Viola da gamba – bass duet: John Ward, Air no.6 in d

April 20, 2009

John Ward, Six Airs for two bass viols & keyboard. Dove House Editions, Canada. Ed. Donald Beecher and Brian Gillingham. Viola da gamba series no.5

No.6 in d is in two sections of eight bars each. One needs to adjust initially to jumping from low to high tessitura in their own part, then making the jumps seamless, making the whole come together musically as a whole.  Ward has kept the jumping-around quite predictable – you’re in the limelight for 2-2.5 bars, then you drop back. Obviously one alternates parts at the repeats. Tempo not too fast, otherwise the quaver runs towards the cadences sound cramped. Much can be made of the rhetorical question-and-answer structure I think. And of course it’s an air or ayre, so the top line needs to ‘sing’ a bit more than normal.

I can’t over-emphasise the points about this music so wonderfully put by the editors in their introduction. Absolutely essential reading on gaining a deep appreciation for what’s going on here.

The organ part is by Ward himself, not a realisation by an editor. Not that anyone actually plays with a chamber organ or harpsichord. Mark Caudle dares to record his bass viol duets with accompaniment – I’ve never seen this in real life though. Partly because having viol players in the same room as an A415 chamber organ is such a remote possibility, partly because the viol players would feel it ‘wasn’t quite right’… I mean, have you ever heard of amateurs playing Jenkins with organ accompaniment?


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