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The Food Of Love - Songs, Dances and Fancies for Shakespeare
The Baltimore Consort
rec. 2018, Leighton Concert Hall, De Bartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre-Dame, USA
SONO LUMINIS DSL92234 [68.04]

Was Shakespeare a musician? Certainly, you might think. The abundant references to music - both its performance and its theory and famous remarks like this from The Merchant of Venice, “A man who hath not music in himself, nor is not moved by the concord of sweet sounds if fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils” - show that at least he had a great love for it. Perhaps he played the recorder or sang in various productions, especially in the early days.

Shakespeare almost certainly knew Thomas Morley, as ‘It was a lover and his lass’ from Twelfth Night was published in his ‘First book of Songs’ in 1600, just a couple of years after the play’s first airing. It is one of the few songs which we know was included in such a production. I also feel that Shakespeare must have known Dowland, who worked for King Christian IV in Helsingor, the Danish castle featured in Hamlet. Finally, Robert Johnson, responsible for some of the later music found, for instance, in The Tempest, has been often described as ‘Shakespeare’s lutenist’.

However, as David Lindley asks in his introduction to Shakespeare and Music (Arden Critical Companion 2006), who played the music, what instruments did they use, were they on or off stage, did they use boy trebles or tenor and bass? And was it different for The Globe (outdoors) and Blackfriars (indoors)? Well, the Baltimore consort has been grappling with these issues for many years. To quote the CD booklet, ‘They were founded in 1980 to perform the instrumental music of Shakespeare’s time’. This is their eighteenth recording. I now realise that back in the mid-80’s I bought their first one of Early Scottish music, ‘On the Banks of Helicon’, and have enjoyed it often over the years.

For this, their latest presentation The Baltimore Consort take ten plays and offer us pieces, which are mentioned in them or seem appropriate for them. Incidentally, the only one of Shakespeare’s plays that appears not to mention any music is King John. Let me give you an overview of their approach for one of the plays- Romeo and Juliet written about 1595.

‘Where griping grief’, by Richard Edwards, could well have been composed in the early 1560s and was still remembered as it is mentioned in Act IV, where you will also hear of a ‘Dompe’. A well-known example is ‘My Lady Carey’s Domp’, which was even older (c.1520). When Juliet’s death is first revealed, the musicians are asked to play ‘Heart’s Ease’ – ‘Complain my Lute’. This is not the same poem as the one by Sir Thomas Wyatt (d.1542) ‘Blame not my lute’ but rather, I should think, based around it. The section ends with Anthony Holbourne’s ‘The Honeysuckle’, published for instruments only in 1599; this is also a tune given to that same poem - except a rather jollier one.

One must not forget that music at that time was integral to the action of the play and not a commentary upon it, so the instruments used by The Baltimore Ensemble were found in everyday London; that is: viols, recorders, crumhorn and gemshorn, lute, flutes and fifes, and bagpipes - in other words, a mixture of indoor and outdoor instruments, although you may think that a couple of them had already become a little antiquated by Shakespeare’s day. But how could I forget to mention the lovely soprano, Danielle Svonavec? Not only does she characterise each song very effectively but often uses an Elizabethan dialect, which in the Gravedigger’s Song is especially ‘vulgar’ and utterly suitable.

Altogether, then, a very pleasurable late-evening hour can be spent in the company of these musicians and with Shakespeare, and afterwards, as Samuel Pepys wisely said, “so to bed”.

Gary Higginson

1. Les Bouffons - Jean D'Estrées (d.1576)
2. Kemp's Gigue - Anonymous
3. First Booke of Ayres: It was a lover and his lasse - Thomas Morley (1557-1602)
4. O mistress mine, where are you roaming - Thomas Morley
5. Pegaramsey - Anonymous
6. Farewell, dear love - Robert Jones (d.1617)
7. Where Griping Grief the Heart Doth Wound - Richard Edwards (d.1566)
8. My Lady Carey’s Dompe -Anon
9. Complain My lute - Anonymous
10. Pavans, Galliards, Almaines (65): The Honie-suckle Anthony Holborne (1545-1602)
11. Queene's good night - Thomas Robinson (d.1609)
12. Fancy –John Dowland
13. The Carman's Whistle - Anonymous
14. The English Dancing Master: Cuckolds all a row - John Playford (1623-1686)
15. The Manchester Gamba Book: No. 5, Whoope doe me no harm - Jog On - Anonymous
16. King of Denmark, his Galliard, P 40 - John Dowland
17. Tarletones riserrectione, P 59 - John Dowland
18. In Youth When I Did Love- Anonymous
19.Bonny sweet Robin - Anonymous
20. Tarleton's Jig, P 81 - John Dowland
21.Greensleeves - Anonymous
22. Greensleeves - John Johnson
23. Where the Bee Sucks, for voice & lute - Robert Johnson
24.Full fathom five - Robert Johnson
25.Fortune my foe - Anonymous
26.Willow Song - Anonymous
27.Pavans, Galliards, Almaines (65): The Fairie-round - Anthony Holborne
28. The Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow - Ben Jonson

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