Archive for John Dryden

The Tempest in Musick

Posted in Brighton, Literature, Music with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by telescoper

I haven’t done a music review type of thing on this blog for some time, for the simple reason that I haven’t had the time to go to many live music events recently. However, this being Festival time in Brighton I felt I should make an extra-special effort to take a bit of time out to take in a bit of culture. All work and no play and all that.

Anyway, yesterday evening found me in the Concert Hall of the Brighton Dome for a performance entitled The Tempest in Musick by the New London Consort. The programme for the show featured all the music written for the 17th and early 18th century revivals of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. That in itself tells an interesting story. In 1667, after the Restoration of the Monarchy, John Dryden and Willian Davenant put together an enlarged and adapted version of Shakespeare’s play with a host of new characters and numerous musical interludes and additions. This piece was later revised further  aa number of times, each including even more music, a process which culminated in a semi-operatic version compiled by Thomas Shadwell in 1674. As if Shakespeare’s original tale were not exotic enough, these new versions had extra devils, Tritons, and Nereids along with spectacular stage effects and costumes. London audiences clearly wanted to let their hair down after the severe restrictions on popular entertainment imposed by Puritans during the Protectorate. The Shadwell version was the top show in London for over fifty years: it ran from 1674 until 1728, until it was eventually replaced in popularity by The Beggar’s Opera.

In the concert we heard most if not all of the music that survives from the multiple revivals and revisions of the Tempest, written by various composers over the period 1667 to 1712, including a setting of “Dear pretty youth” by Henry Purcell dated to 1695. There were two different versions of the most famous song from the original play, Full Fathom Five, sung by Ariel:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell

Of course the New London Consort play using period instruments, which gives me an excuse to post this again:


I’m not a fan of period instruments generally, but because of the historical interest in the music I thought I’d give it a go. I had grave misgivings when I saw that the musicians were to be directed by David Roblou from a harpsichord, but decided to grit my teeth and perservere instead of fleeing to the nearest pub.

As it happened, although it was good in parts, the concert basically just confirmed my prejudices. To start with, much of the music is very ordinary and the musicians for the most part failed to bring it to life. The strings, played without vibrato throughout and occasionally rather ragged to boot, didn’t produce much in the way of colour or dynamics; this way of playing also exposed their uncertain pitching. The recorders, a long way from the audience right at the back of the stage, found it difficult to project. They would have been much better off in a smaller venue, I think, especially because of the large gap between audience and stage left for standing customers (of whom there were very few). The dreaded harpsichord was barely audible too. Not that I’m complaining about that.

On the other hand there was some brilliant trumpet playing by Simon Munday on a period instrument. Also I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard a Serpent played and I really enjoyed hearing it. Apart from these highlights though I found the music rather undistinguished and the performance curiously flat.

The singing was much better: the three lovely female voices (Anna Dennis, Faye Newton and Penelope Appleyard) are worth mentioning and tenor Jorge Navarro-Colorado sang well and was a striking presence on stage during the occasional semi-staged pieces. I wasn’t that keen on any of the bass-baritones though.

I realise that there will probably be early music fans out there who would have loved last night’s performance. That’s fine of course. Les gouts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas.


Hidden Flame

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 28, 2011 by telescoper

I feed a flame within, which so torments me
That it both pains my heart, and yet contents me:
‘Tis such a pleasing smart, and I so love it,
That I had rather die than once remove it.

Yet he, for whom I grieve, shall never know it;
My tongue does not betray, nor my eyes show it.
Not a sigh, nor a tear, my pain discloses,
But they fall silently, like dew on roses.

Thus, to prevent my Love from being cruel,
My heart ‘s the sacrifice, as ’tis the fuel;
And while I suffer this to give him quiet,
My faith rewards my love, though he deny it.

On his eyes will I gaze, and there delight me;
While I conceal my love no frown can fright me.
To be more happy I dare not aspire,
Nor can I fall more low, mounting no higher.

by John Dryden (1631-1700).

A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , on November 22, 2010 by telescoper

In case you didn’t know, today is St Cecilia‘s Day, so I thought I’d post this marvellous poem composed in 1687 by John Dryden

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
‘Arise, ye more than dead!’
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And, wondering, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

The trumpet’s loud clangour
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger,
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries Hark! the foes come;
Charge, charge, ’tis too late to retreat!

The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes, discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

But O, what art can teach,
What human voice can reach,
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre;
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear’d
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.


As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
To all the Blest above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!


The Fall Before

Posted in Poetry with tags on January 15, 2009 by telescoper

Browsing the BBC website for any evidence of at all of good news amid the continuing fiasco that is the British banking system, the murderous onslaught in Gaza, and the defeat of Newcastle United in last night’s FA Cup replay, I happened upon a quite interesting little item from which I picked out the following:

The use of the word ‘fall’ or ‘the fall’ to mean autumn is commonly assumed to be an Americanism, but in fact it is found in the works of Michael Drayton (1563-1631), Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) and Sir Walter Ralegh (1554-1618).

There is also a quotation from John Dryden (1631-1700) to back this up:

What crowds of patients the town doctor kills, Or how, last fall, he raised the weekly bills.

This is more appropriate for the USA than the UK nowadays as over here we now have the wonderful National Health System.

While contributing to a discussion on the e-astronomer, which subsequently evolved into an extended exercise in pedantry here, it struck me that many words we British think of as being Americanisms were in fact in common use over here in the 16th and 17th Centuries. This period marks the birth of American English as the language used by the colonials evolved fairly independently thereafter until films and television re-established contact in the 20th Century and set up a feedback loop. “Fall” seems to be another example of a word which carried on being used in mainstream American usage but was replaced over here by “autumn”.

Another example that strikes me is “gotten” which is commonplace in the USA but rarely used in England except in phrases like “ill-gotten gains”. It is used in Scotland and in other dialects, but in mainstream English is considered to be archaic, and the form “got” is generally used instead. As the past participle of the verb “to get”, however, it is by no means grammatically incorrect and it was a standard form in English during the 16th century and abounds in Shakespeare, such as in the phrase “He was gotten in drink” from The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Conversely and curiously we still use the form “forgotten” for the past participle of “forget” and the form “forgot” (as a participle) is considered archaic or poetic. The phrase “I have forgot much, Cynara! Gone with the wind” occurs in Ernest Dowson’s famous poem Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, but it wouldn’t be considered correct in modern English prose.

There’s no real logic to all this, which is what makes it interesting…

Although hearing or reading the word “gotten” in contributions from the other side of the pond no longer jars, and I’ve always found the word “fall” to be rather poetic anyway, there are still some divergences that I can’t cope with. Once on a trip to the States I was alarmed when informed that the plane would be landing momentarily.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,443 other followers