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They that in ships unto the sea down go - Music for the Mayflower
rec. 2019, St. John’s Wood Church, London RESONUS CLASSICS RES10263 [61.23]
In September 1620, four hundred years ago, one hundred and two men, women and children sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth and landed at a place they called Plymouth Rock, building houses there. It had taken them more than two months. One of their aims was to seek religious freedom; they are known now as ‘Separatists’. They were merchants and people of financial security as well as farm labourers and apprentices, and they took with them books, including at least three printed Music Books. It is from these that the pieces on this CD have been drawn.
Although it is often said that the Puritans, as they became, eschewed music and various basic pleasures, that is not strictly true and we know that several musical instruments, such as drums and a trumpet, went on the Mayflower, which so impressed the indigenous people. There must have been recorders and string instruments, too, so Passamezzo also utilise a lute, a cittern and viols in their programme.
First up, is Henry Ainsowrth’s Book of Psalms. He was a dissenter and the CD starts with his version of Psalm 137 which rather convolutedly begins “By Babel’s waters, there sat we, yea wept/when we did mind Sion/The willows that amidst it be”. Although no composer is given, Ainsworth suggests tunes to fit his metred verses. However, Psalm 100 does use the ancient tune, even now still called the Old 100th. This book continued to be used in the colonies for many years after.
A second book is Richard Allison’s ‘The Psalms of David’. Allison is an intriguing person. There are several skilfully arranged instrumental pieces by him in Morley’s ‘First Book of Consort Lessons’ of 1599. In 1606, Alison produced a book entitled ‘A Hour’s Recreation in Music’. Edmund Fellows describes this as “of no particular merit”. This is somewhat harsh, as at least one of those madrigals, ‘Shall I abide this jesting', is rather fine. Anyway, his Psalm publication came out in 1599 and then we find him as a house musician at Aldgate. He seems to have died by 1609-10, probably aged about 60. These psalm settings are often tuneful and easily memorable.
The third book is ‘The Golden garden of Princely pleasures and delicate delights’…. ‘enlarged and corrected by Rich. Johnson’ who may have been related to Robert Johnson, Shakespeare’s Lutenist. This curious publication contains ‘the histories of the kings, queens, princes, lords, ladies. knights” etc. etc. ‘set to sundry new tunes” and these are all secular pieces including The most cruelmurther of Edward the fifth. These are narrated by actor/singer Richard de Winter as well as sung to rhyming texts. Another curiosity, London’s Lottery, was a broadside ballad of 1612 explaining and promoting voyages to the New World.
Other pieces included by Passamezzo include songs about the new craze for tobacco brought back by Sir Walter Raleigh. These include Weelkes’ swaggering Come Sirrah Jack ho from his ‘Ayres and phantasticke spirites’ for three voices of 1608. Dowland is featured in his Up merry mates, a partial dialogue song from his 3rd Book of Songs (1603) and is all about a group of sailors who encounter a storm. The disc ends on a calm, quasi-sacred note with Campion’s well-known Never Weather-Beaten Sail with the line ‘Never tired pilgrim limbs’. The composer died just a few months before the pilgrims set out to America. This, then, is a highly suitable end to an attractive and fascinating programme.
I love the purity and suitability of all of the four voices used, especially the soprano Eleanor Cramer whom I shall look out for again. The instrumental work, solo or accompanimental, is tasteful and beautifully balanced; especially attractive are the two popular songs by the Cavalier composer Thomas Ford which are renamed as instrumental pieces. The recording, made in St. John’s Wood Church in North London, is clear and focused.
All texts are included and there is a very informative essay by Tamsin Lewis, one of the performers. There is an example of a page of print from Ainsworth’s Book and a colour photo of the group in costume, singing around a table with their partbooks.
Contents (items are anonymous except where credited)
1. Psalm 137 [2.16]
2. Richard ALLISON(c.1565-1606) The Lord’s Prayer
3. London’s Lottery [3.55]
4. We be three poor mariners/Row well ye mariners [2.04]
5. Richard ALLISON: The Lamentation [3.51]
6. The most cruel murther of Edward the fifth [4.59]
7. Rogero [1.34]
8. A Lamentable Ditty on the death of the Lord Guildford Dudley [2.09]
9. Richard ALLISON: Psalm 122 [2.20]
10. John DOWLAND (1563-1626) The Shepherd’s Pipe [3.35]
11. The Shepherds Joy [2.29]
12. The Inconstancy of the World [3.10]
13. Richard ALLISON: Psalm 147 [4.23]
14. The wind blows out of the west [1.34]
15. Tobias HUME (c.1579-1645) Tobacco is like love [2.35]
16. Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623) Come Sirrah Jack ho [2.28]
17. The Birds’ Dance [1.25]
18. Song from the Masque of Flowers [3.31]
19. Psalm 100 [1.33]
20. Psalm 100 [1.33]
21. John DOWLAND: Up merry mates [3.00]
22. Thomas FORD (c.1580-1648) Love’s Constancy/Corydon’s Resolution [1.48]
23. Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620) Never weather-beaten sail [2.23]
Eleanor Cramer (soprano and bass viol)
Richard de Winter (tenor and actor)
Robin Jeffrey (lute and cittern)
Alison Kinder (viols and recorders)
Tamsin Lewis (violin, viols and alto)
Lynda Sayce (lute, viols and recorders)
Peter Wilcock (bass)