Richard Barnfield (1574-1627), from Poems in Divers Humours, 1598
To His Friend Master R.L., in Praise of Music and Poetry
If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs (the sister and the brother),
Then must the love be great ‘twixt thee and me,
Because thou lov’st the one, and I the other.
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense;
Spenser to me, whose deep conceit is such
As passing all conceit, needs no defence.
Thou lov’st to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus’ lute (the queen of music) makes;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drowned
Whenas himself to singing he betakes.
One god is god of both (as poets feign),
One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.
Richard Barnfield’s sonnet provided the starting point for our short performance of readings and lute music. The programme was conceived as a sequence, moving from the quiet contemplation of the music of the spheres from Shakespeare’s “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!” (from The Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene 1), through the menace of the night before the battle in Henry V (Act V, Prologue), tears, sleep and death, and final resignation and the hope of eternal life (John Donne’s “Death be not proud”). I had some fun choosing the lute music to set the mood for a poem, or comment on it, using pieces by Dowland, Alison, Holborne and Anon. A PDF of the concert programme is included at the bottom of this post.
It was good to see some old friends in the audience, some of whom had made a special journey to see us. Over the years we have done many concerts of lute songs, but though this was the first time we had attempted this kind of programme I think it opens up some interesting possibilities for the future.