Music for Voices and Viols by Byrd, Tomkins, and Gibbons
Christ rising again – Christ is risen again William Byrd (1539/1540–1623)
Turn our captivity
Fantasia à 6 (1611)
All as a sea
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
Come woeful Orpheus
Who made thee, Hob, forsake the Plough
Almighty God, the Fountain of All Wisdom Thomas Tomkins (1572–1656)
Then David mourned Tomkins
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625)
Pavan à 6 Tomkins
Galliard à 6
O Lord, let me know mine end Tomkins
This is the record of John Gibbons
Cries of London Gibbons
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Martin Near & Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor
Owen McIntosh, Jason McStoots & Sumner Thompson, tenor
John Proft, bass-baritone
Jane Hershey, Laura Jeppesen, Sarah Mead, Alice Robbins,
Emily Walhout & Zoe Weiss, violas da gamba
Notes on the Program
“Only this I desire, that you will be as careful to hear [my compositions] well expressed, as I have been both in the composing and correcting of them. Otherwise the best song that ever was made will seem harsh and unpleasant; for that the well expressing of them either by voices or instruments is the life of our labors, which is seldom or never well performed at the first singing or playing. Besides, a song that is well and artificially made cannot be well perceived nor understood at the first hearing, but the oftener you shall hear it, the better cause of liking you will discover.”
–William Byrd in his preface to his publication Psalms, Songs, and Sonnets (1611)
William Byrd came from a family of gentlemen and was probably brought up in the Chapel Royal, where he was “bred up to music under Thomas Tallis” and later became his assistant. He was sworn in as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572 following the death of Robert Parsons and became joint organist with Tallis. In 1584, Byrd was convicted of recusancy (refusal to attend services of the Church of England) and the family was excommunicated in 1605. There is little record of his life from this point forward aside from his entry in many legal disputes concerning leases. He died at Stondon Massey in 1623, described in the Chapel Royal ledger as “a Father of Musick.”
The years 1588–1591 seem to mark the climax of Byrd’s career as a musician. Byrd sought to regain a hold in the publishing business, largely to help undo the financial disaster associated with Cantiones sacrae, published alongside Tallis in 1575. Tallis died in 1585, and the publisher of Cantiones, Thomas Vautrollier, died in 1587. In 1588, Byrd published Psalms, Sonnets, and Songs of Sadness and Piety, printed by Vautrollier’s successor, Thomas East. With the full intention of heading in a decidedly different direction than the commercial failure of his venture thirteen years prior, Byrd sought to cash in on the current rage of composing songs influenced by the Italian madrigal.
In his preface to this collection, Byrd writes, "If thou delight in music of great compass, here are diverse songs, which being originally made for instruments to express the harmony and one voice to pronounce the ditty, are now framed in all parts for voices to sing the same." For the purposes of serving the market, Byrd arranged his music originally conceived as consort songs (solo songs with consort accompaniment) as madrigals, by setting the lines originally composed for viols with text. Perhaps also to allow performance in the manner of a consort song, a style with which he was entirely at home, the solo line from the original consort song labeled as “The first singing part”. As the listener may find in the performance of the two works from this collection, the other “arranged” parts at times prove to be a bit awkwardly-set because of this, owing to their instrumental conception. It is interesting to note that Byrd never published these songs in their original version. All of the music in this collection is in five parts, as is the classical format of the Byrd consort song. In composing his songs, Byrd often employed the traditional device in English songs by emphasizing the conclusion of the verse by repeating it.
With the commercial success of Psalms, Sonnets, and Songs of Sadness and Piety, Byrd went right back at it with the publication of Songs of sundrie natures in 1589. This is a more heterogeneous output, with songs and anthems in 3, 4, 5, and 6 parts, focused more on recently composed works.
Included in this collection is Byrd’s masterpiece, Christ rising again. The development of Byrd’s anthems that feature sections for soloists or small groups, or “verse anthems,” seemed to happen concurrently with his personal development of his style in composing consort songs. Byrd was familiar with pre-Reformation uses of contrasting large and small groups of singers. For example, the Eton Choirbooks made use of different-colored ink to differentiate these groups. The extension of this contrast to the solo voice was facilitated by the inclusion of the organ in liturgical music.
The earliest source of Christ rising again includes it as a sort of sacred song for two solo voices with viols in a group of secular songs, but it is also included with ecclesiastical sources as an anthem with choruses as it was published in Songs of sundrie natures.
As was the convention of song-composition in England, the conclusion of the verse was emphasized through repetition. Here, though, the choruses make such emphasis. This was to become convention in the development of the verse anthem by masters of the genre, including Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins.
The six-voice full anthem, Turn our captivity was published in the 1611 collection, Psalmes, Songs, and Sonnets. We are proud to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Byrd’s final and career-culminating publication. The idea of “captivity” might refer to the plight of Catholics in England at the time. This undertone, along with its style, seems to show it to be a late work, perhaps intended for domestic performance rather than liturgical. It is an example of the influence of the turn-of-the-17th-century Italian madrigal, a link that in this case Byrd chose to extend beyond his own madrigals into the realm of his anthem composition.
The version of Byrd’s Fantasia a6 presented here is a reworking of an earlier composition for the 1611 publication. Byrd plays to the crowd here by composing in a particularly economical manner for the purposes of proper performance by amateur viol players in a domestic setting. Along those lines, the bulk of the musical contrasts occur between sections rather than within them. A particularly fun example of this happens when a Galliard rhythmic scheme pops up unannounced.
We have chosen to present the sea-shanty-like All as a Sea in two ways, both plausible manners of performance. The outer verses are performed along the lines of their original incarnation as a consort song, that is, one solo voice in a five-part consort setting. The second verse is performed as an a capella madrigalesque arrangement, as Byrd published the work in 1588.
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen is a setting of the famous (and subsequently banned) English poem attributed to Henry Walpole, lamenting the martyrdom of the Jesuit Father Edmund Campion in 1581. Like the previous song, Why do I use is performed here in contrasting manners. This time, the first verse receives the a capella treatment of the version published in 1588, the second verse like the original consort song, and the third as a tutti arrangement, combining the versions into a grand domestic genre.
The madrigal, Come woeful Orpheus, shows that Byrd, perhaps giving in to the popularity of the Italian madrigal in England, could indeed assimilate its ideals into a decidedly traditional English texture. The work contains some chromaticisms rather unusual for Byrd. But these are integrated into textures that are semi-homophonic, and each section, delineated by lines of text, is set up in the English manner of coming to a strong cadence before introducing new material with the new text.
Who made thee, Hob, forsake the Plough is a dialogue between two shepherds, with the shepherds alternating lines. By the second verse, the shepherd who confronts Hob begins to understand his friend’s quandary, and by the end, he joins Hob in agreeing that she simply is to die for.
Music was the family business in the household in which Orlando Gibbons was raised. Orlando was chorister at King’s College under the tutelage of his brother Edward in 1595. At the age of 19, he took a post at Chapel Royal in 1603, and later at Westminster Abbey.
Musically, Gibbons tends to be viewed as being on the conservative side, stylistically. Part of this was due to what little we know about his personality, which is that he was not a feather-ruffler. That is, he seemed to have gotten along with everyone he dealt with. Including his family, his employers, and his colleagues. Part of this must also have been due to the function of seventeenth century composers in England, who were employed as reliable and superior craftsmen. He might not have felt it wise to be unnecessarily daring. He is clearly thought to have taken up the style of Tallis and Byrd. Apart from the shifting performance ideals, perhaps chief among those due to the gaining popularity of the verse anthem in the Church, Gibbons was firmly grounded in the tradition of his predecessors. This is not to say, though, that he was without innovation. It is easy to be lulled by the ease with which he handled traditional methods of composition. He certainly made use of his considerable musical training to forward his originality.
This was the “Golden age of English music,” especially in the Church. Religious reforms forced composers to develop a new style suitable for Anglican liturgy, further focusing the native style. The Book of Common Prayer and the emerging versions of the Bible in Elizabethan England (e.g. Geneva Bible & Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter) provided stimulus for composers. So-called “Baroque” innovations of the late 16th-early 17th c. Italian music were integrated into the native British style.
Like many others, the work of William Byrd served as a chief inspiration for the musical language of his student, Thomas Tomkins. It was clear that of the various genres in which he composed, Tomkins’ Church music was the most important to him. The popularity of his anthems, both verse and full, is unrivalled.
Tomkins spent his career almost completely shut out of the business of music publication. During his career, Church music publication fell out-of-fashion, in favor of hand-copyists, who seemed to be cheaper and more accurate. Any hope of publication would have been dashed during the Commonwealth.
Tomkins’s Church music is passed down to us mostly through his Musica Deo Sacra, a posthumous publication (Thomas died in 1656) compiled by his son, Nathaniel, and printed in 1668. Both full and verse anthems are represented. Tomkins was a prolific composer of verse anthems, with 41 contained in Musica Deo Sacra.
Of the full anthems, the 15 a5 are some of his more distinctive music. Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, one of the 11 settings in Musica Deo Sacra of Collects from the Book of Common Prayer, is known for its expressive use of the “false relation” and most importantly for its startlingly original “Amen.” There is something frustrating about this Amen, though. Was this to be the direction of English music just as the Civil War broke out? Might Tomkins have contributed to what ended up as the missing link between the composers of his generation and the post-Restoration school, including Purcell?
Then David Mourned is a wondrously pathetic realization of the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan. Its relatively static trio at beginning is interrupted by the two Medius (top) parts, in thirds, at the highest points of their register in the entire piece. The lamenting theme continues in duos at the third, sixth, and tenth.
Gibbons is perhaps best known for his development of the verse anthem. The rise in popularity of this genre could be linked to the development of the Anglican liturgy. There is a dramatic aspect to the ritual that perhaps composers sought increasingly to highlight through a mental association with the masque. In its classical form, the Gibbons verse anthem is divided into sections, each begun by a soloist or a small group of soloists, and then completed by full choir. As had developed into convention, some or all of the words of the verse were repeated emphatically in the chorus.
All of Gibbons’ surviving verse anthems exist with organ parts, although some sources of the vocal parts of some of the anthems have intervening passages of un-texted music, closely related to the organ parts. Were the organ parts derived from these parts? Or were these parts meant to give option to consort playing? Or perhaps these parts were simply cues for the singers? These are all important questions when addressing performance practice of such verse anthems. It is clear that some of Gibbons’ verse anthems seem to have been composed as consort songs with choruses. And though instruments other than the organ were known to be a part of music-making in a liturgical setting, it is unclear what role the viol or viol consort might have taken. It does seem clear, though, that domestic performances of Gibbons’ verse anthems would not have been unheard of.
The first verse of Blessed are all they that fear the Lord is for a soloist, with the attached chorus repeating the viol parts note-for-note. In contrast, the second verse requires six singers, and the third makes use of different combinations of voices. These choices of vocal forces in the verses are not meant simply to create different textures. For Gibbons, they are meant to serve the text. The choruses in this anthem all start out in homophony, continuing in counterpoint. The last chorus is a setting of the doxology, and does not repeat words or music of the previous verse. The date of this work seems to be 1613, as this piece was inscribed, “A Wedding anthem first made for my lord of Somerset”, referring to the marriage of the Earl of Somerset to Lady Frances Howard in December 1613.
Known more for his output contained in Musica Deo Sacra, Tomkins was also a tireless composer of instrumental music. He spent much of his forced retirement due the dissolution of the musical tradition in the Church composing works for the keyboard. Tomkins also had a substantial consort output, though not as large or famous as that of his contemporaries Coprario, Ferrabosco II, and Lupo. His consort music seemed to have been intended for domestic purposes. In his dances, such as his Pavan & Galliard a6, he seemed to take cues from two of his influences presented in this program, Byrd and Gibbons, in preferring a contrapuntal texture to a homophonic one.
Of his 41 Verse anthems (“songs to the organ” as he called them), 5 survive ensemble accompaniment. This documents of the intersection between church music and chamber music. Accompaniments of these works for organ and ensemble coexisted. Voices and instruments shared partbooks for a domestic performance setting, and for these performances, viols would have been the choice of clerics and literati.
It is certainly possible we may be celebrating another very important 400th anniversary. The inscription for This is the Record of John reads, “This anthem was made for Dr. Laud president of St. John’s”, which refers to Dr. Laud’s position there between 1611-1621. This seems to put the date of the work in that range. The choruses of this piece are distinctly divided into sections of homophony and polyphony. The first chorus starts homophonic and continues polyphonic, the second is the opposite, and the third is like the first, but with a very short homophonic section. The extremely distinctive verses show the influence of the declamatory song developed by his contemporaries, with the decoration at the end of the first verse seeming to come from a court air. The verses especially, along with the narrative style of the text, contribute to this anthem being among Gibbons’ most well-known works, and it is undoubtedly one of the most well-loved in the English choral tradition to this day.
Gibbons’ Cries of London belongs to a small group of compositions that incorporated in a uniquely dramatic way the cries of watchmen, street vendors, and beggars. Included in this sub-genre are works by Weelkes, Dering, and Cobbold. Gibbons avoided a fragmented compositional style which might have been called for by the overwhelmingly distractible text by running an “In Nomine” throughout the piece in its Mean part. This occurs twice, once in each half of music.
Notes by Martin Near