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Ut, Re, Mee, Fa, Sol, La, The playnesong … by a second Person, BK58
Tomkins (No 1). [Neighbour, p 116]

'Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music' (CDS44461/7)
Byrd: The Complete Keyboard Music
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Ut, Re, Mee, Fa, Sol, La, The playnesong … by a second Person, BK58
This amusing work for three hands survives only in Thomas Tomkins’s manuscript in his own handwriting, where it is the opening work. He comments that it is ‘A good lesson of mr Byrdes’. The work is based on five statements (each numbered and called ‘wayes’ by Tomkins) of the ‘sixe notes’ of the hexachord starting on C, that is, the 6-note scale going upwards (ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, or C, D, E, F, G, A) and then downwards (A, G, F, E, D, C), heard at the top of the instrument. (Tomkins calls this the ‘grownd’, although nowadays it is more usually referred to as a ‘treble ground’.) Each of these notes occupies one bar, like a plainsong cantus firmus, so each ‘waye’ or variation has twelve bars. Tomkins mentions that ‘The playnesong Breifes [are] To Be playd By a second person’.

Underneath the deceptively simple Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la scale, the other player has a lively time, racing around the keyboard and incorporating two popular Elizabethan songs: in Variation 3, The Woods so wild and in the middle of Variation 4, The Shaking of the Sheets. Dowland similarly playfully introduced the Woods so wild melody into the last strain of his Earl of Essex galliard.

Byrd may here have been influenced by the three-hand piece Upon ut re my fa soul la by Nicholas Strogers found in the same source that contains Byrd’s Christe qui lux a few pages earlier (Christ Church Musical MS 371, f. 20). Strogers’s work was probably written in the late 1550s, and Byrd’s in the 1570s. In Stroger’s work, the cantus firmus is presented four times, in Byrd’s, five. In both, it must be played by a second person at the top of the instrument, at the same pitch. Byrd’s work ends rather abruptly and inconclusively in Tomkins’s manuscript so I have added a final chord, comparable to the additional closing chords often found in other English manuscripts of the period such the FVB.

from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999

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