Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love
Mottects or Grave Chamber Music (1630)
I Fagiolini, Fretwork
Regent REGCD497. 72’53
Martin Peerson is one of those composers that can so easily slip under the radar. Little is known of his early life, and records of his adult life are confused by the various ways of spelling his name. It is likely that he was born in March (not the month, but a small market town in Cambridgeshire) around 1572, and became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1604 a madrigal of his was performed at an ‘entertainment’ in Highgate arranged by Ben Jonson for James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. This appears to have been his only involvement with the musical life of royalty during his career. He had Catholic sympathies, although managed to pass as sufficiently Protestant to be award a Bachelor of Music from Oxford in 1613. He then held posts at Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral and, possibly, Westminster Abbey (a “Martin Pearson” is recorded there in the 1620s).
He seems to have moved in relatively elevated circles, and his music making was to be found in aristocratic chambers rather than in church or court. He contributed pieces to collections before starting his own publications in 1620. His Mottects or Grave Chamber Music was published in 1630, with the added description “Containing Songs of Fiue Parts of Seuerall Sorts, some ful, and some Verse and Chorus. But all Fit for Voyces and Vials, with an Organ Part; which for want of Organs, may be Performed on Virginals, Base-Lute, Bandora, or Irish Harpe. ALSO, A Mourning Song of Sixe Parts for the Death of the late Right Honorable Sir Fylke Grevil … Composed According to the Rules of Art by M.P. Like most of his other surviving pieces, the motets are for domestic use, despite the usual sacred connotations of the word ‘motet’. The texts were from 13 of the poems in the Caelica collection, written by Fulke Greville (Lord Brooke), the poet, dramatist and politician. It was published 2 years after the unpleasant death of Brooke at his home at Warwick Castle, and is dedicated to his son. Brook is buried below the enormous sarcophagus (pictured) that dominates the small chapter house of St Mary’s Warwick.
The motets are in five parts, with viols following the voice parts. The structure of the pieces are curious, with individual stanzas separated out by Peerson, meaning that the 13 poems end up as 23 separate pieces. He later adjusted the numbering to produce 21 pieces, a number connected to Biblical numerology that was favoured for such collections at the time. He also added two six-part stanzas of a memorial lament for Lord Brook, possible to his own text. The organ part is one of the first known examples of a figured bass in England. I Fagiolini draw on seven singers for the five needed for each motet, while Fretwork field six violists.
Brook’s poems are generally philosophical reflections on love, with only a few religious comments. It is worth following the texts printing in the line notes, particularly as the sung texts are not always easy to follow, not least because of the use of period pronunciation – essential to make sense of many rhymes. Peerson’s music is quite exquisite, and I Fagiolini and Fretwork do it justice on this fine recording. I was particularly impressed by the way that the singers restrained their use of vibrato, making the interplay of contrapuntal lines so much easier to grasp. There is no indication of who made the recording, but there are times when the balance between the singers seems to be a little out of kilter, with the lower voice sometimes sounding a little more forward that the higher voices.
This recording is part of the University of Leeds’ Peerson Project which was launced in February 2016 with a weekend Colloquium and concert performance just before this recording was made. They used the fouth volume in the new Complete Edition of Martin Peeson’s music, edited by Richard Rastall, who also provides a programme essay.