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8.550603 - GIBBONS: Consort and Keyboard Music / Songs and Anthems
Orlando Gibbons (1583 - 1625)
Consort and Keyboard Music, Songs and Anthems
The music and reputation of Orlando Gibbons have survived the ravages of time rather better than those of some of his contemporaries. His services and unaccompanied anthems have been a part of the central repertory of English cathedral choirs since his death, The silver swan  was quickly recognised as a classic madrigal by early twentieth century singers, and some of his keyboard music was already available in a 'modern' if rather faulty edition by 1847. It is, however, only relatively recently that his superb contributions to the tradition of English viol consort music have been fully recognised, as well as his important position in the development of the verse anthem. This recording represents most of the main areas of Gibbons' output, apart from the music for the English liturgy, and shows not only his consummate skill in handling complex contrapuntal textures, but also the variety of mood of his work, and the directly evocative response to the texts he set.
Like many sixteenth century composers, Orlando Gibbons came from a family of musicians. His father William was a wait (town band musician) in both Oxford and Cambridge, his eldest brother Edward was Master of the Choristers at King's College, Cambridge, and then Succentor (responsible for the organ and choir) at Exeter Cathedral, and another brother Ellis contributed two madrigals to 'The Triumphes of Oriana' in 1601. It was not surprising then that Orlando, born in Oxford in 1583, should follow in their footsteps. He sang as a chorister at King's College, Cambridge and later took the degree of Bachelor of Music there as well as receiving a Doctorate of Music from Oxford. It was, however, his move to London to become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal around 1603 that must have brought him to wider public notice, and the rest of his career was centred upon his duties as a 'royal' musician. By 1615 he was one of the two organists of the Chapel Royal, and by 1625 had been promoted to be senior organist (his junior was Thomas Tomkins). In the meantime he had also accumulated the positions of 'one of his Majesty's musicians for the virginals to attend in his highness privy chamber' and that of organist of Westminster Abbey. Gibbons' sudden death (in 1625) of an apoplectic fit while attending with the rest of the court upon Charles I as he greeted his new wife Henrietta Maria at Canterbury, deprived the nation of one of its most renowned and respected musicians.
We have no documentary evidence to suggest that Gibbons played the viol himself, but his family background must surely have provided him with opportunities to become familiar with the instruments and their music. Town waits like his father were normally competent viol and violin players as well as wind players, and brother Edward certainly encouraged viol playing amongst the Exeter choristers. As a senior court musician, Orlando Gibbons may even have been a member of the King's Private Musick, and would certainly have worked with its number, who included some of the most forward-looking players and composers of their time: Ferrabosco, Lupo (descendents of itinerant Italian musical families), and the thoroughly English Coprario (born plain John Cooper). These musicians, under the patronage of the future Charles I, who apparently played bass viol with them, were in a position to experiment with new musical styles and genres.
By 1600 the viols, hitherto largely the domain of such professional instrumentalists at court, were being cultivated by wealthy amateurs, and Gibbons' fantasias, In Nomines and dances were circulated widely. Indeed he took the unusual step of publishing nine of his three part fantasias around 1620, 'Cut in Copper, the like not heretofore extant'. The six part fantasias recorded here bear witness to Gibbons' versatility. No.3  opens with a series of searingly dissonant suspensions before moving into more dance-Iike antiphonal ideas and a strong final section. No. 5  is perhaps less extrovert, but contains some tensely rising chromatic lines and a central section of great stillness and serenity. This spaciousness contrasts well with the closely argued fantasia for two restlessly chattering trebles . Several of Gibbons viol consorts make use of the extraordinary low register of 'the Great Double Bass', an instrument a fourth lower than the conventional bass viol. We include a fantasia  and galliard which combine this with a treble and a bass viol, the organ binding together these rather disparate elements.
The other forms available to composers for viol consort were dances, the In Nomine and variations Go from my window  is a beautifully crafted set of ten variations on a popular tune initially heard in the lower treble part. Variation nine gives the two basses some excitingly fleet-footed running to do. The In Nomine was a uniquely English phenomenon a fantasia based on a cantus firmus which used the plainsong Gloria tibi Trinitas'. A section of the Benedictus of the mass of that name by John Taverner was taken out of context as an instrumental piece, then imitated by most great English composers down to Henry Purcell. Gibbons only four part version  is probably a student work and pays homage to Taverner's original by using several of the older composer's ideas. The six part >pavan  and galliard  which open this recording show how functional "dance forms could be elevated in the hands of a master although they pay lip-service to the conventions, these are fully fledged fantasias in all but name.
In his own lifetime Gibbons was perhaps most renowned for his skill as a keyboard player. In 1624 the French ambassador referred to his playing at Westminster Abbey the organ was touched by the best finger of that age, Mr. Orlando Gibbons, and the esteem he enjoyed as a composer for keyboard is acknowledged by the inclusion of six pieces in Parthenia published about 1613, alongside works by the much older Byrd and Bull. Both the Preludium  and the famous Lord of Salisbury his Pavan and Galliard  come from this source. They are masterpieces of structure, in which ideas develop organically, the florid decorative work seeming to grow quite naturally from its framework. The three shorter keyboard works  , played here on virginals, show a lighter side to Gibbons musical character, though even here popular masque tunes are given some splendidly suave settings.
Despite its title The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets (1612) was Gibbons' only published book of secular vocal music. Although the parts are all underlaid with text, the title page advises that these songs were apt for Viols and Voyces' and several seem to suggest that they were conceived more truly in the older English form of the consort song for sole voice and viols. This style was particularly suited to texts of a serious moralizing or philosophical nature, (perhaps implied by Gibbons use of the unusual term Mottets' in the title). The set of four poems by Joshua Sylvester  -  is a good example the poets rather self-satisfied contentment with his lot and lack of interest in ambition and wealth are matched by Gibbons' clarity of word setting. The more conventional love imagery of Dainty fine bird  and Fair is the rose  elicit particularly subtle responses from the composer each image is matched with musical ideas that raise the poetry to new heights. In The silver swan  imitative counterpoint gives way to an almost hymn like simplicity which throws the emphasis onto the finely moulded and heartfelt vocal line.
The remaining items on this recording are examples of a particularly English genre: the verse anthem. It is a development from the consort song, where short choruses are interjected into the texture breaking up the solos into a number of verses. Later to be adopted by the church with organ accompaniment, the verse anthem in domestic devotions would have used viols instead, the instruments weaving a delicate backdrop to the passionate declamations of the solo voices. Behold, thou hast made my days  was written for the funeral of Anthony Maxey, Dean of Windsor in 1618. The solo verses, for tenor are reiterated by the chorus, the final pleas of O spare me a little being highly affecting as they pass around the group of singers. In contrast Glorious and powerful God  is a rousing piece with solos for bass and tenor with Italianate flourishes on the word 'arise and building to a vigorous 'amen' with apparently unstoppable energy wholly appropriate to the anthems title. The combination of drama, majesty and sincerity which mark these verse anthems is a fitting tribute to this master of English polyphony.
© 1994 John Bryan
Rose Consort of Viols
The Rose Consort of Viols takes its name from the celebrated family of viol makers, whose work spanned the growth and flowering of the English consort repertoire. With its unique blend of intimacy, intricacy, passion and flamboyance, this repertoire forms the basis of the Rose Consort's programmes ranging from Taverner and Byrd, to Lawes, Locke and Purcell, and expanding where necessary to include singers, lutes and keyboard instruments.
The Consort performs extensively throughout Britain and the continent of Europe, appears regularly on the BBC and in the major London concert halls, and has made a number of highly acclaimed recordings. It has received awards for its research and performance of newly devised programmes, some of which have been toured on the Early Music Network, or performed at leading festivals such as York, Utrecht and Bruges.
Red Byrd was founded by John Potter and Richard Wistreich to break new ground in singing both early and contemporary music. They have performed at major festivals in Bremen, Bruges and Utrecht, made a number of significant recordings and commissioned several new works for voices and 'old' instruments.
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