Henry Peacham on Music

(from The Compleat Gentleman)

Henry Peacham (1576?-1643?), educated at Cambridge, was an author and man of varied talents. In 1606 he published a treatise on art, Graphice, which went through numerous editions under the title The Gentleman's Exercise. During the years 1613-14 he traveled on the Continent, mainly in France, Italy, and the Netherlands. His best known work is The Compleat Gentleman of 1622 (reprinted 1626, 1634), a handbook and guide for young men of good birth. Music, in Peacham's view, was one of the truly important accomplishments for the well-bred gentleman, along with scholarly pursuits and manly arts. Peacham himself may very likely have had musical talent, for he was a friend of John Dowland and moved in musical circles. Like Castiglione a century earlier, he presents a good picture of the life of his period.

HENRY PEACHAM from The Compleat Gentleman

Music a sister to Poetry, next craveth your acquaintance (if your Genius be so disposed)....

The Physicians will tell you, that the exercise of Music is a great lengthener of the life, by stirring and reviving of the Spirits, holding a secret sympathy with them; besides, the exercise of singing openeth the breast and pipes: it is an enemy to melancholy and dejection of the mind, .which S. Chrysostom truly calleth the Divels Bath. Yea, a curer of some diseases: in Apuglia, in Italy, and thereabouts, it is most certaine, that those who are stung with the Tarantula, are cured only by Music. Beside the aforesaid benefit of singing, it is a most ready help for a bad pronunciation, and distinct speaking, which I have heard confirmed by many great Divines. Yea, I my selfe have known many children to have bin holpen of their stammering in speech, only by it.

Plato calleth it A divine and heavenly practice, profitable for the seeking out of that which is good and honest.

Homer saith, Musicians are worthy of Honor, and regard of the whole world; and we know, albeit Lycurgus imposed most straight and sharp laws upon the Lacedemonians, yet he ever allowed them the exercise of Music,

Aristotle averreth Music to be the only disposer of the mind to Vertue and Goodness; wherefore he reckoneth it among those four principal exercises, wherein he would have children instructed.

Tully saith, there consisteth in the practice of singing and playing upon Instruments, great knowledge, and the most excellent instruction of the mind: and for the effect it worketh in the mind, he termeth it, Stabilem Thesaurum, qui mores instituit, componitque, ac mollit irarum ardores, &c. A lasting Treasure, which rectifieth and ordereth our manners, and allayeth the heate and fury of our anger, &c.

I might run into an infinite Sea of the praise and use of so excellent an Art, but I only shew it you with the finger, because I desire not that any Noble or Gentleman should (save at his private recreation and leisurable hours) prove a Master in the same or neglect his more weighty employments: though I avouch it a skill worthy the knowledge and exercise of the greatest Prince.

King Henry the eighth could not only sing his part sure, but of himself composed a Service of four, five and six parts; as Erasmus in a certain Epistle, testifieth of his own knowledge.

The Duke of Venosa, an Italian Prince, in like manner, of late years, hath given excellent proof of his knowledge and love to Music, having himself composed many rare songs, which I have seen.

But above others, who carryeth away the Palm for excellency, not only in Music, but in whatsoever is to be wished in a brave Prince, is the yet living Maurice Landgrave of Hessen, of whose own composition I have seen eight or ten several sets of Motets, and solemn Music, set purposely for his own Chapel; where for the great honor of some Festival, and many times for his recreation only, he is his own organist....

I desire no more in you than to sing your part sure, and at the first sight, withal, to play the same upon your Viol, or the exercise of the Lute, privately to yourself.

To deliver you my opinion, whom among other Authors you should imitate and allow for the best, there being so many equally good, is somewhat difficult; yet as in the rest herein you shall have my opinion.

For Motets and Music of piety and devotion, as well for the honour of our Nation, as the merit of the man, I prefer above all others our Phoenix, M. William Byrd, whom in that kind, I know not whether any may equal, I am sure none excell, even by the judgment of France and Italy, who are very sparing in the commendation of strangers, in regard of that conceit they hold of themselves. His Cantiones Sacrae,as also his Gradualia, are mere Angelical and Divine; and being himself naturally disposed to Gravity and Piety, his vein is not so much disposed for light Madrigals or Canzonets, yet his Virginella and some others in his first Set, cannot be mended by the best Italian of them all.

For composition, I prefer next Ludovico de Victoria, a most judicious and a sweet composer: after him Orlando di Lasso, a very rare and excellent Author, who lived some forty years since in the court of the Duke of Bavier [Bavaria]. He hath published as well in Latin as French many Sets, his vein is grave and sweet: among his Latin Songs his seven penitential Psalmes are the best, and that French set of his wherein is Susanna un jour:upon which Ditty many others have since exercised their invention.

For delicious Aire and sweet Invention in Madrigals, Luca Marenzio excelleth all other whosoever, having published more Sets than any Author else whosoever; and to say truth, hath not an ill Song, though sometime an over-sight (which might be the printer's fault) of two eights, or fiftes escapt him; as between the Tenor and Base in the last close, of I must depart all haplesse: ending according to the Nature of the Ditty most artificially, with a Minim rest. His first, second, and third parts of Thyrsis,Veggo dolce mio ben,Chi fa hoggi mio Sole,Cantava,or Sweet singing Amaryllis,are Songs the Muses themselves might not have been ashamed to have had composed. Of stature and complexion, he was a little and black man; he was Organist in the Popes Chappel at Rome a good while, afterward he went into Poland, being in displeasure with the Pope for overmuch familiarity with a kinswoman of his, (whom the Queen of Poland sent for by Luca Marenzio afterward, she being one of the rarest women in Europe, for her voyce and the Lute:) but returning he found the affection of the Pope so estranged from him, that hereupon he took a conceit and died.

Alphonso Ferabosco the father, while he lived, for judgment and depth of skill, (as also his son yet living) was inferior to none; what he did was most elaborate and profound, and pleasing enough in Aire, though Master Thomas Morley censureth him otherwise. That of his, I saw my Lady weeping,and the Nightingale(upon which Ditty Master Bird and he in a friendly emulation, exercised their invention) cannot be bettered for sweetness of Ayre or depth of judgment.

I bring you now mine owne Master, Horatio Vecchi of Modena: beside goodness of Aire most pleasing of all other for his conceit and variety, wherewith all his works are singularly beautified, as well his Madrigals of five and six, as those his Canzonets, printed in Norimberge: wherein for trial, sing his Vivo in fuoco amoroso, Lucretia mia,where upon Io catenato moro,with excellent judgment he driveth a Crotchet through many Minims, causing it to resemble a chain with the links. Again, in S'io potessi raccor' i miei Sospiri,the breaking of the word Sospiri with crotchet and crotchet rest into sighs: and that Fa mi un Canzone,&c. to make one sleep at noon, with sundry other of like conceit, and pleasant invention.

Then that great Master [Giovanni Croce], and Master not long since of S. Markes Chappell in Venice; second to none for a full, lofty, and sprightly vein, following none save his own humour: who while he lived was one of the most free and brave companions of the world. His Penitential Psalms are excellently composed, and for piety are his best.

Nor must I here forget our rare Country-man, Peter Philips, Organist to their Altezza's at Bruxelles, now one of the greatest Masters of Music in Europe. He hath sent us over many excellent Songs, as well Motets as Madrigals: he affecteth altogether the Italian vein.

There are many other Authors very excellent, as Boschetto, and Claudio de Monte Verde, equal to any before named; Giovanni Ferretti, Stephano Felis, Giulio Rinaldi, Philippo de Monte, Andrea Gabrieli, Cyprian de Rore, Pallavicino, Geminiano, with others yet living; whose several works for me here to examine, would be over tedious and needless; and for me, please your own care and fancy. Those whom I have before mentioned, have been ever (within thirty or forty years) held for the best.

I willingly, to avoid tediousness, forbear to speak of the worth and excellency of the rest of our English Composers, Master Doctor Dowland, Thomas Morley, M. Alphonso, M. Wilby, M. Kirby, M. Wilkes, Michael East, M. Bateson, M. Deering, with sundry others, inferior to none in the world (however much soever the Italian attributes to himself) for depth of skill and richness of conceit.

Infinite is the sweet variety that the Theorique of Music exersizeth the mind withall, as the contemplation of proportion, of Concords and Discords, diversity of Moods and Tones, infiniteness of Invention &c. But I dare to affirm, there is no one Science in the world, that so affecteth the free and generous Spirit, with a more delightfull and inoffensive recreation, or better disposeth the mind to what is commendable and virtuous....

But to conclude, if all Arts hold their esteem and value according to their Effects, account this goodly Science not among the number of those which Lucian placeth without the gates of Hell, as vaine and unprofitable: but of such which are pegai ton kalon,the fountains of our lives good and happiness: since it is a principal means of glorifying our merciful Creator, it heightens our devotion, it gives delight and ease to our travails, it expelleth sadness and heaviness of Spirit/ preserveth people in concord and amity, allayeth fierceness, and anger; and lastly, is the best Phisick for many melancholy diseases.

SOURCE: Henry Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906; reprint of the 1634 edition), Ch. XI.

IV M: England Through 1635