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A Fancie, BK46
Weelkes (No 74), Nevell (No 41). [Neighbour, ‘Fantasia d1’ p 248]

'Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music' (CDS44461/7)
Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music
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A Fancie, BK46
The Dorian mode D minor fancy (BK46) probably dates from about 1590 and was clearly revised shortly after being copied into Nevell since the Weelkes text presents some significant improvements. The Nevell text of the C major fancy (BK25), on the other hand, is more or less definitive and presumably dates from the late 1580s or very early 1590s. Structurally, both works are similar to the Voluntarie for my Ladye Nevell (BK61). Whereas most of Byrd’s other fancies evolve at an unhurried pace, with one idea slowly giving way in the fullness of time to another (usually progressively more lively) idea, these fancies start with clearly distinct and contrasted paragraphs.

The first section is intricately polyphonic, in what was later called the traditional stilo antico, based on two successive points of imitation in vocal style. In the D minor work this is in ricercar style and is possibly intended to be a reference to the Salve regina plainsong. In the Fancie for My Ladye Nevell it is in a lighter capriccio style closer to works for instrumental ensemble. In both works the second section is based on dance rhythms, similar to certain polychoral canzonas of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli (although it is unlikely that Byrd knew such Venetian music).

The remainder of the D minor fancy is made up of one large section that is weightier and more sonorous. Towards the end, one remarkable passage anticipates by twenty years the close, rising imitations and driving cross-rhythms found in another Venetian repertoire, Monteverdi’s Vespers. John Bull later paid homage in the closing section one of his pavans in A minor to this remarkably advanced passage in Byrd’s work. This phrase is seven semibreves long and is repeated with elaborate ornamentation in the form of dramatic scales. Here at last the fingers are released in long, free, toccata-like flourishes announcing the stylus fantasticus. The remainder of Lady Nevell’s fancy, on the other hand, is made up of several contrasting sections, although the last section is treated similarly to the last one in the D minor work; here the idea is longer and extends to 12 semibreves before the ornamented repetition occurs. The work ends with a short lyrical, almost yearning passage, that sounds like an unexpected musical afterthought.

In both these fancies, written a generation before Italian keyboard composers had published their comparable toccatas, Byrd anticipates the three distinct kinds of baroque keyboard music which would become so clearly crystalised during the seventeenth century. These were to become formally codified in the compositions of Frescobaldi and Froberger or the writing of Athanasius Kircher (especially in his famous Musurgia Universalis, 1650). Whereas the Baroque period would tend to separate them out into three stylistic ghettos (the old contrapuntal style; the various different kinds of dance music; and the free fantastic style), Byrd prefers to unite them into single toccata-like works, and often throws in a popular song for good measure.

It is not known for which Lady Nevell the C major fancy was composed. The four works that carry her name, Qui passe, for my Ladye Nevell (BK19), this same C major Fancie, for my Ladye Nevell (BK25), My Ladye Nevell’s Grownde (BK57) and A Voluntarie, for my Ladye Nevell (BK61) are assembled around the sequence of nine pavans and galliards which occurs as the central part of her manuscript.

from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999

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