Music from the world of the Queen of Scots

We all know that early music, particularly English liturgical music, is my big passion, right? I geek out on the music created out of the Book of Common Prayer, and I can easily sit for hours comparing Tallis through the decades.

But one area I don’t know that much about, is what was going on north of the border, in Scotland, during the same time period. Fortunately for me, yay, there’s a new album out from Parthenia, featuring music of 16th century Scotland. It’s enticingly named, The Flaming Fire. Because Mary, Queen of Scots, is nothing if not fire-y.

The title is slightly misleading in that there is music from England included, but it’s not the really obvious stuff that gets included in *every* album with music from the time period, and the music is newly arranged for the viol consort, with voice.

Scotland in the mid 16th century was a political mess, the country wild and difficult to govern, with clans constantly making war on each other, and the government. It was sort of like the wild west. Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her childhood in France, and fully expected to live her life out there, except her husband died when she was still quite young, and so she traveled back to Scotland as a widow, and tried to wrangle a government into line.

Mary made some incredibly poor decisions along the way, and she was also at the  mercy of a broken political system. Putting them both together meant that she wound up having to abdicate to her one year old son, James, and then flee Scotland for her life, landing in the wilds of the north of England hoping for comfort from Queen Elizabeth, her cousin, only to be bitterly disappointed when she was kept under house arrest for the better part of the next 2 decades, and eventually beheaded. You can learn a lot more about her by listening to episode 29 of my Renaissance English History Podcast.

This CD from the American group Parthenia is listenable, and enjoyable. The pieces are short and undemanding. I’m enjoying listening to it, and imagining that some of it was perhaps played at Mary’s court in the early days of her return from France; in fact, the Scottish music reflects the French alliance with some music sung in French.

A highlight for me, though, has to be the arrangement of Tallis’s third tune for the Parker Psalter, which went on to inspire Vaughan Williams to write his famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Which is totally nothing to do with music of 16th century Scotland, but it’s worth a mention nonetheless.

Take a listen to the CD, and let me know what you think. This will be getting heavy rotation in my playlist over the next few months, I’m sure.

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