About the Project

Early Modern Songscapes is an exploration of the musical circulation and performance of English Renaissance poetry, with four primary aims:

  1. to provide insight into the movement of song across diverse textual and performance contexts;
  2. to produce Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) editions of a selected corpus of early modern songs, together with audio and video recordings of those songs in performance;
  3. to animate the acoustic and visual facets of early modern English song culture; and
  4. to generate an interdisciplinary and collaborative hub for work on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English song.

The project focuses on ayres, songs that emphasize the clear communication of text and that typically include instrumental accompaniment. Popularized in the late sixteenth century with the printed lute song collections of John Dowland and Thomas Campion, the ayre later developed into the declamatory vocal style associated with Henry Lawes, which reflected the speech-like rhythms of verse. Ayres frequently surface on the Shakespearean stage—including in the songs of “Ariel,” whose name puns on “ayre” as well as song’s capricious airy medium—and they serve as an ideal case study for the rich interplay between composers, poets, and vocalists in early modern England.

Our beta website takes as its case study the first book of Henry Lawes’s Ayres and Dialogues, printed in 1653, which exemplifies the period’s synergy between poetry and music. In engaging with this collection, our project prioritizes encounters with the fragmentation and ephemerality that characterized the song culture of this period—providing multiple versions of individual songs (including in recording) and emphasizing how a particular song might have appeared in various guises and contexts ranging from the household to the stage. In so doing, we seek to animate the versatility and volatility that characterized Renaissance song culture and to trouble the notion of a “definitive” version of a particular song. 

For site data including our TEI/MEI files and our technical stack, see our GitHub repository.