· 24 June 2018 ·
[My eponymous march, including a playlist with variations]
I know a man that had this trick of
melancholy sold a goodly manor for a song.
[Erratum: the First Folio says hold instead of sold. Printer’s typo. I wasn’t available to check the proofs.]
The song was The Earl of Oxford’s March. The melancholy man was one of the most undisguised self-outings I ever put into my work. I was famous (okay, infamous) for selling manors, and this reference was specific.
First, here’s the tune.
Will Byrd wrote it for me. If memory serves it was around the time of the defeat of the Armada in 1588, maybe a couple of years earlier. It was in manuscript in My Ladye Nevells Booke by 1591, so there’s your window.
My march was initially played on virginals, an early keyboard like a small harpsichord. The digitised version above uses the score found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, another early source.
Since then, most arrangements feature timpani and horns. Drums and trumpets. It’s a stately yet martial fanfare, popular with brass bands.
William Byrd (c1540-1623) is described as the greatest composer of England’s Renaissance, possibly everyone else’s Renaissance as well. His teacher was Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585), composer and performer for every Tudor monarch except the first one.
Will sang like a sorry that’s too easy, and he played keys like an unplugged Rick Wakeman. He knew he was talented and he aimed high, to make a name for himself. He earned stipends from influential patrons including Elizabeth and myself.
About the goodly manor: in addition to the stipend, I once rescued Will from a serious jam in a botched real-estate deal. Long story short, Will’s brother John got a bargain on one of my Essex properties, I got the song and the line for my play, and the English language got a new expression for selling (or buying) something at a knockdown price.
No one else would write that line.
For more details, especially about the music, you won’t find anything better than this 1998 article, William Byrd’s ‘Battle’ and the Earl of Oxford, by Sally Mosher, at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship website.YouTube contains a wide assortment of orchestrations, arrangements, and performances of my march. Here’s a playlist with twenty of them. Let the video run and it will play them all.
● A bit more about Will Byrd and other ruminations on music in and around my work can be found in Play On 1: Musing About Musicals. This is the first installment of what I plan as an ongoing, informal series about music and Shake-Speare.