Magazine article Musical Times


Magazine article Musical Times


Article excerpt

Weakest links

May I comment on the article 'Shakespeariana in a Thomas Weelkes dedication from 1600' by Eric Lewin Altschuler & William Jansen (MT Autumn 2005)? In Weelkes's time authors frequently disparaged their own abilities - often without reason in their prefaces, and Weelkes's display of modesty concerning his literary skills must be viewed in that light. While I agree that Weelkes often showed an imaginative turn of phrase I think that Altschuler & Jansen go too far in their claims for his literary excellence. If they look at the prefaces and dedications of other music publications of that time they will see that wordplay, puns (including puns on musical terms like 'tenor' and 'bass') and other literary devices are quite common, and along with the classical allusions were standard currency for anyone with a grammar school education.

On the question of puns, the article claims that the word 'weake ' in the second dedication is a pun on Weelkes's surname. I do not believe it is. But, more importantly, if it is, it goes against the case for the composer's literary excellence, since it is an extremely - er weak one. (And I leave aside the possibility, even likelihood, that his name was pronounced 'Wilkes'.)

Several other points in the article require comment. The authors claim that the phrase 'golde to bee some what more than golde ' is a 'remarkable reminiscence ' of lines in Shakespeare's King John. As they point out, this play was not printed until 1623, so if Weelkes's phrase really was inspired by Shakespeare the composer must either have attended a performance of the play or had access to an early manuscript - both of which possibilities open up interesting speculations. However, a more likely explanation is that expressions like 'painting the lily' and 'guilding gold' are simply proverbial, and that both the composer and the playwright were drawing on a common fund of proverbial expressions.

Altschuler & Jansen comment on Weelkes's reference to Jack Cade, whom they describe as a 'unique ' character created (my emphasis) by Shakespeare for part 2 of King John. They seem not to realise that Jack Cade was a real figure in British history. Indeed, he earns several columns in the recent Oxford dictionary of national biography. So Weelkes did not need to know the Shakespeare play to know about Jack Cade.

Finally, the authors confess that they do not know the meaning of the 'A.ii.' at the foot of the second dedication. There is no mystery about it: it is simply the 'signature' placed at the foot of the sheet by the printer to show the order in which the sheets should be bound. Similar signatures are to be found elsewhere in the same book and they are ubiquitous in the publications of that period.

David Greer

University of Durham

Gentleman of England

Thanks to Peter Phillips for his strong appreciation of Thomas Tallis (MT Summer 2005). Tallis was our first national composer, and as such a model for Byrd, leading the way with Protestant anthems and responses when state religion changed; retrenching to Catholic music for Queen Mary - including a Mass perhaps intended for a royal birth and also as an English challenge to Phillip II's chapel; writing tunes for Archbishop Parker; standing ready with the English response, Spem in alium, to a challenge from Striggio; and sharing in the patriotic Cantiones of 1575. We need not assume Byrd spearheaded this publication, rather than Tallis (or, probably, someone at court).

But Phillips is wrong to say no one has written luminously about Spem in ahum as music. He's blocking on an article by Philip Brett explicitly named 'Facing the music', published in Early Music 10 (1982), pp.347-50, and to be reprinted next year by University of California Press in a memorial collection of Philip's writings, William Byrd and his contemporaries.

Joseph Kerman

Berkeley, California

Miserabilis Orpheus

During the Nazi years, many thousands of Austrian musicians perished in the gas chambers. …

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