Renaissance: Anonymus

Anonymous composer

Mr. Anonymous was by far the most famous composer from the Renaissance. Despite extensive research of musicologists, we have little to no information about the biography of the lord or lady in question. Fortunately, a lot of this music has been handed down via publications and collections of others.

Click the title for playback and sheet music:

Sheet Music

This is an Italian lute piece that starts with a solemn theme and develops in subtle polyphony with a question/answer game between the voices. I first heard this piece when I was seventeen and I had just started to learn to play guitar.

Mr. Niek Verkruisen, the musical teacher on the Sweelinck High School in Amsterdam (where I attended the Grammar School) used to organise a song festival for and by the students. On that occasion you could hear amateur performances of numerous pop songs like Streets of London, Killing me Softly and various Dutch protest songs by the Dutch Bob Dylan Boudewijn de Groot and many other songs that were popular in the seventies.

This music teacher -originally a classical pianist who also liked symphonic rock (Like Close to the Edge by Yes)- at a certain moment wanted to organise a classical festival as well. No sooner said than done and within a short time it appeared that there was a tremendous potential of amateur flautists, pianists, violists, guitarists and players of other instruments who would like to perform if nerves did not get too bad.

The bravest amongst them ventured to play a piece. I remember my class mates Els Grotendorst and Carol van Wieren who played Entr' Acte by Jaques Ibert for flute and guitar very meritoriously. Another class mate -Arjen Mos- surprised friend and enemy with his Black Keys Study by Frederick Chopin on the piano. And there was Jan Belmer on guitar who perfectly imitated the saying of his great idol -the rock guitarist Jan Akkerman- ("No, Sorry, I don’t want to play today" in front of a huge audience), so that we never heard the piece he had studied for this occasion.

Finally, Gabrielle Verbeek played Se Lo M'Accorgo. The poor girl was extremely bad lucky. She encountered the nightmare of each guitarist, her high e-string snapped and she did not have e fresh one. But she went on bravely, even without melody.

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This anonymous Saltarello combines a "drone" bass line with its melody line. The melody is played straight and one octave lower. The main challenge is to keep going.

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This anonymous piece originates from the collection of the musicologist Oscar Chilesotti, who made quite some effort in researching renaissance lute music in the last century. The title indicates that the piece has a German origin.

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"Where has your glance of pride gone now?" is a free translation of the title of this sixteenth century lute piece by an anonymous composer. Oscar Chilesotti, a nineteenth century musicologist, collected a large number of lute pieces like this one from old manuscripts and transcribed them in modern notation.

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Watkins Ale was a humourous song from the Renaissance, seemingly about the influence of alcohol on the behaviour of a fair maiden, although there is some air of ambiguity concerning the term Watkins Ale. Moral of the story: don’t drink too much, it prevents a hangover of a different kind a few months later. Anyway, an anonymous composer made a joyful arrangement of the melody of this song. Add thrills and ornaments as you like, considering the rules of the era.

Play the piece at a joyful brisk tempo. In that case the divisions will require practice.

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This is an arrangement of an English folk song by an anonymous composer, composed according to the practice of the time as a theme and a number of variations in Divisions, specific elaborations of the theme. The piece was published in the Dowland Lute Book.

A version of the text of the song that is handed down, is:

Go from my window, love, go,
Go from my window, my dear,
The wind and the rain,
Will drive you back again,
You cannot be lodged here.

;-) In fact this is a song about a serenade that went wrong!

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Walsingham was a well-known song in 16th century England. The song is about a pilgrimage to the shrine of Walsingham, obviously a popular destination amongst Palmers, i.e. wandering monks.

Legend states that in 1061 the Holy Virgin Mary appeared to the widow Richeldis de Faverches in Walsingham and urged her to build a shrine on the very spot for the welfare of mankind. Richeldis complied with great zeal and had a shrine built near a spring. Because of the sacred apparition, the well's water was considered to have healing properties. The shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage in the medieval era.

In 1538, however, the shrine with its monks became discredited: it was dissolved by the authorities. Practically speaking this came to execution of some of the inhabitants of the abbey on the accusation of high treason and devastating the premises. Turbulent times!

A number of 16th century composers elaborated the song in their own arrangements. The name of the arranger of this version has been lost in history, but his work remains in the Cambridge Lute Book. The theme of the song is elaborated twice, the final elaboration being quite complex.

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This is an anonymous arrangement of the sixteenth century song Packington's Pound. The song was dedicated to the adventures of Sir Packington, a favourite and supposed lover of queen Elizabeth I of England. Apparently, the Iron Lady had some people around to make more fun out of her hard life.

Two versions are included, one anonymous and one by Francis Cutting

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Greensleeves, one of the best-known themes from music history, was written in sixteenth century England. Legend states that a hopelessly lovesick Henry VII (yes, the same one that had various wives executed) composed the song for a certain Lady Greensleeves. The music includes two versions. One originates from the William Ballet Lute Book, the second one was composed by Francis Cutting. The second version is a quite more complex version of the first Greensleeves theme.

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A Galliard by an anonymous composer. The piece consists of six phrases, three themes with a variation in Divisions each, a strict architecture that is common in this music.

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An anonymous English lute piece from the sixteenth century. It is an arrangement with variations of a folk song that sings about a merry cobbler. The piece was published in the Dowland Lute Book.

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Wilson's Wilde is a joyful piece in the typical "Division" style of the English renaissance composers.