The Broken Consort repertoire was unique to Elizabethan England. Its varied yet limited instrumentation yielded very beautiful results. This week on Harmonia we’ll explore the repertoire and its different guises.
Imagine yourself living in England at the end of the 16th century, 1599 if you will. You are shopping for music at your local bookseller and come across something hot off the presses. The title page reads First Book of Consort Lessons by Thomas Morley. You look further and discover that the music is not for the usual homogenous set of instruments but for “mixed” consort. The instrumentation includes lute, bandora, bass-viol, cittern, treble-viol, and flute. All you can say to yourself is, “Wow!”
As you look through Morley’s Consort Lessons you also discover that he really likes the music of John Dowland, so much that he’s included an arrangement of a really popular piece originally for the lute, the Frog Galliard.
The Frog Galliard is included in the Philips CD release by the Musicians of the Globe, directed by Philip Pickett, Shakespeare’s Musick. The original is performed by Hopkinson Smith on a recording entitled A Dream: Dowland.
Morley also included one of your favorite Dowland songs: Can she excuse my wrongs? , also found on the recording from the Musicians of the Globe. The original is performed by soprano Emma Kirkby and lutenist Anthony Rooley on the recording from the Musical Heritage Society, The English Orpheus, John Dowland.
If melancholy can be described as a form of expression, then Elizabethan song was the blues of its day. Francis Pilkington was one such composer who embodied the sentiment perfectly in his lute songs. A mixed consort arrangement of two of his songs for soprano and instruments is performed by the aptly named Broken-Consort on the CD release …movere gli affetti…, from Pan Classics.
Morley was a bit sneaky in not acknowledging the original composers of the pieces included in the book, though time and curiosity have vindicated this error. As we have seen, Dowland was very well represented in his collection. His lute variations on Go from my Window get their own mixed consort arrangement by Morley’s contemporary Richard Allison.
If there was a list of the top ten most popular songs at the end of the 16th century, surely As I went to Walsingham would have been number one. The song was so catchy that people arranged it for different instruments, including solo lute, solo viola da gamba, and, of course, mixed consort. The Musicians of Swanne Alley perform on the CD release As I went to Walsingham.
Our new release this week features soprano Véronique Gens and the ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, directed by Christophe Rousset. They perform scenes from French baroque and classical operas which span nearly one-hundred years. Composers represented include Lully, Campra, Rameau, Mondonville, Leclair, Royer and Gluck.