Lucy Cross

Lucy Cross

Lucy Cross (b. New York, NY, 6 December 194– June 26, 2015) is a music historian with numerous peripheral skills and interests. For many decades she was renowned in the early-music world as a lutenist and collegium director, and as a member or leader of several prominent performing groups. An experienced and sought-after writer of program and liner notes, for seven years she wrote biographies and synopses and touched up copy for Sony’s masterworksbroadway.com. Most of the biographies you read on this website were researched and written by LEC.

Lucy’s parents met on the stage of the Chautauqua Opera Company in western New York State; her father was singing the title role in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, and her mother, the ballet mistress, was called upon to teach him to do a pirouette. Her father’s performing career fizzled, and during the time that Lucy and her three siblings were growing up in the cold but pleasant farm country of northwest Connecticut, her mother supported the family by running a ballet school. (Torrington’s Nutmeg Ballet is a direct descendant.) During the summers of Lucy’s teenage years, her mother, with a coterie (in which Lucy was not a participant) of “ballet girls,” returned to Chautauqua, where Lucy played the violin in the student orchestra, sang in the choir, painted flats for the Opera, and ran little errands for the Director (and got paid for it, too).

She had a powerful passion for opera from the start. She would have killed to be Tosca or Mimí in La bohéme, if a thoughtless substitute singing teacher – whose name she never learned – had not declared that her singing future would be limited to “church work.”

At the Northfield School for Girls she sang in all the choirs, acted in all the plays, and was concertmistress of the orchestra. At Vassar College she majored in Drama and English and sang in all the choirs, but gave up the violin. A member of the Madrigal Group, she learned to love early music (both her parents hated it) and, browsing in the library, independently discovered the songs of Francesco Landini, the blind composer of the fourteenth century.

Graduating from college and leaving the Madrigal Group was like being abandoned on a desert island. She got a job teaching “dramatics” at a private girls’ school in New Jersey, but was dismissed for being “a little too broad-minded, Miss Cross.” She took up the lute, a decidedly solitary instrument, and an odd choice considering that what she missed was ensemble singing. It took another year of aimless searching about before she decided to go to music school.

There was only one teacher of the lute in the East at the time, Joseph Iadone. He had been a protégé of Paul Hindemith many years before, but was not on the faculty of the Yale School of Music, so an exception was made for Lucy to study with him. After she earned her Master’s degree from Yale, she assisted Iadone at the Hartt College of Music at the University of Hartford and at his summer early music workshops at Windham College. Lucy was part of a growing community of young musicians fascinated with medieval and Renaissance music, and formed with them several fancifully-named performing groups: The Food of Love, The Countiss Trio, The Cappella Cordina, The Trio Francesca Caccini (Francesca also lent her name to a cat). Lucy made a small income from teaching kiddie guitar and from – naturally – “church work.”

In 1970 Lucy joined the New York Pro Musica Antiqua and reluctantly left New Haven. The concert ensemble consisted of six singers and five instrumentalists: two players of recorders and other winds, a viola da gamba player, a harpsichordist, and Lucy, who also took on the viol and the sackbut. The musical director was Paul Maynard, who had been a harpsichordist in the original 1952 New York Pro Musica under Noah Greenberg, and although he was hired only to fill the gap while the Board of Directors searched for a leader with more impressive credentials, he was far and away the best musician ever to hold that post, and Lucy learned a lot from him.

The Pro Musica’s costumed performances of An Entertainment for Elizabeth and The Plays of Daniel and Herod were thrilling, but touring them coast to coast, often in a devilishly inefficient progression of venues, turned out to be a trial. Some hair-raising incidents in airplanes had, perversely, the effect of quelling Lucy’s initial fear of flying. After a triumphal but exhausting tour of South America, Lucy decided to quit the ensemble and set out on her own. In 1974 the New York Pro Musica Antiqua died its own natural death.

That same year, with four or five other dispossessed Pro Musicans, Lucy founded her own presenting group and ensemble, The Elizabethan Enterprise. Its first project was a series of six concerts at Carnegie Recital Hall, the last of which (“A Renaissance Band”) was completely sold out, with disgruntled people outside beating at the doors. As musicians, The Elizabethan Enterprise gravitated toward music of the late fourteenth century – very complicated and modern-sounding stuff – but never changed its name. One of its members died of AIDS in 1984; it didn’t seem possible to replace him and the group dissolved.

Also in 1974, Lucy Cross resumed her teaching career, joining what was then a very strong Music History Department at the Manhattan School of Music. Since then she has taught and led performing groups at Sarah Lawrence College, Princeton University, Columbia University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of California at Riverside, and the City College of New York. Eventually she earned another Master’s degree and a Doctor of Philosophy in Historical Musicology from Columbia. The title of her dissertation is (take a deep breath) “Chromatic Alteration and Extrahexachordal Intervals in Fourteenth-Century Polyphonic Repertoires” or, more simply put, sharps and flats, written and unwritten, in the works of Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300–1377) and his contemporaries. (Another product of her work in this field is an edition of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, published by C.F. Peters.)

Lucy did not stop playing the lute, but, after The Elizabethan Enterprise, she was never again a regular member of a group. She has performed as a guest at least once, usually in works by Handel, with The New York City Opera (also operas by Monteverdi and Rameau), The Metropolitan Opera, The Florida Grand Opera, The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Lukes, and The Orchestra of the 92nd Street Y. She has appeared with The New York Consort of Viols and Parthenia, and accompanied a number of solo singers in performances of Elizabethan and Spanish lute songs. She even played the lute in a Broadway show.

For decades, in addition to hundreds of program notes written for concerts and classical recordings, Lucy E. Cross has been making rhyming English translations of song lyrics from the Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and German texts that she and her friends perform. The purpose is to keep the audience’s noses out of their program booklets by reading the text aloud before doing the song. Here is Lucy’s own favorite, the rondeau “Donnez l’assault á la fortresse” by Guillaume Dufay (c.1398–1474):

Launch the attack! And insistently press
That impregnable fortress that is my mistress!
Greatest god Cupid, I beg on my knee,
Shoot all thy bolts at my sweet enemy
Who leaves me to languish in pain and distress.

I love a dear lady I cannot possess
Who continues to kill me, though all in excess
Of the pain that I suffer, her lover to be …

Launch the attack! And insistently press
That impregnable fortress that is my mistress!
Greatest god Cupid, I beg on my knee,

Bring all thy forces in full battle-dress,
Thine armies of cupids, and those that profess
To be nobles, and lovers of high courtesy;
If she ever be conquered, it must be by thee,
For wounded I lie at her feet, powerless.

Launch the attack! And insistently press
That impregnable fortress that is my mistress!
Greatest god Cupid, I beg on my knee,
Shoot all thy bolts at my sweet enemy
Who leaves me to languish in pain and distress.

Lucy has recently finished her most ambitious project of this kind to date, a rhyming English translation of the earliest known “musical comedy,” Le jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam de la Halle (c.1283). Her great passion, if you can believe it, is making music from original fifteenth-century notation with her friends and students. She still does church work.

– Herself

– photo taken at “Spiz,” Wroclaw, Poland, 2010

Our friend and colleague Lucy E Cross died on June 26, 2015. She was a bright light, and we miss her.
– The Masterworks Broadway Team