Founded in 1990, Ensemble Galilei takes its name from the composer Vincenzo Galilei, whose influence, some 400 years ago, helped restore a vital element of passion to the music of his day. The group includes both classically-trained and folk-trained musicians, from Liz Knowles, fiddler on the national tour of Riverdance, to Carolyn Anderson Surrick, who has an M.A. in musicology and has performed early music on the viola da gamba for 23 years. The women specialize in Celtic music, early music, and original compositions, of which there are many featured on this recording. "The idea of Celtic/early music crossover was a happy accident," says gamba player Carolyn Anderson Surrick. "Ensemble Galilei was founded on the premise that for us, it was the music-making that was the most important, rather than the genre…and it happens that our backgrounds are Celtic and early music."
The ensemble has been heard on National Public Radio®—with Benjamin Roe Performance Today; with Robert Siegel on All Things Considered, and on the Diane Rehm Show. The group has been critically acclaimed for their lively, informed interpretations and spirited improvisations. "There's an ease about the way they play," said Roe, "that seems to break down the barriers that normally exist between the audience and the performer."
On their first recording for Telarc, the group did considerable research to find pieces that could conceivably have been used as actual incidental music in the plays of the Bard. The result is a captivating selection of popular 16th- and 17th-century lute-songs, jigs, reels, and country-dance tunes that relate by text, title, and spirit to Shakespeare's works. Included are pieces from the Thomas Tallis Lute Book (published in 1583), and from the eighteen editions of Playford's English Dancing Master (published between 1651 and 1728).
Intermingled with authentic music of the period is an assembly of evocative original compositions by the women of Ensemble Galilei, including the haunting title track, "Come, Gentle Night," jointly written by Liz Knowles and Carolyn Surrick. The underlying text is taken from Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet declaims, "Come, gentle night—come loving, black-browed night, Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars. And he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with the night, and pay no worship to the garish sun."