Viola da Gamba: Bass duets – John Withy, Air no.1

April 22, 2009

John Withy, Twenty-two airs, 2 bass viols and keyboard. Ed. Donald Beecher and Bruce Gillingham. VDGS-13.

An extremely pleasant duo with lots of short bursts of imitation, contrasting long notes (with leaps of a fifth and octave) with short quaver runs. Somewhat longer at 34 bars than others in this collection at 24 bars – all are AABB with arrows to indicate each swapping to the other’s part at the barlines – and is more like an instrumental fantasia than a vocal lute-song air. Players swap tessitura every two bars or so, but not as often as in the Ward duos. The basso continuo comes down to us in the form of the bass line alone, closely following the lower of the two bass duo lines – the editors have written out the continuo for keyboard.

The editors introduction explains that he flourished c.1675 in Oxford in an active circle of Restoration viol enthusiasts. Peter Holman in his liner notes for the Mark Caudle recording of bass viol duets and trios, also mentions Withie in the context of transcribing high instrument works for the ‘noble sound’ of the bass viol. The Withy fantasias will never be the stuff of CD recordings because it’s music composed by a  Gifted Amateur vs Musical Genius. The music wanders around nicely – Ward tends to be shorter, sharper and more to the point.

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