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"The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Volume 4 - Farnaby, Bull"

Pieter-Jan Belder, Gerhard Boogaardc, harpsichord

rec: May 19 - 20, 2014b & April 16 - 17, 2015a, Velp (NL), Chapel of the Capuchin Monastery
Brilliant Classics - 95254 (2 CDs) ( 2016) (2.13'05")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

John BULL (1562/63-1628)a: Fantasia (CVIII) (MB 10); Pavana (Fantastic Pavan) (XXXIV) (MB 86a) - Galiard to the Pavan (XXXV) (MB 86b); Pavana (CXXXVI) (MB 66a) - Galliarda (CXXXVII) (MB 66b); Pavana of my L[ord] Lumley (XLI) (MB 129a) - Galliarda to my L[ord] Lumley's Pavan (XI) (MB 129b); Pipers Galliard (CLXXXII) (MB 89a) - Variatio Ejusdem (CLXXXIII) (MB 89b); Praeludium (CCX) (MB 84); Prelude (CXCII) (MB 119); St Thomas Wake (XXXVI) (MB 126); The Duke of Brunswick's Alman (CXLII) (MB 93); The Quadran Pavan (XXXI) (MB 127a) - Variation of the Quadran Pavan (XXXII) (MB 127b) - Galiard to the Quadran Pavan (XXXIII) (MB 127); Ut re mi fa sol la (LI) (MB 17)
Giles FARNABY (c1563-1640)b: A Maske (CXCVIII) (MB 31); A Maske (CXCIX) (MB 32); A Maske (CCIX) (MB 33); A Toye (CCLXX) (MB 28); Fantasia (CCXXXI) (MB 6); Fantasia (CCXXXII) (MB 8); Fantasia (CCXXXVI) (MB 3); Fantasia (CCXXXVII) (MB 12); Farmers Pavan (CCLXXXVII) (MB 19); Farnabyes Conceit (CCLXXIII) (MB 52) - His Humour (CXCVI) (MB 53); For Two Virginals (LV) (MB 25)c; Galliarda (CCLXIX) (MB 20); Giles Farnabys Dreame (CXCIV) (MB 50) - His Rest Galiard (CXCV) (MB 51); Lachrimae Pavan (CCXC) (MB 16); Loth to Depart (CCXXX) (MB 41); Mal Sims (CCLXXXI) (MB 37); Meridian Alman (CCXCI) (MB 24); Pavana (Rob. Johnson, set by Giles Farnabie) (XXXIX) (MB 14); Quodlings Delight (CXIV) (MB 42); Rosasolis (CXLIII) (MB 47); Tell mee Daphne (CCLXXX) (MB 43); Wooddy-Cock (CXLI) (MB 40)

This set of two discs is the fourth volume of Pieter-Jan Belder's complete recording of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, one of the main sources of keyboard music by English virginalists. There are still many unanswered questions about the origin of this collection. The traditional view is that it was put together by Francis Tregian the Younger when he was in prison, being a recusant. However, recent reseach has cast doubt on this view. In the liner-notes to his recording of Farnaby's Fantasias Glen Wilson writes that "[the] recent researches of Ruby Reid Thompson seem to indicate that it was the work of a group of professional scribes, using paper of such rare quality as is only otherwise found in the vicinity of the royal establishments (...). This Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (...) seems to have been intended as a gift for a person of very high rank who desired a large collection of the best English keyboard music."

This is quite relevant with regard to Giles Farnaby, to whom the first disc is entirely devoted. If we believe that the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book was indeed compiled by Tregian there is reason to wonder why he included works by Farnaby. He seems to have had a special preference for Catholic composers, and Farnaby was not only a Protestant, but even a Puritan, which put him at the very other end of the religious spectrum. Moreover, it is traditionally assumed that Farnaby was an amateur composer.

That view is also challenged by Wilson. Farnaby's father was a joiner and although Giles started his musical studies in 1580 he took up an apprenticeship with the Joiners' Company some years later. In 1592 he was awarded the degree of Bachelor in Music in Oxford. In 1598 he published a collection of canzonettas which was dedicated to an influential courtier and included commendatory verses by, among others, John Dowland and Anthony Holborne. It is also interesting that one of the verses was by the poet Hugh Holland, who was a recusant. Apparently religious differences didn't matter that much in musical matters.

None of Farnaby's 53 keyboard works were printed during his lifetime. In fact, if they had not been included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book we wouldn't have known them, except two pieces which are preserved in other sources. Most of the genres of keyboard music of the time are represented in Farnaby's oeuvre. The Fantasias - to which Wilson devoted his recording - represent the most pure contrapuntal pieces. Wilson writes: "The virginalists (...) begin their fantasias by developing one or more themes through the voices, but add to their contrapuntal working a final toccata, a closing section of idiomatic keyboard pyrotechnics and polyrythms, which corresponds with the later idea of a fantasia." A good example is the Fantasia (CCXXXI) (MB 6) in which Farnaby makes use of the so-called stretto technique: the procedure of beginning a second statement of the subject before the preceding statement has finished, so that the two overlap. We don't find any In nomines - a very popular form at the time - in Farnaby's oeuvre, probably because he was not active as an organist, unlike most other keyboard composers.

Other common genres were variations on popular tunes, dances and descriptive pieces. Among the best in the former category are Wooddy-Cock and Rosasolis. The most common dances at the time were pavan and galliard, often linked together but not in Farnaby's oeuvre. For two Virginals is an alman; it is the very first known piece in music history for two keyboard instruments.

Farnabys Conceit and A Toye are examples of descriptive pieces. His Humour - referring not to wit but more generally to a state of mind - includes some striking dissonances. The transcription of vocal pieces was also very common at the time. They reflect the fame of the originals and/or their composers. One of the best-known is John Dowland's Lacrhymae Pavan. The Pavana (XXXIX) (MB 14) is a transcription of a piece by Robert Johnson; another one is the Fantasia (CCXXXVI) (MB 3).

The second disc is devoted to John Bull. He was one of the Catholic composers included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. In 1613 he fled England; he suggested that he had done so for religious reasons but in fact he wanted to escape prosecution. Throughout his career he had been in conflict with the authorities for various forms of misbehaviour, among them adultery. He started his career as a chorister and later as organist at Hereford Cathedral. He then joined the Chapel Royal as Gentleman. In 1597 he was elected the first Public Reader in music at Gresham College, London. He held this post - with a one year break - until 1607 when he was sacked because of an extramarital affair.

Bull was generally considered one of the greatest keyboard virtuosos of his time. He was the teacher of Elizabeth Stuart, and one of the three composers - the others being William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons - who contributed to Parthenia or The Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls. This was put together at the occasion of the wedding of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick V, Count Palatinate of the Rhine, which took place in February 1613.

In Bull's oeuvre we find a number of pavan and galliard pairs, often with a name of a certain person. The second disc opens with such a pair, called after Lord Lumley. Piper's Galliard is also part of a pavan-galliard pair which was recorded as such on Volume I of this series. The galliard is played here again but then followed by a variation. The last three items are comparable: The Quadran Pavan is followed by a variation and the galliard.

The Fantasia (CVIII) (MB 10) opens in the form of a bicinium; the number of voices is later extended to four. This piece includes a repeated chromatic motif. Also notable in regard to harmony is the fantasia Ut re mi fa sol la in which the hexachord is used in all twelve tonalities. Belder writes: "The piece modulates into distant keys, which indicates that it might have been an experiment in equal-tempered tuning. For this recording, I tuned the instrument in a circular temperament so that all tonalities can be used."

The recording of the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book - the first to date - is a major undertaking, and very important. This collection is often used as a source for recordings of English keyboard music but one usually hears the same pieces over and over again. When this project is finished all the pieces - among them some by rather obscure composers - will be available on disc. Pieter-Jan Belder is a trustworthy guide through this labyrinth. I have not heard the Volumes 2 and 3 yet, but I did review Volume 1 elsewhere and I was quite happy with Belder's performances. It is the same here. I especially enjoyed his performances of pieces by Farnaby who is one of my favourite composers of the Elizabethan era. I liked Belder's interpretations much better than the slowish performances I heard some years ago at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. The brilliance of Bull's compositions is also convincingly conveyed. My only regret is that Belder does not use a virginal. In some pieces by Bull even a small organ may be an option.

I am looking forward to the next volume which has been released recently.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Pieter-Jan Belder

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