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Giles Farnaby (c1563 - 1640: "Farnaby's Dreame" - keyboard works

Pierre Hantaï, harpsichord [Italian harpsichord by F.A, 1677a; Flemish harpsichord by Ruckers, Antwerp 1624b); Elisabeth Joyé, spinet [French, 17th century]c

rec: Feb & March 1990, Chartres (Fr), Musée des Beaux-Artsa & Colmar (Fr), Musée d'Unterlindenb
Accord - 476 057-2 (R) (© 2003) (76'27")

Almana (M.B., No. 22); Alman (Johnson, set by Farnaby)b (M.B., No. 23); Fantasiaa (M.B., No. 5); Fantasiab (M.B., No. 6); Fantasiaa (M.B., No. 7); Fantasiaa (M.B., No. 10); Fantasiaa (M.B., No. 12); For two Virginalsac; Gallardaa; A Giggea; Giles Farnaby’s Dreameb; His Humoura; The King’s Hunta; Lachrymae Pavan (Dowland, set by Farnaby)b; Mal Simsa; A Maskea (M.B., No. 31); A Maskeb (M.B., No. 32); A maskea (M.B., No. 33); Meridian Almana; Muscadina; The Old Spagniolettaa; Pavana (Johnson, set by Farnaby)b; Pawles Wharfea; Quodling’s Delightb; Rosseter’s Galliarda; Spagniolettaa; Tell mee Daphnea; A Toyb; Why aske youb; Wooddy-Cocka
(M.B.=Musica Brittannica)

Of all English composers of keyboard music in the ‘Elizabethan era’ - the decades around 1600 - Giles Farnaby is one of the most obscure. There is no reference to him in poems of the time, nor was any tribute paid to him by colleagues. None of his keyboard works - 53 in total - were published during his life. All but one have survived only because Francis Tregian included them in his collection of keyboard music which is now known as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.
The relative obscurity of Farnaby is probably due to the fact that he wasn’t a professional musician. He was a joiner by trade, like his father. He received musical training, though: in 1592 he obtained the degree of bachelor in music in Oxford, on the same day John Bull received his doctorate. It is possible, but not certain that Bull was Farnaby’s teacher.

Farnaby never occupied a position as musician. It seems that he was active in this field, since he was described as musitian, when he was buried in 1640. A cousin of his was joiner and ‘virginal builder’ and it is thought that Farnaby has been involved in building and repairing keyboard instruments as well. Richard Marlow explains the fact that almost all of Farnaby's keyboard works were included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book by suggesting that during the time Francis Tregian was imprisoned in London for recusancy it was Giles Farnaby who maintained his virginal. He might have brought him some of his compositions as well.

Farnaby composed keyboard music in almost all forms, like contrapuntal Fantasias, dances and ‘character pieces’ (like Giles Farnaby’s Dreame which has given this CD its title). Of course he also wrote variations on popular tunes, many of which were also used by other composers, like Mal Sims, which is on the same melody as Sweelinck’s Malle Symen. And Farnaby is one of many who made a keyboard transcription of Dowland’s famous Lachrymae Pavan.

Farnaby may have been very modest about his own composing abilities, as he described himself as "a sely sparrowe who presumeth to chirpe in the presence of the melodious Nightingall" (probably referring to John Bull), he certainly composed music with a character all of its own. His music displays great imagination and many pieces are quite virtuosic. The brilliant variations on Wooddy-Cock, an ancient Scottish tune, are a good example. Here and elsewhere the relentless repetition of the same motifs in the left hand is electrifying. In a number of pieces sequences of quavers are followed by passages with semiquavers, followed by demisemiquavers which bring the piece or a section to a close, suggesting an increase in tempo. Farnaby also seems to have had a special liking of parallel thirds, which regularly appear in his keyboard works. His portrayal of The King’s Hunt is no less effective than the more famous by John Bull. In some of his Fantasias he shows how to work toward a climax (e.g. No. 5).

The performance by Pierre Hantaï is generally good, but not entirely satisfying. He regularly varies the tempo within a piece, whereas I think this kind of music really needs a very strict tempo. And some of the lighter pieces are played a little to heavily. The last work on this CD, A Toy, should be much more playful than it is here. I also think that some pieces are played too slow.
But I am grateful that this recording has been reissued, since Farnaby’s music isn’t recorded often. One of the attractions of this CD is the use of two splendid historical instruments, one of which – the Italian harpsichord – belongs to the famous collection of Kenneth Gilbert.

I would like also to recommend another recording devoted to Farnaby’s music, by the late Bradford Tracey (on the Adagio label). That recording contains mostly pieces which are not on this CD, and is therefore a good and very well-played addition to what is offered by Pierre Hantaï.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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