Music for the Mayflower

They that in ships unto the sea down go
Music for the Mayflower
Resonus  RES10263. 61’23

It is 400 years since the Mayflower set sail for the New World. It had been commissioned by English Puritans, along with another ship, the Speedwell, bringing Puritans that had earlier moved to Leiden to escape religious persecution in England. The complicated initial stages of the journey started in July 1620 from the River Thames just east of the City of London. The Mayflower waited to join the Speedwell in Southampton Water and both ships set sail for America in early August, calling into Dartmouth for repairs. They reached well beyond the Scilly Isles but again had to return to Plymouth for further repairs. The Speedwell gave up, and some of their passengers joined Mayflower which finally set off alone.

Passamezzo‘s CD aims to recreate the world of the sailors and passengers on the Mayflower, based on extracts from three music books owned by one of the passengers on the Mayflower, William Brewster. The focus is on the psalms, lute songs and ballads from these books, many of which have not been transcribed before. There is also related music for sailors and merchants and songs about tobacco, such as Tobacco is like love, Come Sirrah Jack ho and Song from the Masque of Flowers, and “other wonders of the New World”. One of the books was Henry Ainsworth’s 1612 Psalter, from which comes the title piece, They that in Ships unto the Sea down go, a version of Psalm 107.

On this recording, Passamezzo has four singers and five instrumentalists (two also a singer) playing violins, recorders, viols, lutes, and cittern. The singing has a certain bucolic charm, with some interesting moments of intonation, notably in the chorus pieces like the canon The wind blows out of the west. Perhaps they were trying to replicate the performing capabilities of the those on the Mayflower.

The music includes pieces by Richard Allison, Thomas Campion, John Dowland, John Ford, Tobias Hume and Thomas Weelkes. More information, and a link to the album booklet, can be found here. An insight into the financial implications of a recording like this can be seen from their crowdfunding page here. Sheet music from this album (edited by Tamsin Lewis) can be purchased by clicking here.