A CHOICE COLLECTION - music of Purcell's London
By the time of the Restoration, London had become one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Its wealth acted as a magnet upon musicians from all over Europe, particularly war-torn and economically devastated Germany and Italy. Perhaps as a response to the austerities of the commonwealth, the English seized on music with a fresh enthusiasm and in this they were abetted by their new monarch. Charles II loved music, particularly (to the dismay of some) that in the French style which he had enjoyed during his exile. He quickly established an orchestra like that at the French court and used it lavishly, although apparently his attitude towards payment could be quite casual! These factors combined to create a fascinating mix of styles and it seems very worthwhile to us to present the musical riches of Purcell's London.
We begin with music by the irascible and occasionally dogmatic Matthew Locke. Contemporary writings show that he could be very difficult on occasion but there is radiance and humanity in much of his music which is even more compelling proof of a good heart. (In this respect one can only compare him to two other "difficult" composers: Handel and Beethoven). The suites of the Broken Consort were written when Locke directed Charles II's private chamber music. Perhaps hearing this challenging music (the opening Fantazie at one point moved through 13 keys in 11 bars) we can imagine the King's predicament as loyalty to his faithful servant vied with his "utter detestation of fancys". Charles seems to have cut the Gordian Knot by doing away with the private music altogether and involving Locke with the new orchestra of 24 violins and the Chapel Royal, where he continued to write in his own inspired but complex style and to vent his wrath on less capable fellow musicians. Witness his response to a botched premier in the Chapel Royal, the music of which he published as ‘Modern Church Musick Preaccus'd, Censur'd and Obstructed in its performance before his Majesty'. Whatever the case then, his music speaks to us now as freshly as if it had been composed yesterday.
The recorder had been established in England since at least the middle ages (two famous players were Henry VIII and Hamlet; the latter found playing, ‘as easy as lying') but was enjoyed with new relish when the French virtuoso Paisable brought the 3-piece baroque design from Paris in the 1670s. We were delighted to learn that Paisable often performed trio sonatas with the violinist Gaspero Visconti. Imagine our dismay though, when upon tracking down the sole surviving copy of their showpiece
- ‘That incomparable Sonata... performed at court and often at the theatre' - we found the recorder part to be missing! The brilliant variations on Old Simon the King show how quickly and completely English players mastered the updated instrument.
Another virtuoso set of variations is by Henry Butler, the private viol player to Philip IV of Spain. Known as ‘a most fantastical man', his setting of the Irish folksong Callino Casturame has the imaginative idea of only presenting the tune at the very end of the piece.
We also include music by that other ‘most fantastical man' Nicola Matteis. Roger North, a contemporary essayist, was enthralled by his performances on the violin: ‘I remember no Italians till Nicola came, and he lay obscurely in the city; by the favour of a merchant whom he had converted to his profit; his circumstances were low, and it was say'd that he travelled thro' Germany on foot with his violin under a full coat at his back. But his pride and arrogance was incomparable, and if he had not found that
easy merchant, he had starved before he could have bin known. He was brought to play afore the King and divers great person, in order to be pensioned, but his manner did not take. Sr R. Lestrage, an exquisite violist, Sr Wm Waldgrave, that did wonders upon the archlieute, and Mr Bridgman, that dealt a thro-base upon an harpsichord, found him out to be a superlative genius, But they were forced with all their eloquence to charme him into a complaisance with the English humour, which was to be easy, free, and familiar, and to let gentlemen, not the best hands, have his company in consorts.'
With his new manners, the way was clear for him to create a sensation with his virtuosity, as an entry in John Evelyn's diary shows: ‘Nothing approch'd the violin in Nicholas' hand: he seem'd to be spiritato'd and played us all'. North records his later career as though it were a moral fable: ‘He began to feel himself grow rich, and then of course luxurious. He took a great house, and lived as one that was marryed, had a child... contracted bad diseased... excess of pleasure threw him into a dropsyes, and so he became poor. And dyed miserable.'
Because so many English works are composed over a ground bass, it seems appropriate to give lutenist Thomas Mace's description of the form: ‘The Ground, is a set Number of Slow Notes, very Grave, and Stately; which, (after it is express'd Once, or Twice, very Plainly) then he that hath Good Brains, and a Good Hand, undertakes to play several divisions upon it, Time after Time, till he has shew'd his Bravery; both of Invention, and Hand'. The grounds of Blow and Bannister test both treble instruments, while of the two for solo violin, that of Matteis specifically tests bravery of invention by breaking off in mid-flow with the casual challenge, ‘Divisione ad libitum'. Baltzar's set on the song ‘John come kiss me now' is at least completely composed but makes formidable challenges to Bravery of Hand.
We conclude with more Locke in a suite which contains his most audaciously syncopated Saraband. On hearing it one wonders not only if the young Stravinsky studied Locke's music but if somehow the reverse could have happened.
© William Carter, 1995
Pamela Thorby plays sixth flute by Tim Cranmore 1995; soprano recorder by Frederick Morgan 1992; alto recorder by Frederick Morgan 1993; voice flute by Frederick Morgan 1992.
Rachel Podger plays violin by Rowland Ross 1988 after Stradivarius.
Susanne Heinrich plays viola da gamba by Bernard Prunier 1990 after Collichon.
William Carter plays theorbo by Klaus T Jacobsen 1991 after Sellas; guitar by Martin Haycock 1991 after various Italian models.
Recorded at Fitcham Church, Leatherhead, Surrey, UK from the 4th-6th March 1995
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Post-production by Julia Thomas
Original sleeve design by John Haxby
Photography by Hanya Chlala
A Choice Collection © & ® Linn Records 1995
HELD BY THE EARS
About ten years ago, when we were just starting out, we were offered a concert by Andrew Pinnock in his sorely missed Festival of Early English Opera at St. John's, Smith Square in London. It wasn't exactly a real concert; it was after the main event and would take place in the wine bar downstairs, but for us (whose recent engagements had included busking and playing background music for meetings of the Weight Watchers) this was definitely a step in the right direction and one we were excited about. There was a catch: Andrew, with a seeming boundless knowledge of obscure 17th century English music, wanted us to play some. He politely but firmly requested that some works by Nicola Matteis be included in the programme; he would even loan us the music. ‘Nobody plays it but I have a feeling it must be really good!' Rather gingerly we took the books and set to work playing. Initial reactions of mild apathy gave way to mild resentment. ‘Do we really have to play this?' I still remember the feelings of surprise and pleasure at our second rehearsal when we struck our first nugget of gold - how was it possible that it should be so good and so different? ‘It sounds like rock and roll - well this part is quite folky - I can't figure out what's going on here, let's play it again.' Ten years later, Matteis is still surprising us and we can only thank Andrew for the chance he gave us to discover some of the most exhilarating music of the 17th century.
But it has to be said that Matteis is not a composer who invites the "complete works" treatment; pages of sheer magic exist side by side with tedious doggerel for the exercise of amateurs that seem to be have been composed with one eye on the TV screen. I wonder if Matteis himself might have agreed. To quote Roger North: ‘He contrived to make many of his musick... by having his lessons made for his scollars - short aires - and the like, to be finely ingraved and printed off... And out of these books he used, by taking here and there, to make out admirable sonatas.'*
North gives us potted biography of Matteis which has the flavour of a tabloid article on a showbiz celebrity: ‘I remember no Italians till Nicola came... He was very poora but inexpugnably proud, and hardly prevailed with to play to anybody. At length... good council and starving brought the man over, and he became the most debonaire and easy person living, he came to little meetings and did just what they would have him. He soon... began to feel himself grow rich, and then of course luxurious. He took a great house, and lived as one that was married... contracted bad diseases... excess of pleasure threw him into a dropsie, and he became very poor... And dyed miserable.'
North tell us other things about Matteis worth noting: that he (perhaps unusually for a composer virtuoso of his time) enjoyed playing music by others - ‘Old Nicola Matteis was wonderfully pleased with a set of Jenkins' Ayres... and played the upper part more than once' - and also that his own public performances were considerably different from his printed music: ‘And being in a good humour, which a full audience commonly produced... he performed in surprising perfection, not as his book expres't... but with flights of humour not to be expres't... And when the raptures came... one would have thought the man beside himself... so violent was his conference of extreams, whereof the like I never head before or since... He had some musicall contests, as with Farrinell (a French virtuoso) whom he made stand still, and stare at him'.
So how can modern performers come to terms with the "Not to be expres't" element in this music? Rather than dare "Flights of humour" in the recording studio we decided to join Matteis with music that seems in some indefinable way to be related; the Scottish folktunes of his time. In thinking about this feeling of connection I'm reminded of Benjamin Britten's list of the things he admired in Purcell's music. ‘Brilliance, Clarity, Tenderness and Strangeness'. If Matteis can be accused of occasionally lacking
clarity he more than repays the debt with the other three qualities and nothing could be more clear than the east perfection of the old folktunes. In arranging these we started with the earliest versions we could find and then added or subtracted parts as our wars and instincts required. We found a great difference between the simple settings of the late 17th century and the more elaborate and "correct" version of thirty years later. Her one must single out Matteis' countryman Barsanti who lived in Edinburgh and collected many beautiful Scots tunes. He arranged them with such concern to make them grammatical and suppress the nodal character that in the end we rejected his polite versions completely and made our own. A bigger problem, though, was one selection; with such a wealth of beautiful melodies to choose from it was difficult to know where to stop.
Matteis wasn't just a violinist but also played that folkiest of instruments, the guitar. ‘I have seen the boy in coats play to his father's guittare... of which instrument he was a consummate master, and had the force upon it to stand in consort against a harpsichord'. Matteis' False Consonances of Musick is an excellent instruction manual on how to play figured bass on that instrument. The little set of guitar solos are from the beginning of that work, included perhaps to sweeten the bitter dose of harmony exercises that follow.
Our normal way of performing Matteis has been to use his "here and there" approach, taking pieces from all of his published books as we please, but two suites on this recording, those in d minor and D major, are played as they stand. Each seems to have a feeling of unity unusual for Matteis and both works have a sobriety that creates an interesting contrast to such exuberant "flights of humour" as the Aria de Trombetta and the Bizzaria. The D major sonata gives us a rare chance to hear Matteis the contrapuntist in a short fugue and calls to mind North's description of the Italian Sonata ‘...A fuge... hath the cast of a debate... the subject is wrought over & under till, like waves upon the water, it is spent and vanisheth leaving the musick to proceed smoothly, and as if it were satisfyed and contented. After this comes properly in the Adagio, which is a laying of all affaires aside, and lolling in a sweet repose; which state the musick represent by a most tranquill but full harmony, and dying gradually as one that falls asleep. After this is over action is resumed...with a Gigue which like men (half foxed) dancing for joy, and so good night.'
We close our programme with a haunting melody called (sometime in the 17th century) A New Tune. It's a name which reminds us of one of the miraculous paradoxes of a musician's life: however good or bad the performance, however recent the composition or ancient the manuscript, the only time music really exists is when you hear it - and then it is new.
© William Carter, 1994
*All of the quotations in the introduction are from a selection of which are collected in Roger
North On Music, edited by John Wilson and published by Novello (1959).
Pamela Thorby plays recorders by Fred Morgan, Yuzuru Fukushima and Friedrich von Heune.
Rachel Podger plays violin by Pesarinius, Genoa 1739.
Susanne Heinrich plays bass viol by Merion Attwood.
William Carter plays lute and theorbo by Klaus T Jacobsen; guitar by Martin Haycock.
Recorded at St Michael's Church, Highgate, UK from the 19th-21st October 1999 and 12th February 2000
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Post-production by Julia Thomas at Finesplice
Original sleeve design by John Haxby
Photography by Guy Hills
Held By The Ears © & ® Linn Records 2000