Music for the Eyes, Masques and Fancies in 16th-17th century’s England

Featuring: Violin, Recorder/Dulcian, Cornetto, 2 Sackbuts, Violone, Theorbo, Viola da Gamba, Organ, Percussion

Music in Europe in the crossing period between 16th and 17th century, especially in what concerns instrumental repertoire, met the extraordinary creativity of composers willing to express their art, creating new musical styles and following new fashions. Instrumental music in England at Shakespeare’s time flourishes through the cheerful style of the “musica figurata”: music imitating nature, reproducing images, expressing characters through particular effects. An enjoyable example of musical rhetoric is to be found in the english repertoire of Masque Dances: true little gems of musical rhetoric which were most of the time meant to be interposed between acted scenes in english spoken theater. The origin of the masque genre is to be found in court entertainments and folk tradition, as the secular thematics of their titles suggest, often connected to a magical, enchanted sur-reality, tracing the themes used in theater plays. For example, “The Satyres Masque” by Robert Johnson expresses with lively virtuosic passages the cheeky character of the Satyr, mythological companion of Pan and Dionisius; “the Second Witches Dance” by Robert Johnson includes some totally unexpected changes of rhythm which embody the totally unpredictable character of the witches, and it’s connected with Shakespeare’s Macbeth; The Tempest also suggests to some rhetorical instrumental effects evoking nature, and it’s to be linked to Shakespeare’s homonym theater Play. In this program, Concerto Scirocco explores the fine rhetoric and the great variety of english early music repertoire for broken consort, tracing a connection between italian and english early baroque style. The bound and reflections between those two cultures is strong, not only in the rhetorical identity of instrumental music but also in compositional structures. While in Italy the basso ostinato becomes one of the most popular secular forms for instrumental music, in England we can find its double in the ground tradition, structured on the same idea: a series of ornaments over a repeating ground-bass

But where those cultural connection casualties or direct consequences of some sort of “musical contamination”? Not to be forgotten: a great part of  the Bassano family migrated from Venice to London, establishing themselves as court musicians and instrument makers for Henry VIII already in 1525, being part of the King’s shawm and sackbuts consort. The Era in which the Bassanos migrated  to England is undoubtedly a crucial moment in terms of development for  instrumental music in Italy, especially in the venetian Area from which they  came from. Ganassi testifies in his La Fontegara the great ability of italian musicians and the accurate and highly developed ornamentation technique of the diminutions, which surely contributed to the fame of the Italian School through Europe. Probably the migration of italian masters to England did indeed contribute in creating a sort of “musical melting pot” where the most innovative techniques of instrumental music coming from Italy,  met together with cultural backgrounds and traditions from both sides, creating a musical style full of rhetoric, rich in forms and with a very fresh and appealing identity. 

John Adson (1587-1640)  Courtly Masking Aire  

Anonimous The Tempest Masque, division Woodycock

Johann Grabbe (1585-1655) Pavana

John Hilton (1575-1628) Fantasia

Robert Johnson (1583-1633) The Satyr Masque

William Brade (1560-1630) Coral

Anonimous The Second Witches Dance , Division

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) The Silver Swan

John Adson Courtly Maquing Aires n. 16, n. 17

Matthew Locke (1621-1677) Suite n. 6

Robert Parson (1535-1571/72) The Song Called Trumpet

John Hilton Fantasia III

Anonym The first of the Ladyes , The Nymph Dance

Thomas Lupo (1671-1627) The Lord Hays His Maske

Wiliam Brade Des Rotschencken Tanz, Pilligrienen Tanz

Hugh Aston (1485-1558) Hugh Ashton’s Maske

Anonymous Paul’s Steeple Division

Giovanni Bassano (1558-1617) Fantasia n. 8

John Hilton Fantasia I

Anthony Holborne (1545-1602) Almaine the night watch

Photo@Alejandro Gomez Lozano