Performance Wednesday, February 8, 2012 | 7:30 PM


Weill Recital Hall
This season, viol ensemble Fretwork celebrates its quarter-century anniversary and makes its Carnegie Hall debut. While Fretwork’s repertoire encompasses music that dates from the 16th century to the present day, this concert explores works written specifically for viol by 17th-century English and Italian composers.
Back to Event Details
Print Program Notes

The Program

In the Artist’s Own Words

This program is dedicated to the memory of Richard Campbell, founding member of Fretwork, who took his own life in March 2011. In the last few years of his life, Richard had been ruminating on a program for Fretwork based on Thomas Mace’s book Musick’s Monument …, published in 1676. Richard had strong connections with Cambridge, where Mace lived most of his life and where Richard studied Classics; and to Trinity College, where Mace had sung for the majority of his life and where Richard’s grandfather had been Master.

But the depression that he fought often deprived him of the ability to make decisions, and his plans were never written down. But the following famous passage surely provides a reason why this book should provide a template for his program:

We had for our grave musick, fancies of three, four, five, and six parts to the organ; interpos’d (now and then) with some pavans, allmaines, solemn and sweet delightful ayres; all which were (as it were) so many pathetical stories, rhetorical, and sublime discourses; subtil, and accute argumentations; so suitable and agreeing to the inward, secret, and intellectual faculties of the soul and mind; that to set them forth according to their true praise, there are no words sufficient in language; yet what I can best speak of them, shall be only to say, that they have been to myself (and many others) as divine raptures, powerfully captivating all our unruly faculties and affections, (for the time) and disposing us to solidity, gravity, and a good temper; making us capable of heavenly and divine influences.

The authors of such like compositions, have been divers famous English men, and Italians; some of which for their very great eminency and worth in that particular faculty, I will here name, viz. Mr. Alfonso Ferrabosco, Mr. John Ward, Mr. [Thomas] Lupo, Mr. [William] White, Mr. Richard Deering, Mr. William Lawes, Mr. John Jenkins, Mr. Christopher Simpson, Mr. [John] Coprario, and one Monteverdi, a famous Italian author; besides divers, and very many others, who in their late time, were all substantial, able, and profound composing masters in this art, and have left their works behind them, as fit monuments, and patterns for sober and wise posterity, worthy to be imitated and practiced: ’Tis great pity they are too soon forgot, and neglected, as I perceive they are amongst many.

And these things were performed upon so many equal and truly sciz’d viols; and so exactly strung, tun’d and play’d upon, as no one part was any impediment to the other; but still (as the composition required) by intervals, each part amplified and heightened the other.

This list of composers is as informative for the composers mentioned as for those omitted: no Byrd, Gibbons, Dowland, Tomkins, or Locke. All those mentioned were born at the end of the previous century, or early in the 17th; none—apart from an aged Jenkins—were still alive when Mace published his book. Mace himself was immensely long-lived for the 17th century: He was 94 years old when he died in 1706. Mace was most likely talking about music meetings in Cambridge (and perhaps York) during the 1630s and ’40s.

His book is entitled Musick’s Monument; or, A remembrancer of the best practical musick, both divine, and civil, that has ever been known, to have been in the world. This long and entertainingly verbose work is a vanity project of an old man maddened by the current fashion for (in his view) inferior, superficial music, which had replaced the superior, substantial, and serious music of his youth. Mace ranted against the new “high scoulding violins,” for example, preferring the more interior world of the viol. Although certainly a royalist, there is more than a hint of the Puritan about him.

These ideas resonate strongly today, as the rejection of new music has been a strong driving force behind the rediscovery of old music. But Mace is attempting to preserve something which he knew, something that was slipping from his grasp; he reminisces about composers, music, players, practices, and music meetings that were current in his younger days.

It’s a shame that Mace’s own part-books haven’t survived, though several sets from similar groups of players have; in these books, we see works from exactly the kind of mix of composers that Mace mentions—mostly English, though mixed with Italian madrigals by Monteverdi and Marenzio.

Alfonso Ferrabosco was born in Greenwich, the son of an Italian musician who was greatly valued by Elizabeth I. In fact, when the father returned to Italy, Elizabeth kept the son in England to ensure the father’s return—but to no avail. The younger Ferrabosco took up the post of “musitian for the violles” at the court, and taught the young Prince Henry. He collaborated with Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones on elaborate masques, and he was one of the leading exponents of the lyra viol, publishing a compendious volume of music for lyra in 1609.

John Ward was born and educated in Canterbury and flourished under the patronage of Sir Henry Fanshawe. He then worked as an attorney for Fanshawe’s son, Sir Thomas; he does not appear to have worked as a professional musician. Ward lived his life in London, and this gave him the opportunity to write consort music for viols.

Thomas Lupo was part of the third generation of a Jewish-Italian-Iberian family that had been employed by Henry VIII in 1540. Lupo was central to the musical establishment based around young Prince Charles that included Orlando Gibbons, John Coprario, and Alfonso Ferrabosco.

We know very little about William White. He seems to have had connections with Durham in the northeast of England; Thomas Tomkins dedicated a song to him. His consorts of five and six parts were very popular, and appear to have been written in the 1630s.

Richard Dering is unusual in this list in having converted to Catholicism while in Rome; he seems to have spent a good deal of his life on the continent. However, he returned in 1625 to work for the Queen and King until his death. His Italian compositions—consisting of madrigals and canzonettas—were all published, but his English music was not.

William Lawes was the younger of two composer brothers. He was apprenticed to Coprario at the Earl of Hertford’s Wiltshire estate, where he most likely also met Ferrabosco. He may well have been friends with the young Prince Charles. Lawes’s brilliant consort music was probably written after 1635, when he joined the Royal musical establishment. In 1642, he enrolled as a soldier in the Royalist army, and he may have been involved in the Siege of York in 1644 (as was Thomas Mace); he met his end in the Siege of Chester in 1645.

John Jenkins was almost as long-lived as Mace, and was unusual in that he had no court appointment until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. He spent his life living at the grand houses of patrons—principally, the Norths, Lady Warwick, the Derhams, and the L’Estrange family at Hunstanton. Having a reputation of being an extraordinary musician, he came to London and was brought to play the lyra viol before Charles I.

Christopher Simpson was also a Catholic. He served on the Royalist side in the war like Lawes, but fortunately survived. His most famous work is The Division Viol of 1665, which was described by Sir Roger L’Estrange as “one of the best tutors in the world” for the bass viol.

John Coprario was born as “John Cooper,” or “Cowper,” but affected an Italian termination, probably after a trip to Italy. His chief patron was Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury; he was also a frequent visitor to Hatfield House, Cecil’s home. Coprario was also patronized by the earls of Hertford and Cumberland, and was part of Prince Charles’s musical establishment.

Claudio Monteverdi was the most important composer of his generation. His five books of madrigals were immensely popular and important in disseminating the advanced techniques he had developed. Lawes was clearly influenced by them, and they were often performed purely instrumentally by English viol players in the 17th century.

“Dolcememente dormiva la mia Clori” is from his second book of madrigals, published in 1590, setting a text by Torquato Tasso:

Dolcemente dormiva la mia Clori
e intorn’al suo bel volto
givan scherzand’i pargolett’amori.
Mirav’io da me tolto,
con gran diletto lei,
quando dir mi sentei:
stolto, che fai?
tempo perduto non s’acquista mai.
Allor io mi chinai così pian piano
e baciandole il viso,
provai quanta dolcezz’ha il paradiso.

My Cloris was sleeping sweetly,
with little putti playing
around her beautiful face.
I was looking on her
with great love as I stepped away,
when I heard myself say:
Idiot, what are you doing?
A lost opportunity is never regained.
So, I inclined myself softy thus,
and kissed her face,
and tasted the sweetness of paradise.

—Richard Boothy

This performance is part of Early Music in Weill Recital Hall.

Part of