The Printed Musical Funerary Elegy and Its Significance in the Culture of Early Modern England
Between 1588 and 1632, almost two dozen commemorative vocal compositions were written for specific, named individuals after their deaths and were included singly in printed musical anthologies, often as the final capstone work. The compositions in the collections in which these musical funeral elegies appear represent multiple types of song settings, including consort songs, madrigals, lute songs, and airs. The latest two musical funerary elegies of this time period are part of the earliest printed English musical books featuring figured bass, foreshadowing the move to early English Baroque style. As such, these compositions collectively represent the entire spectrum and evolution of secular vocal music printed during the Golden Age of English Renaissance music, from William Byrd to Thomas Campion, and Thomas Morley to Walter Porter. Some of these funeral elegies have received individual scholarly attention, usually in connection with a specific collection or an individual composer's complete works, but to date there has been no comprehensive study of them as a collective group. Though musical funerary elegies feature different instrumentations, a close examination of them reveals that they have more in common with each other, both textually and musically, than they do with the other compositions within the collections in which they are found. Together these works can and should be viewed as a genre of their own.
Musical funerary elegies that are found in manuscripts of this time vary greatly in their purposes for composition, dissemination, and collection, but those that appeared in print had specific dual purposes: to commemorate individuals whose lives were worthy of imitation and, more pragmatically, to evoke an emotional response from the patron to whom a collection was dedicated. In most cases, a definitive personal connection can easily be established between the departed and the person to whom a musical collection is dedicated, strengthening patronage ties to the composer and revealing printed musical funerary elegy as a genre for the elite. Both together and individually, these printed works provide a new cultural lens through which to view the social expectations, system of class stratification, and patronage traditions of late Elizabethan-early Jacobean England.