In 1649 the Second English Civil War came to an end, resulting in the defeat of the monarchy and the foundation of a republic. In May of that year the Rump Parliament adopted an Act which declared England to be a Commonwealth. The same Rump Parliament imposed many restrictions on the various forms of artistic expression. Composers had to deal with this situation and did so in different ways. Matthew Locke, monarchist and Catholic, had left the country in 1648, and was probably in the retinue of Prince Charles when he stayed in The Hague. Only a couple of years later he seems to have returned. He probably spent a number of years in Herefordshire; there is no documentary evidence of his presence in London before 1656. As a composer he largely confined himself to the writing of theatre music. At this time he may also have written some of the chamber music which was printed after the Restoration and the return of Prince Charles as King Charles II in 1660.
At that time Locke was the leading composer. That - and probably also his loyalty to the monarchy - resulted in his being appointed as composer for the Twenty-Four Violins, the court violin band, and for the Private Musick, an elite ensemble of musicians who performed for members of the royal family in the Privy Chamber, their private apartments in Whitehall.
This disc is devoted to the first part of a collection of consort music, known as The Broken Consort,
which dates from 1661. Locke was a rather conservative composer and with this set he linked up with the pre- Commonwealth tradition. Locke modelled his suites after the fantasia suites
of the likes of John Coprario and William Lawes, which consisted of fantasia, air and galliard. Locke modified this model by replacing the galliard with the more modern courant, putting the air in third place and adding a saraband to close the suite. Locke's suites are also less dominated by counterpoint; Charles II had spent most of his years in exile in France and had become a strong admirer of the French style and had "an utter detestation of Fancys", as Roger North stated. Although Locke stated in the preface of his Little Consort
of 1656 that he "never yet saw any Forayn Instrumental Composition (a few French Corants excepted) worthy an English mans Transcribing" he paid tribute to Charles II's French taste in the second part of the Broken Consort
and especially in the three suites which he contributed to the collection Tripla Concordia
. The opening movement of every suite copies the binary form of the French overture.
The title of the collection Broken Consort
refers to a specific kind of consort, consisting of instruments from different families. This explains why the suites are played here with a recorder and a violin. However, the artists seem to be the victim of a kind of misinterpretation. There can be little doubt that these suites were written for the Broken Consort
which was part of the Private Musick
. We know the names of its members: David Mell and Humphrey Madge played the violins, Henry Hawes the viola da gamba. As violins and viol belong to different families the ensemble lived up to its name. There is no mention whatsoever of the involvement of a recorder. It is also odd that the bass viol part is played here on the cello, an instrument which only gradually emerged in Italy in the second half of the 17th century and hardly played any role in England until the very end of that century. The use of a theorbo is more justified: a set of parts has been preserved in manuscript and these include three theorbo parts.
Locke was a very self-willed composer and that comes clearly to the fore in the suites from the Broken Consort
. Many movements include uncommon harmonic progressions which have no equal in his time. The word 'quirky' is often used to describe Locke's suites, and that is spot-on. One is often surprised by the twists and turns in these pieces, with many chromatic passages, modulations and unexpected melodic developments. Having heard these suites with strings I believe that these features come off much better in that kind of line-up than here. The balance between the recorder and the violin is unsatisfying as the former is too loud and sometimes overshadows the violin. There is nothing wrong with the playing of the Wayward Sisters and one can understand that they won the 2011 Early Music America Recording Competition. However, in this recording which seems to be the result of winning the competition they unfortunately have missed the point, at least in the suites from the Broken Consort
. The two suites from Tripla Concordia
are more convincing, probably partly due to the fact that these are a little less unconventional and adventurous than the Broken Consort
The best alternative to this recording is the performance by The Locke Consort (Metronome, 2011) (review
). Here you also get the second part of The Broken Consort
and two suites from Tripla Concordia
Johan van Veen