Aubrey's Maske

Seven descriptive movements for brass 10 - piece

An early manifestation of my fondness for writing pieces with a literary origin, and also for playing games with the tachniques of classical counterpoint and what have you.  No silly stories in sonata form, but there's no end of fugue, doubles - and sheer lunacy.  

John Aubrey (1627-1697) was a mathematician, astronomer, historian and antiquarian and one of the first members of the Royal Society.  He also possessed the mind of a butterfly, was incapable of finishing anything and never kept to the salient point of whatever he wrote about.  His Brief Lives is the first ever attempt at creating a dictionary of national biography.  He worked on it for thirty years but it remained unfinished at his death.  It is remarkable for the wealth of wit and anecdote that it contains and also for the way it routinely disregards subjects’ main achievements in favour of trivial gossip.  Henry Blount, for example, was the most widely travelled man of his age and the English Ambassador to the Court of Venice – but Aubrey forgets to mention this! 

Aubrey’s Maske depicts six of the characters in the book

Dr. Butler’s Cure
“The doctor lying at the Savoy in London, where was a balcony looked into the Thames, a patient came to him that was grievously tormented with the ague.  The doctor orders a boat to be in readiness under his window, and discoursed with the patients (a gentleman) in the balcony, when on a signal given, two or three lusty fellows came behind the gentleman and threw him a matter of 20 feet into the Thames.  This surprise absolutely cured him.”

Blount’s Pig
A farmyard dance.   “He was pretty wild when young, especially addicted to common wenches” and a great leg-puller.  He once claimed to have seen a St. Albans innkeeper’s pigs “lean, dancing and skipping up on the tops of the houses, like goats.”  The tale becomes more and more preposterous as the movement progresses. 

The Digbys
A domestic dispute for brass.  Sir Kenelm Digby was a brilliant courtier and soldier.  “Much against his mother’s consent, he married that celebrated beauty and courtesan,   Mrs Venetia Stanley, whom the Earl of Dorset kept as a concubine.  He would say that a handsome and lusty man that was discreet might make a virtuous wife out of a brothel-house.  She was a most beautiful, desirable creature.  She died in her bed suddenly.  When her head was opened there was found but little brain.”  Kenelm is portrayed by a complicated madrigal for trumpets, Venetia by a rather rude song for trombones and tuba.  The brothel house is mentioned often and Venetia has the last word. 

Poor George
This was George Herbert, one of the great religious and “metaphysical” poets.  “He wrote a folio in Latin, which because the parson of Hincham could not read, his widow condemned to the uses of good housewifery.  He married Jane, the third daughter of Charles Danvers, but had no issue by her.  His marriage, I suppose, hastened his death.”

Sir Walt’s Rude Boy
Sir Walter Raleigh’s son was a hooligan.  At an important dinner, he caused offence by speaking about sharing a prostitute with his father: “Sir Walt, being so strangely surprised and put out of countenance at so great a table, gives his son a damned blow over the face.  His son, rude as he was, would not strike his father; but strikes over the face of the gentleman that sat next to him and said ‘Box about: twil come to my father anon’.” This movement is a fugue, whose subject was suggested by the rhythm of the boy’s remark: like the boxing round the table, it makes its way through the whole ensemble.

Cavendish Among the Babylonians
Charles Cavendish, a courteous young man, was “so extremely delighted in travelling that he went into Greece all over; and that would not serve his turn but he would go to Babylon to march in the Turk’s army.”  He was killed in the Civil War, aged just twenty-four: the music is based on the mediaeval song L’homme Arme’.

Dr. Butler Again
“He would suffer persons of quality to wait sometimes hours at his door, with coaches, before he would receive them. A servingman brought his master’s water to Doctor Butler, who would not be spoken with.  After much fruitless importunity, the man told the doctor he was resolved he should see his master’s water and threw it on the doctor’s head.  This humour pleased the doctor, and he went to the gentleman and cured him.”

The piece is pubished by Brasswind and there's an excellent recording by the group Brass Ten. Below is a link to a review of the piece, the recording and the publisher.



Brass Wind

There's also a recording by the Canadian group Capital BrassWorks

Capital BrassWorks

I haven't heard the recording but if you want a transatlantic version of 17th century England, here it is!


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