At last, What Is Our Life?

We have updated and re-released our video of What Is Our Life? by Orlando Gibbons! More below the video…

The text of this early 17th century piece is a poem on the progression from birth to death (text below). Fittingly, we posted our updated video of the piece on YouTube on Halloween/All Hallows Eve, and now we’re writing to you very early on All Hallows/All Saints Day in our time zone. We’ve been working on the Ars Moriendi (‘art of dying’) project we’ve talked about in previous blog posts and learning ever more about the process of video editing. This video is a re-release of an earlier version, updated using new audio and visual tools. In future posts, we’ll be telling you about our experience creating this video, our study of the context and meaning of its text, and the Ars Moriendi project and other projects.

What Is Our Life?
Music by Orlando Gibbons
Text attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh
First published 1612

Historical form:

What is our life? a play of passion,
Our mirth the musicke of diuision1,
Our mothers wombes the tyring houses2 be,
Where we are drest for this short Comedy,
Heauen the Iudicious sharpe spectator is,
That sits and markes still who doth act amisse,
Our graues that hide vs from the searching Sun,
Are like drawne curtaynes when the play is done,
Thus march we playing to our latest rest3,
Onely we dye in eamest, that's no iest.

(As published in First Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5. Parts of Orlando Gibbons, in 1612)

Modern form:

What is our life? A play of passion.
Our mirth the music of division.
Our mothers' wombs the 'tiring houses be
Where we are dress'd for this short comedy.
Heav'n the judicious sharp spectator is,
That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
Our graves that hide us from the searching sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest;
Only we die in earnest, that's no jest.

1. Embellishing a line of longer notes by ‘dividing’ them into passages of shorter ones; entr’actes or short musical interludes between acts of a play 
2. The building or space where the actors dressed – ‘tiring, here, as in “to attire oneself”
3. Last rest

Performers from left to right:
Paul Alexei Smith, countertenor
Eszter Komáromi, bass viol
Esha Neogy, treble viol
Allan Fagerlund, bass viol
Kieran Cooper, bass

Design, audio editing, video editing: Eszter Komáromi
Audio editing: Jim Lindsay

For more information on the viol (viola da gamba):