Lady Margaret WEMYSS (1630-c.1649)
Lady Maggie’s Lilt: Music from the Lute Book of Lady Margaret Wemyss
Track-listing at the end of review
Martin Eastwell (lute)
rec. St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, 15-17 June 2010
MUSIC MEDIA MMC104 [62:53]
There is at least one factual disparity contained in the documentation for this CD. The cover page title indicates that Lady Margaret Wemyss’ life-span was 1629-1648. However, the liner-note states that she was born in 1630 at Falkland Palace and died in 1649 aged nineteen. I am not an expert in Scottish genealogy, however I did look up one or two references on the internet and discovered that her dates there are claimed to be 1630-c.1649. There is some doubt as to whether she died aged 18 or 19. For the record, William Fraser’s Memorials of the Family of Wemyss of Wemyss, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1888) states that Lady Margaret was born in Scotland at Falkland, the residence of Lord Burley, on 24 September 1630. Fraser claims that she died some time after 17 May 1648, when she was seriously ill, but before her mother's death on 10 November 1649.
Her Ladyship's ‘commonplace’ book was rediscovered in the early 1980s in the National Library of Scotland. The second folio - I understand that there many folios - of the Lute Book carries the inscription ‘A booke Containing some pleasant ayres of Two Three or fowre voices, Collected out of diverse Authors Begunne june 5 1643 Mris Margaret Wemyss’. The book appears to have been compiled as a part of the young woman’s musical education ‘between the years [of] 12 and 18’.
I was totally baffled by the liner-notes’ description, such as it is, of the book’s content. Unfortunately, a detailed list of the book’s contents is not given here. I found a reference in The Lute in Britain: A History of the Instrument and its Music (2006) by Matthew Spring which states that there are some twenty-four Scottish pieces and thirty-seven French numbers [p.470]. Spring further suggests that the Scottish pieces are ‘mostly short, some no more than a dozen bars…’ Yet according to the liner-notes, the book contains 91 solo pieces for the lute - so I am curious to know what the other thirty numbers are. I fear that the numbering scheme adopted for items in the book likely includes some poems. There are also references to English lute music also being included. All very confusing: especially for those who are not scholars of this period of music.
Readers who are au fait with this genre of music will realise that recent recordings made of music from Lady Wemyss’ book have concentrated on the Scottish tunes. However, Martin Eastwell has decided to include a ‘substantial selection of the high quality music of French origin which makes up about half of the collection.’
I was amused by the variety of spellings in the track listings [deliberate]: I have assumed that they are all ‘authentic’. I am guessing that pieces entitled ‘currant’ are in fact ‘courantes’ and that ‘almonds’ are allemandes. However, I am not quite sure what ‘Sinkapace’ refers to – I think it may be a ‘Galliard’.
Martin Eastwell has interspersed the programme with a number of ‘preludes’ of his own devising. To my ear, these are ‘in style’ with the prevailing music. Apparently this practice was common during the 17th century. The ‘prelude’ usually preceded a group of pieces. However, no original examples are included in Lady Wemyss’ Book. One ‘controversial’ feature is the inclusion of ‘preludes’ for the groups of Scottish tunes as none exist in various original sources.
I found the liner-notes a wee bit confusing: they are conveniently divided into a number of sections –‘The Lute in Scotland’, ‘Lady Margaret Wemyss’, ‘Lady Margaret’s Book’, ‘The Lute Music’ and a brief bio of Martin Eastwell, the lutenist. Each section contains the English, German and French translation in order. It is a little cluttered; however they are essential reading if the listener wishes to understand the programme.
As noted above, I felt that there could have been much more historical information about Lady Wemyss’ Book – it does seem to be available to scholars (Matthew Spring, The Lute Journal 1987, for example) and a synthesis would have been most welcome here. The above mentioned confusion of dates is unforgivable. I did find the white text on the red background very difficult to read – especially the names of the composers in the track-listings which are given in a tiny italics font. I had to scan this into the computer to stand a chance of getting the listings shown below correct. However, useful information includes the instruments used in this recording, the name of the craftsman that made them and their date of manufacture. One photo of a page from Lady Wemyss’ book has been included.
I am not quite sure what the listening strategy should be for this CD. On the one hand, I guess that it is unfair to both composer and performer to use this disc as some kind of 17th century musak – however, that may well be how it was heard in those days at the ‘big hooses.’ On the other hand, an hour of concentrated listening may be a little too much to ask of the non-specialist listener. So I suggest that one takes the groups of tunes that are preceded by a ‘prelude’ as a block: that is how I tackled this disc.
As always with early music, I give my ‘health warning’ that I am out of my comfort zone and depth with this CD. It is not that I do not enjoy this period of music: it is simply that I have not had/taken the opportunity of hearing and studying this genre in the same manner as I have with late 19th/early 20th century British music. However, the general impression is of attractive, often deeply moving music that is beautifully played. I can recommend this CD to all enthusiasts of early music. Perhaps one day someone will record the entire book, including the poetry?

John France  

Track-Listing (spelling as shown in track-listing)
1. The day dawes in the morning - Anon
2. Sinkapace - Anon
3. Port Robert - Anon
4. I left my tru love - Anon
5. Corant - Anon
6. Prelude
7. Almond Goutier - Jacques(?) Gaultier
8. Curent Goutier - Jacques(?) Gaultier
9. Current Lysabelle - Charles de Lespine
10. Sarabande - Anon
11. Mervell’s Sarabande - Nicholas de Merville
12. Almond Gautier - René Mesangeau
13. Prelude
14. I wish I wer there - Anon
15. General Lesly’s Goodnight - Anon
16. Ladie lie ner me - Anon
17. Lady Binnis Lilt - Anon
18. Prelude
19. Almond:dafo - René Mesangeau
20. Current: dafo - François Dufault
21. Gautirs Current - Jacques(?) Gaultier
22. Sarabande du Guteir - Jacques(?) Gaultier
23. Tom of Bedlam - Anon
24. The Spanish Pavin - Anon
25. Ane Curant - Anon
26. Prelude
27. Almond Goutier Jacques(?) - Gaultier
28. Almond Goutier Ennemond(?) - Gaultier
29. Curent Dafo - François Dufault
30. Sarabande - François de Chancy
31. I never knew I loved thee - Anon
32. Buckingham’s Gast - Anon
33. The Corbie and the Pigot - Anon
34. Prelude
35. Holi and Faire - Anon
36. Sarabande - Anon
37. Ruthven’s Lilt - Anon
38. Newburn - Anon
39. Shooting Dance - Anon
40. Prelude - Anon
41. Broom of Cardenowes - Anon
42. Prelude
43. Fair and Louky - Anon
44. Goodnight - Anon
45. The Flowers of the Forest - Anon

Attractive, often deeply moving music beautifully played.

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