Thomas Tomkins included this work (‘A Fantasi of Mr Byrdes in gamut’) on one of his lists of Lessons of worthe
. On another list of Byrd’s finest keyboard compositions he refers to it as ‘his old Fancy’ and, indeed, its structural features indicate that it probably dates from the 1560s. Weelkes
is the best of the four sources. Byrd’s fancy is a perfect example of the traditional English fancy where the composer changes theme when he is ready to move on, arranging contrasted sections and gradually increasing movement throughout the work. It is his most extended work in fantasia form, and the majestic length of the opening point of imitation serves well to prepare the listener for the large scale of the piece. It would no doubt be a misnomer to call this imitative keyboard polyphony the ‘old style’ for when Byrd wrote it (to borrow Anthony Newcomb’s nice phrase) the stilo antico
was ‘still young’. This fancy uses the full range of the keyboard in a most brilliant fashion, reserving the lowest note, C, for the very end. It is splendidly sonorous on the organ, but on the harpsichord (and at higher pitch) it has a livelier, if somewhat less noble, character.
Peter Philips wrote an extended Fantasia based on his teacher’s theme (FVB, no. 84), but it follows continental models by being entirely monothematic (even rather doggedly so, with rather earnest diminutions and augmentations of the theme). It was no doubt through Philips that Pieter Cornet got the theme for his own work based on the same melody.
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999