Posts Tagged ‘Poetry & Music’


Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

My two great musical interests are English folk music, and polyphonic church music from the tudor period – English or otherwise.  William Cornysh, Thomas Tallis and Willaim Byrd are some of the major English composers from this period; Palestrina and Allegri being two great Italian composers of the time;and Tomas Luis de Victoria being probably the most famous Spanish composer of the late Renaissance.

Thomas TallisThomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-23 to November 1585) made an appearance in the BBC ‘The Tudors’ series, and this seems to have stirred up a new interest in him.  Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born close to the end of the reign of Henry VII. We know that he was appointed as organist of the Benedictine priory at Dover in1532, moving, in the autumn of 1538, to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham, until the abbey was dissolved.

(Try listening to the link below whilst looking at the picture on top of the blog – imagine the music echoing around the cathedral. Should you happen to be feeling in any way tense right now try doing this for a couple of minutes & see if you still feel tense! )

From there he went to Canterbury Cathedral (see photo at top of blog) and finally to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543, composing and performing for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I until he died in 1585.

Throughout his service to successive monarchs in turbulent times Tallis managed to avoid religious controversy, and, like William Byrd, stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.”

Spem in Alium

He changed the texts to which he set music for changing monarchs to match their religious standpoint, however his music in no way feels constrained by changing religious politics.  The mood of the country in the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign leant towards puritanism, which discouraged the liturgical polyphony. However for the Holy Week services in 1573 the motet Spem in alium was written for eight five-voice choirs. The text is penitential, but the music is mesmerising, and very far from dour.

I have never put my hope in any other but in you,

O God of Israel

who can show both anger

and graciousness,

and who absolves all the sins of suffering man

Lord God,

Creator of Heaven and Earth

be mindful of our lowliness

Marriage, death and an appearance in ‘The Tudors’

Tallis married around 1552.  His wife, Joan, outlived him by four years. They apparently had no children. The television series recently produced by the BBC shows Tallis arriving in London and attracting the attention of Sir William Compton, a close friend of King Henry VIII, with the two becoming lovers.  After Compton’s death Tallis begins to court two sisters.  I have no idea whether this is accurate or not – but it makes for a good story!  Late in his life Tallis lived in Greenwich, close to the royal palace, and was buried at St Alphege’s Church.  A couplet from his epitaph reads:

As he did live, so also did he die, in mild and quiet Sort (O! happy Man).

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Thomas Tallis likewise inspired this poem by Spike Milligan,

Thomas Tallis

Bore no man any malice

Save an organist called Ken

Who played his music rather badly now and then.


PPS We had an email from Phillip Sheppard (composer of the music for the recent David Starkey TV series about Henry VIII) – Phillip has added a page of tracks to his blog – click here to listen to them (password is ‘crumpets’) – his blog is called ‘Radiomovies’



Read Full Post »

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

A few weeks ago I did a post on Marlowes poem ‘The passionate shepherd to his love’ – I thought it would be a good idea to include Raleigh’s reply. Raleigh was quite secretive about his poetry and only allowed a few examples of his work to atrributed. It is thought that many are included in anthologies of poetry and there is uncertainty about dates as well as what was written by him or edited by others.

I enjoyed reading this poem for it’s witty and cynical reply to the better known poem by Marlowe. This also gives an excuse to show some really good images taken in the British countryside. These colder, more wintery pictures were chosen to contrast with the earlier post which showed summertime images.

Taken from the Roxburghe ballads

Taken from the Roxburghe ballads

If all the world and love were young,

And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,

These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

Gathering - by Floato on Flickr (Click image)

Gathering - by Floato on Flickr (Click image)

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields

To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten
In folly ripe, in season rotten.

Approaching Storm in December by Paddypix on Flickr (Click image)

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Winter morning 1 by Erasmus T on Flickr (Click image)

Winter morning 1 by Erasmus T on Flickr (Click image)


Read Full Post »

Portrait considered to be a possible likeness of Christopher Marlowe

Portrait considered to be a possible likeness of Christopher Marlowe

A simple post today – dedicated to Christopher Marlowes (1564-1593) poem “The passionate Shepherd” .  This poem was published after Marlowes death in 1599, although the exact date it was written cannot be determined exactly.

In the near future I intend to contrast this poem (and the brighter and more sunny images) with a further post which will cover Raleighs response to this entitled “The nymph’s reply to the shepherd“.

Drifting by Trapac on Flickr (Click picture) Drifting by Trapac on Flickr (Click picture)
Come live with me and be my Love,

And we will all the pleasures prove

That hills and valleys, dale and field,

And all the craggy mountains yield.

Campsie Fells Stream by alco2112on Flickr (Click Image)

By alco2112 on Flickr (Click image)

And see the shepherds feed their flocks, By shallow rivers, to whose falls

Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses

And a thousand fragrant posies,

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle

Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.

Roses by flash of light on Flickr (click image)

Roses by flash of light on Flickr (click image)

A gown made of the finest wool

Which from our pretty lambs we pull,

Fair linèd slippers for the cold,

With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds

With coral clasps and amber studs:

And if these pleasures may thee move,

Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat

As precious as the gods do eat,

Shall on an ivory table be

Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing

For thy delight each May-morning:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me and be my Love.

Sheep on Loch Lomond (Jody9 on Flickr:click image)

Sheep on Loch Lomond (Jody9 on Flickr:click image)


Read Full Post »

On my first Sonne

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

Ben Jonson

In most modern societies childbirth and childhood are considered to be joyful parts of family life. It is very easy to forget that people once had cause to view things much differently. In Tudor times childbirth was a hazardous time for mother and child whilst infant mortality was high. Ben Jonson’s well known and touching lament (above) on the death of his son Benjamin who died in 1603 reminds us of the grief that was all too commonly experienced. Shakespeare too lost a son, Hamnet who died aged 11 in 1596. It is hard to imagine that the following verse from the play King John does not contain an insight into Shakespeare’s own feelings.

Childbirth was a dangerous time and contemporary medical science and midwifery was ill equipped to deal with complications. It is well known that Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour died of complications following the birth of Edward VI in 1537. Catherine of Aragon was pregnant on seven occasions, every child but her daughter Mary died either in or shortly after birth.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon

Because of the risks, children were baptised quickly as it was commonly believed that children who died without christening might be condemned to eternal damnation. There is a suggestion that christening came to be associated with superstitious beliefs. In Keith Thomas’ book Religion and the decline of magic he describes how the idea that children ‘came on better’ once christened in some places survived into the 20th century. The religious character of the midwife was also important because she would have to baptise the baby if there was a danger of it dying before it could be baptised.

In modern times we have mostly come to associate death with elderly people but for our Tudor ancestors it was something that confronted all ages far more commonly. Some estimates suggest that between a third and a half of children did not survive past the age of 5 years old. Life expectancy for most people was around 35 years and a person reaching their 40’s was considered to be aged.

Although Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s writing serves to give us an idea how people must have felt when facing the prospect of death and disease it is still hard to imagine how people coped. In Keith Thomas’ book he describes how ordinary people developed a fatalistic attitude towards life. Parents were slower to recognise their children as individuals whilst husbands and wives accepted that they might have to marry again should their partner die. Apparently, middle class observers were shocked at the resigned attitude that ordinary people adopted towards their and their families fate. Would Ben Jonson or Shakespeare’s writing about loss and grief would have been different had they lived in less privileged circumstances?

See also free Podcast ‘Mortality & morbidity in early modern Europe”  by Assistant Professor Brian Els from University of Portland ( iTunes link)


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: