1st March 1619.

Month of March-Welcome.

images (12)

originally the first month of the pre-Julian Roman calendar, from Mars god of war… Anglo-Saxon hreth-monath-the rough month. It had 31 days in both Republican and Julian Calendars.

‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’: old proverb.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, there were just eight months of March with a temperature above 6(c) 42 (f), but since 1988 all but two were above this threshold.

March it seems, has been getting warmer, the coldest months being between the 1690s and 1780s, with a mean temperature of 3.9 (c) (39(f), which is appreciably lower than the present January and February averages.(1)

However statistics ignore the unusual, as Meteorological Office (Met Office) records show March 2013 was the joint second coldest on record.

(1) Central England figures produced by Prof. Gordon Manley who took over 30 years to examine historical weather diaries and journals helped by the Radcliffe Observatory.


To welcome March we note that it was Today in 1619 which saw Thomas Campion’s burial entered into the records of St Dunstan’s in the West, London.

Thomas was a polymath: a poet, physician and composer of lute songs and masques for dancing. 

Lutes.Deutsches Museum.

Selection of Lutes.Deutsches Museum.

Campion wrote a technical treatise on music and in 1615 published a book on counterpoint: ‘A New Way of Making Fowre [four] Parts in Counterpoint By a Most Familiar and Infallible Rule.’ (1)

It involved the writing of musical lines that sound very different, but move independently from each other and sound harmonious when played simultaneously: different, but pleasing in the end result.

Early English exponents, as well as Campion, were the composers, Blow, Byrd and Purcell.(2)

A related composition form to Counterpoint, is the Round, a type of Canon, such as ‘London’s Burning’, or the children’s ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’. The voices sing the same melody in unison, with each voice beginning at a different time, the whole effect, hopefully, being harmonious.

One of the notable users of counterpoint in the 20th century, was Benjamin Britten in the final section of his popularly called ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’. The theme is played by full orchestra, then played by various families of instruments and then the full orchestra again.

Then Britten shows off individual instruments by having them play variations of the theme, resulting in an harmonious whole.(3)

Each variation also changes dynamics (loudness), tempo (speed) and mood. There are 13 variations of instruments ranging from flutes to the percussion.

Finally the piece finishes with a new tune, introduced by piccolo, which is then played in a fugue, a sort of counterpoint, that Britten describes as a ‘race between instruments’, until the brass again play to complete the work.

(1) Counterpoint from the Latin punctus contra punctum, or point against point, relating to the fact that individual notes are set against other lines of music to create a pleasing, melodic sound.

(2) As Alan Belkin says, ‘The art of combining independent lines is misleading unless the musical texture makes sense as a whole, as it will sound arbitrary and confused.’

He uses the analogy of conversation where all can contribute without any attempt to overpower.

(3) Harmony is the combining of notes into chords to be heard simultaneously. It can be described as the ‘vertical’ aspect of music, in contrast to melody, its ‘horizontal’ aspect.

Ref: wikipedia.org/counterpoint/rounds_music.

Ref: alanbelkinmusic.com/bk,c/c/Counterpoint 3.

Ref: Wikisource.org//Wik/Campion_Thomas.

Ref:utey.ed/Young Person’s Guide to Orchestra.

Ref: learnersdictionary.com/counterpoint.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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