[Polymathes has asked the Master 'to discourse unto us at large all the kinds of music, with the observations which are to be kept in composing of every one of them.']
MASTER: ... I say that all music for voices (for only of that kind have we hitherto spoken) is made either for a ditty or without a ditty. If it be with a ditty it is either grave or light; The grave ditties they have still kept in one kind, so that whatsoever music be made upon it is comprehended under the name of a Motet.
A Motet is properly a song made for the church, either upon some hymn or anthem or such like, and that name I take to have been given to that kind of music in opposition to the other which they call Canto Firmo, and we do commonly call Plainsong; . . . . This kind of all others which are made on a ditty requireth most art and moveth and causeth most strange effects in the hearer, being aptly framed for the ditty and well expressed by the singer, for it will draw the auditor (and specially the skilful auditor) into a devout and reverent kind of consideration of Him for whose praise it was made. But I see not what passions or motions it can stir up being sung as most men do commonly sing it, that is, leaving out the ditty and singing only the bare note, as it were a music made only for instruments, which will indeed show the nature of the music but never carry the spirit and, as it were, that lively soul which the ditty giveth. But of this enough; and to return to the expressing of the ditty, the matter is now come to that state that though a song be never so well made and never so aptly applied to the words yet shall you hardly find singers to express it as it ought to be, for most of our churchmen, so they can cry louder in their choir than their fellows, care for no more, whereas by the contrary they ought to study how to vowel and sing clean, expressing their words with devotion and passion whereby to draw the hearer, as it were, in chains of gold by the ears to the consideration of holy things. But this for the most part you shall find amongst them; that let them continue never so long in the church, yea though it were twenty years, they will never study to sing better than they did the first day of their preferment to that place, so that it should seem that having obtained the living which they sought for they have little or no care at all, either of their own credit or well discharging of that duty whereby they have their maintenance. But to return to our Motets, if you compose in this kind you must cause your harmony to carry a majesty, taking discords and bindings so often as you can, but let it be in long notes, for the nature of it will not bear short notes and quick motions which denote a kind of wantonness.
This music (a lamentable case) being the chiefest both for art and utility is, notwithstanding, little esteemed and in small request with the greatest number of those who most highly seem to favour art, which is the cause that the composers of music, who otherwise would follow the depth of their skill in this kind, are compelled for lack of Maecenatesto put on another humour and follow that kind whereunto they have neither been brought up nor yet (except so much as they can learn by seeing other men's works in an unknown tongue) do perfectly understand the nature of it; such be the new-fangled opinions of our countrymen who will highly esteem whatsoever cometh from beyond the seas (and specially from Italy) be it never so simple, condemning that which is done at home though it be never so excellent. Nor yet is that fault of esteeming so highly the light music particular to us in England, but general through the world, which is the cause that the musicians in all countries (and chiefly in Italy) have employed most of their studies in it; whereupon a learned man of our time, writing upon Cicero his dream of Scipio, saith that the musicians of this age, instead of drawing the minds of men to the consideration of heaven and heavenly things, do by the contrary set wide open the gates of hell, causing such as delight in the exercise of their art to tumble headlong into perdition.
This much for Motets, under which I comprehend all grave and sober music. The light music hath been of late more deeply dived into so that there is no vanity which in it hath not been followed to the full; but the best kind of it is termed Madrigal, a word for the etymology of which I can give no reason; yet use showeth that it is a kind of music made upon songs and sonnets such as Petrarch and many poets of our time have excelled in. This kind of music were not so much disallowable if the poets who compose the ditties would abstain from some obscenities which all honest ears abhor, and sometime from blasphemies to such as this, 'ch'altro di te iddio non voglio,' which no man (at least who hath any hope of salvation) can sing without trembling. As for the music it is, next unto the Motet, the most artificial [i.e. 'full of artifice'] and, to men of understanding, most delightful. If therefore you will compose in this kind you must possess yourself with an amorous humour (for in no composition shall you prove admirable except you put on and possess yourself wholly with that vein wherein you compose), so that you must in your music be wavering like the wind, sometime wanton, sometime drooping, sometime grave and staid, otherwhile effeminate; you may maintain points and revert them, use Triplas, and show the very uttermost of your variety, and the more variety you show the better shall you please. In this kind our age excelleth, so that if you would imitate any I would appoint you these for guides: Alfonso Ferrabosco for deep skill, Luca Marenzio for good air and fine invention, Horatio Vecchi, Stephano Venturi, Ruggiero Giovanelli, and John Croce, with divers others who are very good but not so generally good as these.
The second degree of gravity in this light music is given to Canzonets, that is little short songs (wherein little art can be showed, being made in strains, the beginning of which is some point lightly touched and every strain repeated except the middle) which is, in composition of the music, a counterfeit of the Madrigal. Of the nature of these are the Neapolitans or Canzone a la Napolitana, different from them in nothing saving in name, so that whosoever knoweth the nature of the one must needs know the other also; and if you think them worthy of your pains to compose them you have a pattern of them in Luca Marenzio and John Ferretti, who, as it should seem, hath employed most of all his study that way.
The last degree of gravity (if they have any at all) is given to the Villanelle or country songs, which are made only for the ditty's sake for, so they be aptly set to express the nature of the ditty, the composer (though he were never so excellent) will not stick to take many perfect chords of one kind together, for in this kind they think it no fault (as being a kind of keeping decorum) to make a clownish music to a clownish matter, and though many times the ditty be fine enough, yet because it carrieth that name Villanella they take those disallowances, as being good enough for plough and cart.
There is also another kind more light than this which they term Balletti or dances, and are songs which being sung to a ditty may likewise be danced. These, and all other kinds of light music (saving the Madrigal) are by a general name called 'airs.'
There be also another kind of Balletts commonly called 'Fa las.' The first set of that kind which I have seen was made by Gastoldi; if others have laboured in the same field I know not, but a slight kind of music it is and, as I take it, devised to be danced to voices.
The slightest kind of music (if they deserve the name of music) are the Vinate or drinking songs, for, as I said before, there is no kind of vanity whereunto they have not applied some music or other, as they have framed this to be sung in their drinking; but that vice being so rare among the Italians and Spaniards, I rather think that music to have been devised by or for the Germans (who in swarms do flock to the University of Italy) rather than for the Italians themselves.
There is likewise a kind of songs (which I had almost forgotten) called Giustinianas and are all written in the Bergamasca language; a wanton and rude kind of music it is, and like enough to carry the name of some notable courtesan of the city of Bergamo, for no man will deny that the Justiniana is the name of a woman.
There be also many other kinds of songs which the Italians make, as Pastourelles and Passamezzos with a ditty, and such like, which it would be both tedious and superfluous to dilate unto you in words, therefore I will leave to speak any more of them and begin to declare unto you those kinds which they make without ditties.
The most principal and chiefest kind of music which is made without a ditty is the Fantasy, that is when a musician taketh a point at his pleasure and wresteth and turneth it as he list, making either much or little of it according as shall seem best in his own conceit. In this may more art be shown than in any other music because the composer is tied to nothing, but that he may add, diminish, and alter at his pleasure. And this kind will bear any allowances whatsoever tolerable in other music except changing the air and leaving the key, which in Fantasie may never be suffered. Other things you may use at your pleasure, bindings with discords, quick motions, slow motions, Proportions, and what you list. Likewise this kind of music is, with them who practise instruments of parts, in greatest use, but for voices it is but seldom used.
The next in gravity and goodness unto this is called a Pavan, a kind of staid music ordained for grave dancing and most commonly made of three strains, whereof every strain is played or sung twice; a strain they make to contain eight, twelve, or sixteen semibreves as they list, yet fewer than eight I have not seen in any Pavan. In this you may not so much insist in following the point as in a Fantasy, but it shall be enough to touch it once and so away to some close. Also in this you must cast your music by four, so that if you keep that rule it is no matter how many fours you put in your strain for it will fall out well enough in the end, the art of dancing being come to that perfection that every reasonable dancer will make measure of no measure, so that it is no great matter of what number you make your strain.
After every Pavan we usually set a Galliard (that is a kind of music made out of the other), causing it go by a measure which the learned call trochaicam rationem, consisting of a long and short stroke successively, for as the foot trochaeus consisteth of one syllable of two times and another of one time, so is the first of these two strokes double to the latter, the first being in time of a semibreve and the latter of a minim. This is a brighter and more stirring kind of dancing than the Pavan, consisting of the same number of strains; and look how many fours of sernibreves you put in the strain of your Pavan, so many times six minims must you put in the strain of your Galliard. The Italians make their Galliards (which they term Saltarelli) plain, and frame ditties to them which in their masquerades they sing and dance, and many times without any instruments at all, but instead of instruments they have courtesans disguised in men's apparel who sing and dance to their own songs.
The Alman is a more heavy dance than this (fitly representing the nature of the people whose name it carrieth) so that no extraordinary motions are used in dancing of it. It is made of strains, sometimes two, sometimes three, and every strain is made by four; but you must mark that the four of the Pavan measure is in Dupla Proportion to the four of the Alman measure, so that as the usual Pavan containeth in a strain the time of sixteen semibreves, so the usual Alman containeth the time of eight, and most commonly in short notes.
Like unto this is the French Branle (which they call 'Branle Simple') which goeth somewhat rounder in time than this, otherwise the measure is all one. The 'Branle de Poictou' or 'Branle Double' is more quick in time (being in a round Tripla) but the strain is longer, containing most usually twelve whole strokes.
Like unto this (but more light) be the Voltes and Courantes which being both of a measure are, notwithstanding, danced after sundry fashions, the Volte rising and leaping, the Courante travising [i.e., traversing] and running, in which measure also our Country Dance is made, though it be danced after another form than any of the former. All these be made in strains, either two or three as shall seem best to the maker, but the Courante hath twice so much in a strain as the English Country Dance.
There be also many other kinds of dances, as Hornpipes, jigs, and infinite more which I cannot nominate unto you, but knowing these the rest cannot but be understood as being one with some of these which I have already told you. And as there are divers kinds of music so will some men's humours be more inclined to one kind than to another; as some will be good descanters and excel in descant and yet will be but bad composers, others will be good composers and but bad descanters extempore upon a plainsong; some will excel in composition of Motets and being set or enjoined to make a Madrigal will be very far from the nature of it; likewise some will be so possessed with the Madrigal humour as no man may be compared with them in that kind and yet being enjoined to compose a Motet or some sad and heavy music will be far from the excellency which they had in their own vein. Lastly some will be so excellent in points of voluntary upon an instrument as one would think it impossible for him not to be a good composer and yet being enjoined to make a song will do it so simply as one would think a scholar of one year's practice might easily compose a better. And I dare boldly affirm that look which is he who thinketh himself the best descanter of all his neighbours, enjoin him to make but a Scottish jig, he will grossly err in the true nature and quality of it.
Thus you have briefly those precepts which I think necessary and sufficient for you whereby to understand the composition of three, four, five or more parts, whereof I might have spoken much more....