Creating Harmonious Subjects? Songs for Queen Elizabeth I’s Accession Day

Elizabeth_Great_Seal_IrelandQueen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) was the first monarch whose Accession Day  on 17 November (the day when Mary I died and she became Queen) became a yearly occasion for celebration. Although never at official holiday, at Whitehall, noblemen honoured Elizabeth’s Accession Day with a tournament open to paying spectators, followed by a private banquet and entertainments in the evening. Across the country there was bell-ringing along with prayers, sermons, bonfires, the giving of alms, and even pageants performed in the streets. Poetic tributes to the day frequently evoked images of singing, music-making and dancing. George Peele’s poem Anglorum feriae (1595), for example exhorted nymphs: ‘paeans singe and sweet melodious songs; / Along the chalky cliffs of Albion [England]’ and described how ‘court and country carol in her praise / And in her honour tune a thousand lays’.

This all-encompassing harmonious image was far from reality, however. The occasion was never uniformly celebrated. Some localities never honoured the day, while others did no more than ring their bells. Church services, when held, were not necessarily well attended, while few towns put on civic festivities and these were not held every year. Moreover both Puritans and Catholics complained that the celebrations were idolatrous in their worship of Elizabeth.

Nevertheless, this musical imagery was not merely political metaphor, but inspired by the social phenomenon of Accession Day singing around the kingdom that had been developing since the late 1570s. Many songs would have circulated orally and been learnt by copying the ballad-seller or through communal singing in church, home or alehouse. Some, however, can be traced in extant manuscripts, single-sheet broadside publications, prayer books and records of further, now-lost publications in the Stationers’ Register (a record book in which publishers could document their right to print a particular publication). Such genres spanned diverse social classes and contexts: from the educated to the illiterate, from street to church; from private household devotions to civic festivities. At times this singing was was officially encouraged by church and government, but it was also fuelled by the local enthusiasm of civic or parish authorities, individual households and commercial printers.

The first known Accession Day songs appeared in a series of official prayer books that provide the format for special church service to commemorate the day (A Form of Prayer, with Thanksgiving, to be used Every Year, the .17. of November). The 1576 edition merely appointed to psalms to be sung, but the following year the royal printer, Christopher Barker published A Prayer and Also a Thanksgiving unto God for His Great Mercy in Giving, and Preserving Our Noble Queen Elizabeth for Accession Day 1577 by by ‘I. Pit, minister’, which provided a specially created text designed to be sung to the tune coin churches for for Psalm 81.

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I. Pit’s A Prayer and Also a Thanksgiving (first stanza) as it could be sung to the tune of Psalm 81. The tune is taken from The Whole Book of Psalms (1562)

By the time of the 1578 edition of the Accession Day service book (the twentieth anniversary of Elizabeth’s Accession) it contained three more special songs, two to be fitted to psalms and one with the tune unspecified but suggestive of a carol tune with refrains. Congregational singing was a remarkable new tool for promoting a sense of communal harmony in the post-Reformation Church and now it was being applied politically to bring together the subjects of a kingdom in loyalty to their monarch (and Head of the Church) on Accession Day.

Commercial printers too capitalised on the anniversary by providing their own songs, including the printer Richard Jones with A Song for Each Subject that in England Bear Breath (1578, no longer extant). Other printers aimed at a more elite audience. For the 25th anniversary in 1583, Abel Jeffes printed William Patten’s Ann: Foelicissimi Regni Reginae Elizabeth: XXVI which included a Latin psalm alongside the English version adapted for the occasion and printed a tune for it to be sung to (a rare occurrence in single sheet songs!) Nor was this singing necessarily restricted to Protestant households. The manuscripts of Edward Paston – a Catholic who maintained a Mass centre at Appleton – contain three versions of William Byrd’s consort song ‘Rejoice unto the Lord’ which commemorated 28 years of Elizabeth’s reign and was probably originally composed for celebrations at court in 1586. Religion, it seems, did not prevent the Pastons from joining the festivities – despite their obvious Protestant tone.

From the late 1580’s Accession Day song publications were both more frequent and more widespread, with eight different printers issuing song sheets in the final 15 years of the reign. This market for songs seems to indicate the popularity of celebratory singing among the population, beyond the official songs of the Accession Day prayer book. Furthermore these commercially printed songs were now less overtly religious in tone than those from earlier in Elizabeth’s reign. Rather than being described as ‘psalms’, ‘prayers’, ‘godly ditties’ or ‘anthems’, they were now simply ‘ballads’, and rather than place their emphasis on praising or thanking God, these songs now declare that they will show ‘the happiness of England for her majesty’s blessed reign’ or tell of England’s ‘abundant blessings’. Similarly, psalm tunes were being replaced by ballad tunes. A Pleasant New Ballad of the Most Blessed and Prosperous Reign of Her Majesty for the Space of Two and Forty Years (1600), copied into the Shirburn ballad collection, was sung to the tune of ‘The Queen’s Hunt’s Up’. The lyrics evoke the bells and drums typical of civic festivities that might be held in celebration, which were also spreading as Elizabeth’s reign progressed. The following verses describe Elizabeth’s achievements as queen, including how she has defended England with naval forces, maintained castles and fortifications, and been called to help foreign kings.

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A Pleasant New Ballad of the Most Blessed and Prosperous Reign of Her Majesty for the Space of Two and Forty Years (1600), first stanza, as it could be sung to one of the many versions of the ‘The Hunt is Up’ tune.

Yet the paradox is that as Accession Day singing seems to have been increasing in popularity, England was becoming less and less harmonious society. The 1590s brought successive harvest failures, sharp rises in food prices, outbreaks of disease, heavy taxation, increasing crime and unemployment, intensifying factional rivalries at court and signs of civil unrest in the country with London riots and a failed uprising in Oxfordshire. Yet there was no obvious decline in civic celebrations or song publications, which continued until the very last year of her reign. Should we see this singing then as a genuine expression of an existing social harmony or as an attempt to create such unity in the face of mounting unrest? The expanding market for printed Accession Day songs was now commercial rather than governmental, responding to the popular mood rather than official direction. The growth in civic festivities, however, was led by local authorities. The increased potential for disorder may have caused civic leaders to see Accession Day as an important occasion on which to reinforce a sense of loyalty to the queen in the hope of maintaining order. Elizabeth’s popularity need not have been great for people to have welcomed an opportunity to liven up a cold, wet November. Nor was singing necessarily an unqualified expression of English harmony. The more insecure a community feels, the greater the need for people to assert their unity, even though this may be more hopeful than actual. As foreign threats and domestic difficulties increased, there was perhaps a growing need to believe in England as a harmonious kingdom unified by its queen. A subtle mixture of continued royal esteem but growing anxiety, of popular will and encouragement from local leaders, is the most likely explanation.

You can find out more about music-making for Elizabeth’s Accession Day in my article:  ‘Creating Harmonious Subjects? Ballads, Psalms and Godly Songs for Queen Elizabeth I’s Accession Day’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 140 (2015), 273-312 (available here).

Call for Chapters: Music, Myth, and Story in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Deadline Extended)

Does your research touch on ideas of music in the medieval or early modern period as portrayed via myth or story (broadly defined)? Samantha Bassler and I are working on an edited collection of essay on this topic and would welcome your proposals (deadline 28 February).

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Throughout this period, stories about music found in classical mythology, ancient history, biblical episodes, bird-lore, and more contemporary anecdotes were all treated as foundations for musical knowledge (of moral or philosophical kind, if less frequently practical or theoretical). Whether treated allegorically or as traces of early history, they were cited to support arguments about the uses, functions, effects, morality, and preferred styles or techniques of music, and appeared in sources including theoretical treatises, defences or critiques of music, sermons, educational literature, and books of moral conduct. As well as these more philosophical or intellectual treatments of musical myths, there were also literary ones. Drama, poetry, and song not only took inspiration from mythological stories, but also created their own plots and narratives which communicated particular perspectives on music’s roles and values. The way in which authors interpreted and weaved together these traditional stories can reveal much about changing attitudes to music across the period.

Our aim in this collection to explore the importance of myth and story in shaping and communicating ideas about music in pre-Enlightenment Europe.  Proposals for chapters (of c.7000 words) are invited on any of the following potential topics:

  • change and continuity in the repertory and interpretation of myths/stories about music, including the consequences for concepts of Medieval and Renaissance musical cultures.
  • varying interpretation of musical myths story across continental Europe
  • the changing status of traditional myths/stories in the context of empiricism, rationalism, growing awareness of the New World, experimental natural philosophy, etc
  • the role of mythology in debates concerning ancient versus modern music
  • music, myth/story and religious experience
  • musical heroes in myth/story
  • representations of music in literature, drama and opera, and their effects on perceptions of music

Other suggestions related to the overall aims and themes of the collection will be considered and proposals are also encouraged from disciplines other than musicology.

Please send abstracts of 350-500 words by 15 April 2015 to katherine.butler@music.ox.ac.uk

Selected chapters will be requested by the end of September

Tudor Partbooks: The Manuscript Legacies of John Sadler, John Baldwin and their Antecedents

After a busy summer writing up my music and myth project and doing the final proofing and indexing for my book on music at the Elizabethan court, I have recently started a new job as the research assistant for the Tudor Partbooks project.

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This three-year, AHRC-funded project led by Magnus Williamson and Julia Craig-McFeely aims to digitize all the extant manuscripts of Tudor polyphonic music c.1510-1580 preserved in partbook format (where each vocal part is written in a separate book). These will be made publicly available via the DIAMM website.

Two key exemplars of this repertory – the Sadler and Baldwin partbooks – will also be restored and reconstructed. The Sadler partbooks are badly corroded by the acidic ink used in their copying, leaving them extremely fragile and partially illegible. A process of digital reconstruction will restore these manuscripts to a readable state, allowing their music to be accessed and performed again. (For a video of this process, see here)

The Baldwin partbooks require a different process of restoration. This is a set with one book missing (the tenor), rendering all their music incomplete.While some of the music can be found in other sources, about sixty pieces are found nowhere else. A process of collaborative reconstruction drawing on the expertise of both scholars and performers will create a plausible version of the missing parts, allowing these works to be performed and developing a greater stylistic understanding of the repertory in the process.

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The research team will also be undertaking a detailed scholarly investigation of these sources, looking for connections in how they were copied, their notational styles and practices, their format, their contents,and the contexts in which they were written and used. In particular, although these partbooks post-date the Reformation, they are the dominant sources for much English church music from earlier in the century. We’ll be looking at the extent to which these sources preserve pre-Reformation practices, or make adaptations to suit later (and non-liturgical) use.

We’ll be making the results of this project available via the DIAMM website, through publishing restored facsimile editions of the Sadler and Baldwin partbooks, and through academic articles and publications. Look out also for our series of reconstruction workshops, study days, and public events (including concerts and exhibitions) throughout the project. The first of these take place in March 2015 (more details at www.facebook.com/tudorpartbooks/events):

  • Friday 6th March, 2pm: Workshop: Editing the Baldwin Partbooks
    Music Faculty, The University of Oxford.
  • Saturday 7th March, 7:30pm: In the Midst of Life: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks – a concert by Contrapunctus, directed by Owen Rees.
    The Queen’s College, Oxford

The project website is still a work in progress, but in the meantime you can still follow our research either via Twitter (@TudorPartbooks) or at http://www.facebook.com/tudorpartbooks

Study Day on 14th May: Crisis, Creativity and the Self, 1550-1700

The seventeenth century is often presented as a time of crisis and profound change across Europe. These include political crises such as the Civil War and Restoration; economic crises; continued religious tensions between Protestants, Catholics and other dissenting groups; profound intellectual changes such as the new experimental philosophy, the re-evaluation of the status of Classical knowledge, and a new awareness of individual subjectivity. These social and cultural developments also had an impact on the arts.

On 15th May an interdisciplinary study day is being convened in London by Stephen Rose to explore this idea of crisis in relation to notions of creativity and self. There’s a key-note by John Butt, as well as papers (including my own) placing music alongside drama, literature, science and religion. Issues for discussion include:

  • how  notions of creativity and the self were reshaped by the changing religious, political and intellectual climate
  • how subjectivity was performed in music, on the stage, and in the church
  • how notions of innovation and creative adaptation changed

A full timetable and details of how to book are included below.

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Tarantulas, Tunes and Temperaments

The Meanings of an Italian Musical Marvel in Early Modern England

As an arachnophobe the last thing I thought I’d end up writing about was spiders. Yet, having had to get over my reluctance to even pick up a book with a spider on the cover, that is exactly where my current project exploring musical myths has taken me.

Tarantella_(Athanasius_Kircher)In late-sixteenth century England a tale began to circulate concerning music’s ability to cure the bite of the tarantula, a particular type of spider found in the Apulia region of Italy. The tarantula’s poison might cause various effects in the victim – including laughing, weeping, silence, sleeping, raving and calling out, delusions, melancholy, fearfulness and numbness – according to the temperament of either the patient or the spider. No cure was to be found, except music. Musicians had to find the right tune to match the temperament or the patient and/or the temperament of the spider (which was also believed to dance to a specific tune) and once the correct tune was identified the patient would begin to dance until the poison was expelled. The patient would be cured, but the illness would recur each year, requiring the same musical cure until, it was often said, the tarantula that had caused the bite died. Numerous books catalogued the tales of individual victims, including Athanasius Kircher’s Magnes siue de arte magnetica (Rome, 1641), which famously transcribed some of the curative tunes (see above).

But why was this story about an Italian spider significant in England? Here’s a little taster of what I’ve been finding out.

Book_of_the_Courtier-smallThe myth was probably brought into England via Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) and began to circulate widely following Thomas Hoby’s English translation (1561). As it concerned a remote corner of Italy few Englishmen were likely to visit it was as exotic and marvellous as tales from Classical mythology and it especially captured the imagination of courtly writers at a time when all things Italian were in fashion at the Elizabethan court. Sir Philip Sidney, for example, uses the tarantula as a metaphor for falling in love in The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (1590): the word ‘lover’ pierces Pyrocles just as music touches the victim of the tarantula, so that his body and heart ‘seemed to dance to the sound of that word’. The sting of Cupid’s arrow causes lovesickness just as the tarantula bite causes the victim to lose control of mind and body.

Although Sidney provides no musical cure for his character, the tarantula myth was most obviously an example of music’s healing powers, a particular fascination for physicians and natural philosphers in seventeenth-century England. In the early modern world, the most common explanation for illness was an imbalance of the four humours (black bile/melancholy, yellow bile/choler, phlegm and blood). As wellbeing required keeping the humours in balance, musical metaphors were common, with health regarded as ‘but a harmony of temperament and sicknesse a dissonancie’ (Virgilio Malvezzi, David Persecuted, 1650). Furthermore music was widely recognised as a cure for madness, melancholy (including lovesickness) and as able toCharleton_1619-1707 drive out demons (another potential cause of illness). For the tarantula bite, music’s curative powers depended on the effects of its vibration of the air when transferred to the body via the ear. Physician Walter Charleton described the venom as conveyed by a ‘thin, acrimonious and pricking Humor’. The harmonious movement of air caused by the music was received by ears, transported by the spirits until it agitated the humour carrying the venom. This made parts of the body itch, causing the victim to dance and the ‘pricking Humour’ to be sweated out (Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana, or, A Fabrick of Science Natural, 1654).

Not only did this story about physical disease (a tarantula bite) serve as a metaphor for a mental affliction (lovesickness), but it also become a favourite of religious writers concerned with music’s ability to cure diseases of the soul. The anonymous ‘University Pen’ who wrote The Spiritual Bee (1662) interpreted dancing as an immoral symptom of the bite rather than the cure. This was typical of how the tarantula became a symbol for various kinds of earthly transgressions, including drunkenness and frivolity. Furthermore the author considered the case of the tarantula victims who die laughing if not cured by music to be ‘much the same who are bitten by that Infernal Serpent; All whose years are spent in mirth, and their days in laughter, but in a moment they goe down unto the grave’. This comparison of tarantulas with Satan was helped along by a certain amount of confusion in England over precisely what kind of a creature the tarantula actually was. As well as a spider it was variously described as a lizard, a fly, an eft (a small lizard-like creature), and a serpent. The last of these offered obvious comparisons with the serpent of the Garden of Eden and by extension with the Devil himself. The musical cure was paralleled in The Spiritual Bee with the harmonious voice of God (‘that wise Charmer’) who can cure the ‘exorbitances and profusenesse of our spirits in wordly delights’, in effect rebalancing the temperament of the soul.

The story of the tarantula bite and its musical cure was received unquestioningly in England until the investigations of the Royal Society in the 1670s. Their confidence in the phenomenon was shaken when they heard the opinion of the Neapolitan physician Dr Thomas Cornelio that tarantism had nothing to do with the bite of a tarantula but was simply the result of the hot, dry climate. Yet despite the evidence of a fellow intellectual who had visited the region and studied the phenomenon, many scientists (including Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle) continued to believe the story. Interestingly, however, neither Cornelio’s demythologising nor Boyle and Hooke’s commitment to its veracity tell the full story. Modern studies of Tarantism have shown it to have been neither a legendary phenomenon, nor the effect of a spider bite, nor even a metal disorder, but rather a ‘culturally conditioned symbolic order’ in which a particular life crisis is symbolically remodelled as the bite of a tarantula and ritually controlled and exorcised through rituals of music and dance (De Martino, The Land of Remorse). Such a medical disorder with its musical cure fits uncomfortably within modern perceptions of health and disease, let alone those of the early modern England. Yet the tarantula myth nevertheless served as a emblem of music’s beneficial properties for mind, body and soul.

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