About this Recording
8.557864 - PHILIPS: Harpsichord Music
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Peter Philips (1560/61-1628)

Harpsichord Music


Peter Philips was born Catholic in Protestant England around 1560. He left England in 1582, following his studies with William Byrd, in order to learn the Italian musical style in Rome. There he lived at the English College, along with other refugees from English politics and religious persecution. In 1585 he entered the service of Lord Thomas Paget, another English Catholic, and travelled extensively throughout Europe. By 1591 he had settled in Antwerp and married. His wife Cornelia died a year later, and his only child, Leonora, in 1599. Philips, a member of the Brussels court since 1597, entered the priesthood and was ordained in 1609.

None of Philips' keyboard music was published during his life-time, although his music was very well known and quite popular. Several pieces for organ stem from his later years, but he composed no more secular music - consort works, secular vocal works, or harpsichord works - after becoming a priest. Nineteen of his 32 surviving keyboard works are included in the famous Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a large English manuscript of the period. His complete keyboard works exist in a variety of other manuscripts, as detailed by David Smith in his comprehensive edition (Musica Britannica lxxv, 1999).

Keyboard intabulations (arrangements) of popular Italian madrigals and French chansons account for fourteen, almost half, of Philips' keyboard works. These keyboard pieces include added idiomatic embellishments such as trills, scales, and arpeggios, needed to express the vocal text with insight and understanding. This art form, expressing the feeling of words without the words themselves, can sometimes better communicate the meaning of a vocal work than were they to be sung. Philips made intabulations of music by Giulio Caccini, Orlande de Lassus, Luca Marenzio, and Alessandro Striggio, some of the most famous and popular composers of vocal music of his day. Nine of these settings are heard on this recording, including an intabulation of one of his own madrigals.

Throughout the vocal repertoire in this genre, the poetic texts speak of love: being smitten, being rejected, and the double entendre pain of love's end. These beautiful texts often rapidly change emotion or affect. Such shifts in mood include effusive outpourings of love, adoration, wistful sighs, eagerness, smiling, weeping, crying out in pain, resignation and loss, quiet suffering, bitterness and irony. Philips strives in his intabulations to match the changing affects of the texts through shifts in mood, mode, rhythm, range, and figuration.

Programmatic effects abound in all of the intabulations. In Le Rossignuol, the soaring and swooping lines of a bird in flight express the caged bird remembering his freedom, and pining for it. In Bonjour, mon coeur one effusive term of endearment follows another until the beloved is addressed, with the use of strange chromatic tones and surprising rests, as 'ma douce rebelle'. Chi farà fed' al cielo has a clear declamatory tone to match the defiant wail of its text. In the repetendum section in the second half of Amarilli, the poet implores his hesitant lover to open his chest with an arrow, suggested musically by a darting figuration of arrows in flight. Then she may see if, indeed, her name is written on his heart, which is confirmed by the three-fold repetition of her precious name.

Discernible in the trilogy of madrigals by Luca Marenzio, beginning with Deggio dunque partire, there is an emotional progression from incredulity to anger to ironic tenderness. A strong musical effect of repetitive music eventually ebbing and falling is heard at the end of the second madrigal, Io partirò, with the words 'ch'io penserò restar di vita spento'. Philips' own madrigal, Fece di voi, has a similar tone 'per opra d'amore', describing the fate of lovers 'viver e morir di doppia vita e morte' by the clever juxtaposition of dual duple and triplet rhythms. Margot, labourez les vignes alternates an energetic refrain with sections in a more rhetorical style to tell a bawdy story.

Two of Philips' three fantasias are heard on this recording. The Fantasia in F major (1582) and Fantasia in D minor (date unknown) may also be intabulations. They appear, by their style, to have been inspired by vocal models, although viol consort pieces were also frequently turned into keyboard intabulations. Whatever their source, each is affectively rich in content.

Of his ten dance compositions, some in pairs, the Pavan 1580 is Philips' earliest surviving work. The Paget Pavan and Galliard may have been composed on the occasion of Lord Paget's death in 1590. The choice of key, use of altered tones, and affect of sweet sadness and longing are appropriate for this work of homage to a patron. Philips' Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard (1592) is founded on the popular ground bass pattern, passamezzo antico, the same ground heard in the familiar tune, Greensleeves.

Typically, pavans and galliards are composed in three sections, each of which is normally followed by a repetendum (variant). The Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard is expanded into something more like a set of variations. The Pavan contains seven sections, each sounding the individual notes of the ground bass pattern rather slowly by units of four whole notes in length. The Galliard presents the notes of the ground bass ten times in units of two dotted-whole notes (semibreves) in length. Many styles and affects are expressed throughout the 'variations'. Sections nine and ten of the Galliard are labelled Saltarella, and crown the composition with excitement, vigour, and energy.

Elizabeth Farr



The Harpsichord

Jerome de Zentis was a consummate musical instrument-maker. He built instruments first in Rome, then in Florence for the Medici family, London as the 'King's Virginal Maker', Stockholm as the instrument-maker to the court, Viterbo for the Pope, and finally in Paris for the King of France. The instrument used in this recording is one he made upon his return to Italy after ten years in Sweden as the instrument-maker royal to Queen Christina. This instrument is unusual because it is clearly an Italian instrument, but appears to have been made by a North German maker, or at least an Italian maker who was fully informed of the Northern European harpsichord-making practices and materials. This evidence came to light during the restoration. It was once thought that this particular instrument was not by de Zentis, even though it bears his signature on the jack rail. The doubt was understandable because it was a common practice among instrument-makers from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century as well as fakers in the nineteenth century to cannibalise dilapidated instruments in order to make new instruments from the remaining parts. The new evidence gathered during restoration, however, together with the outstanding tone quality of this instrument should be enough to dispel any doubt as to its authenticity. It is a work of genius.

Keith Hill

For more information about the instrument, please visit the following web address:


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