Walter Rowe and the Earliest Baryton Music

Tim Crawford


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Although at present the case for an English origin of the baryton cannot be proved beyond the shadow of doubt, there is one respect in which an early English connection is beyond question. The three earliest - and quite independent - accounts in the 1640s mention the instrument and its technique in an English context, and two of them mention Walter Rowe as its player (one explicitly, the other implictly). What I hope to do in this paper is relate what we can glean from the earliest sources of the music, two tablatures now in Kassel and in St Petersburg, with what is known about Walter Rowe's professional life.

Walter Rowe

First, Walter Rowe the baryton player. In February 1641, the Cornish sea captain Peter Mundy wrote in his journal:

A Barretone, an Instrument of Musicke.

Att my being here in Coninxberg I spake with one Walter Row, cheiffe Musitian to the Marquis of Brandenburg, by whom I was Freindly enterteyned. Among the rest of his Instruments hee had one Named a Barretone, itt being a base violl with addition of many wire strings, which run from end to end under the Finger board, through the F belly of the Instrumentt, which are to be strucke with the thumbe of the stopping hand: very Musicall, and concordant with the violl, like 2 Instruments att once, the playing on the one being no hinderance to the other. Itt had also sundry other wire strings about the head and by the Fingerboard; but these and the viol cannot both be plaide att once, beecause they must be strucke with the playing hand, soe that they answear one another very harmoniously. In Fine, a very costly Fair Instrument, and sweet solemne Musicke.

Walter Rowe was indeed the Marquis, or Elector, of Brandenburg's chief musician. Born somewhere in England in 1584 or 1585 (his English background has yet to be explored), he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Brandenburg court in 1614, and served there until his death in 1671 at the age of 86. There are - or were before World War II - many documents in the German State Archives concerning his employment which show, among other things, the extent of Rowe's activities as player and teacher of the viol, at that time regarded predominantly as an `English' instrument, and which thus document his seminal influence on the German history of the instrument.

Rowe served under three Brandenburg Electors, Johann Sigismund (reigned 1608-1619), Georg Wilhelm (1619-1640) and the `Great Elector', Friedrich Wilhelm (1640-1688). From the documents published by Carl Sachs in his 1910 thesis, Musik und Oper am kurbrandenburgischen Hof (Berlin, 1910/R 1977), we can see a steady stream of young German viol players being trained up by Rowe, or (from about 1647) his assistant, Johann Peter Gärtner, and employed in the Kapelle. [ TABLE 1] It is important to stress that this list is only provisional and probably very incomplete, being based on research done by Sachs a century ago - further work in the archives may reveal even more such activity.

Leaving aside Rowe's general duties at Berlin and Königsberg [now Kaliningrad, Lithuania], let us now look at Rowe's special skills and the basis of his great reputation. He was a highly-gifted viol player and teacher, with the organisational talent to run a large and complex musical establishment. But in focussing on his viol playing we immediately encounter the familiar problem of nomenclature.

The first-known piece of music attributable to Rowe is a short courant for solo viol in tablature which he entered in an autograph album in Hamburg in August 1614 (probably on his way to Berlin to take up his post). This is what we English would describe as `lyra-viol' music. Quite what the Germans or French would have called it at the time is another matter. In 1627 the council of Nuremburg provided funds for Theophil Staden to study the `viola bastarda' with Rowe in Berlin. Without wishing to enter into a great debate about the matter, I would like to suggest that this instrument was probably the same as the one for which Rowe's Hamburg courante was written 13 years before. That is, an English lyra viol fitted with sympathetic strings in the manner described independently by several authorities, and under the heading `ViolBastarda' by Praetorius in 1619, though not the type used in general by today's players (mainly because no instruments of this type have survived to this day).

Viola Bastarda and Lyra Viol

In terms of music rather than instrument, the term `viola bastarda' has a special meaning and also a generic one: the special meaning is the Italian technique developed in the 1580s of basing a virtuoso solo performance on the polyphonic voices of a madrigal or motet, switching from one to another throughout the performance and elaborating each in turn; the generic meaning is as a designation on part-books especially of church music in 17th-century Germany, where there is little to distinguish these from other parts of similar range. This latter aspect has not, I think, yet been adequately researched. (The rediscovery of a large collection of manuscript part-books and scores from the Breslau Stadtbibliothek, many of which have parts labelled `Viola Bastarda', may enable some general features to emerge.)

The viola bastarda and the English lyra viol may have remained distinct in one sense: viola bastarda music, while it `borrows' from many polyphonic voices, was almost entirely single-line music; that for lyra viol, on the other hand, was predominantly (although by no means exclusively) chordal in style. Whether this implies an organological distinction (a flatter bridge for the lyra viol?) or not I leave to others. It may imply a further musical distinction in that viola bastarda music in general requires accompaniment, whereas the bulk of lyra viol music is for a solo instrument. These features relate lyra viol music closely to that of the lute, as Tobias Hume famously declared in `The First Part of Ayres' in 1605: `And from henceforth, the statefull instrument Gambo Violl, shall with ease yeeld full various and as devicefull Musicke as the Lute.' (In 1607 he replaced the words `as the Lute' by the even stronger phrase `as any other Instrument'.)

English connections at Berlin

Among the many viol-players engaged during Rowe's employment at the Brandenburg court two at least had English connections: Valentine Flood was an Englishman who was also employed as a town wait (Hofkunstpfeifer) in Königsberg, and may have had connections with the English Comoedianten who were so popular in Germany; and Dietrich Stoeffken, who had served the English court from 1629, at first as one of Queen Henrietta Maria's mostly French musicians, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 when he came to Berlin. (He returned to English Royal service in 1660 at the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy.) Of Valentine Flood's music (if he composed at all) we have nothing, but everything by Stoeffken that has survived is solo viol music, frequently transmitted in tablature manuscripts. (We know that he also composed duets for two `leero-way' viols, but these are lost.)

Stoeffken was an international star. When he and Rowe came to The Hague for the marriage of the Great Elector to the Stadhouder's daughter in 1646, shortly before the musicians arrived Constantijn Huygens, writing to Mersenne, could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of hearing Stoeffken and `another [Rowe, who] does more on a viol fitted with brass strings behind the neck and elsewhere' (i.e. the three-ranked baryton). In the event, when Huygens heard the two players he was so impressed by Stoeffken's playing that he failed to leave any account of Rowe's playing and his baryton:

The violist is called Stephkins, and has enormous skill on this instrument on which I considered myself to excel in this country up to now, but I don't consider myself worthy to pull off his boots. You've heard many good things, but this would amaze you.
(It's worth adding that it was probably on this occasion that the eminent French viol player, Nicholas Hotman, declined to play in front of Rowe and Stoeffken, as Huygens somewhat scathingly observed in a letter to a musical friend some years later.)

The baryton - an English instrument?

Turning to Rowe's baryton itself we are faced with an essential difficulty: there is no way at present of knowing whether in 1614 he brought with him from England the idea of plucking the exposed sympathetic strings behind the neck of a normal lyra viol with his left-hand thumb, or a modified instrument which we could call a true baryton. Mersenne's 1644 account, referring to King James's interest, clearly implies that the hybrid bowed/plucked string technique - which seems to be the true defining characteristic of the baryton - was known in England before 1625 and before spreading elsewhere. Possibly, however, Mersenne was intending to refer to James's son Charles (who unlike his father had a lively interest in music), but it is also possible that Rowe himself was involved with the early development of the instrument in England before he left in 1614.

Rowe could have taken a further part in the development of the baryton from a modified lyra viol to the more complex instrument described by Mundy. Since, as we shall see, the central musical source, the Kassel baryton tablature, contains music for the more advanced instrument, perhaps we should look at this crucial development in some detail.

The three-ranked baryton adds to the `viol + theorbo' combination of the modified lyra viol an extra `harp' or `psaltery' element. According to Mundy's account (`Itt had also sundry other wire strings about the head and by the Fingerboard') the extra rank of strings was not mounted on the belly of the instrument, but parallel to the bowed strings, and therefore it must have been on a separate neck. This is different from the disposition of the baryton famously described by Daniel Speer in 1687:

This instrument is equipped with lute strings [presumably of gut] in addition to the normal bowed and underlying strings. The lute strings are strung on the right side of the top of the instrument and are plucked by the little finger of the right hand. (Carol Gartrell's translation)

The principle of a set of strings mounted on the belly and played like a psaltery survives today in the Ukranian bandoura, in which the tuning of these strings is chromatic, although in its 19th-century version it was diatonic, and thus required fewer strings. [PICTURE 1]

The Poliphant or Poliphone

A significant English instrument of this sort was the Poliphant, or Polyphone, no examples of which have survived, which was said by Playford to have been invented by Daniel Farrant. We are lucky to have a crude sketch of the instrument with a brief description by Randle Holme from around 1680 (?) [PICTURE 2], and a more detailed description by James Talbot from the end of the century. The later description is of a somewhat more complex instrument than that in the Holme account. The descriptions are both confusing, but Talbot lets slip the interesting information that one of the ranks of open strings is to be played with the player's left thumb while the left-hand fingers manage the frets on the fingerboard. The right-hand thumb managed another rank of open bass strings whilst all four fingers of the right hand (in contrast to lute technique which used only two fingers at this period) play the fretted strings. Was Rowe's baryton a bowed Polyphone? Application of such additional stringing to a viol in England before 1614 would not perhaps be an altogether surprising development, although it should be stressed that none of this is evidence that it actually in fact happened there.

Wire strings in Berlin

Another possibility, of course, is that Rowe brought the left-hand thumb technique - maybe a specially-adapted lyra viol - with him to Germany in 1614, and introduced the third rank of strings himself. That this was possible is suggested by the specialities of some of his Berlin colleagues. In 1615 the Brandenburg court employed Peter Rutte, `Geigernn, Lauttenn, Citternn, Pandorenn, Viola-gamben undtt allerley seitten spielende Instrument Macher'. That list of Rutte's instrument-building accomplishments includes the cittern and Pandora (bandora), both wire-strung instruments, alongside the viol. Berlin under Rowe's musical direction might have been something of a centre for wire-strung instruments. `Cytharists' (which I take to mean cittern-players rather than lutenists, who are described in the documents cited by Sachs as `Lautenisten') and `Pandorists' were:

Camillo (Cytharist mentioned 1612 and 1613);
Christopher Rode (Cytharist served 1621 - ?31);
Caspar Kase (Cytharist appointed c1621; d.1661);
Martin Hoffbeck (Pandorist 1629-30).
A 1667 inventory undertaken by Rowe and reprinted by Sachs lists a bandora among instruments purchased by the Kapelle. Furthermore, from the 1630s, harpists included:

Daniel Demsie (presumably `Dempsey') from Ireland (appointed 1631; d.1635);
Edward Adams from England (served 1638-41 and 1643 until his death in 1649);
Wolfgang Teubener from Prague (mentioned 1646).
The first two of these would undoubtedly have played the wire-strung Irish harp which was also that in common use in the English court at the time. [Peter Holman, `The Harp in Stuart England: New Light on William Lawes's Harp Consorts', Early Music 15 (1987), 188-203.] So the Berlin air was certainly full of the sound of plucked wire strings as well as bowed, and the opportunity certainly existed to commission a three-ranked baryton from a court instrument-maker such as Rutte. Perhaps a detailed examination of whatever Brandenburg records survive will reveal still more about wire-strung instruments in use in the court Kapelle.

Princess Louise Charlotte's music book

As well as training up new viol-players, Rowe was music-teacher to the children of Elector Johann Sigismund, in particular the princesses Louise Charlotte (born 1617) and Hedwig Sophie (born 1623), sisters of the future Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm. A manuscript music book with a starting date of 1632 and largely written by Rowe for Louise Charlotte and now in the library of the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg [MS XX.L.5], contains not only keyboard music in tablature (not in Rowe's hand) and didactic exercises and diagrams [interestingly, the `gamut' is presented in an identical form to that written by John Dowland into Margaret Board's lute book], but also several German, French and English songs, some with melodies or harmonisations by Rowe (signed `W:R:' or, in one case, `Wal:R:'). Some of the English songs are supplied with German texts (amongst them a setting of the ballad-tune `Walsingham' and a vocal version of a popular English masque-dance, possibly by Robert Johnson, known as `Kit's Almaine'). Among the songs is Thomas Campion's `Though you are younge and I am ould', with its original English text and preceded by a version with written-out embellishment which was presumably supplied by Rowe as an example to his young pupil (for whom he also provided vocal exercises).

The Kassel baryton manuscript

Louise Charlotte's younger sister Hedwig Sophie married Duke Wilhelm IV of Hessen-Kassel in 1649. It is surely no coincidence that the only known manuscript of music for the three-ranked baryton survives in the Kassel library [D-Kl 2º MS Mus. 61L1] (where it carries on a flyleaf the confusing inscription `für die Mandoline'!). The first section of this manuscript, which unfortunately I have not yet examined at first hand, shows every sign of having been copied out from an earlier exemplar; this recopying probably took place around 1653. We know that the Elector of Brandenburg occasionally provided instruments for his sister (a harp is mentioned as a gift in an inventory drawn up by Rowe in 1667); possibly a Rowe pupil who played the baryton passed from Berlin to Kassel, or even Hedwig Sophie herself was a player on the instrument.

The Kassel MS [Lit: Fruchtmann; Gartrell] contains a total of 53 pieces for baryton in French tablature (there are two pieces for theorbo, one of which is also present in lute and baryton versions). Two are labelled `W:R:', initials that can only be those of Walter Rowe himself. However, one of these two, like a further eight pieces in the manuscript, has been identified by François-Pierre Goy as an arrangement of lute music - a natural source for baryton music which we will encounter further in the St Petersburg manuscript. Of the remainder, at least another 18 can be shown by concordance to be arrangements of music for solo viol, by composers such as Simon Ives, John Jenkins, Dietrich Stoeffken, William Young and the French viol-player Dubuisson, where a bass line - often derived from the lowest-sounding `voice' of the tablature, but sometimes newly added - has been supplied on the thumb-plucked rank of strings. An example, showing the addition of quite fast divisions (not a distinctive feature of baryton music, one might think), is the version of Simon Ives's masque-dance, `The Fancy'. [EXAMPLE 1a - PLAY TAPE]

It's possible that Ives's piece was arranged from a lute tablature: the final note [see facsimile EXAMPLE 1b] is written as an `a' below the six-line staff, a notation found elsewhere in the MS, and one that corresponds precisely to the same pitch on a 10-course lute in the old renaissance tuning, still in frequent use in Germany at this period. The use of the thumb-plucked baryton basses is quite interesting here: not only is the music's bass-line very adequately supplied, but there are variations in the bass in the divisions of each strain (cf bars 4-5 with bars 12-13). In the second half of the piece, the `breaking bass', with its suggestion of a third inner part, gives way to a much simplified bass when the bowed strings are engaged in rapid figuration. This seems, although I am not a baryton player, to be a highly idiomatic arrangement. The freedom evident in the plucked basses - which are (at least to some extent) chromatic rather than merely diatonic like the theorbo's basses - allows for them to enter into the polyphonic interplay rather more than is characteristic for lute music, for example. The next example, the anonymous piece on folio 5 of the MS, shows this well. [EXAMPLE 2 - PLAY TAPE] The bass not only supports the bowed strings, but actually answers it in imitation, giving a pretty explicit suggestion of two instruments playing simulaneously. Again, this is handled carefully: when the player bows double-stops, for example, the bass is always simple. (I should point out that in these chordal passages, as with all transcriptions of lyra-viol music or lute music, conventional musical notation is not very helpful in showing the quasi-independent movement of voices; notes were often allowed to `ring' longer than they are notated - a technique that was enhanced by the sympathetic vibration of open wire strings. This effect is impossible to notate; I have chosen to use the kind of notation normal in bass-viol sources of the period that are not in tablature.)

Music for 3-ranked baryton in Kassel

Only three of the Kassel pieces are for three-ranked baryton, and they are transcribed as your examples 3-5 [EXAMPLES 3, 4 & 5]. There is obviously not enough stylistic evidence available from the single lyra-viol courante in the Hamburg autograph album, the songs and the two initialed Kassel baryton pieces, to prove it beyond question, but circumstantially Rowe seems the most likely candidate for a composer. In any case, they certainly fit Mundy's description of `sweet solemne Musicke' in which the bowed strings and those plucked by the left hand and the `sundry other wire strings about the head and by the Fingerboard' of the `very costly Fair Instrument' `answer one another very harmoniously.' I would also say that the music sounds unmistakably English to my - perhaps prejudiced - ears.


The St Petersburg 'Swan' Manuscript

Hedwig Sophie of Hessen-Kassel's sister, Louise Charlotte, for whom Rowe compiled the St Petersburg music book, was married in 1645 to Jakob, Duke of Kurland, a tiny Baltic state now part of Lithuania. The music book (known sometimes in German literature as the `Baltisches Liederbuch') is now in the library of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, having been part of the Ducal library from the castle of Kurland's former capital, Mitau, which was appropriated around 1716 by Prince Menshikov to form the basis of the newly-founded Academy's collection. There seems every chance (although there is no proof for it) that the other surviving baryton tablature manuscript, the so-called `Swan' manuscript [ADVERT], St Petersburg Academy of Sciences MS O Nº 124, also came from Mitau, and thus has a Rowe connection.

The principal problem with this suggestion is that the binding of the MS is dated 1614, a date consistent with the watermarks in its paper. However, although the nearest repertory to 1614 in the MS (and indeed the copying layer first entered into it) is a series of pieces for 10-course lute, which are loosely concordant with Robert Ballard's 1614 collection and other sources up to about 1620, the baryton repertory was definitely added later, certainly after 1630, perhaps as late as the period of recopying of the first part of the Kassel MS, around 1653. It is at present impossible to be sure about these datings, but a date substantially later than 1614 seems to be more likely for the baryton music at least.

This manuscript could have been in the possession of a musical Mitau courtier, or even someone from the Brandenburg court who accompanied Louise Charlotte to Kurland after her wedding in 1645. This person was a performer - presumably skilful - on:

10-course lute in both old and new French tunings (about 150 pieces in the MS);
12-course lute in various tunings (listed at the beginning of the MS; about 20 pieces);
lyra viol in various tunings (3 pieces);
baryton (on which the lyra-viol music could, of course, have been played; 22 pieces, half of which are made by modifying the lute tablature - see below);
keyboard (probably spinet or harpsichord; 13 pieces).
This certainly implies wealthiness as well as talent.

Baryton pieces at St Petersburg

Again, the number of true baryton pieces in the MS is small. Most pieces are arrangements or adaptations of lute or viol pieces, often made by writing baryton thumb-plucked-note numbers directly onto the pre-written tablature and using the relevant lute or viol tuning - a surprisingly successful strategy. (Occasionally this leaves some chords on non-adjacent strings to be tackled by the player, but this is by no means unheard-of in lyra-viol music.) As an example of this procedure `in progress', so to speak, the next example (St Petersburg MS, No. 94, f. 52) shows a lute piece to which baryton basses have been added in the second half only, without any alteration whatsoever to the music. [EXAMPLE 6]

There are only three pieces that look as though they may have been composed for the baryton, although even here we may be dealing with skilful and idiomatic arrangements of lyra-viol music.

[EXAMPLES 7, 8 & 9]

Again, this music sounds English, and François-Pierre Goy has pointed to the use in the tablature of the `ÿ' form of `i' which is common in English tablature manuscripts but rare elsewhere in Europe. So it may have been copied from a manuscript written by an Englishman. The second piece, an alman, is especially English in character, and seems most likely to be an arrangement of a dance-tune like those by Ives and others found elsewhere here and in the Kassel MS, such as `The Fancy'.

Whether this music, too, is by Walter Rowe is, of course, impossible to prove (especially since it's for the simpler form of baryton), although given the sound of the music, this seems more than likely.