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"Music for Troubled Times - The English Civil War & Siege of York"

The Ebor Singers; David Pipe, organ (soloa
Dir: Paul Gameson

rec: Feb 23 - 25, 2015, York, National Centre for Early Music
Resonus Classics - RES10194 ( 2017) (76'47")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

William BYRD (c1539/40-1623): [O Lord, make thy servant Charles]; William CHILD (1606-1697): O Lord God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; John HUTCHINSON (?-1657): Behold how good and joyful a thing it is; George JEFFREYS (c1610-1662): How wretched is the state; Henry LAWES (1595-1662): A Funeral Anthem; William LAWES (1602-1645): Psalm 6: Lord, in thy wrath reprove me not; Psalm 18: O God, my strength and fortitude; Psalm 22: O God, my God; Psalm 67: Have mercy on us, Lord; Psalm 100: All people that on earth do dwell; Music, the master of thy art is dead; See how Cawood's dragon looks; Matthew LOCKE (c1621-1674): How doth the city sit solitary; Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656): O God, the proud are risen against me; Sad Pavan: for these distracted timesa; John WILSON (1595-1674): My God, my King, incline thine ear

One of the fruits of the Reformation was the birth of the habit of singing hymns and of metrical and rhymed versions of the Psalms. This became common practice in the Lutheran church in Germany and among Calvinists in several countries at the continent. In England such collections of rhymed Psalms also came into existence, but as hymns and Psalms for congregational singing were not included in the Book of Common Prayers, they played an only marginal role in the liturgy. Only in Puritan circles was it common practice to sing rhymed Psalms together. As a result very little of this repertoire is performed in concerts and on disc. The main exceptions are the nine tunes which Thomas Tallis contributed to Matthew Parker's The Whole Psalter translated into English Metre.

The present disc is especially interesting in that it includes various settings of rhymed Psalms by some of the main composers of the 17th century. The fact that they were all monarchists is not coincidental. The programme carries us to the years of the Civil War. In 1642 King Charles moved his court to York; it stayed there until the Royalist forces were defeated in the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. It was here that congregational singing had become common practice, although it was only in 1644 that Parliament officially recognized it. York was not the only place where the congregation sang Psalms. The same was the case in Worcester and in some parish churches before the Civil War.

The key figure in the programme recorded by the Ebon Singers is William Lawes. He was a staunch supporter and a close friend of Charles and died in battle in 1645. Paul Gameson, in his liner-notes, suggests that Lawes's choice of Psalms included in his Psalms to the common tunes was inspired by the Civil War and its implications. Five of the twelve Psalms are recorded here, including Psalm 18 (O God, my strength and fortitude) in which David sings about God's help against his foes: "When I sing laud to the Lord, most worthy to be served; then from my foes I am right sure that I shall be preserved". And Psalm 22 (O God, my God) opens with these words: "O God, my God, wherefore dost thou forsake me utterly? And helpest not when I do make my great complaint and cry?" The texts are from The Whole Book of Psalms by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins of 1562. However, Lawes did not only harmonise the tunes as they are included in this collection, but set some of the stanzas to music of his own for solo voices with basso continuo. In this performance the four-part stanzas are sung either by four voices or by the whole ensemble, reflecting the use of these rhymed Psalms in private surroundings and in church respectively. The Psalm tunes are probably not that well-known, except that of Psalm 100: All people that on earth do dwell, generally known as the Old 100th.

These Psalms represent a part of William Lawes's oeuvre which is little known. We know him best for his consort music where he shows a very individual approach to harmony. In the pieces recorded here that feature comes especially to the fore in Music, the master of thy art is dead, an elegy on the death of John Tomkins, half-brother of Thomas, in 1638. He had been an organist and singer at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Whereas Lawes is one of the best-known composers of the 17th century, several of his colleagues represented here are not household names. That even goes for his brother Henry. The largest part of his oeuvre comprises secular songs, of which relatively little is known. He also composed 25 anthems; unfortunately only six of them have been preserved complete. One of them is A Funeral Anthem, a setting of a paraphrase of texts from the Book of Job. Here we find several texts which were part of funeral sentences, best-known from Purcell's settings for the funeral of Queen Mary II: Man that is born of a woman, In the midst of life we are in death and Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts.

John Hutchinson was organist of York Cathedral during the years Charles had his court there; his extant oeuvre is very small and confined to anthems. John Wilson was a singer and lutenist and composed mainly secular songs, most of which were published in various anthologies. He was another monarchist and showed his loyalty, when in 1657 he published a collection of settings of prayers by Charles, taken from the King's spiritual autobiography, which was published after his execution. George Jeffreys was a composer and organist who played an important role in the dissemination of Italian music in England during the Commonwealth period. That has also influenced his own compositions. How wretched is the state is one of the latest pieces in the programme as it dates from 1662, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. William Child was organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, from 1632 to 1696. The subtitle of his anthem O Lord God, the heathen are come into thy inheritance - a telling text from the perspective of the Royalists - shows where he stood in the conflict between the King and Parliament: "composed in the year 1644 on the occasion of the abolishing the Common Prayer and overthrowing the constitution, both in church and state". Like Child - the choir in St George's Chapel was disbanded in 1643 - Thomas Tomkins fell victim to the victory of the Parliamentary forces: when Worcester surrendered he lost his job as organist of the Cathedral. His Sad pavan for these distracted times is one of his best-known keyboard works.

The programme opens with an anthem by William Byrd, whose text (originally O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth) was adapted under Charles I's rule. The last piece is Matthew Locke's anthem How doth the city sit solitary, fittingly on a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Being a Catholic, Locke was a kind of outcast, also because of the Italian style in his oeuvre. It seems very likely that he was also a monarchist; he possibly was in the retinue of Crown Prince Charles when he went to France in exile in 1646.

Undoubtedly this is a most intriguing disc as it includes music which is little known. In regard to the rhymed Psalms we have to say that this genre as a whole is rather neglected. It definitely deserves more attention. It is also interesting in that here we find music which in one way or another can be connected to the Civil War. It shows how much religion and religious music were intertwined with politics. From the angle of repertoire this disc has to be welcomed. I did not know the Ebor Singers, and I have enjoyed their singing as an ensemble. I am less enthusiastic about the contributions of members of the ensemble in the solo parts. Their singing is marred by too much vibrato, which seriously damages the performances. Sometimes the solo parts are also a bit too pathetic; I would have liked a bit more moderation, for instance in regard to ornamentation. I wonder why there are so many differences between the texts as printed in the booklet and those which are sung. There is hardly a stanza without such differences. That is a pity, because it makes it harder to follow them.

Despite my critical remarks I urge anyone interested in English music of the 17th century to investigate this disc. The music is excellent and contributes to a more complete picture of the musical landscape of that time.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

The Ebor Singers


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