Shakespeare’s plays: Holborne’s Hearts-Ease (the Honie-Suckle), Voices of Music

We continue our celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary with music from the play Romeo and Juliet: Anthony Holborne’s setting of Hearts-Ease, also known as “the Honie-Suckle.” Holborne was well known in London, and published a wide variety of arrangements of popular songs in his printed collection of “Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs” of 1599. Although the diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1662 “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life,” the work became one of Shakespeare’s best known plays in the 20th century.
The mention of the tune in the play occurs during a fascinating exchange of dialog with the musicians in Act IV, Scene V, which includes numerous puns on musical terms and the notes of the hexachord:
Musicians, O, musicians, ‘Heart’s ease, Heart’s
ease:’ O, an you will have me live, play ‘Heart’s ease.’
First Musician
Why ‘Heart’s ease?’
O, musicians, because my heart itself plays ‘My
heart is full of woe:’ O, play me some merry dump,
to comfort me.
First Musician
Not a dump we; ’tis no time to play now.
You will not, then?
First Musician
I will then give it you soundly.
First Musician
What will you give us?
No money, on my faith, but the gleek;
I will give you the minstrel.
First Musician
Then I will give you the serving-creature.
Then will I lay the serving-creature’s dagger on
your pate. I will carry no crotchets: I’ll re you,
I’ll fa you; do you note me?
First Musician
An you re us and fa us, you note us.
Second Musician
Pray you, put up your dagger, and put out your wit.
Then have at you with my wit! I will dry-beat you
with an iron wit, and put up my iron dagger. Answer
me like men:
‘When griping grief the heart doth wound,
And doleful dumps the mind oppress,
Then music with her silver sound’–
why ‘silver sound’? why ‘music with her silver
sound’? What say you, Simon Catling?
Marry, sir, because silver hath a sweet sound.
Pretty! What say you, Hugh Rebeck?
Second Musician
I say ‘silver sound,’ because musicians sound for silver.
Pretty too! What say you, James Soundpost?
Third Musician
Faith, I know not what to say.

A stage direction in the 2nd Quarto suggests that the scene may have been written to include the Elizabethan actor and dancer Will Kempe, a popular figure in the theater and the successor to Richard Tarlton.

Live, HD video from our January 2016 concerts in San Francisco.
Voices of Music is creating a worldwide digital library of music videos, recordings and editions, free for anyone in the world. To support this vital project, which will enable new generations of people all around the world to enjoy Classical music, please consider a tax-deductible donation or sponsor a recording project. With your help, anything is possible!
Voices of Music
Hanneke van Proosdij & David Tayler, directors
Hanneke van Proosdij, recorder; Elizabeth Blumenstock, baroque violin, Lisa Grodin, baroque viola; William Skeen, viola da gamba, and David Tayler, archlute. Music arranged by Voices of Music.

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