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Renaissance lute. Jane Pickeringe's lute book, technically known as British Library manuscript Egerton , is one of the finest sources of the English lute repertory, but it is also an intensely personal and poignantly evocative document.
We know nothing of the life of its original owner: indeed it is pure serendipity that we know her name, for the first section of the manuscript has been lost, the damage narrowly missing the folio containing her signature and a date However, Jane's manuscript still conveys a vivid impression of her musical taste, technical attainment, and even the type of instrument she owned.
If marked the beginning of Jane's copying, both her musical tastes and her lute were quite conservative. Much of her chosen repertory is late Elizabethan or early Jacobean, and most of it requires a lute with only 6 courses: some 20 pieces require a 7-course lute, and a single piece requires a fashionable 9-course instrument.
Her precise and elegant hand fills the first 36 folios, beginning with a selection of duets. This is a characteristic of many didactic anthologies compiled under the guidance of a teacher, but if Jane was learning to play the lute as she filled her book she was precocious indeed, for the very first pieces reveal the hand of a practised scribe, and require some considerable technique in performance. However such a situation could explain the conservative repertory, which would then be largely that of her teacher's generation.
Demonstrable musical accomplishment was a skill much prized in young unmarried women, and it is likely that Jane would have been expected to play for her family, friends and potential suitors, as well as, one hopes, for her own enjoyment.
It appears that Jane worked on her collection fairly intensively, stopped for a period, then returned to it briefly some time later, for her distinctive tablature hand is remarkably uniform until folio 35, whereupon it changes abruptly. Only 3 pieces are added in this later writing style, one of them a duplicate of an earlier entry. Did Jane give up her lute playing, perhaps upon marriage, and return to it later in life? We shall probably never know. Most of the great English lute composers of the day - Dowland, Rosseter, Bacheler, Johnson - are represented in this collection, but Jane did not scorn simple, artless trifles, which are sprinkled liberally throughout the manuscript.
She copied them into the tiny gaps remaining at the foot of several pages, after more substantial pieces had claimed most of the space, and we are indebted to her for this endearing habit. If Jane and scribes like her had not seized the opportunity offered by a few inches of blank stave, many of these appealing little tunes, drawn from a largely oral tradition, would have been lost for ever. These simple, melodious titbits serve admirably to warm up the fingers, test the tuning, and gently ease the listener into the subtle and intimate soundworld of the lute.
Philip Rosseter is best known today for his beautifully wrought lute songs, but a number of his lute solos survive. The Pavin is a highly individual work: its poignantly turned melody is faintly reminiscent of Dowland's famous "Lachrymae", and its divisions, tumbling through the lute's entire compass, explore unusual textures to a quite unprecedented degree.
The reassuringly straightforward galliard serves as a welcome anchor for the Pavin's flights of fancy, and allows free rein to Rosseter's superb melodic gift. Lute transcriptions from keyboard originals are uncommon, simply because most keyboard solos have too wide a compass and are too complex to transfer idiomatically to the lute. William Byrd's set of variations on "My lord willoughbies welcom home" is a rare exception, and the lute version is probably the work of Francis Cutting, who made expert transcriptions of other keyboard works by Byrd, as well as Morley.
The keyboard original survives in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: here it is transposed down a fourth, the better to fit the compass of the lute, but the figurations are preserved surprisingly exactly. The tune appears in many continental sources as "Roland": its English title commemorates the successful return of the commander of the English troops in the Netherlands, Peregrine Bertie, eleventh Baron Willoughby de Eresby.
This particularly extended and virtuosic setting is anonymous in the manuscript, but is strongly reminiscent of other variation sets by Daniel Bacheler, such as "Monsieur's Almain" and "Une Jeune Fillette", especially in its exploitation of the extremes of the lute's register, and its use of rapid arpeggiated figures and quasi-tremolo effects.
Jane Pickeringe was not the only lutenist to leave a legacy in Egerton ; after the manuscript left her hands it was used by three other musicians, two of whom added several pieces.
These all wrote for lutes with 10 or more courses, mostly using a variety of new French tunings which became popular during the s and s. These are characterized by narrow intervals between courses - mostly major and minor thirds instead of the fourths of the old Renaissance lute tuning used by Jane , and thus a narrower compass overall.
However they enable a few chords to be produced using mostly open strings. This gives unparalleled resonance, but a very limited range of convenient keys, hence the plethora of slightly different tunings, each lending its particular sound to one or two keys. The next pieces jump a generation, and are part of this second layer of copying. The Coranto uses the old Renaissance tuning.
In two sources it is attributed to the Parisian Charles de Lespine, who was in England in , and its form and texture are certainly typical of French taste. Tracks use two of the French "accords nouveaux": the "Allemande" uses "Harpe way" tuning, the following four require what the scribe called "Guateir" tuning, probably named after the volatile French lutenist Jacques Gautier, who was in England from until about It is sometimes called "sharp tuning".
Initially these tunings were used for a repertory which was wholly French in origin, including new French dance forms such as the Sarabande and the Courante. However their characteristic timbres were peculiarly well suited to English folk tunes, such as we hear in tracks Tracks 18 and 19 use yet different tunings, which illustrate the extremes of this confusing period in the lute's history.
The former uses a tuning unique to this manuscript, indeed to this piece; the latter uses "flat French" tuning, the commonest and longest used of the accords nouveaux, which for several decades challenged the "D minor" tuning which we now perceive as the standard baroque lute tuning.
Johnson was one of Queen Elizabeth's "musicians for the three lutes" from He was held in high esteem by his contemporaries, with both his solos and his duets being widely copied. And hyed unto the skyes somme fyner pointes to frame: And in the meane, for cunninge stoppes, gave Johnsonne all the fame.
This Pavin, in the remote key of F minor, certainly has more than its share of "cunning stops". His numerous lute solos are widely disseminated amongst surviving sources, and in two were printed in Robert Dowland's Varietie of Lute Lessons, wherein Bacheler was described as "the right perfect Musition".
On the basis of its similarity to some of John Dowland's chromatic fantasias, it was included in the Poulton and Lam edition of Dowland's lute works, and has long been regarded as part of his oeuvre, but there is no reason to doubt Mylius's attribution. Rosseter, as we have seen, was fully capable of writing such intricate, challenging works.
A similar work, called the "Old Medley", exists, and is variously attributed to John and Edward Johnson. The different sections of the present work have the flavour of popular tunes, though no specific ones can be identified; they are here provided with divisions on the repeats, in the style of an embellished pavan or galliard.
The result is an exhilarating tour de force resembling a dance suite in miniature. It is not known which version came first, though the melodies have a distinctly English flavour.
John Dowland needs no introduction. By the standards of the day Dowland's variations are quite restrained, complementing the poignant melody with effective counterpoint, but adding few divisions which might obscure it. This marriage of a simple ballad tune and masterly handling of the lute's sonority, encapsulates the very quintessence of the Jacobean lute repertory.
In an age when printed lute music was the exception rather than the rule, and personal anthologies were compiled from pieces circulating on individual sheets, there was little standardization, and no "authorized" text. Some scribes copied the divisions from their exemplar, some wrote their own into their manuscripts, others copied only the plain unadorned pieces and probably improvised embellishments afresh with each performance.
The pieces performed here are as Jane Pickeringe or her successors copied them, with only obvious errors corrected. Where no divisions are included, Jacob Heringman has improvised his own, rather than import them from another source.
The individual nuances of Jane's versions are thus preserved, a grateful tribute to a woman who unwittingly left us this priceless musical legacy and a window into her long-vanished world. Margaret's Church, York, England. Instruments used: eight-course lute after Venere, Martin Haycock, , and ten-course lute by Michael Lowe, Songs: 1. A toy anon 2. A Toye anon 3. A Toye anon 4. Almaine by francis Cuttinge Francis Cutting 5.
A Toye anon 6. A Toye up tails all anon 7. A Pavin by Rossetters Philipp Rosseter 9. A galyerd by Rossesters Philipp Rosseter Mall Symes Johann Leo Hassler Coranto anon An Allemande anon Galliard anon A country dance anon tuning Ennemond Gaultier Besse bell anon Horne-pipe anon Sarabande anon Le Sarabande anon A pavin by mr Johnson John Johnson A Crananto anon A Toy anon A Toye anon A Toye The Friar and the Nun anon A Fantasia John Dowland The Madlay John Johnson Sweet Robyne John Dowland Listen to: the entire album.
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Jane Pickering's Lute Book (Pickering, Jane)