Recorded at Chateau de Cardona, Catalonia, february 1990
Jenkins was the first important English composer to devote himself mainly to consort music. Compared to William Lawes' more whimsical style (see my earlier post, 'For ye Violls'), Jenkins may be called delicate and even solemn - as for example in his beautiful Pavan № 2.
All Music Guide
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John Jenkins was born in Maidstone. Kent in 1592, the son of a carpenter. Nothing is known of his early life and training, except that his father was musical - he owned seven viols and violins, a bandora and a cittern at his death in 1617 - and he may be the "Jack Jenkins" who taught Lady Anne Clifford to sing and play the bass viol in 1603. Jenkins's career was unusual at a time when most composers were employed at the Court or nearby in London : he spent most of his life working for aristocratic families in remote country houses in eastern England - such as the Dereham family at West Dereham. the I'Estrange family at Hunstanton and Sir Philip Wodehouse at Kimberley, all in Norfolk. He is only known to have been in London once before the Civil War began in 1642 - for the masque The Triumph of Peace in 1634 - though it is likely that he often accompanied his patrons to their town houses during the winter season. He finally received a post at Court as a lutenist when Charles Il was restored to the throne on 1660, though by then he was too old to take an active part in court musical affairs: he died at Kimberley and was buried in the church there on 29 October 1678.
Perhaps the most important of Jenkins's aristocratic patrons was the North family of Kirtling in Cambridgeshire, where he lived for much of the 1650s and 1660s. Their collection of music manuscripts, sold to the Oxford University Music School in 1667. includes authoritative copies of nearly 200 pieces by Jenkins, including the best source of his six-part consort music. Furthermore, the writer Roger North, who was taught by Jenkins at Kirtling in the 1660s, is the source of much of our knowledge of the composer. " Mr Jenkins was a very gentile and well bred gentleman", he wrote, "and was allways not onely welcome, hut greatly valued by the familys wherever he had taught and convers't. He was constantly complaisant in every thing desired of him. and wherever he went Mirth and Solace (as the song hath it) attended him". In another essay North wrote that Jenkins passed "his time at gentleman's houses in the country where musick was of the family, and he was ever courted and never slighted, hut at home wherever, he went: and in most of his freinds houses there was a chamber called by his name".
Jenkins was the first important English composer to devote himself mainly to consort music; only a few of his vocal pieces survive, and North wrote that "his vein was less happy in the vocall part, for tho he took pleasure in putting musick to poems, he reteined his instrumentall style so much, that few of them were greatly approved". He grew up at a time when the practice of playing consort music was suddenly becoming popular among amateurs. The viol had been known in England since about 1515, but its use was confined largely to professionals until about 1600; the children of the aristocracy were taught music by way of solo instruments such as the lute, the cittern and the virginals. A number of Elizabethan composers, including Robert Parsons, Christopher Tye and William Byrd, wrote consort music, but there is little sign that it was played by amateurs; indeed, it seems to have been used largely for teaching purposes in choir schools, and some of it may be intended for wind instruments rather than viols. The more advanced skills needed for playing in ensembles only became widespread during the reign of James I (1603-1625); James's sons Henry and Charles both played the viol, and their example probably helped to make it popular. The main English consort repertory begins with the work of four composers who worked at court in the household of Prince Charles during James I's reign : Alfonso Ferrabosco II, John Coprario, Thomas Lupo and Orlando Gibbons. Between them, they established most of the forms and styles that were taken up and developed outside the Court by the next generation.
A novel feature of the consort music of these four composers is that a distinction can be observed for the first time between old and new, or what Italian composers called the stile antico and the stile moderno. All of them wrote contrapuntal fantasias for viols, but they also experimented with new scorings and new forms. Ferrabosco and Coprario wrote fantasias and dances for lyra viols (small bass viols played in a chordal style from tablature) which compressed five- or six-part writing onto two or three instruments. Gibbons and Lupo wrote fantasias for mixed groups of violins, viols and organ in an idiom partly derived from dance music; until then the violin had been almost entirely a dance instrument. Towards the end of James I's reign Coprario wrote the first examples of the fantasia suite or "sett" for one or two violins, bass viol and organ, the nearest English equivalent of the early Italian solo and trio sonata. Jenkins used all these forms, and added some new ones of his own: he wrote fantasia suites for treble viol, two bass viols and organ, for two violins and two bass viols and organ, and for three violins, bass viol and organ, and he invented the "lyra consort", an exotic mixed ensemble of violin, lyra viol, bass viol, theorbo and harpsichord.
The innovations of Jacobean consort music were not confined to these modern forms, for the viol consort fantasia was also considerably updated. In the sixteenth century composers normally wrote for viols as they did for voices, spreading the parts evenly across the pitch spectrum. Jacobean composers began to group them in pairs, with equal, crossing treble and bass parts. At the same time they added an organ part, which was similar in function to the continuo in Italian music but was written out in full. And they began to break up the continuous counterpoint of the sixteenth-century fantasia with homophonic sections, with writing that exploited antiphonal effects between various groupings of the instruments in the manner of Italian double-choir music, and with fast running passages idiomatic to the viol. Apart from the running passages, which were derived from the Elizabethan tradition of adding variations or 'divisions' to dance music, the main model for this style was the Italian madrigal; indeed, Ferrabosco and Coprario went so far as to base some of their fantasias on specific madrigals by Marenzio and his contemporaries.
Jenkins's set of six-part fantasias cannot be dated exactly, but it has been generally accepted that they were written in his youth, perhaps in the 1620s or 3()s. The set actually seems to consist of two groups, which were not necessarily written at the same time. The North manuscripts contain nine fantasias, followed by two pavans, two additional fantasias and two In Nomines; there is a 12th fantasia in one of the secondarv manuscripts, but its absence in the main source is perhaps a hint that it is not an authentic work, and it has been omitted on this recording. The last six pieces may have been written first, for they seem to be the most dependent on earlier models. In particular, the theme of the opening section of no. 10 is similar to the opening of Palestrina's madrigal "Vestiva i colli" (published in England in Musica Transalpina of 1588 with the text "Sound out my voice"); as we have seen, Italian madrigals had a strong influence on Jacobean composers (Ferrabosco wrote two sets of bass viol divisions on "Vestiva i colli"). but composers of Jenkins's generation only rarely refer to them.
The two In Nomines also appear to be early works. The In nomine was the final flowering of the Mediaeval technique of surrounding a plain-song cantus firmus with decorative counterpoint - the fantasia uses the more modern technique of imitation, in which all the parts discuss the melodic material equally. The In Nomine plain-song comes from the chant Gloria tibi trinitas. and was called 'In Nomine' from its use in a famous passage of John Taverner's mass Gloria tibi trinitasat the words 'In nomine Domini' of the Benedictus. Taverner's original, the model for all later In Nomines. probably dates from the 1520s. but the heyday of the form was thirty or forty years later; nearly 100 consort In Nomines by Elizabethan composers survive, and many more were written for keyboard. Jenkins's two six-part In Nomines are fine, elaborate works, but the first is perhaps too dependent on Jacobean models (the semi-quaver passage in the middle is very similar to a passage in a five-part In Nomine by Gibbons), and in both his imagination occasionally seems restricted by the cantus firmus.
The two pavans also belong to a genre that was old-fashioned by the 1620s and 30s. In the course of Elizabeth's reign the pavan evolved from a simple, functional dance into a vehicle for serious, melancholy thoughts - as in John Dowland's Lachrimae pavans. By 1600 most pavans were clearly not intended for dancing, for the three sections or "strains" tend to have an irregular number of bars, there is frequently a good deal of elaborate counterpoint, and there is sometimes a change into triple time in the last strain. Jenkins's pavans stand at the end of this line of development. The 'Bell Pavan' is highly contrapuntal, and changes into triple time for a passage imitating the English type of bell ringing using permutations of six notes. Like his more famous 'Lady Katherine Audley's Bells', it quotes the 'Whittington Chimes', a tune supposedly played by the clock of St Mary-le-Bow Church until the Great Fire of London in 1666. The other pavan is less contrapuntal but is on an even larger scale than its companion : it has no fewer than 52 bars of breves: Elizabethan pavans, by comparison, usually consist of three eight-bar strains.
Fantasias nos. 1-9 seem to be more mature pieces, and display a wide range of contrapuntal techniques. Some, like nos. 5 and 6, are constructed like madrigals: an opening passage of imitation is followed by an alternating sequence of full harmony and light, faster-moving passages: no single theme is heard throughout. Others, such as nos. 2 and 3, are based on a single theme, or permutations of a single theme, and tend therefore to have fewer contrasts : they are closer to eighteenth-century fugal technique. In nos. 2 and 4 Jenkins uses his favourite device of presenting a fugal idea in conjunction with its inversion : indeed, much of no. 4 is an essay in simultaneously rising and falling motives. Another structural feature that is worthy of comment is the way that the first seven fantasias arc grouped by key: nos. 1-3 are in C minor, while nos. 4,5,6 and 7 are in D minor. Jacobean fantasias often appear to be grouped by key in the original sources, though it is often hard to know how significant this is. In the present case, it is surely significant that nos. 5 and 6 are similar in their structure, while nos. 4 and 5 both have extensive modulations to D major and A major; it is probably not coincidence, too, that nos. 6 and 7 have opening themes that outlines a rising D minor triad. It may be that the four pieces are intended to make up a four-movement suite.
The last word is best left to Roger North : "His early compositions, done in his full strength, and being likely to pass among his owne faculty (fellow professionals), were his best, and parcells of them may vet be extant in some gentlemen's collections, whereof the greatest part would bear the test of the present time, if a violent prejudice did not prepossess it".