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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

A Description of ‘The Honorable Entertainement Gieuen to the Queenes Maiestie’ in 1591

‘In the pinnace were three Virgins, which with their Cornets played Scottish Gigs, made three parts in one. There was also in the saide pinnace an other Nymph of the sea, named Neaera, the old supposed love of Syluanus, a God of the woodes. Neare to her were placed three excellent voices, to sing to one lute, and in two other boats hard by, other lutes and voices to answer by manner of Eccho: after the pinnace, & two other boats, which were drawne after it by other Sea-gods, the rest of the traine followed brest-high in the water, all attired in ouglie marine suites, and euerie one armed with a huge woodden squirt in his hand: to what end it shal appear hereafter. In their marching towards the pond, all along the middle of the current, the Tritons sounded one halfe of the way, and then they ceasing, the Cornets plaid their Scottish gigs. The melody was sweet, & the shew stately... immediatly the three voices in the Pinnace sung a song to the Lute with excellent divisions, and the end of euery verse was replied by Lutes and voices in the other boate somwhat a farre off, as if they had beene Ecchoes.’

Apart from being a lovely description of musical practice around the turn of the seventeenth century, this is one of the only passages I know from an English source around this time which describes the practice of making ‘divisions’ in a polyphonic setting.


Anonymous, The Honorable Entertainement Gieuen to the Queenes Maiestie in Progresse, at Elvetham in Hampshire, by the Right Honorable the Earle of Hertford. 1591 (London: John Wolfe, 1591).

The image below is a particularly beautiful three-voice canon at the unison (‘three parts in one’) from Thomas Ravenscroft’s Pammelia (London: John Windet, 1609).

For anyone who wants some solmisation practice, or simply a nice sing-along, I’ve recorded the first two voices using a solmisation system based on Morley’s.


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