Robert Jones, A Failed Madrigalist, A Successful Controversialist
(A Few Observations On the Madrigal Book Of Robert Jones)
by Patrick T. Connolly
Robert Jones was a successful lutenist song-writer who was likely not a virtuoso lute player. With his 'Ultimun vale or The third booke of ayres,' his so called last book of that (lute song) kind, being published in 1605, he embarked on a second media and became a madrigalist. Jones was perhaps foremost a singer, and next a bass viol player. Becoming a madrigalist was and obvious career move for him. It seems to me that Jones earnestly intended to be a madrigalists after he finished his third and last lute book, his 'Ultimun vale'. Jones was on the vanguard of a second wave of madrigal books and his madrigal book was published in 1607.
That Jones wanted to quit lute songs and be a madrigalists is very straightforward and logical so, 'why is this not generally understood?' you may ask. Well, for a long time, only one copy of Ultimun vale was known and it was missing the title page. People guessed that the book was published in 1608. Later a second copy was found with the title page intact and it proved that Ultimun vale was published in 1605. In the meantime, Dr. E. H. Fellowes, being unaware of the true date, wrote many key articles and Peter Warlock published 'The English Ayre' in 1926. This book has remained the most, widely available, in depth writing, about Robert Jones. Warlock based his writing mostly on the Jones's prefaces (his greetings to the readers and dedications) and, with the order of the song books switched around, some estranged interpretations have arisen. The incorrect 1608 dating still persists to this day on the internet and in some books.
Robert Jones joined Philip Rosseter in the second profession of theatre management when they got involved with the Children of the Revells to the Queene. N. Fortune* in his essay entitled 'Philip Rosseter And His Songs' in a 1965 issue of The Lute Society Journal. discusses some of the aspects of having a second profession and media.
"In belonging to two Professions Rosseter did not revert to the Sixteenth-century pre-Shakespeare tradition in which such men as Richard Edwards and Richard Farrant wrote music for their choirboy plays. He probably kept his two professions fairly separate. But as a composer he belonged to the line of 'specialists' going back to the sixteenth century composers who wrote in only one or two media, which were often those they themselves practised : there was Dowland, for example, who wrote songs and lute music and almost nothing else; Bull, whose keyboard music accounts for so much of his output; Wilbye, who concentrated on madrigals. Hardly any lutenist song-writers, indeed, composed much in other media, and in this respect they resembled the many Italian monodists of their day-Caccini, Saracini and so on-who scarcely ventured outside the field of solo song. French lutenists were even more selective, composing either songs or lute solos, rarely both."
In going from a lute song-writer to, a second media of, madrigal writer, Jones must have encountered some resistance. Jones was a competent madrigalist but, perhaps, in comparisons to first wave madrigalist like Thomas Weelkes, John Wilbye and Thomas Morley, he came up short. It is likely that Jones's madrigal book did not sell well since there are only two surviving manuscripts related to the book (wherein only nine of the madrigals are found), and we only have one-half a copy of the printed book. In writing about some of the lute arrangements, of Jones's fifth book of lute airs, E. H. Fellowes wrote of Jones; "So good a musician as he proved himself to be by his book of madrigals, even though he was scarcely in the second rank of English Madrigalist could not have written such impossible chords." [p. 28] #
He did not make a second madrigal book and perhaps he felt some grief over his failure in his venture to become a respected madrigalist. Perhaps people were demanding that he quit madrigals and return to write more lute song books. How could he go back to writing more of the lute song books when, he had said, he had published his last book? What Jones did enhanced the art presentation and flaunted his imagination. This is one of those overlooked important escapades of Robert Jones's career. Jones's mind was sparked to concocted a tale about a musical dream as a premise for a book which he prefaced with a stinging 'greeting' to 'all musicall murmurers.' With these fresh conceits he the published a fourth book of songs in 1609 calling it "A Musical Dreame or the Fourth Booke of Ayres." This book was successful enough to beget an unprecedented fifth book which Jones titled "The Muses Gardin for Delights! or Fifth Booke of Ayers" (1610). These titles have been adopted to a number of modern CDs. One CD called, A Gardin For Delights by Ian Partridge (tenor) and Konrad Ragossnig (lute) is a CD whose title was inspired by Robert Jones's fifth book. Two songs by Robert Jones ('Love is a bable' and 'There Was a Wily lad') are on it yet the liner notes of the CD make no mention of the title being inspired by the book wherein 'There Was a Wily lad' was printed.
David Brown's summery of Robert Jones in The New Grove Dictionary (in the 1980 to 2001 editions.) misses the mark in commenting about Jones's "accompaniment being left badly incomplete", "seem[ing] harmonically almost illiterate", "frequently encountered serious difficulties with the accompaniment", faltering 'harmonic structure" and "large number of printers errors" when he sums up by saying;
With such obvious blemishes Jones gave ample material to his critics, and he clearly suffered some strong censure, as is revealed by his bitter 'greeting' to 'all musicall murmurers' at the beginning of his fourth collection of songs (1609).
This 'greeting' to 'all musicall mumures' begins the book Fellowes describes as "easily the most carelessly produced book in the whole series, and the list of undoubted errors is enormous"" # [p. 33]. It is this book, and the one that follows it, that have the big problems with the accompaniment and harmonic structure, where the first three lute song books were generally well crafted. Brown's estranged interpretation of the 1609 'greeting' to 'all musicall mumures' takes us away from the more direct reason for the "strong censure". I think that Jones is writing about his failure to be accepted as a madrigalist. Jones was eating some crow (compelled to recognize his mistake) and perhaps some of the sloppy work of his next and last two books reflected a lack of enthusiasm at having to return to being a lute song writer. I find the 'greeting' to 'all musicall murmurers' funny and a well placed rebuttal of some serious music critics, like David Brown, who are sometimes not really accurate. In his liner notes to his CD 'The Muses Gardin: Lute Songs by Robert Jones,' by Emma Kirkbe and Anthony Rooley % (1991), Anthony Rooley says "... through the five books of ayres we can follow a story of critical abuse and artists' invective in more colourful prose than found in any other music publication of the period." (Note that even Rooley leaves out the madrigal book.) It seems people were happy with this fourth book with Jones's 'invective' comments in it because, the very next year, Jones produced yet another book and started it off with the greeting "Friends".
The charm and humor, melody of his songs proved Robert Jones's song-writing ability did surpass his shortcomings it technical things such as harmonizing, arranging and supervision of his publications. It is ironic that such an, unlikely, a non-virtuoso, lutentst became the most prolific English lute song writer.
Recently, Robert Jones's madrigal in Thomas Morley's 'The Triumphs of Oriana' found its way onto a CD by the Deller Consort called 'Madrigal Masterpieces.' For the Deller Consort to chose Jones, as the only English madrigalist, to share this CD with great European madrigalist, such as Monteverdi, speak well of Jones as a madrigalist.
I don't profess to be an expert on madrigals and I have studied Robert Jones's lute books much more than I have studied his madrigals. I have never been able to hear, or tried to play any of the madrigals in Jones's book. As far as I know they have never been recorded and put out on a disk. Some judgment of the book must be withheld since we only have half the book, fifteen of the twenty-six madrigals. At the moment the only critique on the Jones madrigals book is David Brown's erroneous summery of Robert Jones in The New Grove Dictionary and so I will have to leave you with this;
"Jones modelled his style on the Morley canzonet, and he appears to have handled this most successfully in the six three-voice works (these are among the incomplete pieces). Jones's technical limitations prevent him maintaining the few attractive ideas he does display, and these works leave an overall impression of unskilful mediocrity."
People, like David Brown and Anthony Rooley, can debate as to whether or not Jones followed the musical examples of John Dowland, but I will point out that there was a time when Jones for lead the way for John Dowland. Dowland followed the examples set by Jones in making an imaginative premise Dowland about a pilgrim's relief, - making it easier for John Dowland to publish a fourth book of lute songs 1612. Had Jones been a bit better at madrigal writing we might not have the musical masterpiece of John Dowland's A Pilgrimes Solace. or the beautiful songs from Jones's fourth and fifth book. Brown, does not point out but, proves Peter Warlock's point about Jones being a 'controversialist' so, as Jones told musical murmurers, stop your carping.
# 'Music and Letters' v.7-8 1927 "The Text Of The Song-Books Of Robert Jones" by E. H. Fellowes
David Brown's summery of Robert Jones in The New Grove Dictionary London Macmillan, 2001.
% 'The Muses Gardin: Lute Songs by Robert Jones' by Emma Kirkbe and Anthony Rooley (1991), on Virgin Classics.