Charles II's known aversion to fantasias and every other kind of music to which he could not tap his foot probably explains why none of these works is likely to have been written for the court.
Matthew Locke's music however, was not composed for court purposes. If the king had waited patiently for the introductory Pavanes, he certainly would have found an opportunity to tap his foot to the subsequent Courantes, Sarabandes and Jigs.
The idea in compiling this CD is a comparison of Matthew Locke's rather more serious dance movements-which are combined in suites and intended for the more devoted listener - with the pure dance music of the ‘Dancing Master'. In addition there are freely improvised excerpts from traditional songs and dance tunes from the ‘Division Violin' collections. The two latter works were published by John Playford, one of Locke's closest friends, who also published many of his works at that time.
Thus one questions, how far pure dance music style influenced the stylised dances by Locke and others, and how much virtuoso freedom can be extended to the ornamentation. Locke himself writes in his preface to the ‘Little Consort': ‘I ... desire in the performance of this Consort you would do yourselves and me right to play plain, not tearing them in pieces with division, and old custome of our Countrey Fiddlers, and now under the title ‘A la mode' endeavoured to be introduced'. When Locke's various manuscripts are considered however, Locke appears to allow himself ‘to tear his work into pieces', provided that the notated variations originate from him.
Matthew Locke (1621-2 to 1677) was trained as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, Devon, studying in addition violin and organ. He is likely to have entered the king's service, like all adult men in Devon, and left the country in 1646 to serve in the army in The Netherlands. There is a collection of vocal music from 1648 entitled ‘Collection of Songs when I was in the Low Countries'. His affinity with Catholicism, to which he converted, probably stems from this time. As such he was asked to become the queen's organist at St James's Church, where church services became so popular that the king eventually forbade the participation of everyone other than the royal family. Most of the queen's servants and musicians were sent back to Portugal. Whether due to his special role as a Catholic and court favourite or to the complexity of the compositions: at a performance of his setting for the 10 commandments in which each commandment was set in a different way, he incurred the displeasure of the church musicians and they ruined the performance.
With regard to Locke's character he was said to be, ‘vain, contentious and vindictive, a vigorous and vituperative crusader for musical causes, including those of his own and English music'. He held three positions within the context of the court: private composer-in-ordinary to the king, composer for wind music, as well as composer for the band of violins.
Shortly after Locke's death the young Purcell became his successor in the position of composer for the band of violins. Upon Locke's death Purcell composed an ode, ‘What hope for us remains now he is gone?'.
The music publisher and bookseller John Playford lived from 1623 to 1686, mostly in London. His shop from which he sold all his publications was located in the vicinity of Temple Church. The preface to the first part of the ‘Division Violin' reads: ‘The Division Violin: containing A Choice Collection of Divisions to Ground for the Treble Violin. Being the first Musick of this kind ever published. London, Printed by J.P. and Sold by John Playford near the Temple Church: 1684'.
The variations contained in the first volume (‘Divisions upon a Ground') on the song ‘John come kiss me now' originate from David Mell, a renowned London violinist and composer, as well as member of the king's ‘Broken Consort'. As such, he was certainly familiar with Matthew Locke's music and is likely to have played it himself. ‘Divisions to a Ground' by Solomon Eckles originates from the second volume. Eckles writes here his variations on a tune, which also appears in the Dancing Master, with the title ‘Bellamira'. Both of these examples of notated variations show, to what extent improvisatory freedom can be attained by arranging simple tunes.
The highly extensive collection ‘Playfords Dancing Master', complete with instructions on how to dance to it (‘And Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances') contains the most diverse dances: Courantes, Bourees, Jigs etc., each given its own name-like Irish folk dances these days.
This publication underwent various re-workings, particularly with the later editions which were aimed at the court gentry. Here the dances were always more artistically reworked and are thus a conscious alteration from the original traditional material. In this context it is interesting that the jig appears in the unusual 4/4 time as well as in 6/8 or 6/4, as for example, in ‘Nobody's jig'. The jig in 4/4 also appears in Matthew Locke's A minor Suite for violin and basso continuo.
The instrument called kit/kytte or pochette, exists in different forms: either pear-shaped or in the shape of a narrow boatm and also as a viol, violin or guitar. It is possible that the word kitten (small cat) stems from the false assumption that the whole family of stringed instruments were strung with cat gut. The term pochette relates to the fact that violinists teaching the ‘Dancing Masters' dance, carried their instruments in their pockets, hence the term ‘Dancingmaster violin'. There are different, misleading terms for other similar instruments, for example the pear-shaped, three-stringed rebec is occasionally called a kit. Although it was the preferred instrument of travelling musicians and was also associated with shepherds, the pochette was played in all social classes.