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Sidney's Verse Adaptations to Two Sixteenth-Century Italian Art Songs

  • Frank J . Fabry (a1)


It is well known that Sir Philip Sidney modeled eight of his thirty-two 'Certaine Sonnets’ upon existing ‘tunes,’ as he called them. To date, only one, relatively unimportant, musical model is known—the current Dutch National Anthem, to which Sidney wrote CS 23, ‘Who hath his fancy pleased.’ The result of this association of the sister arts is a simple, metrically precise, stylistically dull lyric whose numbers are directly proportioned to the regularity of its musical model. Of his other models, one, ‘The Smokes of Melancholy,’ appears to have been an English consort song; the others (five Italian, one Spanish) are probably variant forms of the villanella, a type of sixteenth-century art-song written for three or four voices and distinguished by its rhythmic lightness, its homophonic (chordal) structure, and its mildly satirical or openly vulgar text.



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1 Hereafter I will use the abbreviation, CS, when referring to Sidney's ‘Certaine Sonnets.' The text is available in Ringler's, W.A., The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford, 1962).

2 A type of native solo-song characterized by an unbroken melody line, accompanied by a family of instruments. See Brett, Philip, ‘The English Consort Song, 1570-1625,’ Proceedings of the Royal Music Association, LXXVIII (1962), 7388 , and my unpubl. diss. (Texas, 1964), ‘The Secular Polyphonic Vocal Forms in England,’ Ch. V, ‘Native English Music and Its Texts.'

3 No MS number but described in the ‘Appendix’ to the Winchester College MS Catalogue.

4 It is possible that other models for Sidney's adaptations will be found in the same MS.

5 The compositions were photographed through the courtesy of the Warden and Fellows of Winchester College and the efforts of Mr. J.M.G. Blakiston, Assistant Librarian.

6 Even this formal restriction is not absolute. The Italian composer when writing music to existing words could choose to elide syllables or not depending upon his musical rhythms which might vary from voice to voice.

7 I have developed this thesis in “The Poetry of the Secular Polyphonic Forms,’ pp. 169-203.

8 Gustave, Reese, Music in the Renaissance (New York, 1959), pp. 162163.

Sidney's Verse Adaptations to Two Sixteenth-Century Italian Art Songs

  • Frank J . Fabry (a1)


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