Canzonets for Three Voices

 

20 contrapuntal delights from the master of the High Renaissance - Thomas Morley. These 20 pieces have never before been transcribed for the guitar but they fit beautifully under the fingers. The book includes a discussion of the transcription process and a commentary with each of the pieces.

You may download the complete book from the Scores page. Select "Morley,' 'guitar,' and 'solo.'

A review by guitarist, writer and philospher Bob Ashley is found below.

 

 


 

“Canzonets for Three Voices” by Thomas Morley.
Transcribed for Classical Guitar Solo by Richard Yates(2000)

Many of we RMCG participants are already familiar with Richard Yates' multi-various, multi-media contributions to the transcriptive precinct of our corpus--through his extensive web-site library of music, his column, The Transcriber's Art, in the journal Soundboard, his Mel Bay publications, among them. It is not a risky business to say that nobody, but no one in our stable, can, should, will, or dare properly call his expertise, authority, or art into question or doubt. Any such criticism would instantly curdle in our presence. Thus, in one sense, the following review of his latest transcriptions of Morley's canzonets amounts to a grand redundancy, a given, a commonplace. Thus, for those of you who weary of my hydra-headed prose, this is your first chance to escape. Simply: get the book now, rest-assured of its quality and proffered pleasures, knowing Richard Yates produced it. Any presence of errors in this review, either historical, musical, or any perceived misconstrual of Yates' intentions or of his text should be attributed to me.

 Thomas Morley is the quintessential Elizabethan composer, if not by repute, then by the precise span of his life (c.1557-1602), encircled, neatly as it is, by the span of Elizabeth Tudor's court(1558-1603). Too, the year Morley was born was the year John Shakespeare married Mary, and in c.1564 it was this marriage which endowed us with their genius son, William. I digress, now, from the outset, but with a deferred purpose in mind. This is your second chance to escape. 

About the time of the fin de siecle (c.1599-1600) the ebullient dramatist wrote in Much Ado About Nothing (Act 5, Scene 1)

 DON PEDRO: Leonato and his brother what thinkst thou? had we fought, I doubt we should haue beene too yong for them.

 BENEDICKE: In a false quarrel there is no true valour, I came to seeke you both.

 CLAUDIO: We haue beene vp and downe to seeke thee, for we are high proofe melancholie, and would faine havue it beaten away, wil thou vse thy wit?

 BENEDICKE: It is in my scabberd, shal I drawe it?

 DON PEDRO:  Doest thou weare thy wit by thy side?

I see some roundabout connections here and I follow them from these lines of Shakespeare, Elizabeth Tudor, and Thomas Morley's music for three voices, as presented for guitar by Richard Yates. I shall need Shakespeare's help. Mine are not the connections imagined by a performer, nor musicologist, nor historian, nor professional critic, but rather as a fairly accomplished amateur with piqued interests in politics, poetry, and the classical guitar.

One linking rope swaying between Will, Liz, and Tom, besides their being contemporaries of each other, is that each describes intellection in it's most complicated of textures, whether political, dramatistic, or musical. What I'm getting at here is that Yates, as transcriber, editor, interpreter, faced the dare of re-locating Morley's intricate, interwoven, harmonies from the tri-cornered site of three singing voices to the monadic precinct of solo guitar. The challenge is, in large measure, an intellectual one, and right from the get-go, that is, even in the localized selection of Morley's music contra other candidates, entailed some serious critical research. Yates reports in his introduction: "The early Renaissance lute repertoire contains MANY examples of intabulations of masses by such composers as Josquin des Pres and Guillaume Dufay. Often these are unsatisfying and actually obscure rather than illuminate the essential qualities of the original." (Intro, p.4, emphasis mine) With this predicament, one can imagine the gnome of that American literary critic, I.A. Richards, tumbling in Yates' brain: "This will never do!"

In Yates words, here is the challenge as des Pres, Dufay, and now Yates himself encountered: "Generally I have found that the leap from voice to guitar to be THE MOST DIFFICULT ONE to cross in making transcriptions. The voice's unique ability to sustain notes and to connect a musical line often does not survive this transition but, as you will see in the music in this edition, Morley's Canzonets are unusual in this regard." (Intro, p.4, emphasis mine) Yates then goes on to demarcate some of those high-relief features of Morley's music which held the best chance of surviving, even thriving after transplant surgery--e.g., it's "relatively narrow" pitch range (4), along with Morley's delightful, contrapuntal and rhythmic inventiveness within that range. It should be mentioned that whatever guitar-amenable characteristics this 'English Madrigalist' possessed, these did not undercut his 16th-century popularity nor the large body idiomatic music he spawned in the minds of composers of his time as well as those who followed later. (Intro p.4)

Anyhoo, the patient's post-operative outlook, from a present day view, seems to suggest that Yates, as musical transplant surgeon, has successfully given Morley's Canzonets a new lease on life. A vastly different, musical incarnation, to be sure, but one with its original madrigalian imprint never fading far. The sounds are haunting really, this madrigalianism. I'm reminded of Jacques Derrida, the deconstructionist, saying of spectres, that there is only one thing they can do--*return* (revenant).  But they must be conjured to haunt, to return and to be spoken to as Shakespeare insists as Hamlet's buddy's face the spectre of Hamlet's father's ghost. A scholar (not unlike Yates) is entreated: "Speak to it, Horatio, thou art a scholar!" Else, gentle reader, run now to thy retreat! A bell tolls three. Mark thee, thy third chance to escape.

The rest of Yates’ introduction to Morley's Canzonets rehearses some of the more quotidian editorial problems facing a 21st-century scholar encountering music nearly half a millenium remote from his own epoch: the absence of tempo markings, bar lines, meter vagaries, voice alignments and residues, note durations and other messy contingencies. Recall the above clip from Shakespeare to see the philologist's cousin problems in early-modern English, such as the mixed usages of 'thee's and 'thou's along with 'you's, the queer-looking spellings, the antique syntax and semantic drifts. Hamlet pipes in apposite: "The time is out of joint". One might enquire of Yates’ if these musical and literary problems do not bear family resemblances. In any case, certainly Yates, like Benedicte, has had to "weare his wit (our modern-day 'cunning') by his side", "in [his] scabberd," in order to ready a path for Morley's  spectral journey from voice to guitar. Yates has addressed all these scoring contingencies; his scoring of the 20 canzonets has been fully modernized in this respect, following current, guitar scoring conventions.

For all that, this intellectual trek which Yates has trod from the classical guitar to Morley's voice compositions and back, is still but half-over and you realize this once you've done your initial reading of the 20 works in this edition. It's an exhilarating feeling, really, to come into a sudden awareness that not unlike Cortez, you discover yourself standing, staring for the first time at the expanse of the Pacific, "silent on a peak in Darien". One does not, I repeat, does not, get a TV-dinner in Morley, something that one can wolf down in two minutes, without a thought. It's like this: ever built one of those plastic or wood models of a great sailing ship, say, the Thermopyle or the Constitution? In the kit you buy, you get all the parts, you get all the instructions, and then you got your scalpels, glue, paint, sandpaper, and dental picks too, but lo! you've got to put the thing together yourself, and it's gonna take time! And this sort of model is also an affair of conjuring, is it not?

What I'm saying here is that Yates has done the first three legs of an intellectual rally and in so doing has cut no corners, but when you set Morley on your music stand you are setting down a torch Yates has passed to you. But it's a fascinating, hypnotic flame, a complex, colorful flame, and your job is clear: put that flame into your guitar! One conjuring begs the next. At bottom: it means re-enacting Yates’ examination, interpretation and traversing of the ebb and flow of those three human voices; it means hugging the shores of the sometimes remote, but always redolent rhythmic 'thee's and 'thou's', wave by wave, into an meaningful sea; it means musing on the inventory of pigments in your tonal palette. In short, as the M.I. saw goes, "your mission, should you choose to accept it" is to conjure the spectre of Morley's three voices--yourself!. No room here for a dull, flat-flooted approach. Yates, the scholar, like Horatio, provides the spells, the incantations, he having already spoken to Morley.

 "Speake to it Horatio, thou art a scholar" 

Now, true,  Morley's ghost is not Bach's, (nor Hamlet's father's) but then neither is Bach's ghost Morley's. The guitaristic challenges resident in these two composers do have affinities, though. Those vis a vis  Morley are certainly more primitive, but mainly in that special sense of primitive which simply means "older". Morley's burial happened a century and a half before Bach's. Morley's voicings have got to be more primordial. Beyond this musing, the historical implications are well beyond my shallow scope. 

Lest I frighten away all but the most deft of classical guitarists, this music, technically speaking, most especially as it regards fingering, is still well within the grasp of the aspiring intermediatista.  There aren't any gold-medal, Olympian leaps nor Barnum and Bailey death-defying high-wire acts or side-show contortions to perform.  By and large most of the best action occurs down on our "Main Street", that is, frets one to five. Further, Yates has used "guitar-friendly keys that...make the most use of open strings in the many unisons that occur." (Intro, p.5) And oh, God bless this transcriber for no drop G-string to F#! To me, that's like switching the 'T' key on my computer keyboard with the 'R'...tesulring in all sotrs of otrhogtaphic incottecrirudes!. I presume, which is also to confess my innocence of Yates’ art, that this is because we have, in this instance, human voices, not the lute to boss us around, ordering us to tune this string to that note. O lute! Thou art not the boss of me; the guitar is not thy bending mistress! 

No, to the intermediatista, I say that in Yates’ Morley, putting 'x' finger on 'y' string at 'z' fret will not demand a manual calculus above or beyond your reach. Where the challenge does rear itself, though, is in consideration of interpretative approaches to this music. And yes, the technical puzzle-solving of articulating three voice voices clearly on your one instrument must be recognized as implicated in a such considered approach.  Interpretatively, Morley presents a 3-D puzzle, in that the voicing dimension intersects or overlays its roving rhythmic dimension. All music does this, but this particular, sometimes arcane sounding Elizabethan music, along these complementary axes can be somewhat counterintuitive to our contemporary musical enculturations, especially when we don't have a cousin fretted instrument like the lute to help us out in the role of mediator or 'ameliorator'. The musical dialect of voice is markedly different than that of lute, something worth a ponder. It seems to me that this puzzle is nonetheless still decipherable and by following any number of varietal pathways, but these may take some thoughtful time away from the guitar in order to map out. Again, if this prospect sounds rather scary, let's yank back the perspective again, reminding the guitarist that these are one, two, or three page English cottages, not cathedrals like Notre Dame or Reims, such as we might enfigure the Bach suites. These are 'models' of the Thermopyle, not THE Thermopyle, and this angle, to my mind, is properly the relative sense of architectural scale one should imagine in the prospect of taking on a bit of Morley. Turn your telescope 180 degrees.

Each of the twenty selections in "Canzonets for Three Voices" is accompanied by an editorial introduction which variously draws attention to Yates' "observations and suggestions" regarding the piece's interpretation, its technical hurdles, or elements peculiar to voicing, particular rhythms, phrasing and so forth.  These are some of the  conjuring 'spells' I spoke of earlier. In addition, lyrics for each canzonet are provided in their own boxed section of the introductory notes. This addition is invaluable for as Yates, offers, familiarity with the text can help the performer to project the work's "spirit". (Intro. p. 6) (Notice Yates' inadvertent reference to the spectre! I didn't make this up.) Even so, I now direct those who may, to the fourth door of exit.

Titles, of course, also point to a this or that work's thematic decorum or "spirit", and as is the convention in Elizabethan poetry and music, Morley's subject is of love's hunger, its pain, its joy, its unrequitedness,  its pity, and grief: "Cruel, you pull away too soon", "See my own sweet jewel", "Lady, if through grief", "Where art thou Wanton?", "O fly not", and "Whither away so fast?" hint at the sorts of emotive "projection" Yates is talking about. The engraved scores themselves, are neatly designed and clear, and this goes too for the reading the various navigations of the voices. This subject is not my musical forte, but even so I don't seem to be having much trouble sorting out high, middle, and low parts. Fingering is somewhat parsimonious, but understandably so, given the number of potential alternations available to guitarists with alternating priorities and different local strengths and weaknesses. As Yates reminds readers, his "fingerings are entirely advisory; they should in no way be construed as showing the only, or even the best, way to play a passage." (Intro, p.6)

I may have dwelled upon the intellectual curiosities or singularities that Yates presents to us in the three voices of Morley's ghost, and perhaps, to some, I may have even fetishized them. My reason for this bias comes from my generalized impression of a peculiar feline curiosity which I believe roils in most of us members the classical guitarist genus. Speaking for myself, as curious as I am too, about how this music might/could/must sound in finished performance, I anticipate enjoying many pleasurable hours assembling all the parts and pieces of my Morley kit. (No, the book is not published by Revell Models Inc.!) Then, I anticipate, comes the conjurings.

Let me close by attempting to set right my imbalanced review which has favored a cerebral survey, with one, maybe two aesthetic counterweights.

Counterweight 1:

Sidling up to Morley music itself, is as delirious an indelible feeling as tilting toward a first love, beside the Avon River, beside a bridge there, beside a yellow meadow, under a star tilting towards midnight. Quoting one of Morley's own titles: "Joy doth so arise".

Counterweight 2:

In English via its best locutor (with mucho mutatis mutandis):

Morley: ...wil thou vse thy wit?

Yates: It is in my scabberd, shal I drawe it?

Guitarist:  Doest thou weare thy wit by thy side?

Rib: Guitarist, turn and pose thy query to thine own selfe! Speak to the Spectre.

Thanks to Richard Yates, for once again drawing your wit, eschewing false quarrels, and conjuring for us the spectre of Morley; our canon's spirit is the better for all this magic.