We know Simon Ives as a minor English composer of the seventeenth century, born 1600 and died 1662, which puts him smack in the middle of the Jacobean and Caroline periods. His music was perpetuated in the music collection of Playford, for example, and we know he composed vocal and instrumental music. His Ayres for two bass viols (British Library Add MS 31424) are important for those of us interested in bass viol music, and especially music for two unaccompanied bass viols. I’ve previously referred to the likes of Michael East and John Ward in this regard, with links to similar duets accompanied by organ, as in the case of Coperario.

 So what are the characteristics of this music that appeal to viol players? Viol players like eighth-note runs of short motive imitation, moments contrasting with chordal passages, with passages in thirds to jolly things along. Ives works to this pattern, commencing his ayres with fluid melodies broken up into very short imitative passages and contrasting them with a second repeated section (the structure being most often AABB) with strident chords. As with John Ward, Ives “splits” the melody and bass lines, so players swap them between themselves every few bars. From an aural perspective, it sounds (or is supposed to sound) like a vocal-like, lute song. In practical terms of course, the players are in fact darting from melodic fragment to supporting bass line: hence the challenge or ‘conceit’ of playing these duets. To add to the fun, and we’re talking here about music-making as primarily social, players would swap parts at every repeat.  Players and composers alike obviously took pleasure in ‘working at’ their music; there is no room for complacency or predictability. The pieces are incredibly short as a consequence, few longer than 20 measures, so it is all about short sprints to a finish line rather than considered, drawn-out ‘conversation’ between many voices as in viol consorts. Obviously players will have paid very close attention to their quaver run passage and ‘eased up’ at the chords and double-stops, a sort of psychological stop-start pressure-on pressure-off effect. 

We know Ives wrote tablature music, so it’s not surprising that these duets feature chords and double-stops. Unlike tab though, these duets feature no ornaments. The transferability of ornamentation from tablature lyra-viol music to these duets and consort music in general is of course the subject of conjecture. Is Ives after the suavite of melodic line (short as they are in this case) over complex ornamentation? Certainly on the face of it, there can be little difference – and here I’m thinking about intended audiencces and performances – between playing duets as lyra-viols and playing these duets (aside of course from the fact that tab and lyra-viol are associated with alternate tunings).

I’ve “flattened out” number 9 from the set, so that the melody line appears in one stave and the bass in the other. Basically the A Section of Ayre No.9 is in a simple 8 bars, while the B Section pushes the imitation a bit more and runs out to thirteen bars or so. Both sections start with a crochet upbeat, as is the case with Ayre no.8. Ayre No.8 looks almost identical, but in that one he has included three and five-note chords, not used at all in no.9. If you’re wondering, Ayre no.7 is something straight out of the helter-skelter ‘running’ style of Michael East and No.3 is an extended piece closer to the style of a consort fantasy, with lots of imitation (including scale passages in dotted notes) to measure 50, with a tirumphalist ‘slow’ finale section of white-note chords for a further ten bars.



Martha Bishop, Weeping Viols. June 2006, for three viols: T/B, T/B and B. Available on the Pacific NorthWest Viols website.

Unlikely to ever either hear this live or play it, I copied it out in NoteWorthy Composer today to hear out it would sound and to get a firmer understanding of the compositional structure.

It’s a relatively short lyric for three low viols. It resembles a traditional English viol fantasy, with its strong cadence and fermata over the rest in bar 23 marking off a first section ending in complex counterpoint, and a strong finale from bar 38 to the end, worked over a descending chromatic scale over two octaves, starting in bar 35.

The first section establishes a strong sense of the key of Gminor with a duet in the two lower viols. The third viol has  a rest for four bars. This structure is similar to that opening the second section, the four bars from bar 24, except there the ‘duet’ is in the two two viols. The three viols enter in a 5/4 time signature passage in bar 5 and this time signature features again in bars 28-30.

There is a strong melody line from bar 9 in the top viol which becomes chromatic from bar14. The writing becomes more complex from a 5/4 section starting 14 with a long descending chromatic scale passage ending in bar17 for the middle part. This strong chromatic descent is very similar to that of the lowest viol from bar 35 to the end also. 

There is a lot of melodic invention amid the harmonic complexity; I noticed only one melodic fragment repeated – middle part, bar 4 and again top part bar. 27. There is some rhythmic play with triplets in bars 17-22 and triplets are echoed though more briefly later in bar 37.

There is something dark and inexorable about the descending chromatic passages throughout, magnified by the Largo tempo indication, all amplifying the Weeping Viols of the title.

John Coprario, Twelve Fantasias for two bass viols and organ, and eleven pieces for three lyra viols. Edited by Richard Charteris. Madison: A-R Editions. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, vol. 41.

Okay, so these fantasies are for two bass viols, but the organ seems to be required since it fills out the harmonies, and since Coprario is playing around with major and minor key colourings in each of these pieces, the organ seems pretty indispensable.

Most experienced consort players would rather be playing Jenkins, Lawes or Purcell than Coprario. For some, he’s a bit too daggy and a bit too ‘vocal’. Too much of the mad-wriggle and not enough of the pure abstract instrumental.  I however could play Coperario till kingdom come, but that’s just me.  The 5-part consorts are the most familiar to us and I think he has important things to say. I keep coming back to Illicita cosa, with its forbidden tritones, as recorded by the New York Consort of Viols as a bridge between Renaissance and contemporary viol music on the CD of the same name. It’s enormously challenging to get viols to sound like voices and when not playing Monteverdi, Coperario is the one to experiment with.

What has put me off for ages about these pieces (and they vary in length from 70 to 90 bars) is Coperario’s going off the deep end, above the frets on the top string. Sooner or later, one has to come to grips with the Higher Octave, those scale passages from top A last fret to D, so here’s one’s chance. You only stay up there for a phrase or two and one could chicken out by playing an octave lower, though that seems to be missing the point somewhat. It’s a big like John Catch advocating beginner viol players tackle the Fmin scale as their first: get going with the hard stuff and everything after that looks easy.

However,  there are at least three, nos. 7, 8 and 12, which do not feature the Call of the Soprano. At just 77 bars or four pages (the A-R Editions are full scores), No.7 (RC 87) is the most accessible. I’ve included the incipit to show how important the organ is in establishing major/minor as well as the brooding imitation in the viols.

There is the close imitation of short motives one expects both from Coperario and the fantasia. Both 7 and 8 are in Gmin/maj and 12 is in Amin/maj. Apart from exploring drifting between major and minor, I think Mr Cooper seems to be exploring tessitura and creating a lot of fun for us by so doing. I’m not aware of any other composers for viol of this time featuring the Top Octave, his dates being c1575 to 1626. At least in England. Italians would have brought over the virtuosity of the bastarda style and all that jumping around the instrument. At a deeper level,  I have enormous respect for composers who push the boundaries and exploit the outer ends of any instrument’s sound potential, whether they be Bach or Chopin or Scarlatti on keyboard, or Marais or Coprario on viol.

These pieces are such ‘Basic Units’ that I’m not aware of them ever having been recorded much, except for a YouTube clip made by Ernst Stolz, Den Haag, in April. He recorded the first one in Amaj/min against a very strong, silvery-sounding organ. The impact of the top octave can be held around the 2minute mark. For the record, one was recorded on LP: Anthony Rooley’s Consort of Musicke, L’Oiseau-Lyre, LP DSLO 511, Coprario, Songs of Mourning, Consort Music.

Apart from the games with tessitura and modality, there is no great rhythmic virtuosity and no great showing-off in these pieces, just that nice mellow plainness one associates with Coperario.

One of the reasons I got this weblog going was to psych myself up for some bass viol duets. That has happened, yet, but may. As Picasso once said, “I don’t wait for inspiration to come, I work 9 to 5 in my office every day so I’m ready when it does!” One of the delights of blogging is the serendipitous nature of interweaving realisations and synchronicities. Today’s example is the link between tab for two and bass viol duets.

Music for a Viol: J.Jenkins, Chr Simpson, Th Ford, M Locke. Wieland and Sigiswald Kuijken, viols with Robert Kohnen, harpsichord.  CD. Beert, Belgium: Accent ACC 68014D. Recorded 1980.

Tracks 4-9, Matthew Locke, Duos for two bass Viols, composed in 1652 in C and Emin.

Tracks 12-14, Thomas Ford, Musicke of Sundrie Kindes, 1607.

One notes the players, the Kuijken brothers, and one knows immediately one is talking about the high end of the bass duet repertoire, not just in terms of the technical complexity of the music but the transcendent nature of the performance. For mere mortals, this is the stuff of aspiration, reinforced by three tracks devoted to Chr Simpson divisions and the two fantasias by Jenkins as well, for violoni e viola. Locke and Ford remain accessible for some of us, so I’ll speak of them briefly today.


Tracks 4-6. Fantazia (1.27), Fantazia (2.07) and Saraband (0.45). This is “pure” Locke, consort music distilled into two parts. Brilliantly “searching” introductions quickly developing into the full sound of the confident point once established. Players thrown in some sensitive changes in tempo in the fantasias. Tracks 7-9. Fantazia (1.44), Fantazia (1.52) and Courant (1.28). More of same!

For sheet music, see The King’s Edition, Corda Music Publications, in their usual hand-copied style.


And here’s the cross-over with tablature. Firstly, the sheet music is available in the Martha Bishop tab anthology, Tablature for Two. In that book, her normal tuning works are by Hume and her Lyra Way or Bandora Sett (fefhf) are in the main by Mr Ford. Here you will find Why not Here, which is the title of another CD recording of tab music. They come off here as almost encore pieces after the Jenkins and Simpson.

Track 12. Pavan, M. Maine’s Choice and Galliard (7’48”). The Galliard is a splendid work and the pavAn a beautifully Grave work, from poignant beginning to piercing end, all so delightful the sheet music is worth seeking out. The score is not in the Bishop anthology, but another Paven is, being M Southcote’s Paven.

Track 13. The Baggepipes, Sir John Howards Delight (1’10”).  A mere 20 bars played at a rollicking speed.

Track 14. Why not Here M Crosse His Choice (2’05”). Not dissimilar to the last, but rather more tuneful, including some delightful thumpes or pizzicato, a common ornamental feature of tab and not just in the likes of Hume’s Harke Harke!


 John Rozendaal has a new solo CD out featuring Chr Simpson divisions and pieces from the Manchester Gamba Book.

Why Not Here: English Music for two Lyra Viols is a CD by Lee Santana and Hille Perl, featuring music by Ford, Ferrabosco, Jenkins, Holborne, Alison, Danyel and Lawes. The Ford pieces include Pavane and Galliard, M Mayne’s Choice, Forget me not, Why not here? and another Pavane and Galliard. all with lute accompaniment. The Lawes is the Pavan a3 for lyra viols and Aires for 2 Division Viols in C.


The Noble Bass Viol: English music from Purcell to Handel for Three Bass Viols and Continuo. Bocchi, Conti, Corelli, Draghi, Finger, Gorton, Handel, Hely, Purcell. The Parley of Instruments. CD. Hyperion CA67088. Liner notes by Peter Holman.

Tracks 3-5. William Gorton, two bass viols (Mark Caudle and Susanna Pell). Suite in F: Allemand, Air, Minuet.

Tracks 10-12. Gottfried Finger, two bass viols (MC and SP with theorbo and organ). Suite in D reconstructed by MC: (Almand), (Jig), Adagio/Allegro/Chaconne/Adagio.

Apart from being a desert-island choice, this CD features music by the elusive William Gorton for two bass viols alone. The rest of the album features three bass viols accompanied by theorbo and/or organ, or solo bass viol with continuo. Three strands of “late” English viol music have been brought together: the ‘English’ (Purcell and Hely, not dissimilar to violinistic Locke), the ‘German/Austrian’ in Draghi and Finger (who both tried to set up in business in London as a viol-organ duo) and the “Italian’ as reflected in Conti, Corelli and Handel.

Primarily in terms of the bass duet repertoire, one thinks of Coperario and East, as well as Locke. The connection in this album to Francis Withy, another minor composer of bass duets,  is that he included the Draghi and Purcell among his transcriptions as recorded here.

William GORTON

Wm Gorton (d.1711)  composed A Choice Collection of New Ayres in London in 1701. Some dozen or so movements have been published and here is an incipit from one of them which demonstrates how late the style of writing is. Some of this drama is reflected in the Baroque, sprightly angularity of the pieces on this album. Peter Holman mentions the publication being clearly designed for amateurs, perhaps pupils of this violinist in the royal band.

Gottfried FINGER

I wish the Suite in D as published in full in the back of Gartrell’s book on the baryton was the same as Mark Caudle’s reconstruction of the work by Gottfriend Finger, but it isn’t, since they come from different manuscript sources. The one on this recording comes from Bodleian Library MS Mus. Sch.D249, as does the Pastorale in A which follows on the disk. The solo bass Suite no.2 in Dmaj on this disk comes from D.228 in the same library. I don’t have a full list of Finger’s works to hand, but here’s the incipit of the Suite in D as published by Gartrell to give you an idea of the style of composition. Ignoring momentarily the fact that the gamba and baryton have similar-sounding parts, take note of the simple bass line as played by the baryton – it could easily be given to a second bass viol all by itself. By way of background, Finger was writing 100 years before Haydn for the baryton and the baryton at this time essentially accompanied itself – providing both the solo and bass lines together. And if you’re wondering, the baryton sounded at a different pitch from the one notated below.

The latest VdSGA Newsletter features reviews of newly-published Finger. His Gmin divisions feature in Alison Crum’s Solos for Bass Viol.

On Henry DuMont

December 26, 2009

I’m as crazy about French consort music as anything composed by the Brits. I know that’s a sacrilgeous, blasphemous thing to say.

Along with Moulinie, Geoffroy and LeJeune is Henry Dumont. For me, LeJeune represents the first half of the century and DuMont the middle. Solo gamba music is a thing of its own making, with Maugars, Hotman, DuBuisson in the lead up to Louis Couperin and Marin Marais. Basically, DuMont moved into Paris from Flanders in 1640 adn stayed till his death in 1684. Somewhat unusually his music was printed in the middle of his life, not at the end. I can’t think of too many other French composers who managed this, the idea being that you relied on circulation of manuscript copies during most of their life.

I can’t pick up major stylistic differences between the different published collections, though to be honest not much time had passed between the Cantica Sacra of 1652 and the Motets of 1668. I’d like to point to the fact that the later ones feature reduced scores as written-out continuo parts (i.e. they operate as stand-alone keyboard dances), but they range across all three collections. Obviously as a life-long churchman (St Paul’s in Paris), the organ works well with them; for the salon, the harpsichord or lute works equally well. He seems to have liked to add a tenor viol (as well as getting the bass to tune the bottom string to C instead of D) for the ‘serious’ Allemandes, where Allemanda gravis is differentiated from a less heavy Allemanda (never Allemandes). He’s big on two trebles with bass, a subtle shift away from the treble-tenor-bass instruments used in earlier consort music without continuo.

Dove House Editions Canada have published ten of the dance movements: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668. I’ve long been very attached to a particular recording of Henri DuMont’s viol music by Arianne Maurette’s group, where they are interspersed with other viol music, but am paying attention to another by Les Talens Lyriques under Christopher Rousset, Henri Dumont: Motets en dialogue. Here the focus is on vocals and organ, with viol music as a respite. You feel as if you’re sitting through an extended church service in a dark, candle-lit Parisian church on a rainy Sunday.

The sound focuses on a strong contrast between the slow and the haunting with the fast and gayement. The contrasts exist in individual sections of the dances, so while they’re nominally Allemandes and Pavanes, they take on a much more Italian fast-slow-fast character, something also exploited in Henry Purcell’s consorts of the same period where he adds tempi markings such as Drag. So the dances can start at a surprisingly slow pace until you startled by a fast section. Playing standard English pavans, with one reasonably stepping-out tempo throughout, is therefore at odds with the brooding, haunting starts of DuMont’s. There is nothing brashly violinistic in the playing – this is French music and not Italian, after all.

Track 3, Symphonia a trois is No.2 in Coeyman (1652; trtrB), the first 20 bars (repeated) are played very slowly and tentatively. The 2nd section (no tempo markings) is fast and frothy and Italian, with a return to the Slow in the last six bars.

Track 7,  Pavan a 3 (1657; trtrB) is taken a tad faster than the Symphonia, a lot slower than we would play an English fantasy or an English pavan. Unlike the English Pavan with its three sections of increasing complexity musically (so you end up feeling exhausted by the end of the repeat of the third section), the second and third movements here feature contrasts between Lentement and Gayement phrases (tempo marks being specified). The whole thing ends up taking Rousset some 6mins 35secs.

Track  8, Sarabande a3 (1657; trtrB) is not in the Coeymans collection.

Henry Dumont (1660-1684). Motets en dialogues. Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset dir. CD. FNAC Music, 1992. WM 334 5920988. Florence Malgloire and Alain Petits play treble viols and Kaori Uemura plays bass.

Henry DuMont: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols (other strings, recorders, winds) and Bass Continuo from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668.  Edited by Barbara Coeyman. Dove House Editions, Canada, Viola da gamba series no.39. 1990.

Manchester Gamba Book

December 25, 2009

The Manchester Gamba Book, with an introduction by Paul Furness. Scout Bottom Farm, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: Peacock Press, 2003. Reproduced from the manuscript in the Henry Watson Music Library (BRm 832 Vu 51) by kind permission of the Director of the Manchester Public Libraries.

Inspired by the prospect of music for two lyra viols by Wm Cranford sometime, I’ve put this music on the stand. This is a facsimile of the manuscript printed on yellow paper. It’s one of the largest collections of lyra viol music around, so Martha Bishop and others have included it in their anthologies of tablature.

Sherlie and Ives are in this collection, along with Coleman, Young, Lawes and Jenkins, which puts it smack in the period 1640-1660 I guess. Last time I tried to unravel the tunings, I came unstuck. The first twelve pieces are in staff notation. The first piece sounds like a Ballet from the suites of Hotman.The pedagogic value of this “A Schoole grounde” is demonstrated in the very similar No.5 “A fancie“. Nice to get my fingers around No.4 Wooddicocke, so to speak, with all the Englishness of “Greensleeves“. The untitled No.2 and 3 by Hugh Facie make a lot less sense and I’ll leave the 16th note runs in the Richarde Sumarte bastarda-like pieces for another day, though no.11 recalls Lachrymae.

A “way into” the 27 pieces with standard tuning (Violl Waye) might be the well-known tune of No.6 Daphne and then perhaps No.9 Lachrymae.

Other diversions –

* a seven-string 70cm bass (after Bertrand) on eBay for $AU4000.

* lush viola solo (would sound great on gamba) in a piece called Celtic Dance, as recorded and distributed by the Palm Strings Quartet, A Festive Christmas. See www.blogcatalog.com/blog/e-sarasota-violists-escapades.

* And Johnny Depp in “The Libertine“. Astonishingly good writing in this film, notwithstanding the unusually blunt bawdy language. Concerning the Earl of Rochester and Elizabeth Barry (with references to Wren, the Great Fire and plague), it follows on very naturally after another film, also made in 2004, set in the Restoration, Stage Beauty. In SB, Rupert Everett plays Charles II; in Libertine, he is played by John Malkovich.  Stage Beauty is a rivetting drama about the first women to take the stage in Restoration England, replacing men actors playing women; Libertine is set but a few years later. No viols in either, but Stage Beauty has a scene of instrumentalists in a public house which bears striking resemblance to a description by Roger North at the time about violin solos in such venues as organised by Banister. Neither is your standard bonnet drama by any means, with Stage Beauty being largely and strongly feminist and Libertine seriously exploring wine, women and theatre (that is to say, addiction, sexuality, gender relations and the life/artifice divide). Both deal with important social issues (sexuality, gender relations and personal freedom in the main, and the English love of the theatre) set against the upheaval of Charlie’s Restoration England. It’s certainly not hard to imagine Purcell and his predecessors of Charles I’s time in both films. Stage Beauty, set somewhat earlier points up the frippery somewhat more; Libertine shows Charles II in more desperate times and in more straightened times politically, without Nell being portrayed at all. Both show everyone literally mired down in the filthy muddy streets of England; Libertine has more of the heavy fog about it. Both form a nice foil to how things were in France at the time, as portrayed in Tous les matins du monde.