John Jenkins was remarkably
long-lived; probably born in 1592, he
died in 1678, so his long life covered
some remarkable events in English history.
Involved in court masques under Charles
I, he lived through the Civil War, the
Interregnum and the Restoration. Much
of our information about Jenkins comes
from later writers such as Anthony Wood
and Roger North. But, though we possess
inadequate biographical information,
over one thousand of his compositions
survive. To solve this riddle, Andrew
Ashbee has written a two-volume study
of the composer. This first volume includes
a biographical sketch along with a discussion
of Jenkinsí fantasias for viols. The
composerís remaining works are considered
in the second volume.
sketch covers just under one hundred
pages in a book of over three hundred
pages. This reflects the state of our
knowledge. There are few primary sources
for Jenkins and much that we donít know.
His exact birth date has to be deduced.
His father was a cabinet-maker in Maidstone,
but in his will left a remarkable number
of musical instruments leading to speculation
that he might have been an instrument
maker. We donít even know where Jenkins
trained, though there is speculation
that he might have been apprenticed
to a professional musician in the household
of a gentleman.
Jenkinsí early life
is also a mystery, which is profoundly
annoying because this was the period
when he started writing some of his
major works. Ashbee deduces that Jenkins
probably lived in London, but there
is not much to go on. Our first major
sighting of him is in 1634 when he took
part in the masque The Triumph of
Peace put on by the Inns of Court.
The music was composed by William Lawes
and Simon Ives. Jenkins played a variety
of instruments and received £10 for
his pains. His autograph, surviving
on the official receipt for the money,
has played a significant role in identifying
the composerís hand in manuscripts.
From then on, Jenkinsí
life is easier to track as he spent
much of his time in some sort of service
to a series of gentle families in East
Anglia. It is thanks to the Norths at
Kirtling that we have some significant
collections of Jenkinsí music produced
during the composerís life-time. On
the Restoration, Jenkins received a
court post but was getting to be quite
old by the standards of the day. He
still retained connections with gentlefolk
in East Anglia where he was to retire.
Most commentators seem
to agree that Jenkins the man was courteous
and charming, though most of these comments
date from later on in his career. Ashbee
points out that old people were often
considered to be saintly at the time,
so we cannot read too much into this.
Beyond that we know very little, and
certainly could not begin to reconstruct
a personal life. There seem to be no
mention of a wife or any personal relationships
beyond friendships made with colleagues.
Andrew Ashbee has found
many primary sources which touch on
Jenkinsí life. His excellent biographical
sketch includes quotations from many
of the sources, allowing the readers
to construct for themselves what they
can of Jenkinsí life.
Ashbee follows the
biographical sketch with an excellent
summary of the history of the English
Consort Fantasia up to Jenkins. This
is lucidly written and makes a fine
introduction to the subject. Ashbee
also includes a chapter on the manuscript
sources for the music. In lieu of any
other evidence, much information can
be deduced from such sources.
Finally we reach the
meat of the book, chapters discussing
the six-part works, the four-part fantasias
and associated pavans, the consorts
in five parts and the fantasias in three
In each of these chapters
the sources for the music are considered
and what this can tell us. Then for
each piece, there is discussion of stylistic
and dating issues along with analysis,
including many excellent music examples.
Ashbee is concerned to learn all he
can from the pieces, including comparisons
between parallel works. This means that,
though the book is comprehensive, the
order in which the works are considered
is not necessarily numerical. This means
that the book works well if you read
it at one sitting. It is more problematical
if you want to dip in and read about
a particular work, before listening
Ashbee writes clearly
and lucidly, but this is not a light
book. Many people will find the biographical
chapters fascinating but might have
problems with the musical analysis and
discussion of sources in the later chapters.
If you have any interest in viol consorts
then this is profoundly illuminating.
Such a shame that Naxosís disc of Jenkinsí
music has been deleted, as this would
have made a wonderful aural counterpoint
to a fine study.