Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 3, Page 15
Summer 1993
Cowley Revisited

     The lyric poetry of Abraham Cowley, a 17th-century English writer, was
a source of inspiration to composers of his time. Now, thanks to the
research of two University of Delaware professors, music lovers will soon
be able to hear the poet's songs as they were written and sung centuries
     Thomas Calhoun, professor of English, serves as chief editor of a
six-volume study of the life and works of Cowley, and J. Robert King,
professor emeritus of music, is the project's music editor.
     A second volume of the project, published by the University of
Delaware/Associated University Presses, contains The Mistress, a series of
love poems and 60 songs inspired by these poems. After extensive research
on the musical settings of Cowley's poetry, King transcribed the music so
it could be understood by modern singers and musicians for performance.
     With the musical scores in hand, Calhoun began to investigate the
possibility of musicians performing the songs in concert. "The British
group called The Consort of Musicke was recommended again and again," he
     Calhoun sent off the songs to the consort, hoping for the inclusion of
a few of them in a concert. Instead, much to his surprise, the consort's
director decided to record a CD of The Mistress and asked Calhoun to act as
a consultant.
     Established in 1969, The Consort of Musicke, whose repertoire features
Renaissance English and Italian music, has made more than 50 recordings and
was awarded the Prix Caecilia de l'Union de la Press Musicale Belge in
1990. The five singers are accompanied by the lute, theorbo, organ and
     The Mistress can be read on two levels, Calhoun explained. The poems
are about the quest for ideal love and the loss of that love. The lover
suffers rejection but gains the wisdom of recognizing his foolishness. Some
of the poems reflect his travails and some are written from the woman's
viewpoint. The underlying counterpoint of The Mistress is the loss of the
British monarchy, the imprisonment and execution of Charles I and the
flight of the queen and court to Paris from 1644-1660.
     The printed text is keyed for stylized performance, with
capitalizations and italics to convey inflections and gestures. The consort
singers were able to incorporate the poet's signals by shifting dynamics.
     The CD will be available commercially early next year, Calhoun said.