We generally think of art song and folk song as independent musical styles performed by different people, but a closer look at the history of these styles shows that they have been shared and utilized by the same people for centuries. Art song was a highly intellectualized music composed and performed for Kings, Queens, and other members of the aristocracy in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Folk songs were the songs of the common man, passed down through the centuries orally, like stories of long ago - subject to change with every generation of storyteller. Every so often, a folk tune would find its way to the ear of a court composer, and if it got lucky, it would be the catalyst for his next composition, creating the perfect combination of soul and intellect.
Three Ravens is one such tune, having roots in Medieval Scotland as Twa Corbies, while much of the symbology can be traced back to the Scandinavian ancestors of Albion. The song grew to be so popular in England by the 17th century that Thomas Ravescroft composed upon the melody and text a four-part song in the courtly style of the time. Flow My Tears is a rare example of an art song that became so popular it grew to be known in the oral tradition. It was the musical embodiment of melancholy, a specialty of the composer John Dowland. Older examples of courtly songs turned folk can be found in Ddoi Di Dai and In A Garden So Green. Both of these songs come to us by way of the oral tradition, but they were once written for someone of noble birth. A Toye is a scottish folk tune set to solo lute in the c. 1616 manuscript that belonged to noble woman Jane Pickering. Each song has its own history and is led by the musician into the future. This is, and always has been a common ground between folk and art song. Three Ravens is a meeting place for both styles and an exploration of the music that came from combining them.
Lyre or Hearpe
The lyre is the oldest known instrument in the British Isles. It was used by the Celts, Vikings, and later by scops - old English bards - in the great halls of Anglo Saxon kings. An artifact from one of these instruments was found in the Island of Skye and is thought to date from around the 5th century b.c.e. It was most commonly played in Scandinavia, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Many modern instruments resemble this type of lyre, such as the Finnish Jouhikko and the Welsh Crwth.
More music was written for the lute in the 16th century than all other instruments combined. Professional lutenists shared the same status as famous artists like Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. By the year 1500, the lute had six courses (pairs of strings) and by the end of the 17th century had as many as 14 courses and could play five octaves. Stravinski is quoted as saying that the lute "is perhaps the most perfect instrument of all."
The earliest documentation of the komuz is from the 6th century b.c.e. It was also documented in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, Central Asia (where it is still very popular), and even in a 13th century Spanish manuscript containing images of Muslims, Jews, and Christians making music and singing songs together.
The oud is best known as the most played instrument in the Middle East, but it is so old that its origins have been lost in the mists of time. The oldest stories about its development come from the Koran and from ancient Rome. The oud was brought to the western world by Moors around the year 711 and was likely brought to various parts of Europe by Crusaders. It may have even been played in Scandinavian lands long before it was played by Christians because vikings travelled and traded in the Meditarranean. It is one of few instruments so ancient that is still played and has never fallen out of popularity.
Preview of the full program
Excerpt: Middle English Art Song
Bryd One Breere
Excerpt: English Folk Song
Folk and Art song from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales accompanied on Medieval and Renaissance lutes and harps.