Eine literaturwissenschaftlich-musikologische Untersuchung
   The English Lute Song (1597-1622) A Study in Literature and Music   
Regensburg (Roderer Verlag) , 1990 , vii + 264 pp.

In the vast panorama of Elizabethan and Jacobean cultural life, the lute song or ayre is of particular interest because it combines two kinds of art: literature and music. Yet, most musicological investigations of the English ayre have neglected the lyrics, while literary studies have either neglected the music or considered only its influence upon the form of the verse. This gap is filled by the present study, which gives detailed interpretations of a great number of the lyrics and also examines their relation to the music. The main sources of material for the analyses are the thirty existing printed collections of lute songs, from John Dowland's The First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597) to John Attey's collection (1622). Text and music are quoted from the original sources. When the lute part is analysed in detail, a staff transcription of the tablature is added to the facsimile.

In the introductory chapter, the position of the lute song in Continental as well as English musical and literary history is discussed. The ayre is seen as reflecting the humanist endeavour to find a new relationship between words and music that gives more importance to the words. Contemporary Continental approaches, like those of the Pleiade in France, of Gioseffo Zarlino and the Florentine Camerata in Italy, and of musical 'figurists' like Joachim Burmeister in Germany, are summarized in order to make the specific position of the lute ayres clear. Finally, the most important results of research by previous scholars into the formal aspects of the ayre verse that are due to the influence of music are described.

The main part of the study elucidates the contents of the lyrics by analysing various lute songs by the most important composers (such as John Dowland, Thomas Campion, Robert Jones, and John Danyel) and by some less well-known composers (such as Thomas Greaves, Tobias Hume, and John Bartlet). Each chapter is dedicated to a specific literary theme (such as love, melancholy, or religion) or literary form (such as the alba, the love complaint, the funeral elegy, or the poem of seduction). Given the importance of the Renaissance doctrine of imitatio, it is not surprising that the lute songs draw heavily on conventional poetic material. As in all Elizabethan lyrical poetry, there is a strong influence from Petrarch and from the Roman elegists, affecting not only the choice of subject-matter but also the poetic language of the ayres. Also, the rhetorical figures that are prescribed in the contemporary treatises of George Puttenham and Henry Peacham are very much in evidence in the lute songs - and especially those figures that can be emulated by corresponding musical figures. The use of these devices compensated for the restrictions imposed upon the lyrics by the music. That is, the analyses show that the poets, saddled with these restrictions, knew how to take advantage of the association of the lyrics with the music. The music not only supports the lyrics, but often adds further shades of meaning. The composers used various methods to make the music serve the words (as the humanists demanded). To some extent, different composers favoured different methods. In general however, in light ayres the composers would often simply try to make the words as intelligible as possible by not distracting the listener's attention from them through a complex contrapuntal setting, while in other kinds of ayres the composer would tend to emphasize important words and phrases by word-painting and repetitions of various kinds. It is mainly in the later collections of ayres that the composer would become a musical 'figurist' and use various melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic devices to convey the mood of the text and strengthen its emotional impact. In a few of the songs however, the music seems to have been an end in itself, and the text merely a pretext for the display of the composer's musicality.

 Copyright © by Ulrich Sommerrock