Tobias Hume

(c. 1569 -- 1645)

Musicall Humors


I Doe not studie Eloquence, or profess Musicke, although I doe love Sence, and affect Harmony: my Profession being, as my Education hath beene, Armes, the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; which in mee hath beene alwayes Generous, because never Mercenarie. To prayse Musicke, were to say, the Sunne is bright. To extoll my selfe, would name my labors vaine glorious. Onely this, mu studies are far from servile imitations, I robbe no others inventions, I take no Italian Note to an English dittie, or filch fragments of Songs to stuffe out my volumes. There are mine own Phansies expressed by my proper Genius, which if thou dost dislike, let me see thine, Carpere vel noli nostra, vel ede tua, Now to use a modest shortnes, and a briefe expression of my seffe to all noble spirites, thus, My title expresseth my Bookes Contents, which (if my Hopes faile me not) shall not deceive their expectation, in whose approvement the crowne of my labors resteth. And from henceforth, the stateful instrument Gambo Violl shall with ease yeelde full various and as devicefull Musicke as the Lute. For here I protest the Trinitie of Musicke, parts, Passion and Division, to be as gracefully united in the Gambo Violl, as in the most received Instrument that is, which here with a Souldiers Resolution, I give up to the acceptance of at noble dispositions.

The friend of his friend,

Far removed from the honeyed words that his contemporaries knew how to handle in similar circumstances, such was the tone, a blunt, rugged one, in which Tobias Hume addressed to his public the first fruit of his "idlenes." This profession of faith serving as a preface is one of the rare elements that may help us to attempt a portrait, however imperfect, of the character. The two books of 1605 and 1607 make up the whole output of Hume: they give him the opportunity of evoking his first condition as soldier, laying great stress on it, as if to forestall criticism of his uncommon Musiques. Indeed the unusual style of his compositions seems to have put off the cultivated amateur, nurtured on skillful counterpoint and precious madrigalisms. Aware that his "Fortune is out of tune," he begs Queen Anne, to whom his second collection is dedicated, to bestow some attention upon "the onely and last refuge of (his) long expecting hopes." To the copy he offers her, he even appends this pathetic postscript in his own hand: "I doe in all humylities bessech your Matie that you would bee pleased to heare this Musick by mee: havinge excellent Instruments to performe itt."

Seeing that his efforts met with no success, Hume may possibly have turned elsewhere to seek recognition of his genius. Wandering through Europe to the scenes of the various religious and political conflicts, he lived the life of a mercenary, now serving as a captain in the King of Sweden's armies, now leading the troups of the Emperor of Russia in battles of doubtful issue. In the autumn of the year 1629, which saw the end of hostilities between Sweden and Poland, Hume probably managed to get back to London. He applied for admission to the Charterhouse, a former priory lying slightly to the northeast of the ancient wall of the City, and which had been re-established as a hospital capable of accomodating eighty poor "brethren." Its newly-revised statutes provided shelter for distressed gentlemen such as navy or army officers, clergymen, doctors in all disciplines, artists and men of letters, or"such as had been servants to the King's Majestie or could bring good testimony of their good behaviour and soundness in religion." If it is true that the minimum age for admission was sixty, one can reasonably assume that Hume was born before 1570.

Music, however, does not seem to have brought Hume the tranquillity of a peaceful retirement. No sooner had he settled down, he yearned after new adventures. In a letter addressed to Charles I., he asked permission to go, with 120 men, at the behest of the King of Sweden, to "Mickle Bury Land" (Mecklemburg?), in order to deliver any letters his Majesty may wish to entrust to him. In all likelihood, the authorities hesitated to give any credit to the extravagant captain. For the last time in July 1642, the old soldier raised his voice: in the True Petition of Colonel Hume, as it was presented to the Lords assembled in the high Court of Parliament--a pamphlet that he took the trouble to have printed, lest it should meet with the same fate as his previous requests--he asked, in the same of the Kingdom, to be given high command over the troups sent to Ireland to crush the Catholic rebellion which had been raging since the previous autumn. This long petition is pervaded by a most tragical pathos, often bordering on madness. All through it, Hume--self-promoted to the rank of colonel by his own exaltation--plays the whole gamut of pity, flattery, even menace. Indeed the text would deserve to be quoted in full; it reveals a broken, disheartened man, whose ruin is at hand: "I do humbly intreat to know why your Lordships do slight me, as if I were a fool or an Ass...I have pawned all my best clothes, and have now no good garment to wear...I have not one penny to help me at this time to buy me bread, so that I am like to be starved for want of meat and drink, and did walk into the fields lately to gather Snails in the netles, and brought a bag of them home to eat, and do now feed on them for want of other meat, to the great shame of this land and those that do not help me... ." Three years later Hume, whose works had known no better fortune than his life, died in the Charterhouse, on April 16, 1645.

As we have seen, little is known of Captain Hume. Could we then resist the temptation to find in this eccentric character the original (in both senses of the term) of Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night--A grand pint-quaffer, who was as cowardly as he was quarrelsome, played the "viol de Gambo","spoke three or four Languages word for word without book", swore like a pagan, and sang canons in the wildest fashion: such was our captain, as immortalized by his contemporary Shakespeare--"which, who so please may believe, who like not may leave...."

Tobias Hume entrusted the manuscript of his first opus (Musicall Humorsof 1605, the Poeticall Musicke of 1607 is entirely devoted to ensemble music) to John Windet, who by that time had probably become a specialist in this delicate typography, since Greaves, Jones and Dowland, before Hume, had already resorted to his printing- presses. At first sight, the book is no different from those books of ayres for the lute, whose blossoming had been heralded by John Dowland in 1597: the format and characters are the same, tablature and prickesongare mixed, and the layout is the traditional one of table-booksaround which three or four musicians could meet. The analogy ends as soon as you detail the contents as described in the revealing title: The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish, and others together, some in Tablature, and some in Pricke-Song...With Pavines, Galliards, and Almaines for the Viole De Gambo alone, and other Musicall Conceites for two Base Viols, expressing five partes, with pleasant reportes one from the other and for two Leero Viols, and also for the Leero Viole with two Treble Viols or two with one Treble. Lastly for the Leero Viole to play alone, and some Songes to be sung to the Viole, with the Lute, or better with the Viole alone Also an Invention for two to play upon one Viole. Composed by Tobias Hume, Gentleman. London, Printed by John WIndet, dwelling at the Signe of the Crosse Keyes at Powles Wharfe. 1605.

In this publication, Hume erects a veritable monument to the glory of the viol (the Base viol and Lyra viol did not always differ markedly in terms of making or technique), and champions its cause personally. Indeed this is the very first book to have been exclusively devoted to the viol, at a time when the supremacy of the lute was being challenged. So the rather tendencious terms employed by Hume to justify the pre-eminence of his instrument could not fail to antagonize the English Orpheus, John Dowland, though his answer would not be published until 1612, by which date the viol had definitively supplanted the lute in England. And yet it is to the lute that the viol owes its form of notation, which is perfectly adapted to scordatura effects, from the lute too, it borrowed certain playing characteristics, even occasionally the double stringing of additional bass strings. And finally, it is the lute that must be regarded as the chief inspirer of the solo repertoire composed by the first generation of English violists.

For all his invocations and his skill Hume could not change the nature of the viol: the instrument was not cut out for the light counterpoint of its rival. The use of the bow does indeed condemn it either to thickly-textured harmonies played on adjacent strings, or to linear designs; but on the other hand it gives the instrument its most remarkable qualities: a full sonority, very wide dynamics and the possibility to sustain a melodic line far better than could the most talented singer. All these characteristics mark the new sensibility, the rise of which Dowland could but powerlessly watch. However, some personal grudge must have counted for a good deal in the lutenist's protestation against this dilletante who borrowed from him the theme of hisInvention for two to play upon one Viole or "filched" the most beautiful phrases from his airWhat greater grief, in spite of the denials expressed in the preface to the book of 1605. Hume's "inventions" strike us moreover by the familiar echoes they awake in us. Behind the jocular or cryptic titles (Twickledum twickledum, My Mistresse hath a prettie thing, T sa ala mod du' france, Hit it in the middle...) are often hidden "timbres" belonging to the musical heritage of the past. Thus, behind hisBeccus delight, there float some reminiscences of one of the most widespread allemandes of the time, and which was probably set to words celebrating the courage of Békés Gaspar during the siege at Danzing in 1577. His musical inspiration needs sometimes to be stimulated by some short phrase, which be uses as an epigraph to his own composition: A Souldiers Gaillard quotes from Ferrabosco, Life from the well-known Elisabethan songPackingtons Plownde, and many other concordances can be found forThe Duke of Holstones Almayne, Loves Farewell,Touch me lightly, and so forth...

Let it not be inferred from the above that this book of ayres is a sort of Hotchpotch with no substance or flavour of its own. On the contrary, this copious collection of 117 pieces (of which 104 are for solo viol)--our composer, as though anxious to assert his authorship, gave it the punning title of MusicalI Humors--includes a number of compositions of very fine inspiration and indisputable originality. The two pavans Captain Humes Pavin andA Pavin (no. 42) are among the great achievements of the book. Grouping the pieces sometimes according to their keys, the composer delights in illustrating the varying moods suggested by their titles (A Question, An answere; Deth, Life.) Hume could not fail to be sensitive to those roaring noises of combat which a Byrd, before him, had employed to paint his impressive Battle.In his turn he builds one of these medleys the English were so fond of: A Souldiers Resolution tells of all sorts of episodes to the sound of drums and trumpets, whose interventions are carefully inscribed in the soloist's part. And we can bet that Good againe--which slowly emerges from its torpor (in allemande form) to tread a few measures of a saraband, then of a jig, before it droops back into languor--elicited any sort of comment, ranging from the influence of the "Suite" on the English violists to the moving portrayal of the captains' recovery.

Soldier by profession, mercenary out of necessity, dying poor and nearly insane at the Charterhouse Hospital, Tobias Hume was a musician of great merit, and one of the most important gamba players of his time.

A Partial Tobias Hume Discography  |   Guide to English Song in the Elizabethan and Stuart Ages   |  IV M: England Through 1635