[Milton-L] Lawes' Comus: "just accent" in musical settings and in reading aloud

carl bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Thu Sep 14 17:30:08 EDT 2006

    Lawes' settings are "through composed:"  the accentuation follows the 
sense of the text, the rhetoric, rather than the bar structure of the music. 
All good musical settings, of course, will frame the sense of the words 
nicely, but in Lawes the placement of accent is so rigorously determined by 
verbal expression that the musical bar structure seems radically submerged 
at times.  Compare early 18th treatments of how to read PL aloud** which 
urge the reader to follow the sense absolutely, _not_ the meter, in order to 
instantiate the harmonies of Milton's verse. Milton's praise of Lawes is to 
the point: "[his] well-measured song first taught our English music how to 
span words with just note and accent, not to scan with Midas' ears, 
committing short and long."  Repetitive metrical regularities --whether of 
alternating syllables, or of end-stopped lines, or of the down beat in each 
musical measure-- are potentially tiresome things in themselves, and 
moreover they work against the development of grandeur, magnificence, 
rhetorical scope. This approach to setting English verse to music was short 
lived. As was also perhaps the parallel approach to reading verse aloud. The 
change of taste is wonderfully evident in Johnson's lament that "the music 
of the English line," which --even in the best case-- strikes the ear only 
faintly, is essentially lost altogether in the unrhymed verse of Milton's 


**John Mason _et al_.
Splendid page-and-verse references to Mason, and his ilk, as they treated 
Milton's verse, were very kindly provided to Milton-L [on 4/15/2005 ] by 
Prof. John Shawcross.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Nancy Charlton" <pluscachange at comcast.net>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 3:25 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Lawes' Comus

> Hi Cynthia,
> At 01:37 PM 9/13/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>>  I'm
>>halting things this afternoon for a workshop on reading out
>>loud, but will want to revisit this when we get to PL.  Any
>>hints and helps would be much appreciated.
> WishI could be a mouse in the corner at your workshop. I coach people 
> (mostly readers in Chrisitan Science churches) one on one in reading 
> aloud. This includes a lot of KJV; I can't be truly Early Modern but I try 
> to get them to observe the poetic conventions where applicable--which is 
> most everywhere. I go to evensong at the Episcopal cathedral now and then 
> and always learn something from the readers of the lessons, both lay and 
> clerical. I'd love to have any references you might be willing to share.
> Best,
> Nancy Charlton
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