Lucy Robinson

Holborne and Dowland: passion and melancholy

To Robert Dowland, writing in 1610, Anthony Holborne (d 1602) was ‘the most famous and perfect Artist’; his father dedicated one of his most celebrated songs, I saw my lady weepe (1600) ‘to the most famous Anthony Holborne’ but, despite the high contemporary regard of this Gentleman Usher to Elizabeth I, musician and poet, Holborne has been relatively overlooked today. The principal source of his music is his Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs both Grave, and Light, in five parts, for Viols, Violins, or other Musicall Winde Instruments (London, 1599) but many compositions also survive for lute, bandora and cittern: indeed, after John Dowland, Holborne left the largest body of lute music from this period. This is mainly found in the important collections compiled by Matthew Holmes (d 1621), a precentor and singing man at Christ Church between 1588 and 1597 and afterwards at Westminster Abbey. Jacob Heringman on Holburns Passion: Music for lute, cittern & bandora (ASV Gaudamus CD GAU 173, rec 1996-7) presents a fascinating cross-section of Holborne’s music for plucked instruments. The disc opens with a lively binary galliard for lute, As it fell on a holie yve, which immediately establishes Heringman’s elegant clarity of performance. Holburns Passion is another galliard but of a more serious nature; here Heringman, in line with contemporary practice, supplies the divisions to the repeats himself. Rich harmony and counterpoint are found in the serious pavans such as Posthuma, whereas the broken-chord divisions in the third strain of Responce seem to anticipate the style brisé of the French lutenists of the second quarter of the 17th century. Il Nodo di Gordio is a set of divisions on the ground Tinternell; the mythical, untieable Gordian knot was also the name given to the ingenious fastening used for tying frets – presumably in earnest hope that it likewise would not unravel itself.

In between the four groups of lute pieces Heringman inserts a cluster of works for cittern, a group of bandora pieces and three compositions for cittern with a bass. According to John Stowe, it was the elder John Rose (d 1563) who was credited with inventing the bandora in 1562 ‘in the fourth Year of Queen Elizabeth John Rose, dwelling in Bridewell, devised and made an instrument with wyer strings, commonly called the bandora’ (Annales, of a General Chronicle of England, 1631). The instrument was at the height of its popularity during Holborne’s life and was valued in mixed consorts. Of the three bandora works played on this disc, the Fantazia is extraordinarily striking for the idiomatic use of the instrument’s wonderful breadth of tone, which ranges from shimmering treble to darkly sonorous bass. In contrast to the lute and bandora, the cittern possessed a distinctly vulgar status and became associated with barbers’ shops; nonetheless, and perhaps due to the comparative ease in its mastery, it maintained a certain affection among the gentry. In 1597 Holborne published The Cittharn Schoole; his music for solo cittern includes ‘some such fancies of vulgar tunes ... all which I have layde downe with as much facilitie and ease for a schollers encouragement as my poor wits could fashion’, of which Sicke, sicke and very sicke is a representatively direct example. But his coupling of the cittern with a bass gave him much greater scope. He himself explained: ‘These things being of another stampe, doe carry their natural parts tyed together in a different nature, with some reasonable good cordes and bindinges after a more heedful manner of composition ... and therefore ... they shall leave in thee a better impression of their worth then the first sortes.’ Heringman seeks the assistance of the bass viol (Susanna Pell) and together they give a splendidly assured rendering of this colourful, extrovert genre. In short, an unusual disc combining sparkling virtuosity with carefully paced musicianship.

Lucy Robinson, Early Music, August 2000