Hopkinson Smith: Mad Dog

naïve E 8940
Music by Byrd, Dowland, Holborne, Huwet & Johnson

[dropcap]“[/dropcap]Mad Dog” is one of four fanciful titles Hopkinson Smith has made up for lute pieces on the present CD which survive without a title. He is undoubtedly right to say that this will make some people angry, and others laugh, but he is only following in an old tradition where titles, as well as notes, are changed from one version to the next. Smith does not give specific source references, perhaps because he does not reproduce accurately one particular version of a piece. Instead, he makes his own version, adding or removing ornaments and divisions. His playing is very pleasant to the ear, always thoughtfully expressive, with a delicate, sensitive touch, enhanced by the clear, sweet, mellow sound of his 8-course lute in F built by Joel van Iennep.

The first track, “Johnson’s Jewell”, is taken from folio 21r of Dd.2.11, which is the only source which has that title and written-out divisions for repeats. In making his own interpretation, he rakes back a 6-note chord (bars 4, 20, 24), removes an ornament (bars 11, 16, 32), adds an ornament (bars 34, 35, 42, 43), inserts high notes (bar 18), an extra scale up (bar 26) and down (bar 28), slows right down (bar 32), puts in a run of quavers (bar 40), adds fast off-beat quavers (bars 44, 45), changes a downward scale to an upward one (bar 49), and finishes with a petite reprise of the first eight bars.

Also by John Johnson is the Pavan to Delight. From his liner notes, Smith seems unaware that in 1580 the Earl of Leicester’s company of actors staged a play called Delight. The play is now lost, but it is possible that Johnson’s pavan featured in the entertainment. (I am grateful to Ian Harwood for telling me this.) It is certainly a fine piece of music, given a new twist here with Smith’s own florid semiquaver divisions. “Ward’s repose” is the title Smith gives to an untitled pavan by Johnson on folio 44v of Dd.2.11, in honour of his erstwhile tutor and friend, John Ward; it is in the unusual key of F minor, with typical Johnson figurations, and very beautiful.

Anthony Holborne’s “As it fell on a holly eve” and “Heigh ho holiday” [puns on Holborne’s name?] are played very quickly, but (for my taste) with a superfluity of rolled chords.
“Day’s End Pavan” is the title Smith gives to the pavan on folio 46r of Dd.2.11. With music of this quality, one can understand why Johnson was appointed lutenist to Queen Elizabeth. Unhurried, Smith sustains it well with some extra decorative touches of his own.

The “Mad Dog” is Anthony Holborne’s untitled piece on folio 45r of Dd.5.78.3 (no. 49 in the Lute Society’s Holborne edition edited by Rainer aus dem Spring). I am inclined to agree with Smith that the piece is more likely to be an air than a galliard. It hops along nicely as it shifts from 3/2 to 6/4. I think Smith’s speed is a little too fast, if only because he doesn’t always catch the quavers cleanly in bars 21 and 23.

There is much variety, including a fantasy by Holborne, a restful Pavana Bray by William Byrd, and a charming Shoemaker’s Wife by John Dowland. Smith attributes Gregorio Huwet’s Fantasy in Varietie  at least in part to Dowland, although there is no evidence for this. Smith’s alteration to the harmony in bar 19 and 43 is convincing, but I don’t understand why he omits bars 28-34. Smith maintains the theme in diminution at bar 35 as in the source, but it is possible that a minim rhythm sign was omitted here (as suggested to me by Martin Shepherd), which would have maintained the theme in minims. At bar 55 Smith deviates from the original – he writes, “I have taken some liberty with the Fantasy’s structure” – adding notes of his own and repeating some bars, but I don’t see the need for this. The piece was fine as it was. Smith’s expansion of Mr Dowland’s Midnight, on the other hand, works extremely well, and turns a 16-bar miniature into something pleasantly more substantial.

The CD ends with the untitled piece on folio 28r of Dd.5.78.3, which Smith names “Fare thee well”. Its overall mood is surprisingly melancholic, so Smith chooses not to bring out its distinctive galliard rhythm, treats it as an end-of-the-day air, adds his own divisions for repeats, slows the pace by rolling many of the chords, and, with a petite reprise of the last four bars, lays this thoroughly satisfying CD to rest.

Stewart McCoy

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