John Jenkins, Five-part viol fantasias (1)

January 22, 2010

I’m looking more closely at the John Jenkins viol consorts these days. Any viol player ought to be as aurally familiar with them as, say, the Beethoven symphonies or the better known Brahms songs. Perhaps this aural familiarity will one day spread to William Lawes and Alfonso Ferrabosco in my case. To boost the process, I’m moving to from recordings which are anthologies to complete recordings. Looking more closely at the scores won’t go astray either.


In terms of the literature, I’m aware of the following: Andrew Ashbee  The Harmonious musick of John Jenkins: Volume 1, The Fantasias for viols. 359pp. Toccata Press, 1992. ISBN 0907689345. I’m of the impression it will be reissued as a paperback in April this year.  Also, Ashee, Andrew ed. and Peter Holman. John Jenkins and his time: studies in English consort music. IBSN 0198164616.

In his article in Early Music magazine, Ashbee discusses the six-part fantasias in the main, but includes passing references to several of the five-part, nos. 3,6,13 and 17.  We are told that the seventeen Five-part fantasias are from MS 1145 and were copied between c1630 and 1645. With precedents in Ferrabosco, Ward, Gibbons and Coperario (d.1626), the fantasias were obviously popular enough in Jenkins’ own lifetime to have been copied in various parts of the country.


Playlists on Jenkins anthologies do not always make it clear whether the fantasias are five- or six-part. The Rose Consort of Viols on their anthology, Jenkins: All in a Garden Green  (Naxos 8.550687), have recorded two Fantasias in Cmin a5 and one in Dmaj (tracks 2,14,15). More on the Phantasm complete five-part consorts in due course.

Sheet Music

Scores and parts as edited by Martha Bishop are on the Viola da Gamba Society of America website.

Fantasia No.1 a5 in G major

BB 1-26: first section with a rising motive.

BB 26-55: second section with a falling motive.

BB 1-5: Opening motive, starting with a rising fifth in all parts over five bars. Strident and confident, a Treble and Tenor announce it echo-like in bar 1, with the other Tenor and Bass tripping over each other to bring it in in bar 4. The quaver runs following this clarion call are not identical in all parts; some parts exactly imitate others (Tenor 2 and Treble 2) while others are only approximate. This lack of strict imitation may be somewhat offputting for some players used to stricter imitation as provided by other earlier composers.

BB 18-19: The theme is repeated at regular intervals in all parts up to and including bar 17. Of note is the fall from top treble to bottom bass of a cascade of running eighth-notes. This “Jenkins cascade” is a feature of other fantasias.

BB 20-25: Perhaps the knottiest part of the fantasy in terms of fragmented eighth-note runs and rests, there are moments of homophony where two or three players play the same quaver rhythms and moments when that homophony fragments and scatters. If a consort can get right bars 18-25, then they are on their way t0 conquering the whole.

BB 26-30: establishment of a new theme.

BB 32-36: imitation from bass 2 to treble 1.

BB 37-55: knotty again, with tension only coming off in b.50, with a Chord V in bar 51 resolving to Chord I G in bar 52, bars 52-55 forming a final close.

Fantasia No.2 a5 in G minor 

BB 1-5: Fugal melody of a rising fourth followed by quavers. Introduced in all parts over five bars. There are actually two dotted notes providing a note of persistence in the rising fourth theme, falling away suddenly with descending quavers: a call to heavenly justice and Fate, followed by quick doubts perhaps.

BB 5-22: increasing complexity with subtle variations each time the theme is introduced.

BB 22-46: contrasting insubtantial falling quaver melody introduced and developed. Quite unrelenting work in all parts in quite a long exposition.

BB 46-50: after such hard work, Jenkins pulls us up smart with just five bars of resolution and closure on a Gmajor chord.

Fantasia No.3 in G minor

BB 1-10: Starts with a martial rising theme in three parts and a counter-melody of falling notes in the other two parts. As in the first fantasia, the entries are not regularly symmetrical, so there is nothing of the predictable imitation in each part that comes to expect from the madrigal repertoire. Everything comes to a close with a minum cadence in B-flat, but the music continues immediately thereafter.

BB 11-20: Similar work with the two themes again, ending again in a minum cadence in G at bar 16 and in Dmajor at bar 20. These ‘false finishes’ create the indistinct impression of a sectional madrigal.

BB 20-50: This forms quite an extended, convoluted passage developing a new five-note theme (see Treble 1, bar 34, and doubled in length at bars 39-40). Everyone eventually gets to rest up a little with this long-note theme, while everyone else is working away feverishly with augmented eighth-note runs.

BB 50-58: A close in long notes, with discords and harmonic variety throughout.

Ashbee mentions this fantasia in his Early Music article in terms of melody and counter-melody (pp.498-499) and also mentions the new theme emerging without a bridge, as well as the expansive augmentation in quaver runs.

Andrew Ashbee, John Jenkins in Early Music.



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