But who exactly was this Lady? Lady Margaret Wemyss (1630-c.1649) was the third of the eleven children of David, second Earl of Wemyss (1610-1679) and his first wife Anna Balfour, daughter of Robert, Lord Burley. Her name is particularly known for the Lute Book that was discovered in the 1980s amongst the Sutherland family’s papers. This book is now on loan to the National Library of Scotland.
Lady Margaret was born in Scotland at Falkland, the residence of Lord Burley, on 24th September 1630 and died around 1648. Margaret probably lived for the first part of her life at the Chapel of Wemyss, a manor near Wemyss Castle, in Fife, Scotland and from 1639 at Wemyss Castle itself, where her parents moved after the death of the first Earl.
Margaret's older sister Jean’s (1629-1717) second husband was George Gordon, Lord Strathnaver, afterwards fourteenth Earl of Sutherland. Lady Margaret Wemyss's songbook probably came into the possession of the Sutherland family through this sister. Jean appears to have also been a lutenist and at the bottom of a piece of solo lute music, Margaret has written, ‘all the Lesons behind this are learned out of my sisteres book’. Jean's account book of 1650-54 lists musical instruments such as lutes and virginals.
The second folio of the book contains the inscription ‘A booke Containing some pleasant ayres of Two, Three or fowre voices Collected out of diverse Authors Begunne june 5 1643 Mris Margaret Weemys.’ The book seems to have been started as a collection of songs, containing seventeen English lute songs by Thomas Campion (1567-1620) and Thomas Morley (c.1557/58-1602). The book continues with eight poems and a further nineteen poems at the end of the book. Some of the poems are by well-known Scottish and English poets but some are anonymous and possibly by Margaret herself.
The book also contains ninety one solo pieces for lute, some of which are native Scottish tunes but there is also a substantial number that are of French origin. Margaret is believed to have copied these works herself but such is the poor notation that they pose serious problems for the performer. Other sources have been used to correct the notation but others have required serious editorial intervention.
Martin Eastwell www.martineastwell.com studied the lute with Diana Poulton, and with Jakob Lindberg at the Royal College of Music. His first solo recording, The Royal Lute, appeared in 1991, and he has since played on recordings for BIS, EMI, Thames Television and numerous other companies. In recent years he has performed as a continuo player with many of the country's leading early music groups and orchestras, including The Taverner Players, the English Baroque Soloists, the Scottish Early Music Consort, and Red Campion. In 2001 he formed his own ensemble, Lyra which has performed widely throughout the UK, and also performs regularly with the mezzo soprano Deborah Catterall.
The disc opens with a captivating The day dawes in the morning played with such finesse and lovely phrasing. Sinkapace has some lovely runs over a stately theme in this very attractive piece, terrifically played. Other highlights are the strange Almond Goutier with its odd phrases (attributed to the French composer and lutenist, Jaques Gaultier (c.1600-1652)), an attractive Current Lysabelle (attributed to Charles de Lespine (fl. c.1610)) with rich harmonies, a bold General Lesly’s Goodnight, a great piece with lovely sounds from the lute, and the quietly attractive Lady Binnis Lilt. Tom of Bedlam is a great piece, full of life with strong playing and terrific rhythms. The Spanish Pavin has a flowing melody with nicely pointed playing, a lovely dancing Arie Curant, so infectious, as is the playing and Almond Goutier (again attributed to Jaques Gaultier) with beautiful sonorities from the lute in this attractive piece.
I have to mention another piece, Almond Goutier (Old Gaultier’s Nightingale –attributed to Ennemond Gaultier (c.1575-1651)), an atmospheric piece full of quiet charm with some lovely phrases from the lute, a gloriously played, if brief sarabande (attributed to the French singer, lutenist and composer Francois de Chancy (1600-1656)) and a faltering love song I Never Knew I Loved Thee with a decidedly Scottish folk music feel – quite captivating. Ruthven’s Lilt is lovely, a little gem and the concluding The Flowers of the Forest, a beautiful Scottish Ballade not from the Wemyss Lute Book but from the earlier Rowallen Lute Book. It is a lament for the dead at the Battle of Flodden Field amongst whose number was Lady Margaret’s ancestor, Sir David Wemyss.
Martin Eastwell has added Preludes of his own to seven of the groups of pieces on this disc. This seems to have been the practice in the 17th century though none appear in the Wemyss Lute Book. These little preludes are so simple yet so right, seeming to pick out the essence of other works.
There are so many finely played pieces on this disc that it has been difficult to pick out those that are particularly attractive. Martin Eastwell plays all these works with such style, panache and sensitivity.
A handful of these pieces have been recorded by Jakob Lindberg on a BIS CD www.bis.se/index.php?op=album&aID=BIS-CD-201 of Lute Music from Scotland and France that pulls together extracts from a number of lute books. Lindberg is a first rate lutenist but for all the merits of his disc this new one, containing as it does forty five pieces from the Lute Book of Lady Margaret Wemyss is a must for all enthusiasts of the lute.
Martin Eastwell is a mesmerising lutenist who brings out every little nuance and detail from these often elusive works. The recording is excellent and the notes, that include details of the instruments, are extremely informative.
Interestingly Martin Eastwell will be performing live at The Moot Hall, Hexham, Northumberland on 19th May 2013, Holywell Music Room, Oxford on 16th June 2013 and Burgh House, Hampstead on 7th July 2013 www.martineastwell.com/news