'This CD presents a colourful and varied picture of such an event, with good instrumental playing and solo singing...'
The “moments” in question are differing scenes from many of the masques (I think I can count fifteen) performed in London over an extended period from c. 1605 in the reign of James 1st through the period of the court of Charles 1st.
Many of the leading composers of the time are represented, Robert Johnson (sometimes known as Shakespeare’s Lutenist) and William Lawes for example, plus some who are almost entirely forgotten, like Robert Bateman and Charles Coleman. The whole process has been designed and thought out with great skill by Elizabeth Kenny, aided and abetted by the wonderful musicianship of her supporters. We also have music from so-called “Anti-Masques”, which were a sort of comic turn in the form of interludes, hence pieces like The Bear’s Dance and the earlier, Elizabethan Earl of Essex Measure. These songs and dances were also often based on already well-known tunes. For example Jog on the footpath way found in The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, goes well with Tho’ it may seem rude with words by Ben Jonson.
But what are masques? In Shakespeare’s last plays, masques are included and break up the storyline with song and dance, as in Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. The move of Shakespeare’s Theatre from The Globe to the indoor Blackfriars Theatre enabled more fancy scenery and effects. To get a taste of this, go to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre next to the Southwark Globe. These plays included even more music than had been used in earlier times, and it was often supplied by the boys of St. Paul’s and other teenage performers. In the appendix to the recent edition (Arden 2013) of The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the editor comments that the play included various Morris Dances and a piece called The Maypole. Perhaps these are the pieces on this CD.
Before and certainly after Shakespeare’s death the “Masque” grew in scope through the work of Ben Jonson, who is represented here with four songs. He played a massive role in the earlier masques. He would even have been involved with the creation of the dance steps and produced the shows himself. But even he was, partially at least, superseded by the architect Inigo Jones with his vivid stage designs especially after his working trip to Italy c. 1608. But as early as 1606 they conceived “The Masque of Beauty”. The extravagance of this entertainment, now mostly confined to court, was unbelievable and much criticised for its expense and debauchery. After Charles 1st had masques disbanded in 1625, his wife Henrietta persuaded him to restart them in 1631. They grew even more cumbersome and expensive. But for the artists and composers like Lawes and Locke they afforded an incredible creative opportunity.
So this recording gives us a chance to hear, in an attempt at chronological order, what some of this masque music—mostly songs and anti-masque music, usually mostly instrumental—might have sounded like. Care has also been taken with the instruments selected, as Elizabeth Kenny says in her beguilingly written and detailed booklet notes. Plucked sounds and strings make up her chosen orchestra—citterns, violins, violone, lutes and so on, played by the ten instrumentalists. In addition there are five singers.
The whole disc has offered this reviewer much joy, but none more so than hearing fifteen-year-old Rosanna Wicks singing Henry Lawes Sweet Echo. Originally it was written for Lady Alice Egerton, a fifteen year old pupil of Lawes. As Kenny says, Rosanna’s sound “hovers between innocence and insight”—the first time it has been publically sung by a fifteen-year-old girl since its original performance in the Comus Masque presented at Ludlow in 1634.
William Lawes was probably more talented than his brother. Sadly, his death at the battle of Chester cut short a promising career. His dialogue song from the masque Of the Inns of court is the longest track; the words are by the dramatist James Shirley (d. 1666). Other famous writers represented are the great John Milton, responsible for the Comus Masque performed at Ludlow Castle, and William Davenent, who may have been a bastard son of Shakespeare. Thomas Campion is represented both as composer and poet. His beautiful Move now with measur’d sound comes from an apparently wildly extravagant Masque for the marriage of Lord Hayes in 1607.
The Salisbury Cathedral choristers fill in for the early 17th century St. Paul’s or Chapel Royal boys. They are a real bonus, acting as the chorus in such numbers as The Inns of Court Masque, in which they tend to repeat the last line or a verse of the soloists’ section. Versatile soprano Sophie Daneman and tenor Nicholas Mulroy, counter-tenor William Purefoy and baritone Giles Underwood add to the comedy of some of the more down-to-earth songs; they can also be expressive and sensitive where needed.
The booklet is very attractively presented, with full texts and colour photos as well as the above-praised essay. This beautifully recorded disc will no doubt be one of my highlights of 2017. My advice is, as they tend to say all too often in restaurants, “enjoy”.
The English lutenist Elizabeth Kenny devises unusual programs with her group Theatre of the Ayre, and this is one of the best. Kenny examines the masque itself, the imperfectly understood English court entertainment of Italian origin, that encompassed song, dance, theater, and even distinctive stage and costume design.
It’s difficult to capture on a CD (really a full-scale re-creation would be the way to go, if an organization with the magic combination of funding and inspiration could be found), but Kenny does her damndest. The Masque of Moments is, as the title suggests, a kind of masque compilation, a collection of pieces that did or might have been used in masques, and the main thing Kenny is after is to show what a varied entertainment it was, including drinking genres not usually connoted by the word “courtly;” polyphonic pieces that gain greatly from being placed in context and not in a rarefied realm of abstract music; lovely little anonymous instrumental pieces (such as Robin, track 15); the latest Italian innovations from the likes of Alfonso Ferrabosco; and English theatrical songs. Among these you might sample Giovanni Coperario’s While dancing rests (track 4). Coperario (or Coprario) was born simply John Cooper but, like Stokowski, restyled himself with a more exotic brand.
Here you get a taste of the clean style of Kenny and her group, always clear and attractive even if you might wish for a bit more zip in the dances and more down-to-earth songs. You get superb engineering from Linn and an informative booklet to boot. Recommended for anyone who has ever heard the term “masque” and been curious about what it sounded like.
The brainchild of lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, ‘The Masque of Moments' draws together songs, dances and ensembles from Campion, Johnson, Lawes and Locke, as well as anonymous works, into a brand new masque complete with its own narrative. It's a neat way of showcasing the 17th century's lesserknown composers in all their stylistic variety, and creates a programme capable of absorbing both the masque's artful and sophisticated lute songs (Lawes's ‘Sweet Echo' and ‘From the heav'ns now I fly') and the anti-masque's raucous ‘Bears' Dance' and anonymous ‘Tho' it may seem rude' (gamely West Country-fied by Giles Underwood).
Toured extensively as a concert programme back in 2007 08, this composite masque now belatedly arrives on disc, and it's all the better for having matured in the barrel for a decade. Kenny has assembled a crack team. The luteplaying (from David Miller, Jacob Heringman and Kenny herself) is, as you'd expect, gloriously skilful and varied in texture, stepping forwards for occasional virtuoso solos (the opening ‘Lord Zouche's Maske', ‘The Earl of Essex Measure'), and the violins switch from court to country tavern in a heartbeat, making rough magic of the many anonymous dances.
Soprano Sophie Daneman brings a career's worth of character to her contributions, and tenor Nicholas Mulroy balances Underwood's fruity comedy with some achingly refined melody-spinning. Teenage soprano Rosanna Wicks makes a striking debut with Lawes's ‘Sweet Echo', sweetly unaffected and ornamented with filigree care. The Salisbury Cathedral trebles are an unexpected bonus, adding to the sense of genuinely collective, community music-making that gives this recording such personality and charm.
...first though, let's put on our finest weekend apparel and dancing shoes, and head for central London, and the banqueting houses of Whitehall in the 17th century, where masques were the most extravagant form of entertainment, with composers and performers vying with each other to produce the most colourful and virtuosic display pieces...the 'ayres' at the heart of the masque.
This is the performing tradition celebrated in this new recording from lutenist Elizabeth Kenny's ensemble Theatre of the Ayre (spelled a-y-r-e, of course), and with the help of singers Sophie Daneman, Rosanna Wicks, William Purefoy, Nicholas Mulroy and Giles Underwood, and Salisbury Cathedral Choir, they've designed a composite entertainment of their own.
It had me under its spell almost immediately...so let's see whether it has the same effect on you...if we take it from the top, we've a couple of numbers by Anon: 'Lord Zouche's Maske' and 'The Earl of Essex Measure'...then songs from masques by Thomas Campion, Giovanni Coperario, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Robert Bateman and Robert Johnson. No more from me...take it away Theatre of the Ayre.