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Folger Theatre
201 East Capitol Street, SE Washington, DC 20003
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_With tenor Mark Bleeke and multi-instrumentalists Charlie Weaver and Tom Zajac _

The Consort returns to its English roots with music from a 1610 anthology of songs entitled A Musicall Banquet, published by Robert Dowland, the son of the great lutenist John Dowland. A feast of varied styles, the collection includes English lute ayres, French court airs, and some of the most famous Italian monodies. In 1610, the lute and viol still reigned as the most important English instruments, but the violin was beginning to make its presence felt as well. Our program features some of the first English pieces for violins and viols together by John Cooper, also known as Giovanni Coprario.

An optional pre-concert discussion begins at 7:00pm before the April 9 performance.

*Program notes

For the final concerts of our season focused on music composed and heard around the year 1610, we return to our English roots. Although there were not many English publications of music in our chosen year, there were a few of interest, and we have decided to anchor our program on Robert Dowland’s A Musicall Banquet. Robert Dowland (c. 1591-1641) was the son of the great lutenist and composer John Dowland. The younger Dowland was also a lutenist and composer.  He is most important for his two publications of 1610, the Varietie of Lute Lessons and A Musicall Banquet. Both are anthologies of works by important English as well as foreign composers, and both include works by his father.   For our first and last sets, we turn to *John Playford’s (1623-1687) collection of 1651 called The English Dancing Master, or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance. No fewer than 18 editions of this book were issued by 1728. These were popular dances on all levels of Elizabethan society, considered a “darling diversion from court to cottage.”  Although Playford printed these dances as simple fiddle tunes, we have arranged them, as Elizabethans often did, for the instruments at hand. In the spirit of our selections from A Musicall Banquet, we have chosen tunes with titles involving food and drink.   The English ayre for solo voice and lute (sometimes with the bass viol) surely must be considered one of the happiest mediums for lyric poetry ever conceived. The lute is not too loud and will not overwhelm even the smallest voice. Yet it is extremely flexible, capable of a variety of dynamics and articulations, and in good hands it offers the performer everything from simple chords to complex four-part polyphony. It can support and follow a singer’s every phrase and enrich and complement the meaning of the words. It is not surprising; therefore, that the Elizabethan ayre for lute and voice was one of the most popular published genres of its time.   We know quite a bit about John Dowland (1563-1626)—more than we know about most of his contemporaries.  In 1580, the young Dowland went to Paris as a servant to the English Ambassador to France.  By 1588, Dowland was back in England and awarded a Bachelor of Music from Christ Church, Oxford. He applied for a post as one of the Queen’s lutenists in 1594 but was turned down. In a mood of bitterness, he went abroad.  Dowland returned to England in 1596 or 1597.   The next decade and a half of Dowland’s life gives us a picture of a moody, melancholic artist who felt unappreciated by his peers.  It is true that Elizabethans in general were capable of cultivating a fashionably melancholic demeanor, but in Dowland’s case it does not seem calculated.  He was a melancholic genius whose daring use of chromaticism and discord lent power to his often lamenting and tragic texts.

  Daniel Bacheler (1572-1619) was one of the greatest of the Elizabethan lutenists, perhaps second only to Dowland.  Giovanni Coprario (c. 1570-1626), known variously as Cooper, Cowper, John or Giovanni Coprario, or Coperario may indeed have lived for a while in Italy.  In the suite we perform this evening, there are two violin parts (one performed here on recorder), a bass viol part, and an important independent organ part (here performed by lute in a not implausible substitution).   Robert Johnson (1583-1634) was the closest thing to an early-17th century Stephen Sondheim, providing instrumental and vocal music for both the public theaters and court entertainments. Thomas Morley (c. 1557-1602) figures prominently in many Elizabethan programs and recordings—he was one of the most influential and important musicians in an England filled with talented artists. Not working merely as a composer, he was active as something of a scholar, a pedagogue, and a successful publisher.  Here he is represented by two versions of one of his most delightful compositions. See mine own sweet jewel and Joyne Hands.  We have also included a couple of divisions, or variations on a pre-existent tune or bass pattern.  These are flashy virtuoso show pieces meant to dazzle an audience.   The German violinist, trombonist, lutenist, and composer Johann Schop (1590-1667) met English musicians at the court of Christian IV in Copenhagen and may have learned the English songs and dances like Dowland’s most famous ayre Flow, my tears there. The piece by Tobias Hume (1569-1645) is from his Poeticall Musicke of 1607, a very fine copy of which is in the collection here at the Folger Shakespeare Library.   The fact that Robert Dowland included songs by Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) in his anthology indicates his awareness of and appreciation for the latest Italian music. Caccini, a Florentine virtuoso singer and composer, was active in the circle of poets, musicians, and historians loosely known as the Camerata — humanistic gentlemen-scholars who, in their quest to duplicate the effects of ancient Greek music, decided to do away with polyphony completely and developed a way of singing solo with a simple chordal accompaniment that could more powerfully express a poem.  Caccini’s. Amarilli mia bella was famous all over Europe and was often reprinted in various settings. Tom Zajac has elected to do his own set of divisions on the tune, modeled on the ones by the Dutch recorder player Jacob van Eyck.

—Robert Eisenstein

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