ANDREAS ORNITHOPARCUS/JOHN DOWLAND from Andreas Ornithoparcus His Micrologus

[In 1609, John Dowland, who may reasonably be regarded as the greatest song writer that England has produced, published his translation of Ornithoparcus'Musicae active micrologus of 1515, which he titled The Art of Singing. Although a translation, we may assume that the views expressed were shared by Dowland, and that it is more than probable that he used the work in his own teaching.]

Of the Divers Fashions of Singing, and of the Ten Precepts for Singing

Every man lives after his owne humour; neither are all men governed by the same lawes, and divers Nations have divers fashions, and differ in habits, diet, studies, speech and song. Hence it is that the English doe carroll; the French sing; the Spaniards weepe; the Italians, which dwell about the coasts of Ianua, caper with their voyces; the others barke; but the Germanes (which I am ashamed to utter) doe howle like wolves. Now, because it is better to breake friendship than to determine anything against truth, I am forced by truth to say that which the love of my Country forbids me to publish. Germany nourisheth many Cantors, but few Musitians. For very few, excepting those which are or have been in the Chappels of Princes, doe truely know the Art of Singing. For those Magistrates to whom this charge is given, doe appoint for the government of the Service young Cantors, whom they choose by the shrillnesse of their Voyce, not for their cunning in the Art; thinking that God is pleased with bellowing and braying, of whom we read in the Scripture that he rejoyceth more in sweetness than in noyse, more in the affection, than in the Voice. For when Salomon in the Canticles writes that the voyce of the church doth sound in the eares of Christ, hee doth presently adjoyne the cause, because it is sweet. Therefore well did Baptista Mantuan (that moderne Virgil) inveigh every puffed up, ignorant, bellowing Cantor, saying:

Cur tantis delubra Boum mugitibus imples,
Tu ne Deum tali credis placare tumultu.

Whom the Prophet ordained should be praised in Cymbals, not simply, but well sounding.

Of the Ten precepts necessary for every Singer

Being that divers men doe diversely abuse themselves in Gods praise, some by moving their body undecently, some by gaping unseemely, some by changing the vowels, I thought good to teach all Cantors certaine Precepts, by which they may erre lesse.

1. When you desire to sing anything, above all things marke the Tone and his Repercussion. For he that sings a Song without knowing the Tone, doth like him that makes a syllogisme without Moode and Figure.

2. Let him diligently marke the Scale, under which, the Song runneth, lest he make a Flat of a Sharpe or a Sharpe of a Flat.

3. Let every Singer conform his voice to the words, that as much as he can he make the Concentsad when the words are sad; and merry, when they are merry. Wherein I cannot but wonder at the Saxons (the most gallant people of all Germany, by whose furtherance I was both brought up and drawne to write of Musicke) in that they use in their funerals an high, merry and joconde Concent,for no other cause (I think) than that either they hold death to be the greatest good that can befall a man (as Valerius in his first Book writes of Cleobis and Biton, two brothers) or in that they believe that the souls (as it is in Macrobius his second Book De somnis Scipione) after this body do return to the original sweetness of Musicke, that is, to heaven. Which if it be the cause, we may judge them to be valiant in contemning death, and worthy desirers of the glory to come.

4. Above all things keep the equality of measure. For to sing without law and measure, is an offence to God himself, who hath made all things well, in number, weight, and measure. Wherefore I would have masterly Franci(my country-men) to follow the best manner, and not as before they have done; sometime long, sometime to make short the notes in Plainsong; but take example of the noble church of Herbipolis, their head, wherein they sing excellently. Which would also much profit, and honour the Church of Prague, because in it also they make the notes sometimes longer, sometimes shorter than they should. Neither must this be omitted, which that love which we owe to the dead, doth require: whose Vigils (for so they are commonly called) are performed with such confusion, haste and mockery (I know not what fury possesseth the minds of those, to whom this charge is put over) that neither one Voice can be distinguished from another, nor one syllable from another, nor one verse sometimes throughout a whole Psalm from another. An impious fashion to be punished with the severest correction. Think you God is pleased with such howling, such noise, such mumbling, in which is no devotion, no expressing of words, no articulating of syllables?

5. The songs of Authenticall Tonesmust be [deemed] deep, of the subjugall Tones high, of the neutral, meanly.[i.e. 'in the middle'] For these goe deep, those high, the other both high and low.

6. The changing of Vowels is a sign of an unlearned singer. Now (though divers people doe diversely offend in this kind) yet doth not the multitude of offenders take away the fault. Here I would have the Francks to take heed they pronounce not ufor o,as they are wont, saying nusterfor noster.The country Churchmen are also to be censured for pronouncing Aremusinstead of Oremus. In like sort, doe all the Renenses from Spyre Confluentia change the vowel iinto the diphthong ei, saying Mareiafor Maria. The Westphalians for the vowel a pronounce a and e together, to wit: Aebs te for Abs te. The lower Saxons, and all the Suevians[Suabians], for the vowel eread eandi, saying Deiusfor Deus. They of lower Germany do all expressuand einstead of the vowelu. Which errors, though the German speech do often require, yet doth the Latin tongue, which hath the affinity with ours, exceedingly abhor them.

7. Let a singer take heed, lest he begin too loud, braying like an Ass, or when he hath begun with an uneven height, disgrace the song. For God is not pleased with loud cryes, but with lovely sounds; it is not (saith our Erasmus) the noise of the lips, but the ardent desire of the Heart, which like the loudest voice doth pierce Gods ears. Moses spake not, yet heard these words, Why dost thou cry unto me? But why the Saxons, and those that dwell upon the Baltic coast, should so delight in such clamouring, there is no reason but either because they have a deaf God, or because they think he is gone to the South side of Heaven, and therefore cannot so easily hear both the Easterlings, and the Southerlings.

8. Let every singer discerne the difference of one holiday from another, lest on a slight holiday he either make too solemn service, or too slight on a great.

9. The uncomely gaping of the mouth, and ungracefull motion of the body, is a sign of a mad singer.

10. Above all things, let the singer study to please God, and not men; (saith Guido) there are foolish singers, who contemn the devotion they seeke after, and affect the wantonness which they should shun, because they intend their singing to men, not to God; seeking for a little worldly fame, that so they may lose the eternal glory: pleasing men that thereby they may displease God: imparting to others that devotion which themselves want: seeking the favour of the creature, contemning the love of the Creator, to whom is due all honour, and reverence, and service. To whom I do devote myself, and all that is mine, to him will I sing as long as I have being, for he hath raised me (poor Wretch) from the earth, and from the meanest baseness. Therefore blesed be his Name world without end. Amen.

John Dowland |  IV M: England Through 1635