Renaissance Music from England
The golden age of English Music lies between the end of the XVIth century and the first quarter of the XVIIth century. The present CD comprises some of the greatest composers ever known in England, featuring the legendary Alfred Deller.
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Music In Early Seventeenth-Century England
The golden age of English music lies roughly between the end of the sixteenth and the first quarter of the seventeenth centuries. Although generally and somewhat loosely called the 'Elizabethan Age', this period of greatness, which coincided with the full flowering of the English drama (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, etc.), actually covers only the last part of the reign of the great Elizabeth and extends throughout the reign of James I, the first of the Stuarts. During the period of forty years between about 1588 (the year of the victory over the Spanish Armada) and 1625 (the death of James I), England produced a larger number of great composers than at any other time in her history: William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes, John Wilbye, John Dowland, John Bull, Orlando Gibbons - preceded by a generation by the great Thomas Tallis - and at least twenty other highly gifted musicians who would have been the glory of a less fortunate age.
In this respect, Thomas Weelkes, more than any other composer of the English madrigal school, succeeded in bringing about a fusion of the new Italian and the traditional English styles. The ballett, To shorten winter's sadness comes from his second book of Balletts and Madrigals published in 1598. It is a simple movement imitating a dance with two stanzas repeating the musical material in its entirety. The homophonic setting of the poem is broken by the counterpoint of the falala refrain. The other madrigals on this record come from the Madrigals of 5 and 6 parts of 1600, and represent the summit of the achievement in this form. Thule, the period of cosmography and its variation, The Andalusian merchant are remarkable in their variety of detail and the dazzling richness of their musical imagination, even if, quite unique as they are, they still do not reach the emotional power of the other pair of madrigals on this record. 0 care, thou wilt despatch me and Hence care, thou art too cruel are, perhaps, the most imaginative and subtle compositions in all of Weelkes. Each of these madrigals is built on two couplets followed by falala refrains. But they are not the falalas of the balletts; here they are much more evocative of the feeling of deep yearning. The opening of Hence care is superb with its daring harmonic progressions.
No more than a handful of Weelkes's compositions for viols has survived. The only piece for six viols is this Fantasy, which has been described as 'a singularly eloquent and majestic composition'. The piece entitled Lacrimae must have been given this name by mistake, according to manuscript sources, because it bears no relation to Dowland's song, Flow my tears which is at the origin of all the pieces called Lacrimae. Several composers of the period wrote Cries of London, among them Orlando Gibbons and Richard Dering. These works are fantasies for violas da gamba - in the case of Gibbons an In nomine - with traditional London street-cries superimposed or divided among five voices. Weelkes's work differs from the others in its use of only one part; moreover, it ends on an Alleluia while the others conclude with the words of the night-watchman, and so, good night All laud and praise is what is called a verse anthem, i.e. an anthem in which passages for one or more soloists alternate with choral sections. The four choruses are all short, simple and written in only four parts.
Thomas Tomkins comes at the end of the Golden Age of English music. His art shows a perfect assimilation of the style and expression of his time, but with enough originality and individuality to add something new. His work has great rhythmic subtlety, particularly in the falala refrains of his madrigals and balletts, and his harmonic audacity when illustrating the meaning of certain words is far in advance of his contemporaries. He composed in all the musical forms known at his time excepting the solo song. In 1622 he published a book of twenty-eight madrigals that may be considered as the ultimate glory of madrigal publications of the Golden Age. The collection was dedicated to Lord Pembroke, but Tomkins added an uncommon detail by dedicating each work to one of his personal friends. The ballett, To the shady woods, dedicated to Robert Chetwode, is a short but charming piece. The two falala sections present a rhythmic contrast, one being in duple and the other in triple time. Oyez! Has any found a lad? makes use of the idiom of the street-criers as Weelkes did in his Cries of London.
I heard a voice from heaven comes from Tomkins's second book, which was published twelve years after his death and called Musica Deo sacra because it contained ninety-four anthems. / heard a voice is part of a funeral service: the effective use of an original harmony will be noted in this short and very beautiful four-part anthem.
About thirty compositions for viols have survived. The two Fantasias a 3 on this record come from a book of fourteen. The Fantasia no.9 is lyrical in character, while the Fantasia no.10, sometimes known as the 'Modulating Fantasia', is a three-part canon at the fifth below. The Pavane in A minor also appears in a keyboard version in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It is a piece of great harmonic power.
Orlando Gibbons published only one book of madrigals. It appeared in 1612 under the title of First Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5 parts: apt. for Viols and Voyces. It appears that most of these madrigals were conceived as consort songs, that is, for solo or several voices with an instrumental accompaniment. In this recording they are sung a cappella, with the exception of What is our life?, sung here with an instrumentation by John Buttrey, the tenor of the Deller Consort. This madrigal is a sublime setting of Sir Walter Raleigh's magnificent poem.
The 'Royal' Pavane (or Pavan Deleroye) was written for five viols although only three parts survive in the manuscript (B.M. Add. 30826-8). The two missing parts have been reconstituted for this recording by Francis Baines. The In nomine comes from a set of three similar pieces, a genre that is peculiar to English music and invariably based on the same cantus firmus. The name comes from John Taverner's Mass with the title Gloria tibi Trinitas in which part of the Benedictus, beginning with the words 'In nomine Domini' was arranged as an instrumental piece.
In 1596 Orlando entered the choir of King's College, Cambridge - he was only twelve years of age -, and on 1 March 1605 he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, a situation which, at the age of twenty-two, is comparable only to that of William Byrd who was only nineteen when appointed at Lincoln Cathedral. In 1623 he became organist at Westminster Abbey. He rapidly acquired the reputation of the best artist of the time and was considered one of the greatest composers of verse anthems for voices and viols. As a member of the Chapel Royal Gibbons moved about a great deal: whenever the King travelled his household followed. Thus we learn of the composer's voyage to Scotland in 1617 in the train of James I, on which occasion Gibbons specially composed the anthem Great King of Gods.
Behold, Thou hast made my days was composed in 1618 for the Dean of Westminster, Dr Maxey, who was on his deathbed and chose the verses of the psalm himself. The authenticity of The secret sins, more of a consort song than an anthem, is dubious.
Orlando Gibbons, who died prematurely of apoplexy in 1625, excelled in every branch of composition known in his time and his work takes its place in the front ranks of the great school of English contrapuntists.
- Maurice Bevan