by The Bristol University Madrigal Singers
Directed by A. S. Warrell
Relayed from the Bristol University Union
Even at the Universities where music is not an official part of the curriculum, there are almost always some enthusiastic spirits who sing and play for their own pleasure and for the edification of their fellows. It is as healthy a sign of the life of a University as prowess in any field of sport or learning, and Bristol University may well congratulate itself on the possession of this fine and enthusiastic body of Madrigal Singers. It is a form of art which used to be zealously cultivated in England; there was a time when it was the natural thing for friends to do, who met together whether by chance or by design, to join in part-singing of Glees and Madrigals. That the happy custom has not wholly disappeared from our national life is very largely due to the enthusiasm of young people like these students who have discovered for themselves what endless delight is to be found in the team work of music.
There is one old part-song in existence which makes it clear that already in the thirteenth century England was far ahead of any Continental country in the art of choral singing, but not until the middle of the sixteenth century have we any other trace of British composers of Madrigals. Edwards' part-song included in this programme is supposed to belong to 1560 or thereabouts. It shows traces of the Italian influence-and there is evidence that Italian Madrigals were being sung in England at that time, along with some of the contemporary French part-songs. One of the first collections of English music for voices in parts was brought out by Byrd, and Morley, who figures also in this programme, was among those who followed him closely. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare's and set a number of the Shakespeare songs to music, probably as soon as they appeared. In many ways his Madrigals are the most distinctively English of all the writers of that age, and they certainly present many attractive features of English country life in those bygone days. Wilbye and Weelkes both produced sets of Madrigals when they were quite young men, and both were brilliant and original, embodying not only pathos and picturesqueness, but even humour, in their settings. Their pieces give one the impression of having been composed largely with an eye to their effect upon a listening audience; in the earlier part-songs it is easy to imagine that the pleasure of the singers was first and foremost in the minds of composers.
At a later date than these, Orlando Gibbons was one of the most important composers of Mardigals, and in his pieces a still more definitely English character can be heard. It is usual to suggest that all these early pieces were little more than imitations of the Italian style of part-singing, but the attentive student knows better. The English language, for one thing, imposed something of its directness on all these early writers, and there is something as definitely English in their music as in our poetry itself. Less obviously singable than Italian, it does produce a style of music suited to its vigour, and what, for want of a better word, one must call 'four-squareness.'
The Bristol University Madrigal
Singers directed by: