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Great Music from the Court of Henry VIII

Great Music from the Court of Henry VIII

Ref: CDG1148

25 tracks 65 min
Click here to preview trk 9

Superb singing from one of England's exceptional vocal ensembles alongside music for lute and clavichord in a programme of music from the Court of Henry VIII bringing to life the pages of a musical manuscript which belonged to the King himself and which includes many of hiw own compositions.

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Great Music from the Court of Henry VIII

Superb singing from one of England's exceptional new vocal ensembles, alongside music for lute and clavichord, in a programme of music from the court of Henry VIII, brings to life the pages of a musical manuscript which belonged to the King himself, and which includes many of his own compositions.


1 Nil majus superi vident Anonymous
2 Ah the sighs William Cornysh c.1465-1523
3 Consort XV Henry VIII 1491-1547
4 Consort IX Anonymous
5 Somewhat musing Robert Fayrfax d.1521
6 Without discord Henry VIII
7 If love now reigned (I) Henry VIII
8 Dulcis amica Johannes Prioris c.1460-1514
9 Pastime with good companye Henry VIII
10 What remedy, what remedy? Anonymous
11 Consort XVI Henry VIII
12 Consort V Henry VIII
13 Consort X Anonymous
14 England be glad Anonymous
15 Alas, what shall I do Henry VIII
16 Si fortune Anonymous
17 Alles regretz Hayne Van Ghizeghem c.1445-c.1495
18 Why shall not I? Anonymous
19 My though oppressed Anonymous
20 Taunder naken Henry VIII
21 Farewell my joy Robert Cooper d.1516
22 Jay pryse amours Anonymous
23 De tous bien plane Hayne Van Ghizeghem
24 Adieu madame Henry VIII
25 Adieu mes amours William Cornysh

Alamire
directed by David Skinner

Recorded in the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford by kind permission of the President and Fellows

with
Lynda Sayce, lute
Martin Souter, clavichord
Clavichord recorded by kind permission of Daphne Briggs, Oxford

Music from the early Tudor court is contained in three major sources: the so-called Ritson and Fayrfax manuscripts, from the reign of Henry VII, and the more famous 'Henry VIII songbook', compiled in the decade after Henry VIII's coronation. The books, it may be said, represent a musical window into the cultural life of these two Tudor kings.

Henry VII was a usurper king, and ended the Wars of the Roses when he defeated the Yorkist Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York (Henry took Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, as his wife). But, while his maternal grandfather was John of Gaunt, son of the great Edward III, Henry's claim to the throne was not as strong as others in the realm, so he forever sought to strengthen his claim. He had two sons by Elizabeth, Arthur and Henry, and, with that done, he went on to establish a rich and powerful kingdom. Still, he was not a popular monarch among the people, and his court was often characterized as cold and miserly; it is interesting to see reflected this mix of melancholy and piety in the music of his court, with conventional literary themes of the period: chance, fortune, and the dance of life.

Arthur, heir to Henry VII's throne, died unexpectedly in 1502 while honeymooning in Ludlow with his new wife Catherine of Aragon. The spotlight was now fixed on the dead prince's eleven-year-old brother, Henry. Where Arthur was a sickly youth, Henry was fair and athletic and spent much of his youth in study, especially excelling in the arts and music. When he succeeded his father in 1509 at the prime age of eighteen, Henry was over six-feet tall, remarkably handsome, and he brought with him a welcome change from the relatively dark years of Henry VII's court. This was a time for celebration, and the songbook which now bears the young king's name is famous for its variety and as a record of the breadth of musical life that was so apparent early in the reign of Henry VIII.

The book, now in the British Library (Additional MS 31922), contains 109 songs and instrumental pieces by composers attached to the court as well as a handful of works by foreign musicians, which have been described as 'international song-hits'. No fewer than 33 of the compositions, a third of the entire collection, are ascribed to 'the kyng h.viii'. Henry VIII was clearly passionate about music: he employed nearly 60 court musicians, including consorts of viols, and players of sackbuts, flutes, lutes, virginals and rebecs; he also maintained his own Chapel Royal and was patron to a number of choral foundations. The king himself is known to have played the harp, lute, and a variety of keyboard instruments, and was, according to Sir Peter Carew (a Gentleman of Henry's Privy Chamber), 'much delighted to sing'. As a composer he is also known to have set two Masses for five voices, both now lost, that 'were song oftentimes in hys chapel, and afterwards in diverse other places'; but nearly all of his extant works are in the 'Henry VIII songbook'.

The distinguished scholar John Stevens has divided the music in the songbook into a number of categories, including 'foster' songs, which are courtly versions of popular 'outdoor' song, with themes of love, hunting, and sport, though with a 'markedly erotic tone'. This is very much music for a young, virile court and characterizes the frivolity and passion of Henry's early years on the throne. Such titles as 'England be glad' and 'Pastime with good company' hearken in the new reign, while the manuscript is elsewhere punctuated with a host of songs with themes of unrequited love ('Ah the sighs', 'What remedy', 'Adieu mes amours', etc.). The instrumental music is of two basic styles: long, complex polyphony or short and more chordal with pithy, balanced phrases. These would have been performed on a variety of instruments, though they seem well suited to the clavichord and the lute as recorded here.

The one work included on this recording not from Henry VIII's songbook is the anonymous Nil majus superi vident. It is part of a collection known as the Newberry Partbooks (now in Chicago) thought to be a gift from the city of Florence to Henry VIII in the early 1520s, and is here recorded for this first time. Henry received many musical gifts in his lifetime but very few songs have survived written for the king himself - the text is indeed an apt tribute to this most famous of English monarchs:

The Gods can see nothing greater, nor mortals anything more benign, than Henry, the English king. Knowledgeable in military matters, even more desirous of peace, he, being incapable, never swerves from the course of justice. He assists the poor; he honours the rich.

He nourishes the shipwrecked children of the Muses in his bosom. Let us, therefore, raise our voices to the stars with dutiful prayers: long live Henry, forevermore; long may he live, and extend his realm with his victorious right hand.

David Skinner


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