The English poet Robert Graves once said, “There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money.” Maybe not, but there can be music! We’ll explore tuneful treatments of money and wealth this hour on Harmonia, together with music by composers struggling to balance their finances with their art. We’ll also hear music from a 2017 release by the Swiss recorder player Maurice Steger.
Transylvanian lutenist Valentin Bakfark parlayed his musical skills into fame and fortune. Dubbed “the little Hungarian,” while he was working in Poland, Bakfark was well-compensated, receiving several estates, an aristocratic title, and, in 1570, an entire village from the Prince of Transylvania! Money and power are not so accessible to lute players these days, but Bakfark’s intabulations of popular music of the day are. We’ll hear his transcription of Josquin des Prez’s chanson “Faulte d’argent.”
Can’t Buy Me Love
In 1964, the Beatles stormed to the top of the charts with “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The famous foursome may have revolutionized rock and roll, but their subject matter was far from new: music about money, and what it can and can’t buy, has an expansive (or should we say expensive?) history.
The Franco-Flemish Renaissance master Josquin des Prez was one of many composers to match music with money-centered text. His five-voice chanson, “Faulte d’argent,” might be subtitled “I wish I could buy love, but I’m out of cash.”
Taking a well-known popular song as his starting point, Josquin crafted an intricate canonic chanson.
Lack of money is sorrow unequaled.
Alas, I know it all too well.
Without money one must keep silent:
A sleeping woman will wake for money.
Let’s hear the ensemble Musica Nova performing Josquin’s highbrow take on a lowbrow text.
We heard the ensemble Musica Nova singing Josquin’s chanson “Faulte d’argent.” Like the Beatles’ chart-toppers, Josquin’s work proved popular. The composer Nicholas Gombert even quoted from it in his musical tribute to Josquin upon that composer’s death. And composers across the continent used it as fodder for their own works.
Let’s hear two of these works inspired by “Faulte d’argent.”
First, a contrapuntal elaboration by the sixteenth-century Italian organist Girolamo Cavazzoni, Canzon sopra “Falt d’argent,” recorded by organist Joseph Rassam.
After that, a more sacred transformation: the French composer Robert Mouton buried Josquin’s decidedly secular material at heart of a mass. We’ll hear the Sanctus from Mouton’s “Missa faulte d’argent,” performed by Voces Aequales.
Two compositions based on Josquin’s chanson, “Faulte d’argent.” We heard the Sanctus from Robert Mouton’s “Missa faulte d’argent,” performed by Voces Aequales. And before that we heard organist Joseph Rassam performing “Canzon sopra falt d’argent” by the Italian organist Girolamo Cavazzoni.
The Beggar’s Opera
In 1727, John Gay was a disappointed playwright and poet, the author of a whole lot of words that had failed to win him court patronage…or really, much notice at all.
By the middle of 1728, he was the toast of London. Gay had written the libretto to The Beggar’s Opera, a mashup of satirical drama and popular English, French, Scottish and Irish tunes. The music was purportedly arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch, a German-born composer active in England, and the production was mounted by John Rich, manager of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
The Beggar’s Opera lampooned a laundry list of targets, but one was opera itself: instead of the noble or mythological heroes of conventional opera, Gay centered his narrative on criminals and the lower classes.
It was a subversion of class norms that electrified audiences. The Craftsman, a London paper, wrote:
“This Week a Dramatick Entertainment has been exhibited at the Theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, entitled The Beggar’s Opera, which has met with a general Applause, insomuch that the Waggs say it has made Rich very Gay, and probably will make Gay very Rich.”
Let’s hear The Broadside Band, conducted by Jeremy Barlow, together with soloists Patrizia Kwella and Paul Elliott in selections from The Beggar’s Opera.
Airs from The Beggar’s Opera: “Cold and Raw,” “Oh the Broom,” and “Fill ev’ry glass.” Jeremy Barlow conducted The Broadside Band with soloists Paul Elliot and Patrizia Kwella.
Starving Artist Syndrome
Much like composers today, composers of the past sometimes struggled to make ends meet. And some of them found creative ways to convert their art into cash!
For the south Netherlandish composer Jacob Obrecht, holding onto a job proved difficult. Obrecht ricocheted through a series of short appointments, seemingly struggling to fulfill his professional duties. One thing he never struggled with was composing – Obrecht was renowned for his speed, and was rumored to have penned a whole mass in a single night.
His compositional agility may have helped him out of financial difficulties – records suggest that at one point Obrecht donated compositions to his employer in order to settle his accounts.
Music by Jacob Obrecht, the Kyrie from his “Missa de Sancto Donatiano,” sung by Capella Prantensis.
Compositions aren’t they only asset composers can leverage, as Henry Purcell discovered in London in 1689. Westminster Abbey, where he was employed as organist, was to be the site of the coronation of William and Mary. Purcell, sensing an opportunity, charged would-be onlookers for access to the organ loft.
Let’s hear music by the entrepreneurial Henry Purcell, an “In Nomine” for seven players recorded by the viol consort Phantasm.
Henry Purcell’s “In Nomine a 7,” also known as the “Dorian.” Phantasm recorded that music for viol consort.
In 1728, the Hapsburg Emperor sent Count Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach to Naples to serve as Viceroy. Von Harrach, at sixty, did not suffer his new post gladly – the workload was high and the weather was not to his liking. Still, six years later, he came home with souvenirs – including a harpsichord!
In a 2017 release on the Harmonia Mundi label, the Swiss recorder player Maurice Steger and friends serve up music from von Harrach’s Naples – give or take. We’ll hear two selections from the album. Up first, Naoki Kitaya performs a short toccata for keyboard by the Italian composer Leonardo Leo. Then we’ll hear the full ensemble in a lively ciaccona by Antonio Caldara.
Music from the album Souvenirs d’Italie, a 2017 release on the Harmonia Mundi label featuring recorder player Maruice Steger. We heard a keyboard toccata by the Italian composer Leonardo Leo, performed by Naoki Kitaya. Then we heard Steger and friends in a ciaccona by Antonio Caldara.
We heard the final movement of Giovanni Antonio Piani’s recorder sonata in D major, performed by Maurice Steger.
Break and theme music
:30, Purcell: Fantasies for Viols, Phantasm, Simax Classics 1999, Tr. 1 Fantasia 1
:60, Purcell: Fantasies for Viols, Phantasm, Simax Classics 1999, Tr. 2 Fantasia 2
:30, Purcell: Fantasies for Viols, Phantasm, Simax Classics 1999, Tr. 3 Fantasia 3
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Anne Timberlake.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.