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Early Music

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Madam d’Amours: Music for the six wives of Henry VIII
Francisco de la TORRE (fl. c.1500) Danza Alta; William CORNYSSH (c.1480-1523) Whilles Lyfe or Breth; Blow thi horne; Matthieu de GASCOGNE (fl. c.1520) Nigra Sum; Antoine de FEVIN (c.1470-1534) Auditorium nostrum’; Vincenzo CAPIROLA (fl. 1480-1510) Ricercar; Jacques BARBIREAU (1457-1505) Een vroulic wesen; HENRY VIII (1491-1547) Time to pass with goodly sport; Quam pulcra est; John MARBECKE (c.1505-1585) A Virgine and a mother; Hugh ASTON (c.1485-1558) Ashton’s Marske’; ANONYMOUS My Lady Wynkfield’s Rownde; Adew le companye; My Lady Cary’s dump; La Gamba; Blame not my lute; Gentil prince; En vray amour; King Harry’s Pavan; Madame d’amours; Duke of Somerset’s dump; Ainxi bon youre; la Danse de Cleves; Prince Edwards Pavan; The Kynges marske; Adew Madame; Pavyn and Galliard of Albert
Musica Antiqua of London/Philip Thorby
Recorded in the National Centre for Early Music, York January 2004
SIGNUM CLASSICS CD044 [74.55]

This disc in Signum’s Classics label is of repertoire which has often been mulled over in recent years although in a variety of guises. Some of these songs and dances have been recorded many times over the last forty years dating back to the start of the early music revival. The new slant here is to relate these pieces to Henry’s six specific Queens, that is to their characters, place of birth and religious stance and an attempt has been made to date each piece. Indeed the musicians sometimes associate with the Queens. Overall the selection makes for an attractive programme.

The range of composers reflects a cosmopolitan selection. After all, Henry married a Spanish queen and a Dutch duchess. Accordingly, in addition to English composers, we hear from popular ‘foreign’ composers whose music strayed across the English Channel and North Sea. These possibly found their way into the songbooks of the time especially the Henry VIII Songbook.

The excellent Philip Thorby in his exemplary booklet notes gives us a basic background to Henry and his music. He takes each queen in turn and presents five or six compositions to represent her. One of Catherine of Aragon’s pieces is the now famous ‘danza alta’ by her countryman Francisco de la Torre (c.1500). Thus the disc opens with the medieval sound of crumhorns. One song to represent Anne of Cleves is by her countryman Barbireau. His wonderful ‘Een vroulic wesen’ is probably the only song Anne would have been able to sing. How disappointing, by the way, that both verses are printed in the booklet but we are only given one to hear. The Protestant Catherine Parr is represented by a ‘Pavyn and Galliard’ which she herself is reputed to have danced when accompanied by her own musicians including Vincent and Albert of Venice. The disc ends with an rarely heard extended work by Hugh Aston for viol consort. As Thorby says, this piece "clearly points the way to the glories of the Elizabethan and Jacobean fantasies". The history and development of early renaissance music is enshrined herewith.

The Henry VIII Songbook contains ‘Een vroulic wesen’, also Henry’s own ‘En Vray amor’ together with the song which gives its name to this CD the warmly beautiful four-part ‘Madame D’amours’. This was singled out by John Stevens in his ground-breaking study ‘Music and Poetry at the Tudor Court’ (Cambridge 1961) as one of the finest songs of the era. The song seems to sum up the entire repertoire. Perhaps Jennie Cassidy has been listening to Emily van Evera’s magical performance of it on ‘The Flower of all Ships’ a CRD record from 1985. Cassidy has, throughout the disc but especially in this song, a wonderful melancholic fragility mixed with a certain coyness which is just ideal.

Musical Antiqua of London - which consists of seven incredibly versatile musicians - has also recorded a few songs which I have not come across before. These include the beautiful, typically folk-like, ballad by Cornyshe ‘Whiles Lyfe’. There is also the setting of ‘Nigra sum’ by a composer otherwise unknown to me Matthieu de Gascogne ‘I am black but beautiful ... the king has called me to his bed-chamber’. Both of theses songs are associated with Catherine of Aragon. Other songs in the Henry VIII book include ‘Gentil prince’, often attributed to Henry and place here with Jane Seymour’s era. The oft-recorded ‘Blow thi horne hunter’ by Cornysh is allocated to Anne Boleyn’s section probably because of its ‘double-entendres’.

Music Antiqua is a superb and virtuosic instrumental ensemble who add a single voice to give variety to their programme. I do so wish that they would consider, next time, occasionally adding a male voice for yet further variety. I can’t help but feel that the delicious but curiously anonymous setting of Thomas Wyatt’s poem ‘Blame not my Lute’ would be better sung by a male voice; the same can be said of the fairly raucous ‘Blow thi horne’.

All in all a CD which puts a unique slant on English Henrican court music. Performances demonstrating an ideal blend of panache, beauty and intelligence.

Gary Higginson

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