Matthew Locke - Consort Of Four Parts, Suites (6) For 4 Viols & Continuo (optional)
Recorded in 1993 (Cardona)
All Music Guide
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Matthew Locke was born in Devon in 1621 or 1622. He was a choirboy at Exeter Cathedral, and probably studied composition with one of the musicians there, such as the organist John Lugge, or Edward Gibbons, elder brother of Orlando. We know little about his early career, though he may have gone abroad soon after the beginning of the Civil War, when the cathedral choir at Exeter was disbanded. A manuscript of songs and Italian motets in his hand is headed "A Collection of Songs when I was in the Low Countreys 1648". Locke seems to have returned to England soon after peace was restored with the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1649, for he stated in his autograph volume of consort music (now in the British Library) that the collection "The Little Consort" had been "made at the request of Mr Wake for his Schollars 1651." Wake had been a musician at Exeter Cathedral, and was teaching in the city at that time. Locke probably spent most of the 1650s living and working in London, and was certainly on hand to write music for Sir William Davenant's operatic ventures, starting in 1656 with The Siege of Rhodes.
In 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, Matthew Locke effectively became England's leading composer. He received a number of posts in the newly-revived court, including that of composer to the royal violin band, the Twenty-four Violins, composer for the Private Music (for which he composed some of his contrapuntal consort music), and organist of the queen's Catholic chapel; he seems to have converted to Catholicism in his youth, possibly when he was on the Continent. Locke's later years were largely taken up with writing music for the theatre, including the first semi-opera Psychey produced in 1675. He died in the summer of 1677, and was succeeded as composer to the Twenty-four Violins by his friend and follower Henry Purcell.
Matthew Locke and his contemporaries inherited a rich and distinctive tradition of consort music that went back to Tudor times. Strange as it may seem, the upheavals of the Civil War produced ideal conditions for its cultivation. England's main musical institutions - the Royal Music, the cathedral and collegiate choirs, and the groups in London's theatres - were disbanded, forcing a large number of professional musicians to fend for themselves. Many of them endured hardship, but their presence in the wider musical community undoubtedly stimulated the cultivation of consort music. Also, the Puritans were not against music as such, as used to be believed, only against its cultivation in the church and the theatre. The historian Anthony Wood wrote that "they encouraged instrumental musick", and thought they had a political motive: "but vocall musick the heads of these parties did not care for, and the juniors were afraid to entertaine it because used by the prelaticall party in their devotions". Roger North had a more down-to-earth explanation: "during the troubles; and when most other good arts languished Musick held up her head, not at Court nor (in the cant of those times) profane Theatres, but in private society, for many chose to fidle at home, than to goe out, and be knockt on the head abroad."
We do not know exactly when Matthew Locke wrote the "Consort of Power Parts", but it was probably during the 1650s, when he would have been working and teaching in London, and is likely to have been involved in organising consort music. The set is certainly one of the last sets of music for viol consort written in England. In the 1630s and 1640s English composers, particularly those working at court, increasingly turned to types of consort music that mixed viols with violins and theorboes or organ. Roger North described Locke's "Consort of Fower Parts" as "a magnifick consort of 4 parts, after the old style, which was the last of the kind that hath bin made, so wee may rank him with Cleomenes King of Sparta who was styled ultimus herooum. Elsewhere, North wrote that "M' M. Lock's 4 parts" was "worthy to bring up the rere, after which wee are to expect no more of that style, especially considering how few before may be compared with it."
In fact, Locke's "Consort of Fower Parts" is not entirely "after the old style". For one thing, it consists of six suites, each consisting of a fantasia followed by a standard sequence of three dances, a courante, an ayre or alman, and a saraband. The central viol consort repertory consists mainly of sets of fantasias. The fantasia suite, a fixed sequence of fantasia-alman-galliard, was developed by John Coprario around 1620, but it was used exclusively for mixed ensembles of violins and viols until around 1650; indeed, Locke may have been the first composer to write fantasia suites for viols, though he added a second triple-time dance to the sequence. Earlier composers had experimented with grouping their fantasia suites by key, but Locke ordered them in such as way that they could be played either as a complete set, or as single items, or - and this seems to have been his preferred option - in pairs. The "Consort of Fower Parts" is divided by key into three parts - suites nos. 1 and 2 arc in D minor/major, 3 and 4 in F major, 5 and 6 in G minor/major - and the second suite of each pair is rounded off in a satisfying way by a short passage of grave duple time labelled "Conclude thus".
Locke's fantasias, too, are strikingly modern in style. The odd-numbered ones, perhaps reflecting their position at the head of double suites, start with short self-contained repeated introductions, and they are all much more sectionalised than earlier viol consort fantasias, with short chordal passages separating the points of imitation. In fact, they are superficially similar to the "patchwork" sonatas that composers on the Continent were producing at the time - which Locke probably encountered while he was in the Netherlands in the l64()s. In melodic and harmonic style, too, the "Consort of Fower Parts" is surprisingly modern. The fantasias are filled with surprising twists and turns, with angular dances between fashionable-melodic patterns - inspired by imported French dances - and intricate counterpoint. The suites are apparently intended just for four viols, but one source of the fantasias has a continuo part, and Locke is likely to have accompanied them from on the organ from score. It is possible that other continuo instruments were used as well; there were harp players at the courts of Charles I and Charles II, who might well have taken part in consort music of this sort.
Locke's "magnifick consort' is one of the greatest monuments of the English viol music, but, as Roger North implied, it had no successors. In the late 1650s English amateurs were beginning to take up the violin in large numbers, and intricate contrapuntal music of this sort had no place at the Restoration court; North wrote that Charles II had "an utter detestation of fancies", and only liked music he could beat time to. Purcell, of course, wrote his fantasias in and around 1680, but they seem to have been written as composition exercises, and may never have been performed. He seems to have had access to Locke's autograph score of his consort music, and borrowed some superficial features from the "Consort of Fower Parts", but mainly preferred to explore the more intricate and Icarned contrapuntal style of the sixteenth century.