La Rêveuse: Songs of an English Cavalier

March 27, 2015 | 8:00pm | Pre-concert chat with host Matthew White at 7:15pm
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Jeffrey Thompson, tenor; La Rêveuse, ensemble; Florence Bolton, treble and bass viola da gamba; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord; Benjamin Perrot, theorbo

“Thompson and the group did not miss an opportunity to indulge in ravishing improvisations…though oh so English, the music paid more than a passing nod to the extremes of passion, clashing harmonies and florid style of Monteverdi.” The Washington Post

After being selected to participate in the first Le Jardin des Voix with William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants, tenor Jeffrey Thompson has appeared with virtually all of the biggest names in early music. For his Vancouver debut he will perform a program of music by Henry Lawes accompanied by French ensemble La Rêveuse.


Oft have I sworn I’d love no more (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)
Perfect and endless circles are (William Lawes 1602-1645)
Or you, or I, nature did wrong (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Tregian’s ground (Daniel Norcombe – 17ème siècle) [bass viol & continuo]

Wither are all her false oaths blown ? (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Why so pale and wan, fond lover ? (William Lawes 1602-1645)
Neither sights, nor tears, nor mourning (Nicholas Lanier 1588-1666)

Ground in G Major (Godfrey Finger c.1660-c.1730) [bass viol & continuo]

I rise and grieve (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Bid me but live, and I will live (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)
Wert thou yet fairer than thou art (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)


When thou, poor excommunicate (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Have you e’er seen the morning sun ? (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)
Slide soft you silver floods (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)
O tell me love ! O tell me fate ! (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Ground (Christopher Simpson c.1602-1669) [bass viol & continuo]

Sweet stay awhile ; why do you rise ? (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

I’m sick of love (William Lawes 1602-1645)
No more shall meads be deck’d with flowers (Nicholas Lanier 1588-1666)

The Queen’s delight / Lady Catherine Ogle, a new dance (John Playford 1623-1686) [treble viol & continuo]

Sleep soft, you cold clay cinders (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)

Out upon it, I have lov’d (Henry Lawes 1595 – 1662)
Why should great beauty virtuous fame desire (William Lawes 1602-1645)

Programme notes

Henry Lawes, born in the late sixteenth century, belongs to the generation that succeeded the great composers of the Elizabethan era. At the end of that sumptuous period for the arts, the first signs of important changes were felt in Italy, where, in certain aristocratic milieus, theorists and artists were thinking in a new way about the role of music. They gradually abandoned the polyphonic and contrapuntal style, too unwieldy in their view, in favour of monody, which gave precedence to the outer voices, the treble and the bass. Notation of the accompaniment was simplified to the point where it became a mere bass line, with the harmony suggested by a few figures. This new semi-improvised style of accompaniment thus gained in flexibility and gave greater freedom to the singer, who now ‘carried’ the text, like an actor in the theatre. This stile nuovo, launched by artists such as Giulio Caccini in Florence and Monteverdi in Mantua, had a lasting influence on the rest of Europe and took the form, in England, of the ‘declamatory ayre’, in which declamation gradually came to prevail over melody, while the lute part, now barer than in the previous period, stuck exceptionally closely to the text, already prefiguring, notably in the music of Henry Lawes, the style of Locke and Purcell.

The end of the reign of Charles I, his execution, and the troubled period of the Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth caused tremendous upheavals in the lives of musicians. With the dissolution of the King’s Musick and the Chapel Royal, most of the leading composers and musicians of the period found themselves out of a job. Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666), for whom Charles I had created the post of Master of the King’s Musick in 1626, fled London and took refuge on the Continent. Thus England lost this outstanding figure, a perfect example of the ideal cultivated courtier, who was at once composer, singer, lutenist, violist, poet, etcher, and painter.

Henry Lawes, born in 1595 in the Wiltshire village of Dinton, was probably taught by the great Coperario in person. He joined the King’s Musick in 1626. When the monarchy fell, Lawes stayed in London and, while waiting for better days, took a position as music master in
a leading aristocratic family. He briefly evoked these hard times in the preface to the Ayres and Dialogues of 1653: ‘Now, we live in so sullen an Age, that our Profession it selfe hath lost its Encouragement.’ At this time he appeared regularly in private concerts, events much appreciated by music-lovers, which attracted the finest London society. Sales of his music, which coincided with the expansion of music publishing in England, brought him a healthy
income and a certain fame. Lawes was one of the most productive composers of his period: more than 350 songs have survived, including a considerable number published in the extensive
anthologies of successful ayres issued by John Playford. At the Restoration of Charles II, he rejoined the King’s Musick, as did most of his colleagues.

Despite the popularity he enjoyed in his lifetime, Henry Lawes has been somewhat overshadowed by his hot-headed younger brother William, King Charles I’s favourite musician, who was constantly seeking bold musical innovations. Fighting on the Royalist side during the Civil War, William was cut off in his prime at the battle of Chester on 24 September 1645. His output for lute has probably been lost and the three pieces recorded here (in a version for lute and harpsichord) are all that is left. It is likely that Lawes composed only the second lute parts.

To sing while accompanying oneself on the lute was a common practice, and it is highly probable that Henry Lawes and Nicholas Lanier were experienced exponents of it. From the end of the Elizabethan period new accompanying instruments came into vogue, including the virginal (until then essentially a solo instrument), the harpsichord, the organ, the bass viol, the
theorbo, and the guitar. With the fashion for the ‘lyra viol’, the solo viol, played chordally (‘lyra way’), could sometimes even substitute for the lute, and the violist Tobias Hume does not conceal his taste for accompanying songs in this way (‘to be sung to the Viole, with the Lute or = better, to the Viol alone’: Musicall Humors, 1605). The periods of Charles I and Cromwell were a veritable golden age for the viol: its technique developed considerably, with high positions, chordal playing, and frequent use of scordatura. ‘Divisions’, or variations on ostinato basses called ‘grounds’, often of great technical difficulty, were then very fashionable and form the major part of the repertory along with pieces for solo viol.

Christopher Simpson (c.1605-69) is one of the most inspired and respected composers of
grounds. Daniel Norcombe, who wrote more than thirty divisions, is still little known. He was probably a violist in the service of the Archduke Albert in Brussels between 1602 and 1647. Simpson mentions him as a composer worthy of interest in The Division Violist: ‘I would have you peruse the Divisions which other men have made upon Grounds; as those of Mr Henry Butler, Mr Daniel Norcome, and divers other excellent men of this our Nation . . .’

Francis Withy, probably born around 1650, was the son of the excellent violist John Withy. We know little about him except that he came from Worcester and probably spent his life as a musician in Oxford, another very dynamic musical centre of the Commonwealth years. Withy, who belonged to the last generation of great English violists, was a disciple of Simpson. One also notes in his music the influence of John Jenkins and of chordal playing (lyra way), very evident in the Division in G minor. The arrival of Jacques Gaultier in England in 1617 coincided with the vogue for the French lute. The strong personality of this somewhat boisterous lutenist (to put it mildly) and the craze for playing in the French style that infected the English aristocracy were important factors in the gallicisation of the repertory. Gaultier’s music circulated widely in manuscript, proof of its success, but curiously was never printed. In any case, his playing seems to have made a vivid impression on those who heard him, as is demonstrated by this remark of a contemporary: ‘English Gualtier (sic) was fit to play in a Cabarett because of his thundering way of playing!’

Florence Bolton
Translation: Charles Johnston

Artist Bios

Jeffrey Thompson, tenor

After graduating in 2001 from the Cincinnati Conservatory (USA), where he studied with William McGraw, Jeffrey Thompson was awarded first prize at the Chimay International Baroque Vocal Competition (Belgium) by a jury chaired by William Christie.

In 2002 he was chosen to participate in the first edition of the academy ‘Le Jardin des Voix’ with Les Arts Florissants (William Christie) on a European tour. He also sang under Christie as a soloist in Rameau’s motet In convertendo for a DVD released by Opus Arte.

Since then he has sung a variety of operatic roles in numerous international houses, including Zotico (Eliogabalo/Cavalli, conducted by René Jacobs, 2004, Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, and Innsbruck Festival); Monostatos (Die Zauberflöte/Mozart, director William Kentridge, cond. Jacobs, La Monnaie, 2005); Ninus (Pirame et Thisbé/Rebel & Francoeur, cond. Daniel Cuiller, Nantes 2007). He was heard at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in Philidor’s opera Sancho Panza with La Simphonie du Marais (2010), and in Budapest as Testo in Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and as Hippolyte in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie. In 2011-12 he sang the role of Aldobrandin in Grétry’s Le Magnifique in New York and Washington with Opera Lafayette (Ryan Brown) and Giancuir in J. C. Bach’s Zanaida with Opera Fuoco (David Stern) in Leipzig, Paris, and Vienna. During the 2012-13 season, he sings the roles of Acamas in Pyrrhus (Pancrace Royer) in Versailles, Castor in Rameau’s Castor et Pollux with Pinchgut Opera in Sydney, and Glaucus in Leclair’s Scylla et Glaucus in Budapest.

Alongside his operatic activities, Jeffrey Thompson also appears in concert (oratorios and recitals) with such ensembles as Ausonia (Frédérick Haas and Mira Glodeanu), Les Arts Florissants (William Christie), Boston Baroque, Faenza (Marco Horvat), Fuoco e Cenere (Jay Bernfeld), Handel and Haydn Society (Boston), Le Parnasse Français (Louis Castelain), Purcell Choir/Orfeo Orchestra (György Vashegyi, Budapest), La Rêveuse (Benjamin Perrot and Florence Bolton), and the Ensemble William Byrd (Graham O’Reilly).

La Rêveuse, ensemble

Founded by Benjamin Perrot and Florence Bolton, La Rêveuse is an ensemble of solo musicians which aims to bring back to life selected works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that effervescent age so rich in artistic experiments and inventions of all kinds.

By favouring an approach founded on eloquence, mastery of colour and a rich continuo sound the musicians of La Rêveuse wish to convey to audiences the rhetorical, spiritual and poetic substance of these repertories. La Rêveuse has attracted favourable attention with its concerts in France (notably at Les Concerts Parisiens, La Folle Journée de Nantes, Fontevraud Abbey, Pontoise, the Radio- France Montpellier Festival, and Lanvellec), and also appears abroad, at such events as the Cambridge Summer Festival, the Organizatie Oude Muziek season in the Netherlands, La Folle Journée in Japan, the French Cultural Centre in Cairo, and in Switzerland, the USA, and Canada. The group also works regularly in co-production with Benjamin Lazar’s company Le Théâtre de l’Incrédule, notably on L’Autre Monde ou Les Estats & Empires de la Lune by Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, which enjoyed great success at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris in April 2008 and has toured widely since then, notably to the Théâtre de Caen and Théâtre National Populaire de Villeurbanne.

The ensemble’s recordings (Locke/Purcell, K617 2006; Purcell, Mirare 2008; Buxtehude/ Reinken, Mirare 2009; Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Mirare 2010, Sébastien de Brossard, Mirare 2011) have all been acclaimed by the French and international press.

In 2011, La Rêveuse created a new stage show, Les Mille et une nuits, a dramatic adaptation by Louise Moaty and Bertrand Cuiller of Antoine Galland’s early eighteenth-century translation of The Thousand and One Nights; the group also provided the musical sequences for a new production of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, directed by Catherine Hiegel with François Morel in the role of M. Jourdain (CADO Orléans / Théâtre de la Porte St Martin Paris / nationwide tour in 2012-13).

In 2012, after a concert tour of the USA and Canada with the tenor Jeffrey Thompson, La Rêveuse premiered its new production, Concerto Luminoso, in collaboration with the visual artist Vincent Vergone (Compagnie Le Praxinoscope), at Noirlac Abbey. This production is already scheduled for many performances in other venues. La Rêveuse receives support from the DRAC Centre – Ministère de la Culture and the Région Centre. It is a member of FEVIS (Fédération des Ensembles Vocaux et Instrumentaux Spécialisés).

Florence Bolton, treble and bass viola da gamba

To be added...

Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord

To be added...

Benjamin Perrot, theorbo

To be added...