Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Early Early Music "Evelyn Innes" by George Moore (1898)

George Moore (1852-1933) wrote a haunting and lyrical book about a soprano who is torn between early music and Wagner, between two very different lovers, between religion and atheism. According to Moore's biographer Adrian Frazier, "Evelyn Innes" was inspired by a visit that Moore made on January 30, 1894 to the home (called "Dowlands") of early music specialist Arnold Dolmetsch in Dulwich, Greater London, UK. The book appeared in print in 1898.

"Moore found enormously engaging," wrote Frazier, "the strangely tuned instruments, the domestic charm of Dowlands with its music room hung with viols, lutes, and violins, and the beauty of Dolmetsch's daughter Helene."

In this expert from the opening chapter, we meet Mr. Innes at work on a virginal. After he finishes his adjustments he plays two identified works. We hear these pieces in their entirety before learning anything of the plot. They set a sonic attitude and open the narrative with their rhythms, suggesting that the sense of the opening passage must be absorbed at a speed appropriate to hearing.

The opening passage of "Evelyn Innes" by George Moore:

"The thin winter day had died early, and at four o’clock it was dark night in the long room in which Mr. Innes gave his concerts of early music. An Elizabethan virginal had come to him to be repaired, and he had worked all the afternoon, and when overtaken by the dusk, he had impatiently sought a candle end, lit it, and placed it so that its light fell upon the jacks. . . . Only one more remained to be adjusted. He picked it up, touched the quill and dropped it into its place, rapidly tuned the instrument, and ran his fingers over the keys.

"Iron-grey hair hung in thick locks over his forehead, and, shining through their shadows, his eyes drew attention from the rest of his face, so that none noticed at first the small and firmly cut nose, nor the scanty growth of beard twisted to a point by a movement habitual to the weak, white hand. His face was in his eyes: they reflected the flame of faith and of mission; they were the eyes of one whom fate had thrown on an obscure wayside of dreams, the face of a dreamer and propagandist of old-time music and its instruments. He sat at the virginal, like one who loved its old design and sweet tone, in such strict keeping with the music he was playing—a piece by W. Byrd, 'John, come kiss me now.'

(Performance by Elena Zhukova)

"—-and when it was finished, his fingers strayed into another, 'Nancie,' by Thomas Morley.

"His hands moved over the keyboard softly, as if they loved it, and his thoughts, though deep in the gentle music, entertained casual admiration of the sixteenth century organ, which had lately come into his possession, and which he could see at the end of the room on a slightly raised platform. Its beautiful shape, and the shape of the old instruments, vaguely perceived, lent an enchantment to the darkness. In the corner was a viola da gamba, and against the walls a harpsichord and a clavichord.

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