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More sweet to hear – Organs and Voices in Tudor England
Times and seasons: pre-Reformation organ music
Avery BURNETT (fl1527-1541)
Te Deum laudamus [10:09]
anon
A solis ortus cardine [07:54]
John REDFORD (d1547)
Lucem tuam – Nunc dimittis – Lucem tuam [06:16]
Thomas PRESTON (fl1543-1559)
Felix namque es, sacra virgo Maria [05:18]
In chamber and schoolroom: organ music in secular contexts

anon
The trowmpettus [01:01]
Richard EDWARDS (1525-1566)
Where grypinge griefes [00:53]
John SHEPPARD (c1515-1559)
Vaine, all our lyfe we spend in vaine [02:05]
anon
Vaine, all our lyfe we spend in vaine, intabulation [02:18]
Thomas TALLIS (c1505-1585)
Fond youth is a bubble/Purge me, O Lord [01:52]
John BLITHEMAN (c1525-1591)
Gloria tibi Trinitas I [02:29]
John REDFORD
O quam glorifica (single verset) [01:46]
Thomas TALLIS
Veni redemptor gentium [03:39]
John BLITHEMAN
Gloria tibi Trinitas II [01:54]
The Temple purg'd: sounds of Elizabethan Protestantism
anon
81 psalme (Be light and glad) [02:23]
Thomas CAUSTUN (c1520-1569) / John FARMER (c1570-c1601)
Psalmus: O Lord turn not away (harm. William Parsons, fl1545-1563) [05:44]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Ut re mi fa sol la* [04:25]
Teach me, O Lord** [03:36]
Second Service: Magnificat** [04:01]
Thomas MORLEY (1557/58-1602)
Out of the deep** [03:52]
Nicholas CARLETON (c1573-1630)
A verse for two to play on one virginall or organs* [04:21]
Magnus Williamson, Geoffrey Webber*, Francesca Massey** (organ)
The Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
rec. June 2005, Chapel of St John's College, Cambridge, UK
OXRECS OXCD-101 [76:45]


English music of the 16th century is very popular among vocal ensembles, choirs and instrumentalists of all kinds, and is frequently recorded. One aspect of this heritage has fallen a little short in attention: music for organ. Some recordings with keyboard music of the 16th century contain items played on a chamber organ, but most are also playable on other instruments, like the harpsichord or the virginals. Music specifically written for the organ, and in particular to be used in liturgy, is seldom performed and recorded. This disc therefore breaks new ground, especially as it contains liturgical music in which both voices and organ participate.

One of the main reasons this part of England's musical heritage has been largely neglected is that we don't know what the organ sounded like in the 16th century. In the booklet Magnus Williamson writes: "No organ built in England before the later seventeenth century survives in anything approaching a playable state". This disc is the first in 'The Early English Organ Project', whose aim is "to use what little remains by way of physical evidence to reconstruct two organs of c. 1530, and so to help revive this largely lost tradition".

The ruinous remains to which Magnus Williamson refers consist of two soundboards – "central components within any organ, and hence essential clues as to its layout, size, pipework and likely sonority". They were discovered in 1977 and 1995 respectively. They seem to date from around 1530. These were the starting points for attempts to build two organs which reflect the style of organ building of the first quarter of the 16th century. These two organs, built by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn, have been used in the present recording.

In England it took a little longer for the organ to develop into a common instrument than on the European continent. The only source of keyboard music before Henry VIII is the Robertsbridge Codex, dating from the middle of the 14th century, but that contains French music; nothing from England. From the middle of the 15th century the organ began to be used more widely as a solo instrument. Organ tuition became a part of the training of choristers, and organ music of the time shows a strong connection to vocal music.

The first section of this disc is devoted to organ music as it was played during liturgy in pre-Reformation England. The first three pieces are examples of the 'alternatim' practice, meaning that verses are sung and played in alternation. The singing is either unison or in faburden. Thomas Preston's 'Felix namque' is one of many settings of this text which have survived from the 16th century. This offertory was part of the Propers of Lady Mass. The number of settings reflect the importance of the Virgin Mary in the religious thinking of the time.

This disc also reflects the religious turmoil in England during the 16th century. The break from Rome led to a change in liturgy: in the Protestant church music had a much smaller role to play. As a result organ music was played outside church, and even in secular music. But that wasn't solely the consequence of liturgical developments. The organ and organ playing had become increasingly popular among lay people anyway. The second section of this disc is devoted to secular repertoire and sacred music played outside church or used as study material. Some pieces had to be reconstructed, like John Sheppard's part-song 'Vaine, all our life', which has only survived in an anonymous keyboard arrangement. As one part of the original has been preserved with text, John Caldwell has been able to reconstruct the part-song, which is performed here.

When Protestantism came out on top eventually - after a short-lived restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary - the organ was given a new role in religious life, both in and outside liturgy. The music of that period is the focus of the last section of the program. The organ is presented here in three different capacities. Firstly it was used to support the singing of metrical psalms and hymns, as in the first two items of this section. Then the organ was to accompany both solo voices and tutti in the verse-anthem. Perhaps the oldest specimen of this genre is Byrd's setting of verses from Psalm 119: Teach me, O Lord. The same practice is used in the Magnificat of his Second Service. Lastly organ music was played at certain points during morning and evening prayers and offertories during holy communion. It is likely Byrd's Ut re mi fa sol la and Nicholas Carleton's duet which ends this programme were used at such occasions.

From a historical perspective the 'Early English Organ Project' is of the greatest importance. This recording gives a much deeper insight into music life and in particular liturgical practice of the 16th century. In addition the music of this period is impressive in its quality. Magnus Williamson gives splendid performances of the organ pieces which show that the standard of organ playing in the 16th century must have been very high. It is a little disappointing that a mixed choir has been used in the liturgical pieces. The solo parts are all sung by members of the choir. Some are very good, others less so (in particular in regard to the use of vibrato). I also regret that a historical pronunciation of Latin is absent from this project.

These critical remarks take nothing away from my enthusiasm for this disc and the project of which it is part. I hope we are going to hear much more from it in the future. I assume that the appearance of further discs will depend at least in part on the public response. What better way to support this project than buy this disc? Strongly recommended because of its historical importance and the high quality of the music, performed on reconstructions of two 16th century organs.

Johan van Veen


 


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