International Record Review, November 2010
Few deaths of heirs to the throne had a bigger impact on English history than those of Prince Arthur and Prince Henry, the older brothers of King Henry VIII and King Charles I respectively. Both princes died young – 15 and 18 – but were old enough for courtiers, artists and the wider public to have placed great hopes in them. Interestingly, in neither case did their father, King Henry VII and James I, attend their funeral. Prince Henry was highly cultured, possessed great charm and was quite a sportsman, who despite his youth had built a cult of chivalry around himself. Equally important in explaining the extraordinary outpouring of literary, musical and homiletic grief that followed his death from typhoid in 1612 was his embodiment of the hopes of the Calvinist King of the Anglican Church. Growing up he had little contact with his mother, Queen Anne of Denmark, probably because of her suspected Catholic sympathies. Henry was also believed to have opposed his father’s diplomatic courtship of the hated Spain.
Of course, as Gabriel Crouch observes in his absorbing booklet essay, there may have also been an element of artistic competition spurring on the various poets and composers in paying tribute to the Prince. There seems little doubt, however, that the sense of loss was profound and widespread. Many of the mourning songs used biblical verses about King David mourning his slain son, Absalom. David had a strained relationship with his son, as James had with Prince Henry. Some others set texts relating to David and Jonathan, the great Old Testament ‘lovers’ (in some sense). Crouch draws a long bow when he speculates that these were a sly dig at King James’s homosexuality. Surely, this would have been better achieved by emphasizing the young prince’s virility and virtue (he kept a swear-box for hisscircle) to point up his father’s womanly tastes.
The most famous set of musical tributes to Prince Henry are the Songs of Mourning by Giovanni Coprario (originally ‘John Cooper’), from which this recording includes four songs, and the songs of Thomas Tomkins, including his much-loved When David Heard that Absalom was slain. Other moderately well-known composers featured include Richard Dering, a Catholic convert who was clearly not deterred by Henry’s robust anti-popery; the madrigalist Thomas Weelkes, whose drunken and foul-mouthed behaviour fell short of the Prince’s standards; Thomas Ford, who had been employed by Henry in the two years before his death; and John Ward, the fine composer of madrigals and viol consort pieces and whose Weep Forth your Tears is perhaps the finest thing on the disc.
Other composers quite obscure today are William Cranford, Thomas Vautor and Robert Ramsey. With Ward and Ford, Cranford contributed a madrigal to a trilogy entitled Passions on the Death of Prince Henry; otherwise little is known about him. Vautor was a musician in the service of George Villiers (later Duke of Buckingham), who was soon to become King James’s lover and chief counsellor. Finally, there is Ramsey, Director of Music at Trinity College, Cambridge, who produced more works dedicated to the late Prince than anyone else. Cynics suggest this was more to do with trying to secure a post in London than genuine grief.
Despite the common theme and elegiac mood, there is some variety in the programme, in which madrigals alternate with lute songs. The latter are accompanied, almost self-effacingly, by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, while the madrigals are sung unaccompanied. Gallicantus sings very well in ensemble – while not quite at the level of perfection attained by other English groups such as Stile Antico. Where solo voices are featured, all are pleasant if not particularly distinguished and the performances err too much on the side of detachment. The four Coprario songs, with lovely texts by Thomas Campion, are also performed on the recent Zig-Zag Territoires release ‘Funeral Teares’. They seem more interesting with the French performers, partly because they involve greater instrumental participation but mostly because the voices of Paulin Biindgen and Anne Delafosse-Quentin (who gamely attempt Jacobean pronunciation) are decidedly more attractive and they are less afraid of injecting some emotion into their performances. None the less, this is a well-sung, intelligently produced and exhaustively researched project, which deserves great success.
Musicweb International, November 2010
Before listening to this latest offering from Gallicantus and Signum, I did something that I had been meaning to do for some time: I listened to the earlier Gallicantus recording of the Hymns, Psalms and Lamentations of Robert White on Signum SIGCD134, reviewed by Robert Hugill earlier this year. I obtained that earlier recording via download from eMusic. The eight tracks cost just under £2 for those on the old 50-track-per-month tariff in perfectly acceptable mp3 sound (all the tracks are at 224 or 225kb/s). It’s also available from classicsonline and to stream from the Naxos Music Library. The eMusic download comes without notes or texts but Signum generously provide a pdf version of their booklet to all comers on their website, also available to classicsonline purchasers and to subscribers to the Naxos Music Library: this allows listeners to correct some mistakes on the eMusic website, where the hymn Christe qui lux es et dies is bizarrely transformed twice to Christe qui Lex es e Dies – Christ the Law of the day, not its Light. (Classicsonline and the Naxos Library get it right.)
I fell completely under the spell of that earlier recording: as Robert Hugill says, we are not blest with so many recordings of the music of White, whom I have long felt to be a much undervalued composer, that we can afford to overlook the Gallicantus recording, even though the music would have been conceived for a rather larger group than the eight voices on that CD. There are just a few excellent versions on White’s music in the catalogue, notably his 5-part Lamentations sung by the Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM996 (see my March 2010 Download Roundup), where the music is by no means shamed by the Lamentations of Tallis and Palestrina, but I echo RH’s call for more of his music from Gallicantus. His 6-part setting of Lamentations, the longest work on the earlier Signum CD, rounds off a most desirable collection.
The Tallis Scholars’ version of White’s 5-part Lamentations also features on a budget-price 2-CD Gimell set, with his Magnificat and other music: The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music Volume 2, CDGIM210, Bargain of the Month – see review. There are also very fine performances of the 5-part Lamentations from The Sixteen (Treasures of Tudor England, Coro COR16056) and the Oxford Camerata (Naxos 8.550572, with Tallis, Palestrina and Lasso.).
One small point: Robert Hugill echoes the statement in the Signum booklet that White’s chosen setting of Lamentations 1 would have had no liturgical significance in Elizabethan England, but the 1549 and 1552 editions of the Book of Common Prayer prescribe Lamentations 1 for Evensong on Wednesday in Holy Week. Although the lessons for Holy Week in the Elizabethan (1559) book are different, it may have become the custom in cathedrals and colleges, where Latin was permitted – even usual – for parts of the service, to continue to sing this chapter in Latin in Holy Week.
The music on the new CD is more varied in that it contains the works of several composers, but more limited in that it was all written at around the time of the death of Prince Henry in 1612, some of it specifically linked to that event, and it all tends to be in a kind of early-17th-century Anglican house style. I don’t wish, however, to imply that it’s all undifferentiated gloom – far from it. William Byrd’s laments for Sidney (Come to me, grief for ever) and Tallis (Ye sacred Muses) would have been a very hard act to follow, but they set a pattern which the composers here largely follow, with variations. Robin Blaze’s recording of the Byrd, incidentally, with Concordia, has been consigned to Hyperion’s special- order Archive facility, though it remains available to download in mp3 or flac for £7.99 (CDA67397). It doesn’t deserve to languish: I hope that it will return on the budget Helios label.
Even more than the death of Prince Arthur a century earlier, which led to his younger brother becoming heir and subsequently King Henry VIII, that of Prince Henry in 1612, probably from typhoid contracted from a swim in the Thames, provoked a bout of sorrow which was certainly genuine at least to a degree in that he had been the white-hot hope of the nation. It also had repercussions well beyond that year, since Henry might just have had the strength of temperament to have prevented the civil war which his younger brother Charles I provoked. Sir Walter Ralegh, imprisoned in the Tower by King James for his opposition to the policy of peace with Spain, certainly lost his last influential supporter and his execution became inevitable, especially after he was released for his second, abortive expedition to Guyana, on which some Spaniards were killed.
Some of the composers are better known for music in another style: John Coprario, for example, is better known to me at least for his instrumental music. His Italianate name, incidentally, is one of the affectations of that age – he was, in fact, plain John Cooper. Some, like Prætorius, whose real name was Schultheiss, went one better and Latinised their names. Similarly, the only music by John Ward which I had encountered before consisted of madrigals and instrumental music (notably his consort music recorded by Phantasm on Linn CKD339: Recording of the Month – see review and my October 2009 Download Roundup).
Robert Ramsey, represented here by four works (trs. 1-2, 13-14) was a completely new composer to me. It is by no means certain that his two pieces which open the CD relate to the death of Prince Henry; if so, they predate his Cambridge graduation in 1616. Two of the contributors to the Passions on the Death of Prince Henry were also unknown to me: Thomas Ford (tr.3) and William Cranford (tr.4). There are now just three CDs in the current catalogue with music by Ford, including this, and none, other than the current disc, that I can find with anything by Cranford or Ramsey. Their music may be rather more workaday than that of Weelkes and Tomkins, but it is well worth hearing. I have no benchmarks for these pieces, but no reason to believe that any rival versions would outshine the present offerings.
The composers and works represented here do, however, contain a fair proportion of the familiar, such as Thomas Weelkes’ anthem When David heard that Absalom was slain (track 9), and Thomas Tomkins’ setting of the same text (track 18), rightly regarded as among the jewels of Anglican music as it was settling down after the upheavals of the 16th century.
Thomas Tomkins’ setting of When David heard has been recorded on three excellent all-Tomkins CDs – by Alamire and David Skinner: These Distracted Times (Obsidian OBSID-CD702) and both When David heard and Then David mourned by St George’s Chapel Windsor (Hyperion Helios CDH55066) and by the Tallis Scholars on another all-Tomkins CD, coupled with his Great Service (Gimell CDGIM024). Tomkins’ and Weelkes’s settings of When David heard also figure on a recording of the music of Thomas Weelkes, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins (King’s College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury, EMI 3944302). (Please see The Tallis Scholars at 30 – review here.)
Like the new Signum recording, the EMI places Tomkins in context with his near-contemporaries in performances by the kind of choir which the composers would have had in mind. As such, it’s complementary to the smaller groups on the Gimell, Obsidian and Signum recordings. In my article on the complete Gimell catalogue I noted that there is quite a variety of tempo for Tomkins’ When David heard, with Alamire taking just 3:58, the Tallis Scholars 4:27, St George’s 5:00 and King’s 5:01, yet all sound excellent within context. Gallicantus continue the pattern of the smallest groups adopting the fastest tempi: they take the shortest time of all (3:51). Their time of 2:56 for Then David mourned is very much in line with the Gimell and Hyperion recordings, but their much faster time for When David heard in no way sells the music short, retaining all the pathos of the piece and also injecting plenty of drama into it. In fact, the Tomkins items on the new recording serve to complicate an already difficult choice among so many fine recordings of these two minor masterpieces.
Thomas Weelkes’ setting of When David heard is also included on the EMI King’s recording: again Gallicantus (tr.9), with a smaller group and unhindered by the Cambridge reverberation, take this at a swifter pace than King’s without any loss of its affective power.
As on the White recording, Gallicantus consists here of a small ensemble of eight singers, though it’s a different group of eight, since the line-up includes two sopranos, not present on the earlier CD. Whether solo or as a group, the singing is every bit as good as on the earlier White programme. They are very well supported in some of the pieces by Elizabeth Kenny on the lute.
The recording is very good throughout. The notes are detailed and informative, both about the political background, including the identification of James I with King David, and about the music. The coloured engraving of Prince Henry on the cover adds to the sense of a fine production. I deduct a few Brownie points, however, for the failure to include the composers’ dates and for the implication in the title, modified in the booklet, that all the music was composed directly for the death of the Prince.
Don’t be put off at the prospect of 71 minutes of laments from a group of composers whose styles, though not markedly varied to the modern ear, contain more variety than I may have given you cause to think. Go for the earlier Gallicantus recording of the music of Robert White first, but those who already own that should head straight for the new CD.
When Princess Diana died in 1997 foreign observers were astonished at the public expression of grief. They hadn’t expected that from the British, with their famous stiff upper lip. It was considered a sign of the times that people were not ashamed to show their emotions. But apparently there was a precedent in history. In 1612 Prince Henry, the eldest son of King James I, died at the age of just 18. "Certainly the flood of written memorials – epistolary, poetic and musical – which followed his unexpected death and which outnumbered those penned for Queen Elizabeth nine years previously, and the vast crowd of mourners which attended the prince’s body on its final journey to Westminster Abbey, attest to the hope which the people had invested in this young man", Gabriel Crouch writes in his liner-notes.
This disc presents a selection of pieces which for the occasion. It is a small selection, since more than 100 poems and more than 40 compositions were written in connection with Henry’s death. In addition to pieces which are specifically related to Prince Henry, as his name appears in the dedication or in the text itself, a number are sung which could be linked to this event. Most prominent among these are compositions on the text of the lament of King David for his son Absalom. Gabriel Crouch acknowledges that "the evidence linking it to Henry’s death, though compelling, is only circumstantial".
The analogy is inspired by the fact that there was clear disharmony between James and Henry, and there were even rumours about Henry being poisoned by agents working for his father. The identification of Henry and Absalom is not very plausible, though. According to the Bible Absalom was a rebel who plotted against David, the Lord’s Anointed, and also his character isn’t pictured very favourably. It is very unlikely that the composers whose pieces are an expression of admiration for Prince Henry would compare him to Absalom. The identification of James and David – because of the above-mentioned rumours – isn’t plausible either: David specifically ordered his army not to kill Absalom, and it was his general Joab who ignored his order.
The programme also contains pieces on the text of David’s lament for his friend Jonathan. There were rumours that James preferred the company of young men over his wife, and Crouch mentions that "some commentators (…) assert that the two young men [David and Jonathan] were lovers", "so perhaps the use of this story of loss and grief from earlier in David’s life could be seen as another opportunistic barb to throw at the unpopular king". But to which commentators Crouch does refer? Modern writers have expressed this view, but I am pretty sure this interpretation was absent in the early 17th century. Moreover, where is Henry in this explanation? Wasn’t this music written in honour of him? Why would pieces expressing grief about his death be used to throw barbs at his father?
There is really no reason to look for explanations like that. These texts have been frequently used by composers in the renaissance and baroque to express grief. The simple reason is that they are highly expressive and moving, and that in those times everyone knew these texts by heart and also their biblical context. That made them very appropriate to express the grief at Prince Henry’s death.
That justifies the inclusion of the various settings of David’s lament over Absalom by Robert Ramsey, Thomas Weelkes, Richard Dering and Thomas Tomkins, whether they were specifically written at the occasion of Henry’s death or not. All of them are strongly expressive. Whereas Weelkes and Tomkins belong to the standard repertoire of English polyphony, Robert Ramsey is far less known. He was organist and master of the choristers at Trinity College in Cambridge from 1615 until his death in 1644. In his compositions as well as in some others on this disc the influence of the Italian style of the early 17th century is noticeable. And that is reflected in the performance, which includes dynamic gradation, for instance at the words "and wept" and at "o my son" (When David heard). The pieces by Dering are also not that well-known, and in particular his motet, Contristatus est David, the only piece on a Latin text in the programme. The word "flevit" (wept) is set to strong dissonances.
Robert Ramsey also composed a piece on the text of the lament of David over Jonathan, How are the Mighty Fall’n. He and Thomas Weelkes, in O Jonathan, Woe is me, concentrate on David’s lament, whereas Thomas Tomkins’ Then David Mourned contains just one line from the Biblical text: "Then David mourned with this lamentation over Saul, and over Jonathan his son".
The other pieces were specifically written on the occasion of Prince Henry’s death. John Coprario even devoted a cycle of seven Songs of Mourning to this event. Every stanza is dedicated to those who grieved over Henry’s death. Four of them are performed: O Grief, "to the most sacred King James", So Parted You, "to the most princely and virtuous Elizabeth" (sister of Henry), When Pale Famine, "to the most disconsolate Great Britain", and O Poor distracted World, "to the World". They are for solo voice and lute, and they are sung with great sensitivity by four members of Gallicantus: Amy Moore, Mark Chambers, Matthew Long and Gabriel Crouch respectively. There are other pieces for solo voices: Robert Ramsey’s What tears, dear Prince? is sung by Christopher Watson, Melpomene, Bewail by Clare Wilkinson and Mark Chambers. This piece ends with the words: "Farewell, the Muses’ King". The word "farewell" is repeated a number of times, and the closing of this madrigal is highly expressive.
The other works are all polyphonic. The items by Thomas Ford, William Cranford and John Ward belong together. The former two are incomplete, and could only be recorded thanks to reconstructions by Francis Steele. One has to be grateful for that, because these two pieces – as well as Ward’s – are very moving tributes to Henry. Cranford’s Weep, weep Britons contains the line: "He whose triumphing name was loudly echoed by the trump of fame". It is set in a very evocative way, with fanfare motifs and repetitions suggesting an echo. Italian influences are traceable here as well. The last piece to be mentioned is again by Robert Ramsey, Sleep Fleshly Birth, which confirms the quality of his music. I would definitely like to hear more from him.
Gallicantus’s first disc was devoted to music by Robert White (reviewed here by Robert Hugill), which greatly impressed me. This disc is of the same high standard. Gallicantus produces a beautiful sound, clear and well-balanced. They sing here with great sensitivity, and the expression of this mournful repertoire is fully explored. The Italian influences are also clearly notable. I have already indicated that the lute songs are beautifully sung. The singers are sparing in the addition of ornaments, and considering the character of the songs that is definitely right.
This disc is an impressive display of heartfelt grief. My advice: purchase this disc, let the music move you, and take the liner-notes with a grain of salt. The booklet includes the complete lyrics. The track-list doesn’t give the dates of birth and death of the composers, which is a serious omission.