Viola da Gamba – Bass duets: William Gorton, Ayre no.3 in C

April 17, 2009

William Gorton, Ayres for two bass viols.

Gorton dates from the very end of the 17th century – quite some decades after Christopher Simpson. This piece has much more of a continental Baroque feel about it and less of an “English” feel compared to the likes of other “lates” such as  Locke, Carolo and Hely. The duets have more a strong Baroque vocal, slow-movement character, so we need to think more of  Handel than Byrd.

I’m aware that Mr Gorton is mentioned in the UK Gamba Society thematic index, but online references are very few. From internet information we know that he died in  1711: English musician. 168(9)-169(5): Member of the Private Musick. 1689-1711:
Musician in Ordinary replacing George Bingham. 1701-uu: Organist of Greenwich. 170u-11: Organist of St Clements Eastcheap (London). There appears to have been another of the same name: William. English musician. 1694-171(1): Member of the King’s Band. Viol players are much more preoccupied with Marais snr and the death of Louis XIV in 1715 than what is going on in England; Peter Holman in the line notes for Mark Caudle’s CD of late English bass viol music mentions the ‘last phase’ of English bass viol music focussed on Italian music and that’s an important consideration for me in coming to grips with Gorton. As Holman indicates, we’re also talking about the rise and rise of Italian opera at the Haymarket Theatre and elsewhere, plus an anon collection of Airs and Symphonies for the Bass Viol, London c1710…

Alongside all the usual suspects such as Purcell, Handel and Finger, on thes CD ‘The Nobel Bass Viol’, Mark Caudle and The Parley of Instruments (Hyperion CDA67088) we find a Wm Gorton Suite (Almand, Air, Minuet) for 2 violas da gamba in F major, from that Choice Collection of New Ayres (London, 1701).


No.3 out of the total of eleven is somewhat slight. I don’t want to criticize, but I don’t want to raise expectations either. The musical ideas are not at all developed. There’s an AABB form: A comes in at just 8 bars and B at 16. The key is a cheery Cmaj – take it at that cheery tempo. Some double-stops in the lower part give a hint of harmony, but there’s no attempt at making this sound more than two voices. Musical interest lies in the dotted quavers. Each part stays in its own tessitura and the harmonic progression is predictable. Not even a discord or two to spice things up.

Pleasant, brief but undernourished.  A good stepping stone to the others in the collection.


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