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In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile

Saturday, March 4, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Early Music Society of the Islands - In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile


Doors open at 6:45 pm. Pre-concert talk at 7:10 pm.

Stile Antico UK

Torn between conscience and obedience, Philips, Dering, and Dowland, several of England’s greatest composers, chose a life of exile while others, Byrd and Robert White, remained at home in spiritual exile. The result was music of astonishing intensity and emotional impact.

…breathtaking freshness, vitality and balance. NY TIMES

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Flow my tears John Dowland (1563 – 1626)

Super Flumina Babylonis Philip de Monte (1521 – 1603)

Quomodo cantabimus William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623)

Sancta et immaculata virginitas Richard Dering (c.1580 – 1630)

In ieiunio et fletu Thomas Tallis (c.1505 – 1585)

Regina caeli laetare Peter Philips (1560/1 1628)

Tristitia et anxietas William Byrd


Haec Dies William Byrd

Gaude Maria / Virgo prudentissima Peter Philips

In this trembling shadow cast John Dowland

Factum est silentium Richard Dering

Lamentations a5 Robert White (1538 – 1574)


Flow my tears, fall from your springs!

Exiled forever let me mourn;

Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,

There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!

No nights are dark enough for those

That in despair their last fortunes deplore.

Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,

Since pity is dead;

And tears and sighs and groans my weary days

Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment

My fortune is thrown;

And fear and grief and pain for my deserts

Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,

Learn to contemn light.

Happy they that in hell

Feel not the world’s despite.

Super flumina Babylonis, illlic sedimus et flevimus dum recordaremur tui, Sion. Illic interrogaverunt nos, qui captivunt abduxerunt nos, verba cantionum. Quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini in terra aliena? In salicibus in medio eius suspendimus organa nostra.

By the streams of Babylon, there we sat and wept when we remembered you, Sion. There our captors questioned us about the words of our songs. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? On the willows in its midst we hung up our harps.

Psalm 137

Quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini in terra aliena? Si oblitus fuero tui, Jerusalem, oblivioni detur dextera mea. Adhaerat lingua mea faucibus meis, si non meminero tui. Si non proposuero Jerusalem in principio laetitiae meae. Memor esto, Domine, filiorum Edom, in die Jerusalem.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. Yea if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth. Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem.

Psalm 137

Sancta et immaculata virginitas, quibus te laudibus esseram nescio, quia quem caeli capere non poterant, tuo gremio contulisti. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Holy and spotless virginity, I know not what praises to bring to thee, for Him whom the Heavens could not contain thou didst bear in thy womb. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Responsory at mattins of Christmas

In ieiunio et fletu plorabant sacerdotes, parce Domine, parce populo tuo, et ne des haereditationem in perditionem. Inter vestibulum et altare plorabant sacerdotes dicentes: parce populo tuo.

With fasting and weeping let the priests pray, saying: spare, O Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thine heritage to destruction. Let the priests weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say: spare Thy people.

Mattins respond, first Sunday of lent

Regina caeli laetare, alleluia. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia. Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. Because you were worthy to bear him, alleluia. He has risen as he fortold, alleluia. Pray to God for us, alleluia.

Marian antiphon at compline during Eastertide

Tristitia et anxietas occupaverunt interiora mea. Moestum factum est cor meum in dolore, et contenebrati sunt oculi mei. Vae mihi, quia peccavi.

Sed tu, domine, qui non derelinques sperantes in te, consolare et adjuva me propter nomen sanctum tuum, et miserere mei.

Sadness and anxiety have overtaken my inmost being. My heart is made sorrowful in mourning, my eyes are become dim. Woe is me, for I have sinned.

But thou, O Lord, who dost not forsake those whose hope is in thee, comfort and help me, for thy holy name’s sake, and have mercy on me.

After Lamentations, Psalm 112 (113): 2

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in eia. Alleluia.

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad therein. Alleluia.

Psalm 117: 246

Gaude Maria Virgo, cuncta haereses sola interemisti, in universo mundo, Alleluia.

Virgo prudentissima, quo progrederis, quasi aurora valde rutilans? Filia Sion, tota formosa et suavis es: pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol, Alleluia.

Rejoice, Virgin Mary, you alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world, alleluia.

Most wise virgin, whither do you go, shining gloriously as the morning? Daughter of Sion, you are all comely and sweet, fair as the moon, excellent as the sun, alleluia.

Tract for Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin;

Magnificat antiphon at Assumption

In this trembling shadow cast

From those boughs which thy winds shake,

Far from human troubles placed,

Songs to the Lord would I make,

Darkness from my mind then take:

For thy rites none may begin

Till they feel thy light within.

Music all thy sweetness lend,

While of his high power I speak,

On whom all powers else depend,

But my breast is now too weak,

Trumpets shrill the air should break,

All in vain my sounds I raise,

Boundless power asks boundless praise.

A Pilgrimes Solace (1612), no. 12

Factum est silentium in caelo dum committeret bellum draco cum Michaele Archangelo. Audita est vox milia milium, dicentium: salus, honor et virtus omnipotenti Deo. Alleluia.

There was silence in heaven as the dragon joined battle with the archangel Michael. A voice was heard, thousand upon thousand-fold, saying: salvation, honour and virtue to almighty God. Alleluia.

Benedictus antiphon at Lauds on Michaelmas7



Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem, propterea instabilis facta est. Omnes qui glorificabant eam spreverunt illam, quia viderunt ignomimiam eius; ipsa autem gemens et conversa est retrorsum.


Sordes eius in pedibus eius, nec recordata est finis sui. Deposita est vehementer, non habens consolatorem. Vide, Domine, afflictionem meam, quoniam erectus est inimicus.


Manum suam misit hostis ad omnia desiderabilia eius, quia vidit gentes ingressas sanctuarium suum de quibus preceperas ne intrarent in ecclesiam tuam.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.


Omnes populos ejus gemens, et quaerens panem; dederunt pretiosa quaeque pro cibo ad refocillandam animam. Vide, Domine, et considera quoniam facta sum vilis!


O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite, et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus, quoniam vindemiavit me, ut locutus est Dominus, in die irae furoris sui.


De excelso misit ignem in ossibus meis, et erudivit me: expandit rete pedibus meis, convertit me retrorsum; posuit me desolationem, tota die moerore confectam.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem., convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.


Jerusalem has committed a great sin, and therefore she has become untrustworthy. All who used to praise her have spurned her, because they have seen her shame; and she groans and has turned away her face.


Her own filth is upon her feet, and she has given no thought to her purpose. She has been brought very low, and has none to comfort her. ‘Look, Lord, upon my suffering, and see how my enemy is exalted.’


The enemy has laid hands on all that was dear to her, for she has seen the foreigner enter her sanctuary, the men you decreed should never be admitted into your assembly.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return again to the Lord your God.


All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul. See, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile!


O all ye that pass by in the way, hearken, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. For he hath plucked me like a grape, as the Lord uttered in the day of his fierce anger.


From on high he hath sent fear into my bones, and hath chastised me: he hath spread a net for my feet, and turned me back; he hath made me desolate, and all the day I am consumed with sorrow.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return again to the Lord your God.

Lamentations 1: 8-138


‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

Henry VIII’s infamous break with Rome in 1534 and subsequent destruction of religious institutions did comparatively little to change the appearance or content of church services, which continued to be carried out according to the centuries-old Sarum rite. When his Protestant young son Edward VI came to the throne, however, church worship in England was turned upside-down within a space of months. The backlash was equally violent at the accession of Mary I, who restored papal authority and the Sarum rite between 1553 and 1558. By the time Elizabeth I came to the throne, English churchgoers might have been forgiven for feeling disillusioned. The new queen’s task was to unify her subjects behind her rule, and, although her convictions were essentially Protestant she did not in fact wish to alienate those who held more traditional Catholic beliefs – which may explain her softening of one or two more distinctly Protestant corners of Edward’s Book of Common Prayer. While many may have disliked the newly-imposed English services, few seem to have absented themselves from public worship in the early Elizabethan years.

Although by the late 1560s there were notable Papist stirrings (echoes of which can perhaps be detected in a work like White’s Lamentations), the real turning point came in late February 1570, when Pope Pius V issued a bull asserting Elizabeth to be a heretic and pretender, prohibiting her subjects from obeying ‘her orders, mandates and laws’ and declaring any who did so excommunicated. Thus, to be an obedient Catholic now entailed rejecting Elizabeth’s authority and (by implication) desiring her overthrow. Furthermore, for those whose conscience now prevented them from attending the ‘impious rites’ of the English Prayer Book, recusancy was the only option, against which laws were enforced from the late 1570s. So began the years of persecution which saw influential Roman Catholics martyred for treason, and many more imprisoned and persecuted. A ‘clarification’ from Rome in 1580 permitting Catholics to be loyal citizens in civil matters until an ‘opportunity for liberation’ helped little (nor, to be fair, did many want England to be ‘liberated’ by the Spaniards). Yet, while it is well documented that Elizabeth personally favoured greater religious tolerance than Parliament permitted her, the foiling of numerous plots and assassination attempts against her during the 1570s and 80s demonstrated that concerns about her safety were well-founded. Meanwhile, behind the walls of Roman Catholic houses, of the scriptures to which believers most often turned for comfort and encouragement during these troubled times, Old Testament texts concerning the Babylonian captivity proved particularly popular, and provided much inspiration for composers. This is the context out of which sprang the works in the present programme. All but one of the composers represented here were English Catholics, either in the metaphorical ‘strange land’ of Protestant England, or living abroad.

John Dowland (1563 – 1626) turned to Rome while a teenager in Paris, but he had returned to England by the time he was first turned down for a post at court. An Italian journey to study with Marenzio got him accidentally mixed up in a plot against Elizabeth from which he hurriedly escaped, but, upon his return, failed again to win the royal patronage he so desperately craved. To describe his travels as ‘exile’ is far-fetched, but, from what we know of his character he wouldn’t have minded in the least. He self-pityingly wrote that his religion was the reason for his failure to win Elizabeth’s favour – though in reality it hadn’t stopped others, and, if anything, she probably just didn’t warm to such a self-absorbed sycophant. He clearly therefore ‘had no choice’ but to take a very well-paid position at the Danish court in 1598, from which he was dismissed in 1606 after spending too long on visits home. Finally, James I took him on as a lutenist in 1612. Dowland’s music is famed for its melancholy; this seems to have been rather true of his personality, too (though such affectations were somewhat in vogue amongst artistic types at that time). His famous lute song Flow my tears, with its striking descending lacrimae motif, must be considered his signature tune, and appears here in a consort arrangement 9

– a not uncommon practice in Dowland’s time. Indeed, the song In this trembling shadow is one of many of Dowland’s songs published in such a way as to permit just that type of performance: the solo melody and lute tablature are printed on one side of the page, and three voice (or viol) parts – in ‘table’ format, with each different part facing outwards in a different direction so that the music can be gathered-around – on the facing page. Here, Dowland casts his melancholia in rather chromatic musical material.

William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623), by contrast, stayed in England and was the most admired composer of his generation. His connections in Catholic circles are well-documented, but it was through his music that he most openly served the recusant community (while his friendship with Elizabeth ensured impunity): his Cantiones sacrae of 1589 and 1591 included numerous works with overtly subversive texts, while the Gradualia of 1605 and 1607 provided short liturgical motets for the year-round celebration of the mass. His three famous mass settings, composed in the mid-1590s, were considered dangerous enough that the printer dared not include his own name, although Byrd’s appears on each page. The extraordinary 8-part motet Quomodo cantabimus, appears to have had a particularly memorable genesis: the eighteenth-century antiquarian John Alcock records that Philippe de Monte, kappelmeister to the Holy Roman Emperor, sent Byrd a copy of his motet Super flumina Babylonis, a setting of the opening verses of that most memorable exile text, psalm 136 (137 in English translations). Byrd ‘replied’ with Quomodo cantabimus – a setting of verses 4-7 – the motet itself providing an answer to the question posed in the opening line of the text. That three of its eight voice parts formed an ingenious canon by inversion doubtless assured the rest of the world that music was alive and well amongst England’s persecuted Catholics. Tristitia et anxietas (from the 1589 Cantiones sacrae) is without doubt one of his great tours de force – a musical setting which uses expressive semitonal melodic inflections (perhaps a nod to Clemens’ setting of the same text) and a strikingly broad sense of scale to lend great heaviness to the lament of the first half of the text, while lending the more hopeful second a sense of profound yearning. The much-loved Haec dies, on the other hand, has little of this gravitas; here the joy of this psalm text (one closely associated with Easter day, when it is used as a Gradual) calls forth a more economical, madrigalian response.

Richard Dering (c.1580 – 1630) spent the first years of his career in England, but probably converted to Rome on a trip to Italy in the early 1610s and spent most of the rest of his life in the Low Countries. Only in 1625 did he return, taking the position of organist to Charles I’s Catholic wife Henrietta Maria. Sancta et immaculata virginitas finds him in a distinctly modern, Italianate voice, writing for two solo voices with basso continuo (not to mention setting a text which would hardly be countenanced in the English church). The same can be said of perhaps his best-known motet, Factum est silentium – a setting of a dramatic passage from the Revelation of St John – in which he draws upon considerable variation in note durations, vividly contrasting textures and insistent, stylised rhythms in order to convey the text; the style is not at all unlike that seen in many of the madrigals of the day.

Thomas Tallis (c.1505 – 1585) – a close friend and teacher to Byrd – represents the generation who experienced all the mid-century upheavals first-hand – which, as a composer, meant a constant reinventing of his craft to suit the religious tastes of the moment. Although many of his works cannot be precisely dated, the bold, expressive harmonies of In ieiunio et fletu suggest a late date of composition not long before the motet’s publication in 1575. Indeed, its emotive power lies in some extraordinary progressions of seemingly barely-related chords, which present to us, as if dumbstruck, the scene of priests lamenting their desecrated heritage. At the words of the priests themselves, the voices reach the highest point in their tessitura as if to echo the impassioned cries for mercy. Although the worst persecution was yet to come, it is hard not to see this piece as in some way a metaphor for the grief of many at the perceived desecration of the church by the Protestant regime.

The most-published English composer of his generation after Byrd, Peter Philips (1560/1 – 1628) spent much of his working life in the Low Countries, having fled England in 1582 on account of his Catholicism. His travels took him via Douai to Rome, where he stayed for three years, before another 5 years’ travel in the employment of Lord Thomas Paget, another prominent English refugee. He settled in Antwerp around 1590, enjoying a quiet seven years, save for a visit to Amsterdam (probably to see Sweelinck) during which he was accused of complicity in a plot against Elizabeth and briefly imprisoned – a stark reminder of the perils of being an English Catholic, home or abroad. When the matter came to court, Philips was released without charge. In 1597 he joined the household of the Archduke Albert VII, Hapsburg governer of the Low Countries and was to remain in Brussels until his death. Like many continental composers of his generation, Philips’s extensive output of sacred and secular music spans the join between the Renaissance and Baroque styles. The fine five-voice setting of Regina caeli performed here is a good example – its various metrical and textural changes, and its reliance upon ‘modern’ cadential patters, are not unreminiscent of the sacred music of Monteverdi or Gabrieli (as would be especially the case if the voice parts were to be doubled by instruments) but its strong roots in the prima pratica are also evident. By contrast, his two-part motet Gaude Maria virgo seems more archaic; imitative counterpoint prevails, and, at its conclusion, Philips employs one of the oldest gags in the book: the words ‘ut sol’ (‘as the sun’) set to a rising fifth interval – a reference to the note names in the Guidonian hexachord.

Robert White (1538 – 1574) is one of the several very fine sixteenth-century English composers eclipsed by Tallis and Byrd, primarily on account of the monopoly they had been given by the queen over the printing of music. Nonetheless, White’s music is highly imaginative, individual and masterful, and his Lamentations setting is one of his finest works. It is one of several superb settings of that text which seem to have been written during the 1560s (Tallis’s being the most famous) – yet more evidence that, even before 1570, not everybody was happy with the religious status quo. The fact is particularly striking when one considers the way in which the Babylonians’ sacking of Jerusalem (the historical impetus for the Lamentations of Jeremiah) was to become such a notorious metaphor for the plight of English Catholics over the ensuing decades. On the other hand, it needn’t go unnoticed that, on the facing page in each of the Dow partbooks (the work’s principal source) is a Latin inscription which reads ‘wine and music make the heart glad’. Perhaps, even amidst the turmoil of the 1580s, this extraordinary setting was appreciated as much for its musical merit and affective power as for its devotional message. The original Hebrew text is an acrostic poem (each short section begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet) and White’s Latin text contains the Hebrew letter names at the beginning of each section, which he sets as a musical equivalent of ‘illuminated letters’.11


Stile Antico

Stile Antico is firmly established as one of the world’s most accomplished and innovative vocal ensembles. Working without a conductor, its twelve members have thrilled audiences throughout Europe and North America with their fresh, vibrant and moving performances of Renaissance polyphony. Its bestselling recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label have earned accolades including the Gramophone Award for Early Music, Diapason d’or de l’année, Edison Klassiek Award, and Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and have twice received Grammy® nominations.

Based in London, Stile Antico has performed at many of the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals. The group enjoys a particularly close association with the Wigmore Hall, and has appeared at the BBC Proms, Buckingham Palace, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Cité de la Musique, Palais des Beaux-Arts, and Luxembourg Philharmonie. Stile Antico is frequently invited to perform at Europe’s leading festivals: highlights include the Lucerne Easter Festival, the Rheingau, Schleswig-Holstein and Wrocław Festivals and the Antwerp, Barcelona, Bruges, Granada, Utrecht and York Early Music Festivals.

Since making its North American debut at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2009, Stile Antico has enjoyed frequent tours to the US and Canada. The group performs regularly in Boston and in New York’s Music before 1800 and Miller Theatre series, and has appeared at Washington’s National Cathedral and Library of Congress, Vancouver’s Chan Centre, the Quebec Festival of Sacred Music, at Duke, Michigan, and Yale Universities, and in concert series spanning nineteen US states. In 2010, Stile Antico made its debut at the Cervantino festival in Mexico.

Stile Antico is renowned for the committed and expressive performances that arise from its uniquely collaborative style of working: members rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing artistically to the musical results. The group is also noted for its intelligent programming, drawing out thematic connections between works to shine new light on Renaissance music. In addition to its core repertoire, Stile Antico has given world premieres of works by John McCabe, Huw Watkins, and, most recently, Nico Muhly, whose Gentle Sleep was written to mark the group’s tenth birthday. Stile Antico’s diverse range of collaborators includes Fretwork and the Folger Consort of viols, pianist Marino Fomenti, orchestra B’Rock, and Sting.

Alongside its concert and recording work, Stile Antico is passionate about sharing its repertoire and working style with the widest possible audience, and its masterclasses and workshops are much in demand. The group regularly leads courses at the Dartington International Summer School, and is often invited to work alongside ensembles at universities, festivals, and early music forums. The support of the charitable Stile Antico Foundation has enabled Stile Antico to expand its education work in schools, and to offer annual bursaries to talented young consort singers.

Highlights of Stile Antico’s 2016-7 season include a residency at BOZAR in Brussels, performances at the Wigmore Hall, Leipzig Gewandhaus and Bruges Concertgebouw, two vists to North America, and the conclusion of the group’s acclaimed Shakespeare400 tour. Stile Antico’s eleventh recording for Harmonia Mundi, featuring the unjustly neglected sacred music of Giaches de Wert, is released early in 2017. Stile Antico gratefully acknowledges the support of American Friends of Wigmore Hall.


Saturday, March 4, 2017
8:00 pm


Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music
907 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, BC V8V 3P4 Canada
250 386-5311


Saturday, March 4, 2017
8:00 pm


Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music
907 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, BC V8V 3P4 Canada
250 386-5311