Ives, Edward D. The Bonny Earl of Murray: The Intersections of Folklore and History. Champagne: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
BOOKE OF AYRES, A Thomas Campion (1601) Thomas Campion's A Book of Ayres, which contains 21 lyrics for a single voice accompanied by the lute, reflects a new emphasis on the clarity of the words in songs. This work stands in stark in contrast to the madrigal tradition, where the lyrics were often obscured by overlapping parts and multiple notes on individual syllables. The book is a collection of individual, self-contained poems which feature a wide range of personae and themes, and which demonstrate Campion's dexterity in both music and verse. Campion's poems were published as a collaboration effort with Philip Rosse-ter, a professional lutenist, who added another 21 ayres of his own.
Most of the poems in A Booke of Ayres deal with themes of love. They range from songs of wooing and conquest ("I Care Not for These Ladies") to those dealing with loss and thwarted love ("When to Her Lute Corinna Sings"). Some, like "My Love Hath vowed," take on a female persona. Several of the songs draw inspiration from classical sources. For instance, in "My Sweetest Lesbia," the first stanza is a loose translation of a poem by Catullus (ca. 84-54 B.C.). The final lyric in Campion's collection, "Come, Let Us Sound," turns to a divine theme and is a paraphrase of Psalm 19 from the Bible. This seriousness is also foreshadowed by the 18th song, "The Man of Life Upright," which advocates a withdrawal from worldly affairs. other than this, the poems do not appear to have even a loose relation to each other. Thus, there is no sense of an overarching theme or development of a narrative.
Campion defends his form and subject matter in his preface to the collection. He describes the ayre as the musical equivalent of the epigram—that is, pithy, brief, and witty—and asserts that both forms achieve "their chiefe perfection when they are short and well seasoned." He admits that amorous, lighthearted songs, like his ayres, are often seen as less worthy than such serious or divine forms as the motet (a religiously themed unaccompanied part song), but he asserts that such apparently frivolous material still has its share of "Art and pleasure." Indeed, Campion is anxious to emphasize the effort and level of skill that goes into creating such brief poems. He argues that in such a condensed form, the poet has little to hide behind, and thus an ayre "requires so much the more invention to make it please."
The ayres are strophic poems. They all include at least two stanzas, and each stanza repeats the meter and rhythm of the first. This enables the poems to be set to the same music for each stanza. Campion's music often features internal repeats, where the same music is used for more than one line, and this economy of material enhances the songs. His skillful musical arrangements effectively erase any metrical irregularities. The musical repetition also enables him to meditate on his conceits and to develop his themes in a unified way.
See also strophe.
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