This remarkable collection of works for the virginal, or small harpsichord, is found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is the largest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean keyboard music, all handwritten and totalling nearly 300 compositions, all of which predate the first keyboard music published in England by about 50 years.
The identity of the copyist of these works is uncertain, although a fascinating riddle. The manuscript is a role call of the leading composers of the era - John Bull, Giles Farnaby, William Byrd, Peter Philips, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tomkins and a number of unknown composers all feature. The copyist was, therefore, immersed in the world of keyboard music, with connections to the greatRead more composers of the day.
Research seems to point to one Francis Tregian from Cornwall, who may have copied the music whilst in Fleet prison from 1608 until his death in 1619. He certainly had time on his hands, but how he obtained the materials and original music is far from clear. His connection to Cornwall is impor- tant - William Cornyshe (whose surname pro- bably indicated his birthplace) was a significant composer during the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII, while Farnaby and Tomkins also came from Cornwall.
Tregian’s remarkable work – which extends to four volumes and 2000 pieces – ensured the survival of music by many of the most important composers of this era. This CD, the first in a series, includes a number of rare but intriguing keyboard works, performed by harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder.
• Volume 1 in a series of recordings of the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a fascinating project and the first of its kind.
• Booklet includes comprehensive notes about the background of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and the pieces performed in this volume.
• Recording made in 2010.
Music of BULL, BYRD, FARNABY, GIBBONS, INGLOT, JOHNSON, PEERSON, PHILIPS, PICCHI, MORLEY, MUNDAY, STROGERS, TOMKINS, ANON
On more than one occasion I have remarked on Pieter-Jan Belder’s prodigious recording activities. With more than 130 CDs to his credit, the Dutch keyboardist and recorder player probably warrants a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. Where else do you go if you’ve already recorded most (if not all) of the works of Bach, Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin, and the rest? Well, naturally there’s the extraordinary collection of early English keyboard music housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, known to specialists and enthusiasts since it was first published by J. A. Fuller-Maitland in 1899 as the greatest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean keyboard music ever assembled. It is an invaluable source for the music of many of the composers listed above—51 of the 52 known works by Giles Farnaby, for example, can be found only in the FVB. There have been many compellation LPs and CDs since the ’50s featuring keyboardists of every imaginable historical persuasion, but only one has, to the best of my knowledge, ever recorded the entire FVB. That honor goes to Italian pianist Claudio Colombo, who recently recorded all 297 pieces on a Yamaha digital piano. The mp3 files are available for free download on the Internet, but to be honest with you, I have no desire to hear them. I’d much rather listen to this first volume of the FVB, recorded by a specialist harpsichordist who has his heart in the right place, and who has produced a version that’s more than serviceable.
There is such a wealth of music here that it’s impossible to go into much detail about the individual pieces or performances. CD 1 starts out with one of the most extended pieces in the collection, a marvelous set of variations by John Bull on the popular tune Walsingham. Another extended piece is A Grounde of Thomas Thomkins. You will hear pavans and galliards by Bull, Philips, Gibbons, and Peerson, but there are only four works by the great William Byrd on the program—I guess we’ll have to wait for future volumes for more. Thomas Morley’s rendition of the tune Goe from My Window is justly famous. CD 2 contains The Old Spagnoletta of Farnaby—it’s another sprightly tune that often turns up in arrangement. I first heard Amarillis (it’s listed as Amarilli di Julio Romano here) by Peter Philips on a wonderful Gustav Leonhardt LP from the late ’60s; Belder’s version is every bit as good. There are snippets of liturgical music scattered throughout (Gloria tibi, In Nomine) from the pen of “Doctor” Bull, who like Byrd, probably hedged his bets by writing for the Roman service. The program consists of 35 pieces, which are not in any particular order as it relates to the manuscript, but which have been chosen for maximum variety and interest. Belder concludes his recital with Martin Peerson’s minute-long The Fall of the Leafe, a terse and dramatic curtain-closer.
Belder has assembled a stable of harpsichords and virginals by builders Cornelius Bom and the legendary Martin Skowroneck. Most are copies after Ruckers, but an Italian copy after Giusti turns up on three tracks. The liner notes go into intimate detail about the why and how of the instrumentarium, for those who are interested. There is also an excellent essay by Greg Holt on the genesis of the FVB (he isn’t credited, but the web address reveals his name). Bottom line: It probably wasn’t Francis Tregian who copied the manuscript, and in fact we may never know who actually did. The recording quality is just OK; as with many of the Brilliant CDs I’ve sampled, a bit on the dry side and lacking in bloom.
If you take the total number of pieces in the FVB (297) and divide by the number of tracks on Volume 1 (35), the resulting number of volumes is just under nine. Eight two-CD volumes to go—this is one “complete” recording that I want to see to completion.
The English Virginal School Never Sounded Better!June 22, 2012By Edward Greene (Bath, ME)See All My Reviews"Pieter-Jan Belder has made a most auspicious start on a most ambitious project -- a recording of the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. He seems to revel in big projects -- like the complete Sonatas of Scarlatti. Let's hope he also carries this one to completion! People sometimes think that music "for the virginals" is primarily a repertory of domestic miniatures for tiny instruments. But think again: Belder begins with John Bull's vast and virtuosic "Walsingham" variations. He plays most of the program on large full-toned harpsichords copied after Flemish and Italian prototypes. The recording quality is superb, resulting in a rich bloom of glorious sound. Belder brings out all the expressive power of the music by judicious use of "super-legato" and appropriate ornamentation. This is music to be relished."Report Abuse