Music in the English Courtly Masque, 1604-1640

By Peter Walls | Go to book overview

8

Realizations

In the preceding chapters a number of basic points about the function of music in the masque have emerged. We have seen that the dances of the main masque are presented as models of the happy peace, co-operation, and order characterizing a wisely governed commonwealth. While this is made explicit by the words of the songs which introduce them, the choreography and the clear formal structure of the music itself supports the idea. The masque songs themselves are stylistically sophisticated -- worthy vehicles for (and illustrations of) the ideas they convey. The special importance of music and song is underlined in many ways, but most obviously through the characterization of musicians as priests, deities, or ancient poets.

The antimasque stands in deliberate contrast to all this. Its characters are either musically unsophisticated or completely lacking in musical sensibility (a sure sign that they are not to be trusted). Antimasque dances, with their vigorous, eccentric movements, based on tunes with unpredictable structures, give expression to the vulgarity or viciousness of the characters who dance them. The language of antimasques often tends towards chaotic prose, and singing rarely has any place.

These features suggest a broad measure of co-operation between music, choreography, and device. But they do not necessarily imply detailed interconnections between specific compositions and literary text. Nor do they reveal how concepts like those outlined here survived in performance. It is this last question which, by way of conclusion, I wish to pursue a little further by examining three apparently rather disparate topics. In each the ideals of the texts are examined in the light of actual performance. The first returns to the territory explored in Chapter 5 in looking at the links between a visual image with musical implications and its aural realization. The second attempts to integrate the concern with song, dance, and instrumental music explored separately in Chapters 1 and 2 by seeing how these came together in a single production. The final section examines the revels -- the section of the masque in which the audience were incorporated into the whole device, where the ideal might finally be realized -- or forgotten.

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