We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Contents

Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries

AYRES AND SUITES: HARMONICALLY DETERMINED FORM

Chapter:
CHAPTER 3 Courts Resplendent, Overthrown, Restored
Source:
MUSIC IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

The other main genre of consort music was the “ayre,” a general term no longer meaning a song, but rather any sort of dance-style composition. (Its etymology was chiefly by way of the solo accompanied song or “lute ayre,” which in the hands of great virtuoso John Dowland usually took the form of a pavane or galliard with two or three repeated strains.) The later composers of consort music tended to write their pieces in “setts” that began with one or two numbers in the more elaborate fancy form and concluded more lightly with an ayre or two. The ayre by William Lawes, whose ending is shown in Ex. 3-9, is the final item in what the key signature of two flats already identifies as an unusually serious set: on the way to it there are two lengthy fantasies and an “Inominy,” all in what we would call the key of C minor. (In the seventeenth century minor keys with flats generally carried “Dorian” signatures, that is, with one less flat than their modern counterparts; flatting of the sixth degree was usually done at sight, by applying already ancient rules of chromatic adjustment.)

This ayre, which is really an alman or allemande (“German dance”; cf. Frescobaldi’s balletto) in a dignified duple meter, is cast in a form that will remain with us for centuries to come. Its two dance strains make cadences respectively on the dominant (replete with borrowed leading tone) and tonic, producing an effect of harmonic (or “tonal”) complementation. This “there and back” or “to and fro” effect was immediately found to be an exceedingly stable and satisfying plan for structuring a composition. Indeed, the very concept of autonomous musical “structure” was in large part enabled by the seemingly inherent coherence of this complementary (or “binary”) harmonic relationship. The binary form, originally associated, as here, with dance-derived compositions, would undergo a glorious evolution that quickly transcended the utilitarian genre in which it originated and provided the basis for what has long been known as “absolute music.”

That evolution, of course, lay largely in the future when Lawes composed his “setts,” but his use of the binary form already entailed a good deal of “transcendence of the utilitarian.” The genre of chamber music is itself an embodiment of transcendence, since its constituent genres—the motet-derived fantasy, the Mass-derived In Nomine, the dance-derived ayre—have all been thoroughly divested of their original functions and have become the bearers of abstract or “absolute” tonal patterns for performing or for listening (or, ideally, for both at once) as a form of social recreation.

Yet “abstract” or “absolute” by no means precluded a high level of purposeful expressivity. Flat keys, as we have observed, already connoted pathos, and Lawes followed through with pungent suspension dissonances in the first strain and chromatic inflections in the second (including a really acrid augmented triad in the third measure of Ex. 3-9). These “madrigalisms” without a motivating text show the tardy but inexorable infiltration of what the Italians called seconda prattica effects into the consort repertory.

Ayres And Suites: Harmonically Determined Form

ex. 3-9 William Lawes, Ayre in six parts

Lawes (1602–45), whose career reached its peak under Charles I, King James’s son and successor, cultivated a highly pathetic style in all his works, as a few of his expressively contorted fantazia themes will vividly attest, their wide leaps and striking arpeggiations seeming to parallel the “mannerist” elongations and foreshortenings of an El Greco torso (Ex. 3-10). Lawes’s remarkably “purple” manner made the already idiosyncratic mixture of old and new in the English consort idiom seem all the more noteworthy and bizarre. Some accounts of Lawes’ spectacular “manneristic” tendencies attribute them to sheer composerly appetites and creative genius; others have sought the origins of the style in broader historical and political conditions. But there is no reason to regard these alternatives as incompatible. Like everyone else, musicians respond to varying degrees, and with varying degrees of consciousness, to historical and political conditions; but—perhaps needless to say—musicians also respond, and respond with the keenest consciousness, to music.

Ayres And Suites: Harmonically Determined Form

ex. 3-10a William Lawes, fantazia themes, Suite in G Minor

Ayres And Suites: Harmonically Determined Form

ex. 3-10b William Lawes, Suite in C Minor in five parts

Ayres And Suites: Harmonically Determined Form

ex. 3-10c William Lawes, Suite in C Major (two variants)

Ayres And Suites: Harmonically Determined Form

ex. 3-10d William Lawes, Suite in C Minor in six parts

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Courts Resplendent, Overthrown, Restored." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-03008.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 3 Courts Resplendent, Overthrown, Restored. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 19 Aug. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-03008.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Courts Resplendent, Overthrown, Restored." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 19 Aug. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-03008.xml