[ Hyperion / CD ]
Release Date: Wednesday 10 March 2010
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"Ah, but the music! The melancholy of the opening and closing tracks is bewitching. Here, and elsewhere on the disc, Heinrich dramatically - often poetically - conveys Hume's deeply personal, seemingly reflective musical utterances...Bravo!"
Editor's Choice Gramophone Magazine May 2010
Relatively little is known of Tobias Hume. Some have suggested that he was born in 1579, because he was admitted to the London Charterhouse in 1629, a prerequisite to which was being at least fifty years old, though there is no certainty over this. He published two collections of pieces for viols and songs, The First Part of Ayres-Captain Humes Musicall Humors in 1605 and Captain Humes Poeticall Musicke in 1607. The Earl of Pembroke, who was also Shakespeare's patron and paid for the printing of Hume's first publication, must have recognized Hume's qualities, investing in a musician who might not return from the next battle and whose genius (to this day) is not fully appreciated. Hume must have been in some financial trouble in 1607 when he begged Queen Anne, to whom his second collection is dedicated, to bestow some attention upon 'the onely and last refuge of [his] long expecting hopes' as his 'Fortune is out of tune'. To earn a living, Hume wandered through Europe to the scenes of the various religious and political conflicts as a soldier and mercenary. We have two surviving petitions of his addressed to King Charles I, both of which were ignored by the relevant officials. Hume died in the Charterhouse in the poorest of circumstances on Wednesday, 16 April 1645.
As there is very little surviving documentation and no contemporary writings about Hume, we can only second guess what kind of person he might have been. Many entries in dictionaries and articles take these few sources as a basis to claim that Hume was a quirky and eccentric character, a dilettante who was arrogant and full of himself, as a composer as well as a soldier. The focus is often on the fact that Harke, harke contains the first known mention of col legno and on the unusual and more than suggestive titles Hume gives some of his pieces (My mistress hath a little thing, She loves it well, Tickell, tickell, etc.), with the result that he is described as a 'prankster' who probably spent his time visiting brothels and writing pieces 'for two to play upon one Viole' with two players and two bows, but sharing one instrument, sitting behind each other-an idea he borrowed from Dowland who has to my knowledge not been described in the same way. I would like to disagree with these interpretations of his qualities as a composer and human being.
Hume's introduction to his 1605 publication does flatter his patron on the first page in the usual way, but his address to the 'understanding reader' sets him apart from his contemporaries who are so skilled at conforming to the concept of honey-worded prefaces: 'These are mine own Phansies … which if thou dost dislike, let me see thine.' This could be taken as sheer arrogance, especially from someone we sadly (and wrongly) still describe as a dilettante, but I think Hume knew that he was about to publish music that would be very different from what other composers offered the amateur market. Most lyra viol manuscripts of the day reused existing material such as arrangements of popular tunes, rather like a modern 'Tunes you always wanted to play for easy piano'. The popularity of the lute and interchangeability with the viol through the use of the same tablature and tuning was the source for the countless short lute-style dance movements which fill these manuscripts. Hume evidently objects to this-in his eyes-superficial nature of other viol music by pointing out in his preface that he is not one of those who regurgitates existing material:
My studies are far from servile imitations, I robbe no others inventions, I take no Italian Note to an English dittie, or filch fragments of Songs to stuffe out my volumes. There are mine own Phansies expressed by my proper Genius.
Just as in lute music, we find more substantial movements in the form of Pavans, which were familiar to viol players through Consort music. Whereas true counterpoint can be applied to the lute, which has the ability of plucking several non-adjacent strings at the same time, most attempts at writing Pavans in the same way for the viol were less successful. Hume does not copy a style that is better suited to other instruments, but finds new ways of exploring the viol's strengths.
He would have been surrounded by a large circle of amateur players hungry for new music to play. If they were affluent enough to afford more than one instrument they often played the lute and the viol. We have references to luthiers' workshops full to the brim with lutes and viols, similar to PC World full of gadgets these days. Lutes were also hanging in hairdressers' shops for waiting customers to play. Owning and playing an instrument privately was a social tool and often used as a status symbol: every Lord of the Manor-musical or not-had to have a 'chest of viols' in his inventory, and to this day we joke about the In Nomine part in a consort piece being the 'host's part'. Much of Hume's music broke the boundaries of the amateur market, as many pieces are more technically demanding than most other lyra viol music. There are plenty of movements in his 1605 publication that are two lines long, easy to play and bursting with fun and frivolity, but there is quite a number of pieces that are very complex and show a deep understanding of pure, translucent emotion, as if to take a magnifying glass straight to the core of one's feelings. This quality sets Hume apart from most of his contemporaries and proves that he was not just a more than capable and serious composer, but also an individual that must have experienced and dealt with great loss and sadness in his life.
Hume did not feel the need to make much use of the many different lyra viol tunings to show off the viol's rich sound world. The viol was the perfect tool for his urge to express emotion. He recognized that the viol had the potential to play an active role in the change instrumental music was about to face, and antagonized John Dowland by writing in his preface:
And from henceforth, the stateful instrument Gambo Violl shall with ease yeelde full various and as devicefull Musicke as the Lute. For here I protest the Trinitie of Musicke, parts, Passion and Division [i.e., part-writing, passion and variation-'division' refers to the improvised elaboration or decoration of a tune], to be as gracefully united in the Gambo Violl, as in the most received Instrument that is, which here with a Souldiers Resolution, I give up to the acceptance of al noble dispositions.
The lute, which is the instrument Hume is referring to as 'the most received Instrument that is', had developed a much more sophisticated repertoire at this time. The possibility of playing real counterpoint on the lute meant it was viewed as being superior to the viol for the style of composition that was fashionable. In his preface Hume makes a case for the viol as being capable of achieving the same status, albeit perhaps by different means.
Up until the mid- to late seventeenth century, music that was written down was either restricted to a very select and rigid environment, the court and the church, or played in private, with a small audience or no audience at all. The advancement of instrument- and string-making facilitated a move towards virtuosity, bringing with it the profession of the freelance musician. While the private amateur market remained, its manifestations mutating into string quartet evenings and pianos in the homes of the affluent and middle class, public music consumption (outside the church) experienced a considerable shift. Status symbols changed: the 'chest of viols' was replaced by function rooms for holding private concerts; the ability to afford an instrument became channelled into buying tickets for the opera, where one could show off one's latest frock and wig. With the gradual shift from active to passive music consumption, music changed as well: it had to become a tool for reaching outwards and conveying emotion to an outside listener. A well-conceived choice of key, mood and speed became essential, as did the involvement of the performer's personality.
Hume's music contains a very strong urge to convey this deep and heartfelt emotion to the outside. I am not suggesting that Carnegie Hall should ever accept a full Hume recital, but I do think that Hume was ahead of his time and was one of the first composers to pave the path towards this new and different need to express emotion. He was not content with simply churning out a large volume of easy-listening pieces. He wanted more from the viol and he knew there was more to be had.
It seems that Hume was more passionate about music than the military:
I Doe not studie Eloquence, or professe Musicke, although I doe love Sence, and affect Harmony: my Profession being, as my Education hath beene, Armes, the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; which in mee hath beene alwayes Generous, because never Mercenarie. To prayse Musicke, were to say, the Sunne is bright. To extoll my selfe, would name my labors vaine glorious.
However, music had not brought him peace in his retirement, as we can see from his petition in 1642. A broken, desperate man in his sixties who felt deceived, deserted and unappreciated:
I do humbly intreat to know why your Lordships do slight me, as if I were a fool or an Ass: I tell you truly I have been abused to your Lordships by some base fellows … for I can do the King's Majestie and my Country better service than the best Soldier or Colonel in this Land, or in all Christendom; which now it is a great wonder unto me, that your Lordships do suffer so many unskilful Soldiers to go over for Ireland, to the King's Majesties service, that are not able to lead a Company, neither do they know what belongs to a Soldier; and yet for all this, your Lordships leav me out, that am able to do the King's Majesty better service than all the Soldiers … I have pawned all my best clothes, and have now no good garment to wear … I have not one penny to help me at this time to buy me bread, so that I am like to be starved for want of meat and drink, and did walk into the fields lately to gather Snails in the netles, and brought a bag of them home to eat, and do now feed on them for want of other meat, to the great shame of this land and those that do not help me …
It is probably worth mentioning that the lyra viol was not an actual instrument, as was often claimed in the twentieth century. It merely refers to a style of writing and playing, in tablature and with a strongly chordal structure, similar to the lute. Hume suggests stringing the viol with nine strings (doubling the three bass strings), claiming that it is 'to be plaide on with as much ease as your Violl of sixe stringes'. Perhaps the next generation of viol players will have the 'guts' to try this out. Our modern ears are still quite used to the sleek and refined sound of metal winding on gut strings, which was not invented until later in the seventeenth century. Many players are now making an effort to string their instruments appropriately for the music to be performed, which often produces a rougher and grainier sound than some would think is tasteful. Hume's idea seems to suggest that either gut strings were of a better quality in his lifetime (although excellent efforts are being made nowadays to make useable quality gut strings at a thicker gauge), or that a rougher sound was thought of as acceptable. I used strings without the metal winding for this recording, but find it impossible to imagine how to get two of those rope-like bass strings going at the same time, as Hume suggests.
I hope that this recording lends a hand at adjusting Hume's position in the music world. In general, lyra viol music is often thought of as music for amateur viol players, consisting of simple little pieces for private amusement. Hume has shown us that there is more to it: although this music is undoubtedly 'living room' music, there is some scope for a professional approach, especially when looking at the complicated ornamentation that is asked for in other lyra viol manuscripts. Every piece is a small microcosm with its own colours and character. These forgotten gems need to be taken out of their dusty drawers, polished and enjoyed in their full glory.
1 Loves Pastime [6'54]
2 A Jigge [1'58]
3 Harke, harke [2'50]
4 Now I come [2'14]
5 Rossamond [4'04]
6 Touch me lightly [2'38]
7 The Duke of Holstones Almayne [2'24]
8 A Souldiers Resolution [5'28]
9 I am melancholy [7'06]
10 Tickell, tickell [2'14]
11 A French Ayre [1'35]
12 Deth [7'30]
13 Life [1'51]
14 The Spirit of Gambo [3'44]
15 Tinckeldum, twinckeldum [1'58]
16 Captain Humes Pavan [9'03]
17 A Souldiers Galliard [1'44]
18 Loves Farewell [5'19]