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This is a joyful, happy holy day

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In his ambitious and accomplished music for voices and viols, John Ward (c1589–1638) offers a privileged glimpse of a special moment in English music history. Composed perhaps during the years 1609–16, these verse anthems and viol fantasies were penned by a young ‘gentleman’ composer attached to the household of a highly cultivated Italianophile, Sir Henry Fanshawe of Warwick Lane, London and Ware Hall, Hertfordshire. Fanshawe was an avid collector of musical instruments and works of art, an aristocrat linked (through his position as Remembrancer of the Exchequer) to the most aspirational and culturally alert member of the British royal family, the young Henry Frederick Stuart (1593–1612), Prince of Wales. Ward came to the Fanshawe family in 1607 after serving as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral before being admitted to its grammar school. Not only were consorts of viols cultivated in the prince’s entourage, but verse anthems—an inspired fusion of the polyphonic liturgical anthem, the anglicized Italian madrigal style and the native viol fantasy—were especially connected to the prince’s musical establishment.

Had Prince Henry not died suddenly at the age of 18 in 1612, Fanshawe (it was later reported) would have succeeded to high office in the royal court, perhaps with John Ward in tow. Rejecting the fastidious and ever-changing vagaries of French fashion, he led his own lustrous court, complete with a separate musical entourage of leading composers, including Thomas Ford, John Bull, Robert Johnson and Thomas Lupo; the prince was even reputed to have been taught the viol by Alfonso Ferrabosco II. According to a posthumous memoir from 1634 by William Haydon, a former Groom of the Bedchamber, Henry especially ‘loved Musicke, and namely good consorts of Instruments and voices joined together’.

How striking, then, that this fondness is recorded in Ward’s anthem This is a joyful, happy holy day, composed most likely for the lavish Whitehall entertainments celebrating Henry’s investiture in 1610 as Prince of Wales. (Though scholars seem unsure whether the piece was written for Henry in 1610 or his younger brother Charles in 1616, Fanshawe forged connections with Prince Henry’s entourage, and in fact died in 1616 several months before Charles’s investiture. Fanshawe’s son Thomas was apparently little interested in music, so it would seem odd that a piece by the gentleman John Ward, not otherwise attached to a royal household, would make its way to a court entertainment after Henry Fanshawe’s death.) On this festive day, all are invited ‘to sing in consort with sweet harmony of instruments and voices’ melody’. In its mention of a ‘consort’ and the combination of ‘instruments and voices’ the text alludes to its own setting. Listening to the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of textures in these anthems, one hears in each section how the viols foreshadow the sung melodies that introduce highlighted vocal solos in a serious and Italianesque madrigal style, full of generous word-painting. Finally the chorus enters, doubled by the consorts of viols, the assembled unity confirming and elaborating both text and melody.

from notes by Laurence Dreyfus © 2014


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