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ClassicsOnline Home » O POORE DISTRACTED WORLD! - English Songs and Anthems
English Songs and Anthems about Melancholy
The subject of this new CD from ATMA is melancholy. Why? Because (as the detailed program notes explain) in medieval times, many people experienced "acedia", a kind of depression linked to belief in the concept of original sin, obsession with sinfulness, and fear of eternal damnation and of the devil. Some believed that melancholy unlocked access to profound truths about feelings and about the ways of the world. Further, melancholics were not necessarily unhappy; in fact, many of them enjoyed and cultivated their state. Noka Arikha wrote that melancholy encouraged a good deal of self-conscious estheticizing, and was "almost joyous in its warm embrace of absolute misery".
Towards the end of the 15th century, a time of great religious upheaval, melancholy became the era-defining mood. Europe was trapped between medieval values and desires for modernity. The reactions to these difficulties and tensions affected many people. The "profound discontentment of the Renaissance" became a fad that spreads like an infection and triggered many suicides.
Originating from Italy, melancholy became the "English disease" in the 1580s; it affected poets (e.g. Philip Sidney and John Donne), playwrights (Shakespeare staged more than 50 suicides), and especially musicians. Music was the ideal medium in which to express this "mal de vivre" (sickness of life). Thus, in 1600, John Dowland published his Lachrimae or Seaven Teares; soon after, Giovanni Coperario (born John Cooper) composed Funeral Teares and Songs of Mourning. John Milton (the poet's father) wrote Teares or Lamentations and Tristitiae Remedium (Cure for Sadness). Aggravated by the fall of the monarchy and the upheavals of the Civil War, this mood prevailed throughout the 17th century and culminated in the magnificent compositions of Henry Purcell, the composer who explored to its utmost limits the melancholy so characteristic of the English.
Except for Coperario's O Poore Distracted World, which comes from his Songs of Mourning, all the songs are anthems. The CD contains works by both famous composers (e.g., Blow, Locke, and Purcell), and little-known composers (e.g. Lupo, Peerson, and Ramsey).
The performances are authentic and the recorded sound is excellent; highly recommended.
- Ted Wilksmore....
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