AAM New Worlds Travelogue: Nicholas Lanier

New Worlds: TravelogueNicholas Lanier
Academy of Ancient Music
, Laurence Cummings
Anna Dennis, Thomas Walker
Milton Court & AAM LIVE stream. 18 February 2022

As part of their New Worlds series, the Academy of Ancient Music explored the life and times of the much-travelled lutenist, courtier and musical adventurer Nicholas Lanier in their Milton Hall and AAM LIVE streamed concert New Worlds | Travelogue. Lanier was from a French Huguenot family with an Italian mother. He was a court musician and composer to both King Charles I and Charles II, becoming the first Master of the King’s Music in 1625. He made several visits to Italy to acquire paintings for Charles I, during which he experienced the new style of Italian secondo pratica music from the likes of Claudio Monteverdi. He subsequently introduced the recitative style to England. He was painted by van Dyck in Antwerp and persuaded the King to bring Van Dyck to England.

The AAM programme explored the seconda pratica style of composition, compared to the older prima pratica style, through an imaginary journey that Nicholas Lanier took across early 17th-century Europe from the Low Countries to Milan and Venice, where Lanier first came into contact with Monteverdi and the new style. During the AAM journey, we heard music by Sweelinck, Frescobaldi, Leonora Duarte, Monteverdi and Nicholas Lanier himself – “possibly, the greatest British composer you’ve never heard”.

The programme opened with the solo voice of Anna Dennis (accompanied on theorbo by William Carter) and John Dowland’s Come again, sweet love, building to include the combined forces of the AAM (five singers and nine instrumentalists). The scrunchy harmonic twist on the second note of Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna introduced us to the distinctive secondo pratica recitative style. We were also introduced to the distinctively rich sound of the massed continuo instruments, with two theorbos, two harpsichords and the sensuous chords of Emilia Benjamin’s lirone.

Nicholas Lanier’s own music included a short Sinfonia, the popular song No more shall meads, built on a ground bass, and, towards the end of the concert, his extended soliloquy, Hero’s complaint to Leander, which, as Roger North commented, was “the first of the Recitative kind that ever graced ye English language”. Lanier also reworked Robert Ramsey’s In Guilty Night (a dialogue between Saul, the Witch of Endor, and Samuel’s Ghost), here sung by soloists Anna Dennis and Thomas Walker and bass Jimmy Holliday.

When Lanier visited Rome he would have heard Frescobaldi playing the organ in St Peter’s, an occasion marked by Stephen Farr’s sensitive performance of the 1615 Recercar settimo ‘sopra sol, mi, fa, la, sol’, an example of prima pratica polyphony for the organ. It was followed by a reworking of the same piece for string quintet by the Antwerp musician Leonora Duarte in her Sinfonia No 6, a piece Lanier might have heard himself in Antwerp. The first half ended with Sweelinck’s five-part madrigal Poi che non volete and Orlando di Lasso’s tiny homophonic comedy turn, Un jour vis un foulon, both contrasting examples of the prima pratica style.

The second half opened with the Canzona prima á 4 ‘La Borromea‘ from the Milanese nun Claudia Francesca Rusca’s 1630 Sacri concerti a 1-5 con salmi e canzoni francesi. It segued into Monteverdi’s five-voice a cappella madrigal Cruda Amarilli. Two lyra viol pieces by the soldier Tobias Hume, beautifully played by Reiko Ichise, were followed by Biagio Marini’s virtuosic violin showpiece Sonata d’inventione, an example of the dramatic possibilities for portraying emotions of the seconda pratica and the emerging stylus phantasticus. Persephone Gibbs was the outstanding soloist, with Laurence Cummings and Kristiina Watt accompanying on harpsichord and theorbo.

After an explanation by Laurence Cummings of the quarter comma meantone tuning of the keyboard instruments and the distinctive use of the ‘bad keys’ in Lanier’s Hero’s complaint to Leander, the evening ended on an upbeat note with Monteverdi’s Tirsi e Clori, the cries of Balliamo (‘Let us dance’) leading the conclusion that “…nothing is more worthy than what the dance teaches!”.

An excellent and well-programmed and presented concert.