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Preces, Festal Psalms, and Verse Anthems.

William Smith. Preces, Festal Psalms, and Verse Anthems. Edited by John Cannell. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., c2003. (Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, 135.) [Abbrevs. and sigla, p. vi; acknowledgments, p. vii; introd., p. ix-xvi; texts, p. xvii; 5 plates; score, 124 p.; crit. report, p. 125-35; appendix, p. 137-40. ISBN 0-89579-525-6. $80.]

Giovanni Croce. Musica sacra (1608). Transcribed and edited by John Morehen. London: Stainer & Bell, c2000. (The English Madrigalists, 41.) [Introd., p. iv-vii; notes on performance, p. vii; editorial notes, p. ix-x; texts, p. xi-xiv; facsims., p. xv-xvi; score, p. 1-86; crit. commentary, p. 87-90. ISMN M-2202-2045-6; ISBN 0-85249-873-X; pub. no. EM41. [pounds sterling]40.]

John Amner. Sacred Hymnes of 3, 4, 5 and 6 Parts (1615). Transcribed and edited by John Morehen. London: Stainer & Bell, c2000. (The English Madrigalists, 40.) [Introd., p. v-viii; notes on performance, p. ix; editorial notes, p. x-xi; texts, p. xii-xvi; facsims., p. xvii-xx; score, p. 1-136; crit. commentary, p. 138-44. ISMN M-2202-1932-0; ISBN 0-85249-863-2; pub. no. EM40. [pounds sterling]40.]

John Blow. Anthems IV: Anthems with Instruments. Transcribed and edited by Bruce Wood. London: Stainer & Bell, 2002. (Musica Britannica, 79.) [Pref. in Eng., Fr., Ger., p. xvii-xix; introd., p. xxi-xxx; notes on performance, p. xxxi-xxxviii; editorial notes, p. xxxix; acknowledgments, p. xl; facsims., p. xli-xlv; score, p. 1-198; appendix, p. 199-200; list of sources, p. 203-5; crit commentary, p. 206-16. Cloth. ISMN M-2202-2034-0; ISBN 0-85249-871-3; pub. no. MB79. [pounds sterling]83.50.]

The four volumes reviewed here present a treasure trove of religious music to English texts, in a wide variety of musical styles, all of it dating from the seventeenth century. John Cannell has produced an exemplary edition of five festal psalms for use on the major feasts of the church year (along with an edition of the preces that precede them) and seven verse anthems by the Durham composer William Smith (1603-1645), a man well-known in cathedral music, but only on account of a modern edition of a set of preces and responses familiar to choir directors (Six Settings of Preces and Responses by Tudor Composers, ed. Ivor Atkins and Edmund H. Fellowes [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Oxford University Press, 1933]; subsequently published as Four Settings of the Preces and Responses by Tudor Composers: Together with the Preces and Responses by William Smith, arr. Richard Graves [London: Oxford University Press for the Church Music Society, 1959, etc.]; followed by many other editions, the latest being Settings of Preces and Responses by Byrd, Morley, Smith and Tomkins, ed. Watkins Shaw, Richard Marlow, Church Music Society Reprints, 48 [Oxford: Published for the Church Music Society by Oxford University Press, 1993])--music that caused Vaughan Williams to tell Boris Ord in 1955 that they were the loveliest things Ord performed at King's College Cambridge (Ursula Vaughan Williams, R. V. W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams [London: Oxford University Press, 1964], 368). Many listeners must have wondered if the excellent music of this set was just the tip of an iceberg--and Cannell has provided an answer. He gives full background information on the composer's life and the sources (manuscripts from Durham Cathedral's Chapter Library and the Peterhouse Chapel in Cambridge), interpretation, and liturgical fitness of the music. Cannell's view of the pieces is balanced, and his editorial reconstructions and additions, necessary because none of the extant sets of partbooks remain complete, are excellent. The edition is beautifully printed throughout, although there is an odd gap at the end of m. 16 on page 108.

There is much to admire in this music, although Smith rather often shows his lack of technical control by writing consecutive fifths and octaves (in mm. 96-97 of My Heart is Set there are even two simultaneous pairs). The style is a late version of that known from Orlando Gibbons and Michael East, with largely syllabic text settings (as required by the reformed church) until the "Amen," where Smith--as was common--allowed himself to spread his contrapuntal wings in a manner that nicely balances the foregoing delivery of the words and rounds off the music satisfactorily. Smith does not often use imitations, but the ones that do occur tend to be built on conventional subjects. The festal psalms lean toward the verse style; there is a tendency to use feminine endings, and an evident liking for the rather old-fashioned modal progression F-G minor-D major (and its transpositions) is also apparent. The sense of sameness is occasionally broken by small pieces of text illustration, as in the Ascension piece Grant, We Beseech Thee Almighty God, and in the use of the remote B-major chord (m. 49) at "the uttermost parts of the earth" in I Will Preach the Law. Although there is no real chromaticism apart from a direct move from A minor to C minor in My Heart Is Set, Smith clearly enjoyed shifts from major to minor (over the same tonic), the clashing of major and minor thirds, and cross relations in English cadence style; these last two features indicate that he had a preference for, and knowledge of, his great forebears Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. There is, indeed, no striving to be up-to-date--there is an almost total avoidance of the continental madrigalian style; his music might easily have been written half-a-century earlier, and gives a picture of what a provincial musician could produce in the first half of the seventeenth century.

John Morehen's case for including settings of the seven penitential psalms (translated from the Latin into Italian sonnets) by the Venetian composer Giovanni Croce (ca. 1557-1609) within The English Madrigalists series is convincing, and the volume is a valuable addition to our knowledge of the music available in England in the early seventeenth century. Croce's psalm settings were first published in 1596 (actually 1597) by Giacomo Vincenti in Venice as Li sette sonetti penitentiali, based on texts by Francesco Bembo (1544-1599); a second edition followed in 1603. In 1608, Thomas East issued in London a "newly Englished" version of the collection as Musica sacra to Sixe Voyces, subsequently reissued in 1611 by Mathew Lownes. The settings are exceptionally fine, and deserve to be better known (and more widely performed) than they are. Croce imbued his Italian-texted work with madrigalian features that were readily translated to the English version: in "Lord in Thine Anger Do No More Reprove Me" (no. 3), for instance, black notes (triple-time coloration) signify blindness at the words "my sight hath fled me" (mm. 50-52), and the expressive melodic diminished fourth (used as a melodic interval) is a feature of the extraordinarily angular soprano lines at the opening of "Shew Mercy, Lord, on Me" (no. 4). The emotional temperature of the music is also raised by the occasional chromaticisms, such as the extensive passage in which major thirds turn to minor in quarter notes time after time at "if thou mercy vouchsafe" (mm. 32-38) in "From Profound Centre of My Heart" (no. 6), and the occasional descending tetrachord also adds to its impact. One is struck by the use of the gesture that was to open John Dowland's "Flow My Tears" (from The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres [London: Thomas East, 1600], though circulating in manuscripts earlier) at "doth sigh and languish" in "Lord, in Thine Anger Do No More Reprove Me" (mm. 17-22, later used at "roars out," mm. 34-40): its presence in an Italian work first published in 1597 adds to the evidence that this version of the tetrachord was a common way of depicting tears even before Dowland made such memorable use of it.

Croce's rhythmic control (especially as compared with Smith's music in the volume mentioned above) is impressive--and this despite the fact that he was setting texts of a uniformly penitential nature. The edition is nothing short of superb (perhaps we need not be shy of the cross relation that would result from ironing out the two melodic augmented seconds on p. 43, m. 30, of "Shew Mercy, Lord, on Me" by introducing musica ficta F#s), and Morehen's detective work laid out in the introduction is fascinating. Why, I wonder, has it taken so long for such marvelous music to find a modern edition?

The volume of Sacred Hymnes of 3, 4, 5 and 6 Parts for Voyces and Viols (London: Edward Allde, 1615) by the East Anglian composer John Amner (1579-1641) is also very welcome, and Morehen's argument that it belongs within The English Madrigalists series is strengthened by the fact that this composer was clearly much influenced by the secular forms of his day (the ballet--in which "Fa la" is replaced by "Alleluia"--and canzonet in particular), although the pieces with viols are as much in the idiom of the verse anthem as of the consort song. Amner's knowledge of secular music and madrigalisms generally is shown by many features, but one of them might perhaps escape general notice: "Woe is Me" (no. 12) begins with a progression to which the singers would have to imagine the hexachord sounds "fa mi" ("ut" being mentally placed on various different degrees), and that must in turn have made them think of the many times when that solmization had been used for setting "ahi," "ay me," or "ohime" in secular literature. There is thus a covert extra level of interpretation for any singers operating within the hexachord system.

Equally impressive is Bruce Wood's work on John Blow. This volume of anthems with instruments completes the four-part collection of the composer's anthems begun in Musica Britannica by Anthony Lewis and Watkins Shaw some fifty years ago (Coronation Anthems; Anthems with Strings, vol. 7 [1953]; 2d ed., ed. Anthony Lewis and Watkins Shaw [1969; reprint with corrections, 1986]; Anthems II: Anthems with Orchestra, ed. Bruce Wood, vol. 50 [1984]; Anthems III: Anthems with Strings, ed. Wood, vol. 64 [1993]), and it does so in spectacular fashion. Wood writes an exhaustive introduction that should be read by all scholars of the Restoration period, placing each of the anthems in context, giving the relevant details about the history of the Chapel Royal, and making enlightening comments about the music. In remarking on Blow's relationship with his younger colleague Henry Purcell, he throws out such intriguing comments as "A study of the instrumental anthems which Blow composed after that date [1680], however, can do little to elucidate this, one of the most important yet least well-defined relationships in the history of English music" (p. xxv). The notes on performance are equally helpful and encyclopedic, and point out the little-known fact that Venetian-style performances took place in the Chapel Royal, with the performers being spatially separated.

The music consists of nine large-scale symphony anthems, some of them previously unpublished, and most with string accompaniment (though one has trumpets as well). The pieces date from the years 1674-98 and were intended for the Chapel Royal, Westminster Abbey, and what was at that time finished of the new St. Paul's Cathedral: much in these anthems had a profound effect on the young Purcell, who in his turn influenced Blow. Wood's editing is splendid, with well-conceived continuo realizations (there is a misprint in the organ part in the first measure of p. 133, but performers will readily notice and correct it). This is a fitting conclusion to a magnificent project.


Royal Holloway (University of London)
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Title Annotation:Musica Sacra (1608); Sacred Hymnes of 3, 4, 5 and 6 Parts (1615); Anthems IV: Anthems with Instruments
Author:Pike, Lionel
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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