It’s been a long, hard winter, and for most of us, spring is a welcome relief. The birds fly home, the ground thaws, and if you’re a gardener, you finally get to dig around in the dirt. Coming up, we’re celebrating gardens and harvesting musical blooms from across the centuries—flowers and fruit and everything green.
Love blooms in this text from the Song of Songs:
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom.
We’ll hear a setting of this text by Spanish priest and composer Sebastian de Vivanco. It’s lush music for a lush text. We’ll hear more from the Song of Songs later in the program.
Digging for Spring: Brave flowers and fantasies
Dirt and sun and those first few buds of spring: We’re pulling on our boots, taking out our trowels and planting a musical garden this hour on Harmonia.
Gardens—especially spring gardens—have inspired composers for centuries, and after a long, hard winter, we’re ready for some musical blooms.
Let’s start with one of the very first flowers to brave the cold, the crocus.
Scottish composer James Oswald wrote multiple “Airs for the Seasons” in the 1700s, mixing elements of Scottish traditional music into suites based on flowers. There’s “Hawthorn” for Winter, “Poppy” for Summer, even “Sneezewort” for Autumn.
We’ll hear two “Crocus” airs.
The old English tune “All in a Garden Green” is still popular among contradancers and folk musicians. It was even more popular in the seventeenth century: Many composers of that time used the tune as the seed for extended instrumental fantasies.
Let’s listen to a few of these. But first, the Baltimore Consort takes us through the original tune, as published in England in the 1600s collection The English Dancing Master.
And now that we’ve heard the tune, let’s hear how a master composer can help it blossom. We’ll start with the seventeenth-century English master William Byrd, who incorporated the tune into a fantasy for keyboard. After that, we’ll hear the tune again, this time as the basis for a fantasia for viols by John Jenkins.
Quam Pulchra Es
One of the lushest and most lovely parts of the Bible is the Song of Songs, an extended love poem filled with images of earthly delights. The beloved is compared to pomegranates, to lilies, to grapes and other blooming and growing things. It’s love represented as garden—and what lover, or composer, could resist?
Let’s hear music based on the Song of Songs, two settings of Quam Pulchra Es. In this text, there are palm trees and grapes, fields and flowers—a wealth of fruit, and of course, love. We’ll hear a setting by the sixteenth-century northern European composer Nicholas Gombert, followed by a slightly later setting by the Italian composer Alessandro Grandi.
Musical gardens: Whortleberries and an English bouquet
We’ve heard multiple Renaissance settings of what is surely one of the most botanical parts of the Bible, the Song of Songs! Now let’s rewind several centuries to hear yet one more version, this time from the Middle Ages. We’ll hear Quam pulchra es, a motet by the medieval composer Leonel Power.
The members of the Orlando Consort are dedicated musical gardeners—so much so that they’ve released a full CD’s worth of music for the horticulturally inclined. Let’s hear two more garden-inspired pieces from the Orlando Consort’s garden-inspired recording The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry.
Spring vs. winter: the contrast is among the most potent in art, and life! We’ll finish up our tour of musical gardens with a bouquet of pieces from England. Some dwell on the cold, and some give thanks for its end.
Winter comes first, as winter always does.
Let’s hear a tune from The English Dancing Master: “Cold and Raw,” followed by “When a Cruel Long Winter” from Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.
Thankfully, winter does end! And we’ll end our garden tour with two pieces celebrating warmer weather, both performed by The Toronto Consort.
Featured CD: Song of Songs
For our featured recording, we’ll return to a CD heard earlier this hour: Song of Songs from the ensemble Stile Antico.
As I already mentioned, the Old Testament love poem, Song of Songs, (also known as the Song of Solomon) is full of fertile garden imagery of buds and blossoms.
The popularity of Song of Songs “ripened” in the Middle Ages among composers, and continued. This recording includes settings of the text by composers of the 16th and early 17th centuries. The prolific composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina published a collection of twenty-nine settings in 1584. Let’s hear his motet Nigra sum.
Break and Theme music
:30, Fleur de Valeur: A Medieval Bouquet, Trefoil, Bridge Records 2013, Tr. 7 (Faenza Codex, after Machaut, ca. 1400) De tout flors (intabulation) (excerpt of 3:03)
:60, Fleur de Valeur: A Medieval Bouquet, Trefoil, Bridge Records 2013, Tr. 13 (Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, fl. 1180-1207) Kalenda Maya (instrumental) (excerpt of 1:58)
:30, Fleur de Valeur: A Medieval Bouquet, Trefoil, Bridge Records 2013, Tr. 2 (Anon./Buxheim c. 1450-70) O rosa bella (intabulation) (excerpt of 2:43)
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 LuAnn Johnson.
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.