This late Renaissance to early Baroque music, mid
sixteenth to early seventieth century, as it appears on those
selections, is loaded with an irresistible lyricism and charm.
English Music From The Late Renaissance To Early
The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is its primary source. It was previously
named Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, after Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Queen of England and Ireland, this title was soon abandoned because she
actually never owned the book. The name comes from the Viscount
Fitzwilliam who donated this collection of manuscripts to Cambridge
University in 1816, the Fitzwilliam Museum is now the keeper of this
The "virginal" is originally a small, even portable harpsichord, but at
the time the pieces were composed it was referring to any keyboard
instrument, even including the organ.
The book is a collection of pieces by many composers roughly from 1562
to 1612. Together with well-known names like William Byrd, John Bull,
Orlando Gibbons and Giles Farnaby, it features lesser known composers
like Martin Peerson, Peter Philips, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
It is interesting to note that Richard Strauss did use some selections
from that compilation in his opera "Die schweigsame Frau" (1935).
Portrait of a Woman
Artist: British Painter (ca. 1600) Date: ca. 1600 Medium: Oil on wood
These compositions from a couple of centuries before the emergence of
the modern piano, are conceived in a radically different tuning system
and they use "church (ecclesiastical) modes" instead of tonalities
(keys) as we know them today. However, they do sound exceptionally
captivating and alluring on the modern piano. I believe their lyrical
core is even better projected when played on a piano.
The modern notation version used in those recordings are made by J. A.
Fuller Maitland and W. Barclay Squire and (re) published by Dover
Even though those authors did a fascinating job on setting the
accidentals right the subject of the validity of accidentals remains
obscure in many places. The extend of validity of accidentals is a big
problem when dealing with pre-tonal music. The occurrence, annulment,
or alteration of many of those accidentals in many places remain a
question of "interpretation" because the rules were not written and
supposed to be known by the performers. Similarly, some time signatures
and their changes during a piece present problematical rhythmical
interpretation questions, best resolved only intuitively by our days
Unlike for the musicologist or the historian, for myself, the question
of historical authenticity remains only be a minor concern. It is
relevant only as far as it leads to set the ground for the best
unfolding and projection of the exquisite sensibility which emerges
from those pages.
My ornamentation, tempos and even my interpretation of some doubtful
accidentals and rhythms were all aimed towards the communication of the
spirit of those works rather than exposing a dry "historical
authenticity", vague term often used as a shield for poor musicality.
Pieces featured in this album can be roughly grouped into roughly five
First category may be called "individual character pieces". With
suggesting titles like "Tell mee, Daphne" (G. Farnaby) or "The King's
Hunt" (J. Bull), these are predicting the best of Couperin and Rameau
pieces. They are amazingly suggestive and brilliant in their settings.
Another popular category is "Fantasia"s, sometimes titled "Ut re mi
..." (spelling out the theme) where rich contrapuntal textures
alternate with brilliant virtuoso passages. One or more fugato style
sections often involving four to six voices are followed by
"variations" called "Rep." where fast and light, brilliant keyboard
technique is required.
The regular pair "Pavana and Galiard(a)" constitute a very common form
as well. Both the "Pavanas" and the "Galiard(a)s" are generally made of
two or three parts, each followed by their variations.
A number of individual Pavanas and a lesser number of Galiards by many
composers can also be found in the books.
Liturgical music is scarcely present too. There is a few Psalms and
common Catholic prayers often elaborated as "Fantasias" with
contrapuntal settings alternating with instrumental passages.
Composers featured in this compilation are:
I - Giles Farnaby (c. 1563 - 1640)
II - Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 - 1621)
III - John Bull (1562/63 - 1628)
IV - John Dowland (1563 - 1626)
V - Martin Peerson (1571/73 - 1650/51)
VI - Orlando Gibbons (1583 - 1625)
VII - Thomas Warrock (1565 - 1610)
VIII - William Byrd (1539/40/43 - 1623)
I - Giles Farnaby (c. 1563 - 1640)
Giles Farnaby (c. 1563 - 1640) was one
of the great English virginalists among William Byrd, John Bull and
Orlando Gibbons, Farnaby, however, was not a professional musician.
The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, contains 52 of his pieces. Notable among
them are 11 Fantasias, a wonderful and technically demanding set of
variations called "Woody-Cock", and short but charming descriptive
pieces such as "Giles Farnabys Dreame", "His Rest", "Farnabyes Conceit"
and "His Humour." In addition to his keyboard compositions, Farnaby
also composed madrigals, canzonets and psalms.
II - Jan
Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 - 1621)
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
(1562 - 1621)
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 - 1621) was
a Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue whose work straddled the end
of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras. He was among the
first major keyboard composers of Europe, and his work as a teacher
helped establish the north German organ tradition.
III - John Bull
(1562/63 - 1628)
John Bull (1562/63 - 1628)
Composer, musician and organ builder, John
Bull (1562/63 - 1628) was a renowned keyboard performer and most of his
compositions were written for the virginal. He made an impressive fame
in the early 17th century as a keyboard composer.
His first (and only) publication, in 1612 or 1613, was a contribution
of seven pieces forming part of a collection of virginal music entitled
"Parthenia", or the "Maydenhead of the First Musicke That Ever Was
Printed for the Virginalls", dedicated to the 15-year-old Princess
Elizabeth, who was his student, on the occasion of her betrothal to
Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine.
The other contributors to "Parthenia" were Bull's contemporaries
William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, among the most famous composers of
the age. Bull also wrote an anthem: "God the father, God the son" for
the wedding in 1613 of the princess and the Elector Palatine.
In addition to his keyboard compositions, he wrote verse anthems,
canons and other works.
IV - John Dowland
(1563 - 1626)
John Dowland (1563 - 1626) was a composer,
lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs
such as "Come, heavy sleep" (the basis of Benjamin Britten's 1963
composition for guitar solo, Nocturnal after John Dowland), "Come
again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me
dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and
with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing
source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.
V - Martin Peerson
(1571/73 - 1650/51)
At a time when Roman Catholic was the
"official" path of faith and even when it was illegal not to subscribe
to Church of England beliefs and practices, Martin Peerson (1571/73 -
1650/51) was highly esteemed for his musical abilities and held posts
at St Paul's Cathedral and, it is believed, Westminster Abbey. His
output included both sacred and secular music in forms such as consort
music, keyboard pieces, madrigals and motets.
Peerson's powerful patrons enabled him to print and publish a
considerable quantity of his music among them "Tristiae Remedium", with
texts assembled by the Reverend Thomas Myriell mainly using psalm texts
in the English language.
VI - Orlando
Gibbons (1583 - 1625)
Orlando Gibbons (1583 -
English composer, virginalist and organist
of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods, Orlando Gibbons (1583 -
1625) was a leading composer in England in the early 17th century.
One of the most versatile English composers of his time, Gibbons wrote
a large number of keyboard works, around thirty fantasias for viols, a
number of madrigals (the best-known being "The Silver Swan"), and many
popular verse anthems, all to English texts.
VII - Thomas
Warrock (1565 - 1610)
English organist and composer, Thomas
Warrock (1565 - 1610) may have been the father of the organist and
composer Thomas Warwick. He was admitted a choirboy of Hereford
Cathedral in February 1574/5, and was organist there from 1586 to 1589.
VIII - William
Byrd (1539/40/43 - 1623)
William Byrd (1539/40/43
Famous English composer of the Renaissance.
William Byrd (1539/40/43 - 1623) wrote in many of the forms current in
England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular
polyphony, keyboard (the so-called Virginalist school), and consort
music. He produced sacred music for use in Anglican services, although
he himself became a Roman Catholic in later life and wrote Catholic
sacred music as well.
Byrd's output of about 470 compositions amply justifies his reputation
as one of the great masters of European Renaissance music. Perhaps his
most impressive achievement as a composer was his ability to transform
so many of the main musical forms of his day and stamp them with his
Having grown up in an age in which Latin polyphony was largely confined
to liturgical items for the Sarum rite, he assimilated and mastered the
Continental motet form of his day, employing a highly personal
synthesis of English and continental models. He virtually created the
Tudor consort and keyboard fantasia, having only the most primitive
models to follow. He also raised the consort song, the church anthem
and the Anglican service setting to new heights. Finally, despite a
general aversion to the madrigal, he succeeded in cultivating secular
vocal music in an impressive variety of forms in his three sets of
1588, 1589 and 1611.