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English Madrigals in the Time of Shakespeare

Our latest book, English Madrigals in the Time of Shakespeare is a collection of madrigals – or secular a capella songs – from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Written in medieval English, if we can call it that, these were probably the pop songs of the day, delighting audiences with proclamations of love and prosaic tales of the townsfolk.

The author of this book, Frederick A. Cox, isn’t well-known and researching him certainly brings one to the limits of the vast and boundless Internet. However, he dedicates this book to his wife and a group called the “Amphion Glee-Men”, who would be as long-forgotten and buried in history as Cox, except for this one excerpt from The Journal of the National Union of Teachers dated 30 September 1899:

“Where the ubiquitous Mr Fred Hearn, Miss Katie Malone, Mr Newman Stratton, Mr J H Mullerhausen, Professor Banbridge, Mr Harry Hawkes, Mr Henry M Grey, and Mr Habbijam’s Amphion Glee men have crammed and delighted audience until the chimes over the house buildings warn us that the day is over, and, with heartfelt thanks to the donors and the Committee who have managed all so well, the first garden party of the Passmore Edwards House comes to an end.”

The same Frederic Habbijam, who was Cox’s singing buddy, graduated from the University of London in 1890 – not that this is particularly relevant or interesting.

Whilst Cox and Habbijam poured their hearts and souls into singing, compiling and making known the madrigals a little over a hundred years ago, and have pretty much disappeared from the minds of most, the madrigals they sought to preserve are alive and kicking in this day and age. Here is one by Thomas Morley, April is in my mistress’ face:

LYRICS (from the book):

April is in my mistress’s face,
And July in her eyes hath pace;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.