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A CONCERT AT CLIFFORD’S INN.

    (Since this paper was written the destruction of the old Hall,
which then seemed imminent, has been for a time averted. The
names still shine, and the old music has again been heard there.)

    Another of the old “Inns of Chancery” is doomed to des-
truction another bit of Old London, another reposeful nook
of ancientry, will soon have vanished from the face of the
earth. Clifford’s Inn will ere long be carted away, a pathetic
heap of rubbish the ghosts that haunted it evicted without
compunction the Societies that frequented it turned adrift to
find an asylum elsewhere. Where now, if anywhere, will be
held those “curious feasts” of “The Ancient and Honourable
Society of Clifford’s Inn,” whereat no after-dinner speeches were
allowed to interrupt the convivial flow of conversation; where
the grace after meat was dumbly symbolised by the Chairman’s
three times elevating four little loaves united in the form of a
cross, which were then sent down the table in token that the
remains of the feast were to be given, as customary dole, to
certain poor old women who waited in the buttery. Whither
now will emigrate “The Art Worker’s Guild,” the names of
whose Presidents shine in gold letters upon panels in the wain-
scoting of the old Hall, among the rank and file of the Workers
who here “took their ease in their Inn”?

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    How many quiet browsing-places for memory have been
ruthlessly swept away by the epidemic of improvements still
raging in the City! A stone’s throw from St. Dunstan’s, Tem-
ple Bar has been removed and rusticated by brute force, like
the gates of Gaza; and on its site ramps the triumphant Griffin,
emblematic of Prosperity and Progress; and now the old Inn
must go! It is a place of many memories. Here in the hall,
after the fire of London, sat Sir Matthew Hale with a council of
Puisne judges, to settle disputes about property and boundaries.
Here in chambers resided for a while Sir Edward Coke of legal
fame, and John Selden of the shrewd and witty “Table Talk.”
Here also at No. 13 dwelt George Dyer, the friend of Charles
Lamb, whose feet must often have trodden the cobble-stones of
these old courts. Here, in more recent times, the “little clan”
who love the older forms of music have come to the Dolmetsch
Concerts, to delight their souls with hearing the works of com-
posers who filled the spacious times of Tudor and Stuart with
sounds which, for “the general” have long ceased to echo still.
    The last of these concerts, given on March 23rd 1903, was
the ninety-fourth of the Dolmetsch concerts, of which only
some of the later series were held at Clifford’s Inn. It was a
worthy farewell to to the old walls, which will echo no more to
to the sweet sounds of voice and lute, viol and harpsichord,
discoursing music that seemed to harmonise with the spirit of the
place. These ninety-four concerts represent but a small por-
tion of the work Mr. Dolmetsch has done in the cause of old
music, to which he has devoted so much of his life and energy.

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Before such concerts could be set on foot a vast amount of
preliminary labour was necessary: rare old scores had to be
picked up here and there; still rarer unpublished manuscripts to
be hunted for in libraries, decyphered and copied out; arrange-
ments made from figured basses; curious forms of notation and
scoring to be understood and interpreted. Then, to make the
dry bones of the music live, it was further necessary to collect
and learn the mechanism of each instrument for which it was
written; and in all cases to repair and put each of them in order,
with due regard to its proper tuning, before it could be played
upon. To do all this needed a rare combination of talents and
industry, knowledge and skill. Mr. Dolmetsch has proved
himself as dexterous in repairing his old instruments as he is in
playing them. But, not content with merely repairing, he has
actually made lutes, clavichords, harpsichords; and, for Cecil
Rhodes, a small modern piano, in which the strings are attached
to wood, not metal, and of which the timbre is much more sym-
pathetic, and combines better with other strings, than that of the
cold and blatant “concert grand.”
    These Dolmetsch Concerts, so pleasant in their uncon-
ventionality, are much like what we may imagine the private
“chamber music” of the Eighteenth century to have been;
when a few musical people came together to entertain them-
selves with a few choice pieces of music.
    The last concert opened with a quaint little piece entitled:
“A tune with Divisions for the Virginals:” divisions in this
sense being a series of melodic passages suggested by a theme:

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written by William Byrd, an English composer born about
1538, of whom Henry Peacham in his Compleat Gentleman
says: “For motets and musike of pietie and devotion, as well
for the honour of our nation as the merit of the man, I preferre
above all other our phoenix, Mr. William Byrd, whom in that
kind I know not whether any may equal.” Like his friend
Tallis, he was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and organist
to Queen Elizabeth. He wrote much sacred music; among
other things “Psalmes, Songs and Sonets, some solemne, others
joyful, framed to the life of the words.” This last phrase of
the title is noteworthy, showing with what care these old
composers endeavoured to make their music follow “the life of
the words.” Byrd’s pupil, Thomas Morley, speaks of him
as his “loving master, never without reverence to be named
of musicians,” and tells of his “virtuous contentions” with
Alfonso Ferrabosco, the elder, born of Italian parents at Green-
wich about 1560, in making “various ways of plain-song
upon a miserere.” He had many of these “virtuous conten-
tions” with Ferrabosco; in one of which the trial of skill was
the setting of a song, “The Nightingale so plesant and so
gaie.” In this, according to Peacham, the Italian had the best
of it. “His compositions,” he says, “cannot be bettered for
sweetness of air and depth of judgment.” If it were at all on
the level of some of his pieces given by Mr. Dolmetsch at an
earlier concert, Ferrabosco’s setting must have been hard to
beat. At that concert two of his Pavans for five viols, two
Trebles, Alto, Tenor, and Viola da Gamba; and a Song

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accompanied by the Lute, “Like Hermit Poor,” were per-
formed. Nothing more beautiful of their kind than these
Pavans could be conceived. They were dance measures full
of stately gravity, with the most exquisite contrapuntal writing
for the viols, the continuous melody passing through a series
of ingenious and delightful transitional cadences leading at last
to a full close on the tonic, which having been so long evaded,
came with a most satisfying and triumphant effect.
    Byrd’s divisions were written about 1600. At the
Dolmetsch Concert, they were played upon an English spinet;
which, like the harpsichord, is merely a more developed form
of the Virginals. The mechanism of all three instruments is
practically the same. Each, like the more modern piano, is a
keyed instrument; but while in the piano, the wire strings are
struck by a small wooden hammer with a head padded with
felt, in the spinet and harpsichord they are plucked by a small
quill, that of a raven being the most suitable. This quill pro-
jects about an eighth of an inch from the side of an oblong piece
of wood called a “jack,” which flies up when the key is pressed
by the finger; the quill being released by a simple, but ingeni-
ous piece of mechanism after it has plucked the string, which
it does not strike again as the jack falls. Byrd’s Tune is, like
many of these old pieces, vocal and instrumental, in a minor
key; and the divisions wander in a sweet and leisurely way
over the bass, like a continual reverie on the tune, breathing
a gentle melancholy, content with its own quiet sadness and
beauty.

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    Then came “Three Songs accompanied by the Lute and
Viola da Gamba;” the words and the music of the first two,
by Thomas Campion, (a song-writer well known to collectors
of old English lyrics); the date of all three is about 1601. All
are in the minor mode, and all are lovely—the last lovliest of
all. This, set by Philip Rossiter, is still in manuscript; but
the others may be found in a volume of “Twelve Elizabethan
Songs,” edited by Miss Janet Dodge, and published by A. H.
Bullen. Here is a verse of the first:—

            Though you are yoong and I am olde,
            Though youre vaines hot and my blond colde.
            Though youth is moist and age is drie,
            Yet embers live when floures doe die.”

    It is quaintly and simply set and harmonised; the expres-
sion of the words being closely followed by the poet in his
music. Though in a minor key, he does not allow the hearer
to feel that his elderly Lover is opprest by melancholy, much
less despair. The sober sadness of his love is tempered by a
sturdy hope. There is great reticence in the use of minor
harmonies; the chord of the tonic minor being sparingly used,
the last cadence introducing a sharpened third in the tonic
chord—the “tierce de Picardie” of old organ music. The
first verse of the second song goes thus:

            “When to her lute Corinna singes
            Her voice revives the leaden stringes,
            And doth in highest noates appeare

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            As any challeng’d eccho cleere:
            But when she doth of mourning speake,
            Ev’n. with her sighes, the strings doe breake!”

    These songs are simple examples of the method of the old
composers in using the minor mode; the ear being pleasantly
tantalised by the alternation of major and minor phrases and
the sparing use of the tonic minor. This explains that effect
of gentle melancholy, so characteristic of these old songs and
pieces in minor keys, which are usually made to express a
grave tenderness rather than a poignant sadness. It is the
melancholy of sunshine mellowed by the green leaves of a
woodland glade. In the accompaniments there is a great charm
in the contrapuntal treatment of the instruments, each with a
valid part of its own, harmonising with the melody, but not
repeating it; the lute playing round the vocal part while the
viola da gamba gives harmonic resonance with occasional full
chords.
            The lute is the most perfect of the tribe of fretted instru-
ments, in which, as in the guitar, the intervals are marked
upon the fingerboard by raised ridges called frets, against
which the strings are prest by the finger to produce each note.
It was much used in the Elizabethan period for accompanying
the voice, which it does most sympathetically and modestly
without undue self-assertion. It is a beautiful instrument,
shaped like half a gradually tapering pear, the smaller end
terminating in a long neck which supports the finger-board;

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its lines of construction are as fine as those of a racing cutter.
Its form suggests the aristocratic culture of its period, when
every gentleman was, or strove to be, a skilled poet and
musician. It would grace the hands of Sir Philip Sidney
himself with its dainty elegance. There are usually eleven or
more strings, for in these old intruments the stringing may
vary in different specimens.
    Amongst other pieces heard on this occasion was “A
Fantazie for Three Viols” by John Jenkins, an English com-
poser who lived to a good age, and wrote much music—
beautiful music too it must be, if this fantasia be a fair specimen
of its quality. But now who remembers his name, or knows
his work ? All of it, save a few songs, has apparently gone to
the world’s waste-paper basket, the dustiest shelves of old
libraries, from which this forgotten piece was picked by Mr.
Dolmetsch, who arranged it from the manuscript for two viole
d’amore and viola da gamba.
    The viola d’amore well deserves its pretty name; for it
sings as sweetly as if the soul of a faithful lover dwelt in its
graceful body and spoke through its strings. It is shaped like
a more slender violin, with a longer neck, terminating in a
cherub’s head. It has seven strings played on by the bow,
and besides these, running under the bridge and attached to
the back of the cherub’s head, are seven “sympathetic” strings
of wire, which are not played on but vibrate in harmony with
the notes drawn from the upper strings by the bow. The
effect of their vibration is very pleasing, giving the viola

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d’amore its peculiar quality of tone, each note seeming to be
surrounded by a tender halo of veiled sound, harmonics of the
note itself.
    The viola da gamba is a forerunner of the violoncello, and
is played much in the same way, except that the bow is
longer and held like that of the violone, the largest of the viol
tribe, with deep notes something like those of the double bass.
It usually has seven strings, sometimes but six; and some-
times also has seven sympathetic strings. It is tuned an
octave lower than the usual tuning of the viola d’amore.
Occasionally both viola d’amore and viola da gamba are given
thirteen sympathetic strings, tuned in a chromatic scale.
    In Jenkins’s fantasia the effect of the three instruments,
each with its separate melody, as they played with each other
in counterpoint, was ravishingly beautiful. It was, as Mr.
Dolmetsch said, a piece that Carpaccio’s angels might play.
The workmanlike manner in which the angels in pictures by the
early Italian masters handle their viols delights the musician’s
soul. They know what they are about. Look at their fingers
and you can hear the notes they are playing. Take, for
instance, Carpaccio’s great altarpiece, “The Presentation of
Christ in the Temple,” now in the Academy at Venice, in
which, below the principal personages, three lovely little wing-
less child angels sit and play—one a curved pipe and one a
lute, while the third waits with his viol and bow, ready to
come in at the right moment. The one in the middle, raised a
step above the others, holds a lute, which looks almost too big

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for him, upon his left knee, crossed over his right, to form a
perfectly steady support. He grips his large instrument
masterfully, and his whole soul is in his work; while his
comrade listens with earnest attention for his cue, and the
piper plays with an expression of entranced seriousness. You
feel that they are all skilled musicians. Burne Jones’s decora-
tive figures are as evidently lackadaisical impostors, languidly
pretending to play upon instruments the ways of which they
do not understand.
    The Golden Sonata” of Purcell, was here played with
fine effect on the instruments for which he wrote it, two
Violins, Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord. It was composed
about 1680, when Purcell was twenty-two. It opens with a
short largo the viola da gamba giving out a graceful theme
in the tonic major, a tripping and flowing melody full of
grave and stately cheerfulness with variations for the violins,
the harpsichord accompanying. It is followed by an adagio
in the minor, the most remarkable movement of the piece,
a slow progression of full chords through most of the
flat keys, with many anticipations and suspensions, giving
rise to strange discords and resolutions; sounding like a
solemn and mysterious dirge, or funeral chant, to which
the suspended discords give poignancy. The succeeding
allegro is in the shape of a free canon, the subject now
given out by the first violin; its development giving rise
to a brisk and lively movement, in which the instruments
follow and play with each other, like dancers through the

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mazes of an intricate dance; now taking hands and now
separating as the figures change. Then comes a grave and
majestic slow movement in the relative minor, short, but
exquisitely lovely, and full of a tender melancholy, leading to a
finale, allegro scherzando, in the tonic. This finale is much
like the scherzo and trio of an early Beethoven sonata except
that the subject corresponding to the trio arises more directly
from the first subject, and ends the piece pleasantly and cheer-
fully, without repetition of the first part.
    A noticeable feature of the Dolmetsch Concerts has been
the rendering of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach: amongst
others of his “Concerto in C minor, for Two Harpsichords,
Two Violins, Viola, Violoncello, and Violone.” This splendid
piece opens with an allegretto, leading to an adagio, a fine ex-
ample of Bach’s solid and majestic contrapuntal scoring. This,
as given on the old instruments, was specially interesting, be-
cause the harpsichord plays a most important part in the general
effect, which would have been much marred if the music as-
signed to it had been arranged for the piano. Bach loved the
harpsichord, knew its musical personality as only a lover could,
and has written for it music which brings out all its finest
qualities of tone and timbre. Anyone who has had an oppor-
tunity of hearing his concerted pieces played on the instruments
for which they were written, must feel not merely the intellec-
tual greatness of the man, but the emotional side of his nature,
and the noble beauty which results from his stern devotion
to musical form.

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A “Sonata for the Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord
accompanied by a second Harpsichord,” by J. P. Teleman,
written about 1730, affords a good contrast to the Bach
Concerto. It is like coming down from the mountain tops to
be led through green pastures, and beside still waters. Tele-
man was a great rival of Bach in his own day; but now an
almost unknown composer even in Germany. Yet to judge by
this and some other pieces which Mr. Dolmetsch has un-
earthed, and given at some of these concerts, he well deserves
a hearing. This sonata is full of melodic beauty, and scored
with much skill and refinement.
    Another composition which gains in effect when played on
the instrument for which it was written, is Bach’s first Prelude
and Fugue on the Clavichord, for which his great series of
Preludes and Fugues was composed; the Clavichord, not the
harpsichord being the “Wohltemperirte Clavier.” It was called
“well-tempered” by Bach, because the temperament was more
equally distributed between the different keys, than was the
case in the harpsichord; thus enabling him to make use of the
more extreme keys without offending the ear with pieces
which if played on the harpsichord, with its less equable tem-
perament, would have sounded distinctly out of tune. The
clavichord is the daintiest of keyed instruments, and is strung
with wire strings, much after the fashion of the flat oblong
piano of the early nineteenth century, which it somewhat
resembles in shape. Each note is produced by the contact of
the “tangent,” a thin blade or lamina of brass, with the string;

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which it divides into two segments, one of which is damped,
while the other in vibrabting sounds a note of the pitch required.
Its sound is faint, but the quality of tone is exquisite, and has
in it something so remote and alien from the work-a-day world
as to suggest the performance of a fairy musician at the court
of Titania. The note continues to sound for some time, if the
string be held by the tangent, and something like a swell can
be produced by a gently increased pressure of the finger on the
key, which makes the note thus held louder and slightly
sharper. In Mr. Dolmetsch’s performance on a clavichord
which he had himself made, the Prelude and Fugue were dis-
tinctly heard, every note clear, and with a kind of dewy
radiance in its timbre. This pure and delicate timbre, so
characteristic of the instrument, gave the pieces a rare
distinction
.     We have had many collections of old English songs and
lyrics, from the dawn of poetry in the earliest ballads down to
the courtly verses of the gallants of the Restoration. It is a
comparatively easy task to collect even the rarer of these coy
flowers of literature, and when collected everyone who can
read can enjoy them. But where, except at these concerts,
each of which is a piece of carefully selected anthology, can
any lover of music hear the works of these fine Old Masters,
the men who made the great modern art of music, performed,
as nearly as possible as they were written, upon the instru-
ments for which they were composed? A transcript for
modern instruments is much like the translation of a beautiful

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poem from one language into another, always but a pale sug-
gestion, and often a mutilation or distortion. The colour and
aroma are more or less lost in the process. Now this lyrical
period of English poetry in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries corresponds to the development of the art of music,
vocal and instrumental, from its first beginnings in the Latin
hymns of the Church and the folk-songs of the European
peoples, down to the great seventeenth century composers,
Purcell, and Bach, and Handel. Mr. Saintsbury, in the intro-
duction to his charming collection of seventeenth century
songs and lyrics, seems to regard the excellence of the song-
writing of even the less distinguished poets of the Elizabethan
period as something inexplicable; but we should remember
that these writers, even if not always skilled musicians, were
in the midst of the spring-time of music, and wrote their words
for musical setting, either by themselves or someone else.
This may partly explain the goodness of their songs. It is
true that many poets with no ear for music have written
admirable verse, and even poems well adapted for music; but
a man who can sing or appreciate singing is more likely to
write a good song than a man who cannot. Shakspeare,
among the greatest of song-writers, shows in many passages
of his works, an intimate acquaintance with the musical art
of his time, and never makes a mistake in his allusions to musical
forms, or to instruments and their handling. In the reigns of
Elizabeth, James, and Charles I., even amateurs who played or
sang were skilled musicians, with ears trained by having to

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deal with stringed instruments, often difficult even to tune; while
they had to fill in parts from figured basses. This involved
some knowledge of composition and counterpoint. They
could not merely sing at sight, but compose at sight; for
musical education was then based upon the firm foundation of
of counterpoint, an art:
        Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
        But musical as is Apollo’s lute;”
as anyone who hears the compositions of the old contrapuntists
knows. Its very essence is the development of melody from a
germinal phrase, and the setting of melody against melody so
as to produce a series of satisfying harmonies.
    In these concerts Mr. Dolmetsch has done for the music
of this great period of the invention of lovely tunes, as of lovely
lyrics, what no mere collector of songs or pieces could do for
it, or for a lover of music. He has enabled his audiences to
hear, and taught them to delight in, the exquisite effect of the
old viols, each with its own distinct timbre, its own musical
personality, sometimes in duett, sometimes as a “Chest of Vi-
ols” without other instruments, sometimes in combination
with flute or harpsichord. Such “consorts of musicke” as
these makes one feel the cheerful sanity of the Old Masters,
and the liberty they enjoyed within the gradually widening
limitations prescribed by the perfect law of contrapuntal form.

                                                      JOHN TODHUNTER.

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MLA citation:

Todhunter, John. “A Concert at Clifford’s Inn.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp.235-249. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://beta.1890s.ca/venturev1-todhunter-inn/.