Frederick W. Sternfeld and David Greer (eds), English Madrigal Verse: 1588–1632 (Third Edition)

Find Location in text

Main Text


It has for many years been recognized that the song-books of the great English musical composers who flourished for a brief but brilliant period at the close of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century contain a splendid collection of lyric poetry written in the golden age of English literature, some of it available from other sources and well known to lovers of poetry, but much of it forgotten and undiscovered except by the rare students of the song-books themselves. Several volumes of poems selected from these song-books have been published from time to time. A certain number of lyrics appeared in Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, in Brydges's Censura Literaria, and in the British Bibliographer; while Rimbault mentions a proposal made in 1816, but never carried out, for publishing a more complete collection of madrigal poetry. Another collection was that of Thomas Oliphant, the enthusiastic secretary of the Madrigal Society, whose La Musa Madrigalesca was published in 1837; and John Payne Collier's Lyrical Poems selected from musical publications between the years 1589 and 1600 was printed for the Percy Society in 1844. Professor Arber did much more comprehensive work in this direction, though it was very far from covering the whole field; but among the shorter Elizabethan poems of An English Garner he included the complete words of Byrd's three sets, Wilbye's first set, The Triumphes of Oriana, Yonge's first collection of Mvsica Transalpina, together with the whole of the sets of Campian and John Dowland, and that of Alison. In more recent times Mr. A. H. Bullen's Lyrics from the Elizabethan Song-books has done much to draw further public attention to this rich store of verse. Among other books of the same kind may be mentioned Mr. F. A. Cox's Madrigals in the time of Shakespeare, although Mr. Cox does not always appear to have consulted the original editions, and has rather rashly printed several known poems by Elizabethan writers as being those employed by the madrigalists on no more evidence than the similarity of the first two or three words. Mr. Barclay Squire has printed in their entirety the lyrics of Robert Jones's Muses Gardin for Delights; and Campian's works have pg xvisomewhat tardily been published in complete form both by Mr. A. H. Bullen and Mr. Percival Vivian. A comprehensive work by Herr Wilhelm Bolle entitled Die gedruckten englischen Liederbücher bis 1600 was published in Berlin in 1903, and is the nearest approach to a complete edition of the English madrigal lyrics that has hitherto been achieved. But since it stops short at the year 1600 it leaves more than half the field untouched; and the fact that the notes and all other comment on the text are in German lessens its practical use for a section, at any rate, of English readers.

Apart from the purely literary interest which a complete collection of these poems should arouse, a definite need of such an edition is being felt by those, and they are no inconsiderable number, who are first brought into contact with the lyrics through musical channels. The names of the authors of the words were never given in the Elizabethan song-books, and, although the authorship of some few of the poems is definitely known, the identification of the greater number is a task beyond those who may become familiar with the words only through the medium of the music; for it must be remembered that only a small fraction of the madrigal music has as yet been reprinted in modern and accessible form,1 and that in modern editions of the music the authorship of the words is not always recorded even when known. The complete edition of the lyrics now issued, which is based solely upon the original part-books, will, it is hoped, fill all these needs.

For neglecting to produce such an edition in the past the musicians of this country are far more blameworthy than are the students of literature; for it is due to their neglect of these song-books that only such of the lyrics are familiar as have come down to us from other and purely literary sources. Meanwhile it is a fact too little known to the ordinary man of letters or to people of average education, that English music at the close of the Elizabethan era stood in the forefront of the music of Europe. This indisputable truth not only deserves to be recognized as a matter of general interest, but ought to be inseparable from the ordinary course of general education. To those who take a reasonable pride in the past achievements of their own countrymen, the names of Byrd, Morley, Wilbye, Dowland, and many another ought to be at least as well known as are the names of pg xviithe great national leaders in poetry and painting. Yet many people of wide culture would confess unashamed to ignorance of such English composers, although they would be covered with confusion if they had to admit unfamiliarity with the achievements of, say, Marlowe or Dryden, of Reynolds or Turner.

The Elizabethan song-books belong to two entirely separate classes, each with its own distinctive features, namely, those of the madrigal-composers proper, and those of the lutenists; and in the present edition the lyrics are arranged under these two headings. It is not proposed here to consider in much detail the subject of madrigals from a technical point of view, since it has been fully treated by the present Editor in his English Madrigal Composers.1 It will be sufficient to say that the madrigal took the form of unaccompanied song for at least three, and rarely for more than six, voice-parts. It was constructed mainly upon short musical phrases treated contrapuntally, while each voice-part had an equal share of melodic interest, the musical phrases being taken up consecutively rather than simultaneously by the various voice-parts, the verbal phrases being several times reiterated. Occasionally this method was varied by short periods in which all the voices moved together in blocks of harmony. The true madrigal was seldom set to more than one stanza of poetry; and indeed these composers studied their words so closely, and expressed themselves with such intimate regard for the particular meaning of each word and each phrase, that the exact repetition of their music to a fresh stanza of words was scarcely ever possible. Every kind of device was employed by the composers both to secure variety and to sustain interest; and, above all other considerations, they strove to add meaning and point to the words which they had chosen to set. It is especially in this last detail that they proved themselves supreme. The poetry of the period is admittedly of the first rank, but the fine imagination of the greatest of the English madrigal-composers may be said without exaggeration to have been equal to that of the poets, with the result that the music added new beauty to the 'golden-vowelled' lyrics, and intensified their meaning, so that Elizabethan music was indeed 'married to immortal verse' in equal partnership.

Of the various kinds of madrigal it need only be said here in a general way that the canzonet and other such alternative terms, as pg xviiiused by the composers, do not imply any very material difference of constructive principles. The ballet is an exception; it is founded upon much more regular rhythmic outlines, having originally been an art-form in which singing and dancing were combined; and a distinctive feature of the ballet in the hands of the madrigalists was the introduction, at certain well-defined closes of the words, of a passage of music sung to no regular words but to the syllables fa la la. In music of a later date these passages have their counterpart in interludes for the pianoforte or orchestra, while the voices are silent. It is for this reason that the fa la refrains, which, with rare exceptions, have nothing to do with the poem, are omitted in the present edition, which purports to deal with the words alone; but in the Notes reference will be given to each individual poem in which the fa la or any other similar refrain is to be found in the musical setting.

The music of the madrigals was printed in separate part-books, each of these books containing the music for one voice-part alone, and not simultaneously showing the music of the composition as a whole, as in modern vocal score. The music was printed without bars of any kind; and the singer, unhampered by any such obstacle as that of bar-lines placed at regular intervals, was allowed to sing his music with the true ictus of the words, in exact accordance with the design of the composer. A false tradition in this matter, which has its origin in the introduction of bars at regular intervals in all reprints of music of this class since the middle of the seventeenth century, has unfortunately led to the serious error of supposing that the Elizabethan musicians wantonly disregarded the laws of true accent as employed in speech, whereas the reverse was actually the case. When the madrigal music is properly rendered the ictus should fall exactly as it would do when the words are well spoken.

We turn now to the lute-song composers, who expressed themselves in a different type of musical composition. They commonly gave to their song the title of Air,1 a term which was occasionally used by the madrigalists also for distinctively madrigalian compositions. The Airs of the lutenists usually took the form of solo-songs with several stanzas of words, for each of which, as a general rule, the same music was repeated; the first stanza being set up with the music in the song-pg xixbooks, while the subsequent stanzas were printed in metrical form on another part of the page. When performed as solo-songs they were accompanied with the lute, reinforced by a bass viol or some such instrument, to add support and body to the general effect; while occasionally, as in three of the songs of Dowland in A Pilgrimes Solace, more elaborate instrumental accompaniment was added. All the composers who published volumes of this kind were themselves eminent performers on the lute, and lute accompaniments form an invariable feature in their songs as contrasted with those of the madrigal writers. As an alternative method of performance the lutenists frequently harmonized their melodies for four voices so that they could be sung without accompaniment, as were the madrigals; but the style of treatment was very much simpler and lacked many of the essential features of the true madrigal. Sometimes again the lutenists' Airs were in the form of vocal duet; and sometimes, too, the composer would arrange the music so as to admit of several different ways of performance. Thus, for instance, John Dowland's First Booke of Songes in 1597 was 'So made that all the partes together, or either of them seuerally may be song to the Lute, Orpherian or Viol de gambo'. Another distinctive feature of the lutenists' song-books was their shape and size. The madrigal part-books were in quarto, the lute-song books almost invariably folio. When the solo-songs were adapted by the composer for alternative performance as part-songs, all the voice-parts were printed in one book, but were so arranged on the open page that the four performers could sing from the one book placed in the centre of the group.

The details of the composers' works to be treated under these two headings must next be discussed. We are fortunate in knowing with some degree of completeness what sets of compositions were published by these composers; several of these sets are now represented by only one known exemplar, but very few seem to have perished entirely. One of the sets, for instance, that cannot be traced is Nathaniel Patrick's Songs of sundrye Natures, 1597, the full title of which is given in Mr. Robert Steele's catalogue. The present editor would for various reasons take 1588, the year which saw the publication of William Byrd's first set, as the date when the English madrigal school may be said to have come into being. This leads to the exclusion of Thomas Whythorne's work from the present volume; for his first publication was as many as seventeen years earlier, and contains pg xxnothing of quite first-rate interest, either as poetry or music, while his second set, published in 1590, is one of those music-books in which nothing more than the opening words are printed except of the compositions set to sacred words. The great bulk of the wonderful output of madrigals was issued in the very short period covered by the subsequent twenty-five years, Bateson's second set in 1618 and that of Tomkins in 1622 being among the few really first-rate publications of a later date. The series actually closes with the younger Hilton's somewhat feeble volume of Fa Las; but in a book dealing with the lyrics rather than with the music, it may be thought permissible to include the poems in the two volumes of Peerson's compositions, although the second volume was published as late as 1630, and in spite of the fact that Peerson's music cannot strictly be described as of madrigalian design. Furthermore, within this range of years, 1588 to 1630, such sets as John Amner's Sacred Hymns of 3, 4, 5, and 6 Parts, 1615, which deal solely with sacred music, are excluded; and Sir William Leighton's Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule, 1614, consisting almost entirely of biblical or semi-religious words, appeared to be out of place in a collection of lyric verse. On the other hand, it was though desirable, for the sake of completeness, not to omit the sacred words that are found interspersed among the secular compositions of Byrd, John Mundy, and others; and for the same reason translations from Italian madrigals, and even a few examples of Italian words, are not excluded when they form part of a genuine English madrigal set. Complete sets of adaptations, even though of contemporary work, have been omitted. Thus such volumes as Thomas Watson's Italian Madrigalls Englished, Yonge's two sets of Mvsica Transalpina, and Morley's volumes of Italian madrigals with English words, fall outside the scope of the present volume. Ravenscroft's Pammelia, Deuteromelia, and Melismata are excluded because they consist almost entirely of rounds and folk-songs, and neither from a literary nor a musical point of view come under the heading of madrigals. On the other hand, the same composer's examples in his Brief Discourse of the True Use of Charact'ring the Degrees … in Measurable Music have been admitted, without, it may be hoped, undue inconsistency. Very few of the songs in this last-mentioned book of Ravenscroft's are really madrigalian; but some of the lyrics are quite in keeping with the scheme of the present volume, and, though others in the set are in the nature of tavern songs, the sporting numbers are pg xxicharacteristic and full of interest, and some even of beauty. Greaves's Songes of sundrie kindes, which concludes with six madrigals, contains, for the most part, music with lute accompaniment; and as it seemed advisable not to divide the set, it is included in its entirety among the compositions of the lutenists. Cavendish's book is similar in design to that of Greaves.

The lute-song series begins with Dowland's First Book in 1597, and, strictly speaking, ends with Attey's book in 1622. But a point has, perhaps pardonably, been stretched in order to include Walter Porter's volume of 1632. This is certainly not accurately described by the composer as a set of 'madrigals', nor can it really be said to belong to the lute-song series; but the lute is actually named as one of the accompanying instruments, and this fact must serve as an excuse for including this volume, which certainly contains several beautiful lyrics. The incidental songs in the masques of the period are entirely outside the scope of the present collection; and Edward Filmer's French Court Airs with their Ditties Englished, 1629, is passed over for reasons already stated.

No biographical details of the composers are given here, as the reader is referred to the Editor's English Madrigal Composers and elsewhere, for information of that kind. But mention must be made here of the spelling of Thomas Campian's name, which has been deliberately adopted by the Editor in spite of the usual custom. There is authority both for Campian and Campion in books printed in his own time, but the title-pages of his books of airs give Campian; and in a Latin epigram addressed to John Dowland and printed in the latter's first book of airs (1597) he adopted the Latin form Tho. Campiani Epigramma, etc. The weight of contemporary evidence is certainly in favour of Campian.

The sets of lyrics are arranged under the names of the musical composers in alphabetical order. Any attempt to follow an exact chronological order would have involved some insurmountable difficulties, and would, moreover, necessitate the separation of individual composers' sets. But little, if any, advantage would be gained by a chronological arrangement, since the composers drew from literary sources which cover a comparatively wide period, while the poems have no actual relation to the dates of the musical publications.

The reconstruction of the poems from the words as given in the pg xxiipart-books can be carried out with no great difficulty in the large majority of cases. As regards the lutenists' song-books the task is but slight, because almost invariably one stanza or more of each poem is set up in metrical form apart from the music; so that in any case of doubt in dealing with those words that are fitted to the musical notation, the subsequent stanzas form a guide to metre and other details. Yet it must be mentioned that for economy of space, or for other reasons, the verses were seldom so well arranged metrically as in the contemporary editions of the works of the poets, and the arrangement of the song-books has been freely handled in the present edition.

But in dealing with the madrigal part-books, with some few exceptions, each lyric has to be separated from the music, and then arranged in metrical form, without any such indication as is provided in the lute-song books. That the scope of an editor's work in this connexion may be fully understood, it is necessary to explain how the musician usually dealt with his words in composing a madrigal. These compositions consisted largely of brief musical phrases, often requiring no more than half a line of verse at a time; and such a fragment of verse was repeated more than once by all the voice-parts before the introduction of a new musical phrase with further words. Very often the musical requirements of one or more of the voice-parts could not be exactly met by the verbal phrase as it stood in the poem, and this difficulty was sometimes overcome by the addition of fresh material, taking perhaps the form of some interjection—such as 'alas!' or 'ay me!'; while occasionally some fresh epithet or other unimportant word was introduced by the composer to satisfy his needs. The elimination of words was also an obvious device when circumstances required the shortening of a phrase; and it is not unusual to find a word of one syllable substituted for another of two syllables. Again, when a fragment of a line of verse was separated from its context for contrapuntal treatment, the real meaning of the words was sometimes rendered uncertain, and in such circumstances the composers did not hesitate to transpose words to make the meaning clear in its musical setting. Such methods of dealing with the text may be termed musical licences, and, although such licences were very much more the exception than the rule, it will be recognized that an editor's task of reconstructing even the simplest texts from the madrigal part-books involves much more than simple transcription.

pg xxiiiExamples may here be quoted to illustrate the preceding statement:

The following are the opening lines of Morley's three-part canzonet 'What ails my darling' (1593 Canzonets, No. 18) as they actually stand in the part-books with the music:

Cantus. What ails my darling, say what ails my darling, what ails my sweet pretty darling, what ails my sweet, what ails mine own sweet darling? What ails my darling dear thus sitting all alone, sitting all alone, all alone so weary? Say, why is my dear now not merry?

Altus. What ails my darling, say what ails my darling, what ails my darling dear, what ails mine only sweet, mine only sweet darling? What ails my darling, what ails my darling dear, sitting all alone, sitting all alone so weary? Say what grieves my dear that she is not merry?

Bassus. What ails my darling, say what ails my darling, what ails my darling, say what ails my dainty dainty darling, what ails mine own sweet darling? What ails my dainty darling, my dainty darling so to sit alone, so to sit alone so weary, and is not merry?

The problem of reconstructing the metrical form of these words is of course capable of several different solutions (that of the Editor will be found on p. 137). But this is an unusually difficult case, and similar examples are rare, and almost entirely confined to the earlier work of Thomas Morley. In madrigals of this type the words and music are really in a sense inseparable, forming together one artistic whole, and when the music is taken away an integral part of the whole has been removed; therefore, what is left—an incomplete thing in itself—must be rearranged to give it the semblance of a whole. And this rearrangement should attempt to trace backwards the several steps taken by the musician in the course of evolving his composition. The reconstruction of the poem must in just a few such cases be a little speculative; yet even in these it is well worth attempting; for if the words were literally transcribed as above, poetic feeling would be wholly eliminated. One other example may be quoted to show the kind of material upon which an editor has to work. The following is from Peerson's Private Music (No. 24), the unique complete exemplar of which is in the Bodleian Library.

Cantus. See, see, O see, who is here, who comes a-maying. . . . And his sweet beauteous Orian. Why left we off our playing to gaze on them that gods as well as men amaze? Jug, jug, jug, lark raise thy note and wing. All birds, all birds, their music bring . . . Record on every bush . . . whose like pg xxivwas never seen, for good and fair. Nor can be though fresh May should every day invite a several pair.

Altus. See, see, who is here come a-maying. The master of the Ocean. Why left we off our playing. To gaze on them that gods as men amaze? Jug, jug, jug, thy note (words missing here) . . . Robin, Linnet, Thrush, the welcome of the king and queen whose like we (sic) never seen for good and fair, nor can be though fresh May should every day invite a several pair.

Cantus secundus. See O see, who is here come a-maying . . . Why left we off our playing . . . On them that gods as men amaze. Up Nightingale and sing jug, jug, jug. All birds their music bring. . . . The welcome of the King and Queen whose like were never seen for good and fair. Nor can be though fresh May should every day invite a several pair.

The Editor had the satisfaction of reconstructing this poem exactly as it stands in the present volume (see p. 183) before finding it among Ben Jonson's works.

And here it may be remarked that the text of poems of which the authorship has been ascertained, as given in the song-books, usually shows many small variations from the accepted version. The textual differences are of two kinds, namely, those that are due to careless transcription or faulty memory on the part of the composer himself or of whoever gave him the copy of the words to set, and those that have been deliberately made by the composer for musical reasons. Moreover, it is possible that such variations sometimes had the sanction of the poet. Most of the song-books were contemporary with the lyrics, and it is probable that the poets themselves may sometimes have offered the musicians words on which to exercise their skill. A copy of his own verses written down by an author from memory may well show small variations from the accepted and considered text. The preservation of such textual differences as are exhibited in the music-books is therefore of no small literary importance. On the other hand, obvious transpositions made for musical reasons, as well as the variants that are clearly due to scribal error, may reasonably be rectified in a modern edition such as this; and this applies especially to rhyming words, which not infrequently are replaced in the song-books by words of similar meaning.

An illustration may be given here which will suffice to show one sort of mistake that sometimes finds its way into the composer's text. One of Robert Jones's madrigals begins with the line 'Stay, wandering thoughts, O whither do you haste?' (see p. 123), but the text of the cantus part-book is 'O whither do you fly', and, as no pair pg xxvof words in the opening lines showed any semblance of a rhyme, the difficulty of reconstructing the lyric seemed insuperable until the Editor noticed that the bassus part-book had the variant 'haste' for 'fly', and this obviously supplied the necessary rhyming word for matching the line 'Joy is at hand and sorrows past'. Again, in Corkine's setting of Sidney's 'The fire to see my woes' an obvious misprint occurs at the end of line 4 in the repetition of the word turneth with which line 3 also ends. The second line ends with the word weepeth; and there would have been no difficulty in conjecturing that keepeth is the correct reading in the fourth line, even if the text of the Arcadia had never survived to provide corroborative evidence. It will be readily understood that slips of this kind would have more easily escaped detection in the music-books than when the words are set out in metrical form. The existence of errors of this kind which can be corrected with certainty from other versions is a reasonable ground for correcting similar errors which can be mended only by conjecture. Accordingly the Editor has, for instance, substituted 'grieving' for 'groaning' (Dowland's Second Book, No. 15); 'true' for 'fair' (Jones's Second Book of Songs, No. 14); 'seek' for 'find' (Gibbons's Madrigals, No. 2). Corrections of this nature have been suggested throughout the present edition in a strictly conservative spirit, and textual alterations of any consequence are always made the subject of a note. It is important to state that, though small problems abound, it has been possible to reconstruct the great majority of the madrigal poems with absolute certainty.

After much careful consideration of the subject, modern spelling and punctuation have been adopted in this edition. It must be remembered by those who would prefer Elizabethan spelling for all reprints of the poetry of that period that the words of these song-books were often repeated several times in each of the voice-parts, so that individual words were sometimes spelt in every possible variety of ways in one single passage. In one madrigal by Robert Jones, for example, the word old is spelt in the same sentence of the bassus-part alone, old, olde, and auld, and it could not be claimed that the selection of any one of these variants would really represent the original text in preference to another; and, in dealing with the text as a whole, an editor would often have to make an arbitrary choice. As regards punctuation, it will be obvious that where short phrases and fragments of lines were constantly repeated by the composers, the pg xxvipunctuation that had to be employed in the part-books would be quite unsuitable to the text without the music. On these grounds alone, apart from other reasons, modern spelling and punctuation appeared to be a matter of necessity. At the same time, of course, obsolete words and curious variants of modern words have been retained, as well as certain Elizabethan forms, such as, for instance, the form of the genitive in names such as Orianaes, Dianaes, etc., or again, the singular in place of the plural of the verb in such phrases as 'mine eyes presents me with a double doubting', wherever they occur in the original.

The Editor desires to express his sincerest thanks to Miss Evelyn Heaton-Smith for much valuable help in preparing this edition.

An expression of gratitude is also due to Mr. Percy Simpson for his helpful suggestions and criticisms; and to Lord Ellesmere and Mr. S. R. Christie-Miller for their kindness in enabling the Editor to transcribe the text of the unique exemplars in their possession; namely, Robert Jones's The Muses Gardin for Delights at Bridgewater House, and Walter Porter's Madrigales And Ayres at Britwell Court, Burnham. Lord Ellesmere's book has since passed into the hands of Mr. Edward Huntington of New York, and Mr. Christie-Miller's copy of Porter's Madrigales And Ayres is now in the British Museum, The unique exemplar of Morley's First Booke of Ayres, 1600, is in the possession of Mr. Henry Clay Folger of New York, who has kindly promised to give the Editor an opportunity of making a transcription at some future date so that it may be added in a later edition of these poems.

In conclusion, the Editor will warmly welcome any information as to the authorship of any poems in these song-books that have not yet been identified by him, so that it may be added in any future edition; he is fully conscious that in this difficult matter his work must inevitably be far from complete.

edmund h. fellowes

  • The Cloisters, Windsor Castle
  • July 8, 1917

PS.—The delay in the publication of this volume has been necessitated by the abnormal conditions resulting from the Great War.

e. h. f.

December 31, 1919


1 The works of the English madrigalists were reprinted by Dr. Fellowes in The English Madrigal School, 36 vols., London, 1913–24. Renamed The English Madrigalists, this series is currently being revised and enlarged.—Revisers.

1 The English Madrigal Composers, by E. H. Fellowes, London, 1921.

1 There is no special virtue in retaining the Elizabethan spelling of this word when dealing with the lute-songs, especially as the modern word Air retains the old meaning of tune or song. It was the common practice to use y in place of i, and final e was in general use.

logo-footer Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. Access is brought to you by Log out