Hyperion Records

The Carman's Whistle, BK36
Nevell (No 34), Forster (No 19), FVB (No 58), Weelkes (No 46). [Neighbour, p 155]

'Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music' (CDS44461/7)
Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music
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'Byrd: Keyboard Music' (CDA66558)
Byrd: Keyboard Music
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The Carman's Whistle, BK36
Thomas Tomkins noted the first phrase of the melody, without mentioning its title, on his list of Lessons of worthe, calling it ‘Another pretty grownd of Mr Byrds’; unfortunately, his copy of the music itself is now lost. By modern definitions it is not really a ground, being based not on a repeating bass pattern but on a varied treble melody, a popular Elizabethan tune in C major (Ionian mode). In Clement Matchett’s manuscript a copying date of 14 August 1612 is given although the work was probably composed some thirty years earlier. It probably dates from the early 1580s. There is also a fine set of variations for two lutes on the same tune, attributed to John Johnson.

Surprisingly, the first statement of the melody is preceded by four bars of introduction, at a lower octave. Then the 12-bar melody itself is heard, an octave higher, followed by eight further variations which alternate 2-part, 3-part and sometimes 4-part imitative passages. In the closing variation, the chordal texture reaches six parts and a satisfying descant is placed above the melody, following the procedure usually found at the end of Byrd’s sets of variations. It is easy to see why this constantly inventive and playful piece was popular in the sixteenth century. It must also have been frequently used as a teaching piece since six of the seven known sources have fingerings. I here play the work entirely at 4’ pitch, an octave higher than usual, a reference to the whistling carman (or carter) of the title; on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century organs and harpsichords the 4’ stop was intended to be occasionally used on its own.

from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999

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