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Consort Music.

Mico has made a rapid ascent to notice in the past two decades, having proved elusive since his death on 10 April 1661. The Italianate spelling of his surname (Micault), French Huguenot in origin, may have contributed to this. So undoubtedly did his own career: first, by 1608 as a household musician to the Petre family of Thorndon Hall, Essex, succeeding William Byrd no less; then, from 1630, in the service of Henrietta Maria, queen consort to Charles I. This progress involved early conversion to Roman Catholicism, no doubt a wholehearted undertaking but yet another reason for Mico to remain in the shadows even in his own time. Writers of the mid-century and later, cited in this edition, still referred to his works with approval. With the ability to give him a local habitation and a name that we owe to the combined researches of John Bennett and Pamela Willetts, Mico's stock rose sufficiently to ensure him a place in Musica Britannica. It is undeniably earned. Mico's music follows on closely in time and idiom from the four-part fantasias of Alfonso Ferrabosco II, also recently available in Musica Britannica, and on historical grounds alone is an important link in the chamber-music chain leading through John Jenkins and Matthew Locke up to the incomparable fantasias of 1680 by the young Henry Purcell.

The text of Mico's contribution to the genre, along with his other surviving works, is admirably presented here. The few pieces unattributed in contemporary sources but previously assigned to him on grounds of style are also included; curiously, two of the unmistakable four-part fantasias are consigned to an appendix, while the two five-part fantasias that occur anonymously in a single source (Nos. 3-4; thought, no doubt correctly, by John Bennett to be earlier than Nos. 1-2) are received into the body of the edition. It must be on stylistic grounds that six anonymous fantasias, including two on the hexachord cantus firmus, occurring in a late source (British Library, Add. MS 31423) contiguous to Mico's known works, have been omitted from discussion. Curiously in another way, for a composer who will have been most concerned day-to-day with performance of ritual (in his capacity as organist, successor to Richard Dering, in the queen's service), all the works by him currently known belong wholly to the chamber-music category for string instruments in two to five parts, and exhibit an idiomatic approach to string technique in the fantasias in two or three parts. However, the series of seven three-part fantasias, not hitherto available in print, preserves a very full accompanying organ texture which, though not autograph, must have been copied from parts in his hand, a very gratifying survival from a period which handed down all too few authentic keyboard texts. One of the keyboard parts survives as Oxford, Christ Church, MS Mus. 432, from the collection of Sir Christopher Hatton III. He, though no courtier in the relevant period, was well connected to activities of the queen's musicians (he assembled much vocal music by Dering) through his uncle Sir Thomas, who up to the end of the 1630s was her surveyor-general; one can feel confident of its general reliability.

This edition excludes mention of previous publications, but in fact a surprising amount of the music (in fact all the works in four or five parts) has been made available in modern times by enthusiasts - a roll-call would include Francis Grubb (editions dating from 1959), Helmut Monkemeyer, Richard Nicholson, the late John Bennett and, most recently, Meredith Tyler's edition of the four-part pavans and fantasias: The Four-Part Consort Music (London & Bermuda, 1992). One reason is plain: the music so far issued is technically undemanding and falls easily (perhaps a little too much so) on the ear. Sonorous and shapely, it may lack some of the distinction offered by Ferrabosco's rhythmic drive in his four-part works, or by Orlando Gibbons, a possible model for Mico's three-part works, which, unusually, call for two bass instruments on lines II-III. Mico was obviously responsive to stylistic influences, and the four-part works in particular often read more like a combination of them rather than as individual creations; his only piece built on the hexachord cantus firmus is too close to Ferrabosco and, like several other works, is too brief for full individuality. He falls back too often on a single harmonic cadential formula (as mentioned by the editor) and stock melodic lines at conclusions to be awarded the accolade of great distinctiveness. What he has in abundance is an excellent sense of balance that makes all these pieces read like finely polished miniatures, whereas greater talents can sometimes go astray by overstepping formal bounds. A combination of these qualities informs his one five-part In Nomine with two bass lines, seemingly most indebted to Ferrabosco and with not quite enough flair to give it a convincing contour. It is not, though, by and large an entirely unoriginal oeuvre, and in the small but shapely and poignant pavans for four instruments in 2Tr-T-B scoring it offers useful precedents for similar works by Jenkins.

Prefatory material in this volume includes facsimiles of the composer's signature and presumed musical hand, from what almost certainly is the holograph of the four-part works: London, Royal College of Music, MS 1197. (Less necessary perhaps were the reproductions from Christ Church MSS Mus. 2 and 436, a relatively late score and organ part, which have been reproduced in Musica Britannica fairly recently (Vol. 48: Orlando Gibbons Consort Music). The manuscripts, the chief of which have received increasing attention in recent years, are discussed in concise but helpful detail. In one important aspect of the prefatory remarks, however, one might have expected authoritatively new conclusions about dating in particular, and about Mico's place in the rarefied chamber repertory, that through a variety of causes do not seem to have been possible - perhaps because even now they would be premature. Mico's appointment of 1630 may in fact be misleading for such purposes, as much as it seems to establish a reliable marker, for the simple reason that it is unlikely in itself to mark the beginning of Mico's association with the royal music and his predecessor, Dering. It is almost inconceivable that any musician, however skilled, would have been received into such a post without prior knowledge of the establishment and personnel involved. There thus would seem to be no very reliable punctuation point in this hidden career.

Dr Hanley, tightly it seems, places the more virtuoso fantasias in two or three parts in the context of court music of the mid to late 1620s, the fantasia-suites for violin, bass viol and organ by John Coprario (to which one could add the three-part fantasias with two bass lines by Orlando Gibbons: the works of the two composers are available respectively in Musica Britannica Vols. 46 and 48). However, he apparently takes for granted the received notion that both the four- and five-part series must date from before 1630, reflecting Mico's duties as provider of gentle Gebrauchsmusik to the countryfolk. A more objective statement of the case would have required a deeper examination of the sources than we are allowed - Dr Hanley modestly makes no direct reference to his own research on the music - and possibly a more controversial view of the evidence than is appropriate in the context. Nevertheless, such a statement should at some stage be attempted.

The notion that 'many compositions were copied into manuscripts that can be dated in the 1620s or 1630s, or the early 1640s at latest' is wide open to amplification. In fact the joint earliest source extant for the four-part series, and for only the first five items at that (the pavans, and fantasia No. 1), is a court-connected set of four partbooks, British Library, Madrigal Society MSS G.33-36. It offers no readings that diverge significantly from the presumed holograph parts on the basis of Dr Hanley's collation, and could even be dependent upon them. The other significant early source for the four-part fantasias (it includes no pavans) is the Christ Church set Mus. 353-6. There is an opportunity for dating here that has evaded attention: the pieces are all in the one hand, that of a significant collector-copyist from a London merchant family, John Browne. The first survey of his collection appeared in this journal: Andrew Ashbee, 'Instrumental Music from the Library of John Browne (1608-1691), Clerk of the Parliaments', Music & Letters, lviii (1977), 43-59. There has however been to date no complete coverage of his activities, which would ideally include his vocal music and, incidentally, cover Mico. Browne acquired, or perhaps commissioned, a set of four partbooks of dances by Charles Coleman (2Tr-B-B.c., though the contents overlap with versions in the so-called string quartet scoring of 2Tr-T-B). He later (very likely soon after) added seventeen four-part fantasias by Mico in his own distinctive hand - all, that is, but for the two that are now attributed without holograph authority. A dating of before 1636 or so is improbable for the works by Coleman, who is an underrated contributor to the early suite in England (perhaps almost equal to the better-known William Lawes): his works acquired by Browne include sequences of dances, in irregular pavan (or pavan - alman)-alman-corant-saraband-galliard sequences, that are not far short of the evolving 'classic' form of alman-corant-saraband. Given the date, the later 1630s, the result is to make one turn back to the holograph set for clarification of how Mico went about his contribution to the problematic genres of four-part fantasia and pavan.

Dr Hanley gives no very detailed description of the layout of RCM MS 1197, though he follows its order as authoritative in prefacing the pavans to the fantasias. It is clear, however, from even a cursory examination that the contents fall into two sections. In all partbooks at item No. 10 there is a change of pen style (far from marked) and ink (very marked, in that the new was better suited to the paper-type, providing less dispersal and minimal show-through). (There is ink dispersal in No. 21 in the Altus partbook, line II, simply because the piece was last in the book and written on to the interior of the inferior end-wrapper.) Mico revised one piece: Dr Hanley gives the earlier, slightly shorter form as appendix No. 1. The inserted leaves for this piece in all books are also in the later ink, and bear a different watermark. There is ample scope for refining conclusions about dating, given the presence of at least three watermarks in the set, which it would be presumptuous to attempt here. It is, however, significant that the other early source for the first five pieces, Madrigal Society MSS G.33-36, has only the first five pieces from the authoritative array in RCM MS 1197. Some further conclusions about dating could possibly, on some such basis, be offered in future editions of the music with small outlay of mental effort. The matter turns on consideration of how the repertories fit together, not only because of the need to assess to what extent the problematic genre of the four-part fantasia was ever regarded as 'listener's music', beyond, that is, the parlours of country houses (an issue that certainly is relevant to the output of Ferrabosco II), but also because of the relevance of Mico and his immediate colleagues in the development of the string quartet scoring for dance music.

A seemingly convincing case has recently been made for the evolution on an Anglo-German axis by 1620 of the dance scoring for the 2Tr-T-B ensemble, plus continuo as available. Peter Holman, in Four and Twenty Fiddlers (Oxford, 1993), which gives a welcome clarification of the part played in this by the violin consort, has cogently argued for a major role played by a second-generation returnee from Germany, Maurice Webster, in the change to new scorings at a date after 1623. There are several causes for gentle disagreement with the premiss of this attractive theory, not least because the role of native composers is considerably underplayed, and because the external circumstances that may have produced similar results in both territories of northern Europe do not seem to enter the argument. The extent to which a string quartet scoring was emerging in England naturally and inevitably out of a previous chamber scoring for five instruments (2Tr-A-T-B), by omission of outmoded inner lines, also has not yet entered into the equation. The works of Mico and his predecessor Dering are far from negligible counters to be played in advancing the position that, on the basis of extant works, a chamber tradition of more or less ornamental (as opposed to functional) pavans was being slimmed down from five to four parts, while retaining a 2Tr duet. All three of Mico's five-part pavans have the 2Tr scoring, and likewise three out of four of his four-part ones. If this is an indigenous development - for the part played in it by the cosmopolitan Dering is hard to assess - then Mico occupies an up-to-date position in it, given that his works date from well before 1630. Even if the dating is open to revision, there is still room for amplification of his part in the process, given that a move towards 2Tr scoring is already in evidence in the fantasias of Ferrabosco II (before 1619), let alone those by Mico himself.

The five-part works are less problematic in that the pavans seem to follow on naturally from those by Dering in the same 2Tr scoring. Dr Hanley has a soft spot for Mico's rather peculiar tribute to Monteverdi. Instead of writing an independent setting (as some composers between Morley and Ferrabosco actually did), Mico devised an instrumental second part to a madrigal from Monteverdi's third book, 'La tra'l sangu'e le morti', itself a seconda parte to 'Vattene pur, crudel', Armida's ferocious outburst on the perennial theme of the desertion of women. Mico's piece does little more in the way of fulfilling its dues than inverting Monteverdi's point on the downward chromatic tetrachord into an upward version. This procedure seems to belong to the stage after English composers, or their patrons, had tired both of Italian vocal works and of literal transcriptions for instrumental use; but as a specific amplification, across the genres, of another composer's piece, it occupies a unique position. The size of Mico's five-part output - four works, excluding the one In Nomine and the riposte to Monteverdi - is small enough to suggest that catering for a full-blooded large ensemble was indeed outside the usual run of his duties. Even so, there is ample scope for defining his role in the shifting patterns of musical behaviour around and shortly after the accession of Charles I in 1625. This handsome edition will prove of great value in the attempt to do this.

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Author:Pinto, David
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1996
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