[Milton-L] Milton Senior

William Poole william.poole at new.ox.ac.uk
Thu Jan 21 06:35:56 EST 2010

Dear all,

At Leeds last weekend Michael Chance and Fretwork performed the consort 
music of John Milton Senior. They then spent the next fews days 
recording it, and a CD and a printed edition, edited by Richard Rastall, 
of Milton Senior's music are both forthcoming for later in the year. 
Some of you may already have the Milton/Peerson CD of the vocal music, 
performed by Selwyn College Choir again from Rastall's edition.

Meanwhile, the evening threw up a potential prosodic question. Now 
Milton Senior's 'In Nomine' for voice and five viols sets the following 


If that a sin[n]er[‘s] sig[h]es
sent from a soule oprest
maye pearce the firmement and mount the throane
wheare greate Jehovah sittes, the god of rest,
then heare O Lord the sad tune of my mone
O gratious god, whoes goodnes gives mee light,
receave my teares and prayeres in thy sight

Now this is sometimes transcribed by conflating the first two lines 
above to achieve a simple ABABCC stanza, and this looks more or less 
right. But it leaves us the problem that the first, reconstituted line 
is now hypermetric by one foot. If we could knock out a foot from the 
first two lines we get a simple ABABCC rhymed iambic pentameter prayer, 
of a kind that would be quite plausible. But the
splitting up of the first putative line into two isocola, while it might 
make musical sense in context, gives us a hypermetrical line in a most 
unlikely place for a poem-in-itself. This supports the notion that the
poem existed first and was slightly refitted for the music. I wonder if 
the original poem ran 'If that these sighs' ... ? This would give us 
strong alliteration within the first line of the original poem, and also 
the hint about where to take the poem if one 5-foot line had to become 
two three-foot lines. Might this then suggest that the composer is 
slightly refitting a prior poem, not written by him? But then 'sad 
tune', I grant, does sound as if music was always in the writer's mind 
... so perhaps Milton Sr after all? What do people think? Am I right to 
see a prior, metrically sound poem behind this one, or should I be 
content with what I have as 
more-or-less-OK-from-a-setting-composer's-point-of-view? And who wrote 
it, and in one or two iterations? Milton or Leighton or someone else? -- 
'pearce the firmement and mount the throane' sounds very familiar, and 
perhaps I am missing something very obvious.

I'm asking this on behalf of Rastall, who would be interested to hear 
what those closer to Milton Jr and text than to Milton Sr and music have 
to say.

All best,

William Poole

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