It’s an old English nursery rhyme and fortune-telling game, but most of us know it from the title of John le Carré’s 1970s spy thriller. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, these occupations were code names, but this hour we’re taking the title literally, as we listen to music by men of war, men of craft, and men of espionage. Plus, we’ll hear from a featured release by the German ensemble Stimmwerck.
We’ll start with music by composer John Dowland from his First Booke of Songs, published in 1597. The Consort of Musicke performs “All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayed.”
At times during his life, Dowland believed that fortune had betrayed him. The English lutenist and composer sought, for many years, a paid position in the British Court. But despite heaping helpings of fame and talent, he was passed over, multiple times, in favor of other men.
We’ll be hearing more from his First Booke of Songs later in the program.
These days when we tinker, we tinker with things around the house. But in centuries past, a tinker was a traveling man, a metal smith and repairman who moved from town to town fixing household goods.
Composers, too, at times in history have been an itinerant bunch, traveling from place to place in search of learning, income, and job security.
One such wanderer-composer was Biagio Marini. In 1615, the young violinist left his native province in Italy for his first big job: working under the famous Claudio Monteverdi at the church of San Marco in Venice. It was the kind of job some musicians would have parlayed into lifelong work, but Marini wasn’t the type to settle down. Instead, he hopscotched through Europe, marrying three times and fathering at least seven children.
Men of the cloth
From traveling tinkers to tailors—or at least tailors’ sons. Next, we’ll hear music by two offspring of “men of the cloth.”
First up, a man of a different kind of cloth: priest Antonio Vivaldi was the grandson of a tailor twice over. Both his mother’s father and his father’s father were tailors, but the young Antonio chose a different path, (stitching together notes instead)!
Let’s hear music by Antonio Vivaldi—a concerto for a patchwork of unusual instruments.
Several centuries before Vivaldi, in 1494, another descendant of tailors was born in Nuremburg. The young Hans Sachs, a tailor’s son, apprenticed to become a shoemaker and went on to earn wealth and success as a master cobbler. But Sachs lived a double life, joining the Meistersinger’s guild and publishing almost 6,000 poems and songs. And he achieved musical immortality centuries later as the title character of Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Let’s hear a piece by Hans Sachs, Der drit hort, followed by instrumental music from the same time and place.
Soldiers & spies
Tinkers and tailors may do essential work, but in most narratives, it’s the soldiers and spies who see the real action.
Medieval composer Gilles de Binche, a.k.a., Binchois, saw plenty while in military service to William Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who commanded English forces occupying France in the 1400s. Upon Binchois’s death, the composer Ockeghem, dubbed him [a “soudart/De honnourable mondanité,”] an “honorably chivalrous soldier.”
To the spies, go the spoils!—At least in novels, if not in real life. And musicians of the past were in many ways ideally positioned for espionage.
According to Diana Poulton, who authored a biography of the English lutenist and composer John Dowland, musicians could travel on legitimate business, establish themselves in foreign courts, and generally keep their ears open. Poulton even toys with, though doesn’t confirm, the idea that Dowland might have been passing information to the English court during his time abroad.
A more likely spy—or at least a spy we’ve got more dirt on—is another Elizabethan composer, Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. Ferrabosco, an Italian Catholic by birth, was skilled in diplomacy as well as music. He had to be to maintain both his faith and the patronage of his Protestant supporters!
Caught between cultures, Ferrabosco was imprisoned in Rome for “apostasy and defection”; papal staff suspected him of “spying and scheming” on behalf of the queen. The English, meanwhile, had their own suspicions, and in order to travel outside of England, Ferrabosco was forced to leave his children behind—as hostages, perhaps—with a Protestant family.
Let’s hear music by these spies, or possible spies. A good spy, after all, never gets caught!
Featured CD: Hymns from Germany
On our featured CD, the Munich-based vocal ensemble Stimmwerck celebrates Germany’s centuries-long legacy of hymn composition and singing.
Break and Theme music
:30, Balli, Capricci, Stravaganze: XVII. Century Italian Music for Strings, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, Divox 1997, 2011 mp3s, Girolamo Frescobaldi Tr. 7: Canzone sopra ‘Ruggier’ (excerpt of 2:18)
:60, Balli, Capricci, Stravaganze: XVII. Century Italian Music for Strings, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, Divox 1997, 2011 mp3s, Tarquinio Merula Tr. 5: Capriccio Cromatico a 4 (excerpt of 2:52)
:30, Why Not Here, Hille Perl, Friederike Heumann, Lee Santana, Michael Freimuth, 2001 Accent, Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder, Tr. 12: Coranto (excerpt of 1:26)
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
The writers for this edition of Harmonia are Anne Timberlake and Laura Osterlund.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.