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Hyperion Records

CDH55255 - Locke: The Broken Consort
CDH55255
(Originally issued on CDA66727)
Recording details: February 1994
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: June 2006
Total duration: 64 minutes 20 seconds

'Authoritative performances of some very important chamber music for strings … there is no doubting [Locke's] mastery and his greatness. This recording should find him the audience he richly merits' (Early Music Review)

'This disc is delicious' (American Record Guide)

'An irresistible program, especially in performances as vigorous and bracing as Holman's' (Fanfare, USA)

'Essential listening for anyone interested in 17th-century chamber music' (Goldberg)

'La lectura de The Parley of Instruments supone un total acierto … tanto en la recreación estilistica como en la factura de las lecturas' (Scherzo, Spain)

The English Orpheus
The Broken Consort
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Charles II returned to London in the spring of 1660, Matthew Locke found himself suddenly thrust into the role of England’s leading composer. The pre-Civil War generation had either died in the Interregnum (William Lawes, Thomas Tomkins and Charles Coleman), or was near retirement (Nicholas Lanier, Henry Lawes and John Jenkins), so Locke received the plum jobs. He was made composer for the court wind consorts and for the newly formed Twenty-four Violins, and a little later he became organist of the queen’s Catholic chapel—he was a Catholic himself. He was also given a post as composer in the Private Music—the pool of singers, lutenists and string players who provided the royal family with music in their private apartments. It was for a group within the Private Music, the ‘Broken Consort’, that Locke wrote his set of consort music of the same name, probably in 1661. A few years later he wrote a second group of suites, not recorded here.

The Broken Consort can be traced back to a group formed under the direction of John Coprario in the household of the future Charles I around 1620. It was a mixed ensemble of violins, viols and organ, and was apparently formed mainly to play Coprario’s novel fantasia suites or ‘sets’ for one or two violins, bass viol and organ, though it also seems to have played similar works by Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Lupo. When Prince Charles became King Charles I in 1625 his musicians were incorporated into the main royal household, and in the 1630s Coprario’s pupil William Lawes added his own sets of fantasia suites to the repertory. Lawes also devised new scorings of his own with plucked and bowed strings, such as the Harp Consort (violin, bass viol, harp and theorbo) and the Royal Consort (two violins, two bass viols and two theorbos).

Locke’s The Broken Consort is a conscious revival of this tradition. The title implies the use of instruments drawn from several instrumental families, and this was the main innovation of Coprario and his circle in Prince Charles’s household. Hitherto, most contrapuntal consort music had been written for a ‘whole’ consort of viols. As it survives in Locke’s autograph score (British Library, Add. MS 17801), the set seems to require just three instruments, two violins and a bass viol, but we can presume that Locke himself accompanied from score at the organ (there are a few figures in the autograph), and there is also a set of parts at Christ Church, Oxford (Mus. 772–6) with three autograph theorbo parts. The Christ Church parts were probably written out in the 1660s for the Oxford Music School, but there were plenty of theorbo players in the Private Music who could have joined in, and there was a long tradition at court of performing ensemble music with multiple lutes.

In planning The Broken Consort, Locke drew partly on the fantasia suite tradition. Coprario and Lawes used a fixed sequence of fantasy–air–galliard, which Jenkins and others modified by replacing the galliard with the more modern corant. Locke added a second triple-time movement, so that duple-time and triple-time, grave and light, movements alternate. Earlier collections of fantasia suites had mostly been in sets of eight, often grouped by key in four pairs. Locke tightened the structure by reducing the number to six, by giving the odd-numbered suites imposing ‘slow introductions’, and by providing the Saraband of No 6 with an imposing duple-time conclusion or ‘drag’ to round off the set in a satisfying way. Thus, it can be performed as six individual suites, as three pairs (G minor/major, C major and D minor/major), or as a whole, providing about an hour’s music with the necessary pauses for tuning, conversation and refreshment.

The modern CD buyer would not appreciate having to listen to pauses of this sort, however ‘authentic’, so we have interspersed the pairs of suites with a complete performance of the Duos for Two Bass Viols, written in 1652. They divide into four three-movement suites or a pair of six-movement suites, and they use a pattern—two short fantasias followed by a triple-time dance—that is also found in William Lawes’ viol consort music. We have rounded the recording off with an isolated Fantasia and Corant in D minor that survives only in an Oxford manuscript (Bodleian, Mus. Sch. C. 44). According to a note in the hand of Edward Lowe (the Oxford Professor of Music), it was ‘made to carry on the Meetinge at ye musick schoole. Thursday ye 16th Novem[ber] 1665’. At the time, Locke was in Oxford with the court, sheltering from the plague raging in London. There are parts for two violins and two bass viols, to which we have added a continuo for theorbos and organ, following Oxford practice. The Fantasia seems to have been written specially for the occasion, but the Corant is a version of a piece written for the Twenty-four Violins, and was pressed into service.

Locke’s Broken Consort fantasias are largely conventional in structure, using a succession of unrelated contrapuntal ideas, though the provision of ‘slow introductions’ seems to have been his idea, and in the Fantasy of Suite No 4 he largely abandons counterpoint in favour of a freer madrigal-like idiom, which he doubtless thought particularly appropriate for violins. Locke’s part-writing is often delightfully angular and his harmony quirkily dissonant, though the feature of his music that most remains in the memory is his wonderful melodic sense, deployed most tellingly in the slow Airs of suites Nos 2, 4 and 6. Many of the elegant corants are memorable for the same reason—Locke was particularly fond of the dance and wrote that he ‘never yet saw any Forain Instrumental Composition (a few French Corants excepted) worthy an English mans Transcribing’—while most of the sarabands (still a fast and furious dance in Restoration England) exploit exuberant cross-rhythms.

Locke’s consort music has too often been thought of as an imperfect and immature version of the idiom perfected by Purcell. In fact, it is more useful (and certainly more historically appropriate) to see it as the culmination of a great tradition, started nearly a century before by William Byrd and his contemporaries. According to the writer Roger North, Charles II had ‘an utter detestation of Fancys’ and preferred music he could beat time to. As a result, the Broken Consort was soon superceded in the king’s private apartments by a detachment from the Twenty-four Violins, and its fine contrapuntal repertory passed into history.

Peter Holman © 1995


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