Consort Songs
Henry Purcell

Consort Songs

Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet / Connor Burrowes

CCS 9196 - 0723385919629

Information GreatBrittain Germany

Consort Songs Teares or Lamentacions of a sorrowfull Soule is the publication where Sir William Leighton uses the term consort song for the first time. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the genre of the consort song already appeared in certain collections from the 1580s, which contain several examples of a song-form for a high solo voice accompanied by four instruments. A few early four-part consort songs survive, but five-part texture seems to have become standard almost from the inception of this form. The consort song emerged from the assimilation and expansion of the English ayre and the highly popular Italian madrigale. To the simpler and ingratiating manner of the lute ayre, a more contrapuntal and expressive style of the madrigal was added. The musical importance of the consort song rests largely upon its development by the composer William Byrd, who regarded it as the standard means of setting vernacular poetry. In his songs almost every vocal phrase is anticipated, supported and imitated by a dense stream of notes that flows round it. Although Byrd presented most items in his published collections as fully vocal compositions, about half of them are in fact consort songs, which Byrd stated as being originally made for instruments to express the harmony, and one voice to pronounce the ditty. There will always remain an attractive amount of uncertainty when trying to reveal the beauty of a composition in all its colours. Searching for a favourable lighting means experimenting with historic tone colours and adding or omitting elements. Both the recorder and the soprano voice of a boy are known to have been established during the time of publication of consort songs, and the vocal part always lies within the range of a boys voice, either treble or mean (alto). Naturally these songs have had performances in more than one appropriate rendering, according to availability of different voices and instruments. We do know that the recorder was frequently used for performances at court. The Bassano family, for example, made its appearance at the English court during the reign of Henry VIII and established a recorder consort that lasted for almost a century! The attractiveness of the choice for these instruments lies in the specific character of the recorder sound, that tended to symbolise pastoral life, heavenly scenes or death. For recorder players in England at the time, Italian influences must have been considerable with respect to playing technique and style. 
The famous Venetian wind player Silvestro Ganassi said: The aim of the recorder player is to imitate all the capabilities of the human voice as closely as possible and until the present day these words still resound and are an inspiration. It would therefore seem fitting to use recorders as an accompaniment, as the character of the instruments match the human voice. The choice for a boys voice raised in a tradition that lasts from before the time of the consort song up to the present day, is probably best illustrated by one of the few first hand accounts of Henry Purcell, who was working as a choirmaster for twenty years. From his own upbringing in the choir of the Chapel Royal, Purcell must have been thoroughly acquainted with a choirboys lifestyle, respectful of his professionalism and ready to acknowledge that a top chorister in his prime can sing with an ease and natural musicality that can make adult singers despair. During the rehearsals for the play The Libertine, Anthony Aston recounts that one of the musicians bossily told the soprano Jemmy Bowen to grace and run a division in such a place. O, let him alone, said Purcell, he will grace it more naturally than you, or I can teach him.* Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet *from: Henry Purcell by Robert King 1994

  • 1
    Sorrow, Come
  • 2
  • 3
    Wretched Albinus
  • 4
    With Lilies White
  • 5
  • 6
    Complain With Tears
  • 7
    When Shall My Sorrowful Sighing
  • 8
    In a Merry May Morn
  • 9
    When May Is In His Prime
  • 10
    from Taffel-Consort: Male-Content
  • 11
    This Merry Pleasant Spring
  • 12
    Ye Mortal Wights
  • 13
    from Taffel-Consort: Paduan
  • 14
    from Taffel-Consort: Volta
  • 15
    Like As the Day
  • 16
    from the Paradise of Dainty Devices: How Can the Tree
  • 17
    Fantasia VII
  • 18
    Four-note Pavan