The Music

Music and the Stuarts

In the seventeenth century, music was both “the earthly Solace of Mans Soule” and a “Liberall Science”. Prince Henry, during his short lifetime, proved to be a patron of music, which had been taught to him by Alfonso Ferrabosco (who collaborated with Ben Jonson on several masques, as well as writing music for other masques). The masques were collaborative projects, between poets, dancers, musicians and visual art in the scenery and costuming. There is no complete score for any masque, however examples of music from most of the most well-renowned composers and from a spread of eras have survived. We do know that the masque centred around dance, and dance required music. Singers were occasionally taken from the Chapel Royal but more frequently from the Kings Music, a skilled body of instrumentalists and vocalists. The first mention of a female singer is in the 1630s, before which boys appear to have provided the treble. Solos, although fairly common, were less so then duets, trios, quartets and full choruses. Although individual composers were well thought of, virtuosos were also becoming well regarded by this time.  

Masquing and Music

“The whole palace opened, and the ‘Nation of Faies’ were discover’d, some with instruments, some bearing lights, others singing”
Oberon, the Faery Prince
1611, Whitehall Palace

Masque music was not formalized, with no fixed tempo or length; the social dance tunes of the time such as the Pavan or Galliard, cannot be directly associated with masque dance music. The manuscripts we do have often do not give any indication of dynamics which can only be discovered through written descriptions of the masques. Some tunes show more solemnity, others are more energetic. The music for the antimasque was characteristically more fanciful and strange; the dance was often equally as fantastical. Antimasque songs were informal and funny, more like ballads, and they might have ruder twangs to them. Masque songs were normally used to interpret the fable or myth of the masque. Some lyrics, for formal celebrations of marriage, might emphasise a congratulatory message. Songs allowed dancers respite and for scene transitions. Music could cover the sound of the stage machinery, making for a more mysterious scenic transformation. The musicians were frequently grouped around the performance space to create a variety of effects, particularly through echoing.

An induction song would introduce the start of the revels, closing the masque and transitioning to the real world. Music for the revels had more structure, being tunes learned for dancing for pre-learned dances. Pavan music had a stately atmosphere, and the dance matched this, being solemn and unenergetic. This allowed for dance master, Thomas Arbeau, to write in his Orchesographie, “a cavalier may dance the Pavan wearing his cloak and sword” as it was employed “to display themselves in their fine mantles and ceremonial robes.” The Galliard was a lighter and more spirited dance and therefore the music matched this. The revels were ended with a closing song, to transition the audience back to the masque.

Woodcut of people dancing the Galliard from the 16th Century Orchésographie by Thomas Arbeau

The Earl of Essex Galliard
This is an example of an early seventeenth century galliard, written by John Dowland, who dedicated his collection Lachrimae to Anne of Denmark – the future Queen of England. This piece is named after Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. It was the lyrics written to go with this piece which referred to the Earl, who was executed for treason in 1601 by Elizabeth I. Click the play button to listen.

Above is an example of a Galliard, and below is an example of a Pavan

As you can hear, these two pieces, the Pavan and the Galliard have very different tempos. They are both from John Dowland’s collection, Lachrimae. The collection also contains music for the allemande. It was published in 1604, so is an example of music from very early on in the period.

Follow us on Twitter!!
Parties at the Stuart Court

Discover more with our Blog Posts!

Playing the Music

Discover the early instruments found at the Palais Lascaris in Nice!