Tudor Composers

Our Tudor composers, after Taverner, fall roughly into two generations. Of the first are Christopher Tye, organist of Ely, high in favour with Henry VIII, preceptor of Edward VI, who began his career by writing music for the Mass and ended it in the seclusion of a Protestant Rectory; White, who was pupil and son-in-law of Tye : Parsons, whose life was tragically cut short at the moment of its highest promise; Merbecke, the famous singing-man of Windsor; Mundy, some of whose work has been attributed to Henry VIII, and Farrant, whose popular reputation at the present day rests chiefly on an anthem which he' did not compose. All these men are important, as Surrey and Wyatt and Sackville are important: they have left us some first-rate work, such as Tye's Euge Bone Mass, White's " 0 praise God," Parsons' exquisite Ave Maria, and Farrant's " Call to remembrance "the setting of the Creed in Merbecke's " Book of Common Prayer Noted " is still the best in the Protestant Liturgy but they are chiefly memorable as the forerunners of the second and greater generation which came after them; the generation which includes Tallis and Byrd, the madrigal writers, the players on lute and virginals, and the later polyphonists like Bull, Gibbons and Peter Philips.

Many of these composers wrote indifferently for the Roman and the Anglican rite. The apparent strangeness of this, in a time usually censured for religious persecution, is explained by two principal causes. One that in this country, except perhaps under the domination of Philip II, the points at issue were far more political than theological. The most cardinal article of Henry VIII's religious belief was that " the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Reaime and Impire of England." Paul IV declared Elizabeth illegitimate and absolved her subjects from their allegiance;

Alva tried to assassinate her; Don John of Austria, last of the knights-errant, seriously proposed to elope with Mary Queen of Scots, depose Elizabeth, and reign in her stead;

the Spanish Armada was at least as intent on subduing the country as on converting it. There is little wonder that, as Elizabeth told one of her most powerful Catholic Peers, she was more concerned about his loyalty than about his form of worship. Secondly, our monarchs were themselves musicians and had a very tolerant feeling for brothers in the art. Taverner, suspected of Lollardy at Oxford, was acquitted on this ground: Merbecke, convicted of helping to copy an epistle of Calvin against the Mass, was saved from the stake on the ground that his services were indispensable: Tallis, organist of Waltham Abbey, was transferred shortly afterwards to the Chapel Royal: Byrd, who lived and died an unswerving Roman Catholic, shared with Tallis both the Royal service and the Royal favour, and was so well established that he could venture to publish his Gradualia in the exceedingly Protestant reign of James I. The two greatest figures of the group are unquestionably Tallis and Byrd. The date of Tallis's birth is unknown, and our record of his life amounts to little more than that he was at Waltham Abbey in 1540 and that he died, after long service at the Chapel Royal, in 1585. Byrd was born in 1543, probably at the Lincolnshire town of Epworth, was appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral in 1561, and in 1569 succeeded Parsons at the Chapel Royal, where he renewed with Tallis, whose pupil he had been, a friendship which lasted unimpaired until the death of the older man. In 1575 they obtained from Elizabeth a patent for the sale of music-paper, and profited by the opportunity to issue a volume of motets to which Tallis contributed sixteen numbers and Byrd eighteen. On Tallis's death in 1585, Byrd succeeded to the chief organistship of the Chapel Royal and for the next six years produced a large number of choral works, including the two volumes of Cantiones Sacra which, if he had written nothing else, would suffice to place him in the first rank of composers. In 1591 appeared Lady Net'ille^s Virginal Book, which shows his mastery of another medium, and then follows a strange and inexplicable silence which lasted for fourteen years. He did not even contribute to the Triumphs of Oriana, the collection of madrigals in honour of Queen Elizabeth which was edited by his pupil and devoted admirer, Thomas Morley. In 1605 and 1607 he published the two magnificent volumes of Gradualia, over one hundred numbers in all; four years later came the Psalms, Songs and Sonnets, which include the famous string sextet, the earliest known piece of pure concerted music for strings;

about the same time he was contributing to the book of virginal pieces called Parthenia, and his last published compositions were four anthems in Leighton's Teares and Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soule, which appeared in 1614. On July 4, 1623, he died. The number of his works at present discovered is about 500: three Masses, 219 Motets, Graduals and other Latin choral works; for the Anglican service eighty-five anthems and some other liturgical pieces, one of which is the finest setting in existence of the English Canticles, over 100 madrigals and secular songs, over 100 pieces for the virginal, and a number of miscellaneous compositions of which fourteen are for viols. " Here," in Dryden's phrase, " is God's plenty" : a full treasure of beauty bestowed with a lavish hand. The vogue of the madrigal in England, during the latter part of the sixteenth century, can be compared only with that of the sonnet. The bare catalogue in Dr. Fellowes' volume occupies sixteen close-printed pages, the number of composers is not far short of fifty, and among them are the names of Weelkes, Wilbye, Bennet, Bateson, Morley, Gibbons and others hardly less famous. To the Triumphs of Oriana twenty-five were contributors, and every contribution is a masterpiece. Nor are the number and quality of our madrigals more remarkable than their variety of theme and topic. They range over the whole extent of Elizabethan life from the plaint of a disappointed lover to the humours of a country fair, from a meditation upon death to the wonders of a traveller's tale; they can be courtly, pastoral, elegiac, satiric; they have a voice for every emotion, a crucible for every metal. Nothing can be further from the truth than to suppose that they are cold and sculpturesque creations of the studio; they were intended for human intercourse, and their field is as wide as that of the drama itself.

Apart from the viols, which until Byrd took them in hand were mainly used for accompaniment, the two favourite instruments of Elizabethan society were the lute and the virginal. The lute, of -which there were many sizes, the largest being the arch-lute or theorbo, was a stringed instrument shaped like the half of a pear, with an elongated stalk, and played, like a guitar, with the fingers. It was almost as much a part of a gentleman's equipment as his sword: even the barbers' shops kept one for the solace of waiting customers. Up to a certain point it was easy to play, and its special notation (technically called tablature) was less troublesome than that of other music. But, like all instruments of its kind, it had a variable temper. A morose critic of later times tells us that " if a man had a lute for eighty years he would have spent sixty in tuning it," and it was a current jest on the frequent breakage of strings that to keep a lute was more expensive than to keep a horse. But for all its faults it stood in high favour, both for accompanying songs and for playing set pieces, and the lutenists rank high among our Elizabethan musicians. Chief among them was Dowland, who in a well-known sonnet is compared with Spenser, and whose delicate fragrant songs have still power to charm and to delight:

after him came Rosseter, and Jones, and Campian, and the robust amateur Tobias Hume, whose music, as he is careful to tell us, " hath been never mercenarie," and who uses his inappropriate warble for the representation of pageants and hunting-scenes.

Virginal was the pretty old-world name of the small harpsichord, the keyed instrument in which, on pressure of a key, the string was plucked by a quill. Queen Elizabeth was a proficient virginal-player, and, no doubt through her example, a vast amount of music for this instrument was written during her reign. The pieces were for the most part dance measures, or airs with variations, or so-called fantasias which were more elaborate and contrapuntal: there were even a few attempts at " programme music " like " Mr. Byrd's Battaile " and Mundy's description of the different kinds of weather. But whatever their character or import, they require, as a rule, a considerable amount of dexterity in performance, and the players for whom they were written must have been skilful and trained executants.

It remains to consider the chief characteristics of the English school of composition, a subject which has been admirably treated in Mr. R. 0. Morris's " Contrapuntal Technique." First that our melody swept over a wider range, and moved with a more vigorous rhythm, than that of our Continental neighbours. The themes of Tye and White, still more of Byrd and Tallis, have more amplitude and in a sense more vitality than belongs to the vestal purity of Vittoria or Palestrina:

they speak out freely, and pay as little heed to conventional restrictions as Shakespeare did to the unities. Secondly, that this freedom is even more clearly apparent in their polyphony. The special characteristics and limitations of the modes were never so carefully observed in England as elsewhere; the device of rmisica ficta, which allowed singers for practical convenience to raise or depress certain notes by half a tone, had in this country early and far-reaching consequences;

the modes themselves " tended to merge into two general types " which assumed the form of our diatonic major and minor scales. The result is that, in our madrigal writing, when this freedom was at its height, there is often an astonishingly modern sense of harmonic colour and modulation. Byrd's " Come, Woful Orpheus" and Weelkes's " Hence Care, thou art too cruel," speak what was at the time a new musical language: there is in the latter a passage the iridescence of which cannot be matched until the nineteenth century (see Fellowes' " English Madrigal Composers," p. 200). Not less remarkable is the lovely change from minor to major in the same composer's " Adieu, sweet Amaryllis " : the very names by which we designate it would have no meaning in a strict modal system. Indeed, some of Byrd's experiments were audacious enough to shock the conservatism of his time: notably his habit of using the natural and sharpened form of the same note either in close consecution or together in a discord, and though to our ears these passages are always intelligible and often delightful, they " made Quintilian stare and gasp" when they were written. Thirdly, the same spirit of adventure reveals itself in the invention and variety of the structural forms. Here again Byrd is the supreme example. In the second book of the Gradualia he writes for six parts, of which two are assigned to voices and the others to string accompaniment, a very early realisation of the effect to be produced by combining vocal and instrumental forces:

the string sextet of his 1611 volume is the ancestor of all concerted chamber music: he treated the variation form with such mastery and initiative that he is often credited with its invention. Yet all these indications, and the scores of others that might be added, are no more than a bare catalogue of attempts and achievements. The true greatness of Byrd and of his contemporary musicians is the abundant sense of life and of the joy in life which their work embodies. Like their compeers, the Elizabethan seamen, they set out gaily and confidently into unknown oceans, they found the true land of El Dorado and came home with their galleons laden.

  1. The ecclesiastical modes were as follows:

Authentic. Pl*gal. So. Name. Bange, Mnl. So. Name. Bulge, final.

I. Dorian DD D. II. Hypodorian AA D. HI. Phrygian EB E. IV. Hypophrygian BB K.

V. Lydin F V. VI. Hypolydian 00 V. VII. MiTOlydltB GG G. VIII. Hypomliolydlan DD 0. 11. ^oUan AA A. X. Hyposeollan B~S A. XI. Ionian 00 0. XII. Hypoionian GQ 0.

The word final in a mode corresponds to what we should call the key-note in a diatonic scale.

It will be observed that the mode B-B authentic and F-F plagal are here omitted. They were called Locrian and Hypolocrian, respectively, but were not generally admitted because the Fifth Note (F Q in relation to B) made a prohibited discord.

  1. Development of notation :The earliest mediaeval system of notation may be traced back to the ninth century and consisted of certain shorthand signs called neumes which were placed, as the Greeks placed letters of the alphabet, above the syllables to be sung. They gave no indication as to the value or length of the note, and were probably intended only to refresh the memory of singers who had already learned their music by heart. (In some parts of Eastern Europe they still survive, and I have heard a choir sing from them in the cathedral at Athens.) The use of the alphabetical letters for divisions of the monochord, a single-stringed instrument much used in teaching, begins about the same time, and led to their subsequent applications to notes. Early in the eleventh century Guido of Arezzo discovered the practice of solmisation. There was at the time a hymn to John the Baptist of which the first verse ran

Ul queant laxis resonare fibris Mira. gestorum/amuli tuorum, Solve polluti Idbii reatum, Sancte Johannes:

and the tune set each of the syllables here italicised on one note higher than its predecessor. Guido therefore detached the syllables Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and used them as the names of the six ascending notes from the " tonic" upwards. This nomenclature is still used in France and is adapted in England for the sol-fa system. The word gamut is a combination of the syllable " ut" and the Greek gamma, which in one of the schemes were alternative names for the same note. Meanwhile, the growing practice of singing in parts, which started with organum and developed into polyphony, rendered it necessary that a notation should be invented which gave not only the pitch of the sound but also its length and value. Hence came into existence the stave and the conventional symbols for the different kinds of notes longs, breves, semibreves, and so on. At first they all had black heads, then when crotchets and quavers began to appear the black heads were used for the shorter notes and white for the longer. A complete account of the whole system, with its technicalities of relative value, of ligatures, of time signatures, etc., will be found in the article " Notation " in the third volume of Grove's Dictionary. The reader is recommended to consult also the article on " Solmisation" and on " Tablature ": the latter of which is a special kind of notation, e.g. that used for lute-music.