drunken habits of the Flemings who came over with Anne of Cleves. Mrs Page (Wiv. II, i, 23) refers to these Dutchmen, where, after receiving Falstaff's love-letter, she exclaims, 'what an unweighed behaviour hath this Flemish Drunkard picked (with the devil's name!) out of my conversation, that he dares in this manner assay me?'
The following is a curious picture by 'Skelton, Laureate,' of an ignorant singer, who appears to have been throwing mud at the poet. Skelton gives us a sad account both of his morals and his music.
The 3rd verse begins—
With hey troly loly, lo whip here Jak, Alumbek, sodyldym syllorym ben, Curiously he can both counter and knak, Of Martin Swart, and all his merry men; Lord, how Perkyn is proud of his Pohen, But ask wher he findeth among his monachords An holy-water-clark a ruler of lordes. He cannot fynd it in rule nor in space, He solfyth too haute, hys trybyll is too high, He braggyth of his byrth that borne was full base, Hys musyk withoute mesure, too sharp, is his 'my', He trymmeth in his tenor to counter pardy, His descant is besy, it is without a mene, Too fat is his fantsy, his wyt is too lene.
He tumbryth on a lewde lewte, Rotybulle Joyse, Rumbill downe, tumbill downe, hey go, now now, He fumblyth in his fyngering an ugly rude noise, It seemyth the sobbyng of an old sow: He wolde be made moch of, and he wyst how; Well sped in spindels and tuning of travellys A bungler, a brawler, a picker of quarrels.
Comely he clappyth a payre of clavicordys He whystelyth so swetely he maketh me to swet, His discant is dashed full of discordes, A red angry man, but easy to intrete; etc.
[Footnote 15: 'Besy,' that is, 'busy,' meaning 'fussy,' a bad fault in descant, as it is to this day in counterpoint.]
Further on we read—
For lordes and ladyes lerne at his scole, He techyth them so wysely to solf and to fayne, That neither they sing wel prike-song nor plain.
Skelton's main objection to this person is that he, being in reality of very humble origin, presumed on his very doubtful musical abilities to gain a footing amongst his betters. As he says, 'For Jak wold be a Jentilman that late was a grome.'
Evidently 'Jak' had managed to make good his position as a fashionable teacher of singing, in spite of the defects plainly mentioned in the above verses. In the first verse, 'counter' is a musical term, here used with the meaning of 'to embroider' the tale. 'Knack' is still used in Yorkshire for 'affected talk.' 'Monachord' is the ancient one-stringed fiddle called Tromba Marina, and is here used as a joke on 'monachi' or 'holy water clarks.' In verse 2, 'rule and space' is simply 'line and space,' i.e., on the musical staff. 'Solfyth too haute' is 'Solfa's too high.' The 'my' which was 'too sharp' is the Mi, the seventh note of the scale, mentioned above as the critical point in Solfa. In verse 3, 'lewde lewte' means merely 'vulgar lute'; and 'Rotybulle Joyse' is the title of an old song. The 'payre of clavicordys' is the clavichord, which in 1536 was a keyed instrument of much the same kind as the virginals, with about three and a half octaves. It was used by nuns, and therefore had its strings muffled with bits of cloth to deaden the sound.