This fascinating collection represents, in a fittingly symbolic manner, a cusp and a fulcrum, and in several different ways. It is to do with the emancipation of feminine creative energy, and also to do with a dynamic shift in society during the turbulent seventeenth century – and, vitally, to do with creativity in the sphere of poetry, music and performance. The steady emancipation of women was led from noble families, indeed led from royalty itself – for The Virgin Queen Bess paved the way, and in style. Elizabeth Davenant, Oxford-based and flourishing in the mercurial 1620s, came of a most interesting family of merchant-class origins. Her father, John Davenant, rose to become not only chief vintner, but also Mayor of Oxford. Elizabeth’s brother was later to become the most famous family member as Sir William Davenant, a playwright of considerable reputation.
Elizabeth Davenant’s music manuscript was compiled in Oxford around 1624. The Royal Court of Charles I would come to move its focus from London – with its plagues, fumes and noise and increasingly intense pressure from the religious extremists – to Oxford, which was to become the focal point for leading artistic taste. Elizabeth’s manuscript foreshadows all of that: what is now an obscure private collection was then part of the avant-garde. It is an eclectic collection, representing an excellent overview of changing taste in the 1620s. It looks back to the ‘golden age’ of the lute-song, with works by Thomas Campion, to the generation that followed in songs with a strong theatrical context by Robert Johnson, and looks forward to the new generation of Cavalier Poets such as Herrick, and their contemporary composers John Wilson and Henry Lawes.
We cannot know the extent to which Elizabeth Davenant was involved with the choice of songs: was the manuscript compiled by her music tutor or written to order? Looking at some of the music a little more closely, one finds at times quite extraordinary complex ideas in the poetry, reflected potently in the settings. Some of them are settings of poems written from a woman’s perspective. The high degree of vocal ornamentation of many of the items found in the collection suggests an advanced awareness of vocal performing styles of the 1620s. Indeed it suggests that Elizabeth Davenant was well capable of performing in this virtuoso manner (why otherwise would the scribe have included so much vocal ornamentation?), and it also suggests that the Oxford audience to whom she performed was sufficiently discriminating to appreciate such vocal dexterity.
After her degree in Modern Languages at Oxford University, REBECCA OCKENDEN began her vocal studies at the Centre de Musique Baroque in Versailles. Her début was at the Théâtre des Champs- Elysées as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro under Jean-Claude Malgoire and she subsequently sang Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte. Further stage appearances include Telemann's Der Geduldige Socrates, Purcell's The Fairy Queen at Opéra de Lyon, Lully's Roland at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Kagel's Aus Deutschland in Wiesbaden. William Christie engaged her as a soloist with Les Arts Florissants for Purcell's King Arthur in the USA, Monteverdi madrigals choreographed by Jirí Kylián at the Paris Opéra Garnier and the role of Giunone in Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria in Paris, London, Vienna and New York. Her discography includes Desmarest's Les Grands Motets and Rameau's Zéphyre both with Les Arts Florissants. Rebecca currently lives in Basel and has become much sought after as an oratorio performer and recitalist. Over the last few years she has enjoyed discovering the lute-song repertoire with Sofie Vanden Eynde.
SOFIE VANDEN EYNDE was born in Lommel, Belgium. She studied guitar from an early age and her interest in the poetic music of the Renaissance and Baroque led her to study lute and theorbo. She studied with Philippe Malfeyt at the Ghent Conservatory and graduated with honours in 2002. She then embarked on further studies with Hopkinson Smith at the Schola Cantorum in Basel. Sofie has gained an international reputation as a specialist in historical plucked instruments. She regularly performs with such ensembles as Le Tendre Amour, Encantar, Musica Favola, The Queen's Consort. Her ensemble Le Jardin Secret was awarded both first prize and the audience prize at the York Early Music International Young Artists Competitions in 2007. The first CD with this ensemble was released in June 2008 and the second in October 2009. The festivals that Sofie has recently performed at include Festival van Vlaanderen, Styriate, Festival de Musique Ancienne de Sarrebourg, Netwerk Oude Muziek, Brighton Early Music Festival, Suffolk Villages Festival, Euroconcert, Musica Sacra, Dag van de Oude Muziek and the Händel Festival. In 2006 she was awarded her home town's prize of artistic recognition.