Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Masterpieces of Elizabethan Keyboard Music

Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)

The Queenes Command
Mask: The Fairest Nymph
Mask: Lincoln’s Inn
Fantasia (Tone 2 Transposed)
The Wood So Wild
Galliard: Lady Hatton

John BULL (C.1562-1628)

Lord Lumley’s Pavan
Lord Lumley’s Galliard
Coranto ‘Joyeuse’
[The] King’s Hunt
In Nomine (Ix)

William TISDALE (Late 16th Cent.)

Pavana Chromatica

Giles FARNABY (C. 1563-1640)


John DOWLAND (1563-1626)

Pavana Lachrimae (Est By William Byrd)

William BYRD (1543-1623)

The Queen’s Alman
Lord Willobies Welcome Home
Pavana: Bray
Galiarda: Bray
Wolseys Wilde
The Carman’s Whistle

Joseph Payne, harpsichord
Rec: May and August 1991, Forde Estate, Boston.
BIS-CD 539 [74.25]

  AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations



The Elizabethan period in England was a time of a musical renaissance, if not the birth of a true musical culture and idiom in England. Since the queen herself played music - she played lute and keyboard - the kingdom became a hotbed of musical production and performance. In a short period of time, English composers developed their own unique sound and style, in music often for solo instruments - lute, viol, keyboard - as well as for viol consort.

This recording is a panorama of the major composers of this fertile period, and shows the diversity of styles and forms used in keyboard compositions. Joseph Payne, ever the eclectic performer, has chosen some well-known pieces as well as some less familiar works, and plays them on three different instruments - two harpsichords and one virginal.

Orlando Gibbons was one of the most important keyboard composers of the time. His Fantasia is similar to a toccata, in its use of different sections within the same work. This flowing piece is a fine example of Gibbons’ keyboard works, with its interesting combination of melodic and contrapuntal elements.

John Bull was an organist and keyboard composer whose most famous keyboard works are his variations. His In Nomine (IX), the longest piece on this disk at just under 8 minutes, is a work of this kind, where a theme is played at a relatively slow tempo and variations are added and embellished. One must listen closely to hear the theme in this work; Bull’s variations tend to stray from their themes.

John Dowland is best known for his lute music and songs; in fact, he did not write for the keyboard at all. The Pavana Lachrymae (in an arrangement by William Byrd) is a keyboard version of what was probably the biggest "hit" of the Elizabethan period. Dowland’s Lachrymae, for lute, and its song version, Flow my tears, was transcribed and arranged by composers all around Europe, including Dowland himself, who even wrote seven "versions" of it for viol consort. Byrd’s arrangement captures the melancholic tone of the original, yet gives it an incisiveness that is not heard on the lute, with its softer sound.

William Byrd was undoubtedly the greatest keyboard composer of the time, in addition to writing sacred music and organ music. The few works on this disc do not give justice to the wide variety of his keyboard compositions, but nevertheless give a sample of his work. His music can be very melodic, almost song-like, as in The Queen’s Alman or Lord Willobies welcome home. These two pieces feature very singable melodies, which Byrd embellishes and ornaments in a savant manner on the keyboard. The Carman’s Whistle is a deceptively simple sounding piece, based on a very short melody that is played and replayed through as series of variations in 2, 3 and even 6 voices. This popular melody, used by other composers as well, was used to create one of Byrd’s finest, most melodic variation sets, and is the perfect closing piece for this disc.

As always, Joseph Payne plays excellently, using subtle variations in touch and a variety of instruments to best interpret each piece. All the instruments here are excellent, the recording perfect, and the only thing lacking is perhaps more extensive liner notes - while they give an overview of the period, they do not discuss the individual pieces at all.

An excellent selection and performance of some of the finest English keyboard music of the Elizabethan period. A must-have disc for anyone who wants to discover the infinite variety of music from this time.

Kirk McElhearn


Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: