Composer and collections

Composers

John Blow (1649-1708)

John Blow’s distinguished musical career included the post of organist of Westminster Abbey (1668–79 and 1695–1708; in the interim period he relinquished the position in favour of his pupil Henry Purcell); Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal (1674–1708); and, concurrently, ‘musician for the virginals’ (1669–85), ‘composer for voices’ (1672–1708), ‘composer for the violins’ (1674–85), and, a newly established post, ‘composer to the Chapel Royal’ (1700–8). He was also Almoner and Master of the Choristers at St Paul’s Cathedral from 1687 to 1703, and was the first holder of the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Music (1677). It is fair to say that he dominated London musical life and, as a notable composer of odes, songs and, in particular, church music, his esteem was exceeded only by that of Purcell.

The nine Latin pieces by John Blow are all early works (dating from the mid 1670s) that seem to have been inspired by the composer’s study of early seventeenth-century Italian vocal music. As a result, the motets are his most Italianate works and, in the tradition of Dering and Jeffreys, include affective declamation, virtuoso solo writing, expressive dissonance, melodic and harmonic chromaticism, contrasting triple-time sections, and a number of examples of ground basses in the duet motets. The volume also includes an hitherto anonymous 3-voice psalm setting ‘Confitebor tibi Domine’ which appears uniquely alongside Blow’s copies of his motets. The psalm is tentatively attributed to Blow.

Jean-Jacques Boësset (1614-1685)

The French composer Jean-Baptiste Boësset (1614 – 85) served Anne of Austria (King Louis XIV’s mother and regent during Louis’ minority) from 1643 to 1662, and Marie-Thérèse (Louis’ queen) from 1660 to 1679. Only eight works are attributed to Boësset, and they all appear in a single manuscript now held in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, dating from the 1650s; it is likely that many of the other pieces in this source are also by Boësset. In common with other French publications from this time, Boësset’s music exudes melodic simplicity over virtuoso display. Three masses and two motet collections are currently available, and further anthologies are in preparation.

John Camidge (1790-1859)

John Camidge was born in York in 1790, the son of Matthew Camidge, organist of York Minster, and was a pupil of the Polish violinist and composer Feliks Janiewicz and of Dr Charles Hague, professor of music at the University of Cambridge. John took the degree of Mus.B. at Cambridge in 1812 and followed this with that of Mus.D. in 1819. From the age of seven, John Camidge performed widely in public concerts, in York and elsewhere, both as organist, pianist, and violinist respectively. He published several works for the piano and in 1830 his collection entitled Cathedral Music, which contains a Morning Service in A (comprising a Te Deum and Jubilate), an Evening Service in A (comprising a Cantate Domino and Deus Misereatur), an Evening Service in Eb (comprising a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis), and four anthems: Fret not thyself because of the ungodly; Holy, Holy, Holy; I will cry unto God; and Sing unto the Lord.

Matthew Camidge (1764-1844)

Matthew Camidge was born in 1764 and baptized at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, York, on May 25 of that year. He became a chorister in the Chapel Royal, where he stayed until 1779 when he returned to York. From 1784 to 1822 he performed regularly in the concert series in the York Assembly Rooms and from 1799 to 1842 was organist at York Minster. He died in 1844 at the age of eighty. To his activities as a performer, Matthew Camidge added those of a composer and, beginning in 1789, his works were published until 1826 or so, of which can be mentioned the sonatas for pianoforte, mostly with accompaniments for violin and violoncello; some songs; two works of psalmody; and his Six Concertos for the Organ or Grand Piano Forte (c.1815), by which he is mostly remembered today.

His Cathedral Music, containing six anthems and a Service in F, was published in 1806. Of the anthems, which were probably composed between 1794 and 1801, the longest and most imposing is ‘Thy way, O God, is holy’, which contains a bravura baritone solo, most probably written with Edward Bennington, a York Minster songman, in mind. The Service in F, an example of the so-called ‘short service’, was composed in 1779 with the encouragement of William Mason, Precentor of York Minster.

William Child (1606/7-1697)

William Child was born in Bristol in 1606 or possibly early in 1607 and, according to Anthony Wood, was taught by the Bristol Cathedral organist, Elway Bevin. He spent his entire professional career at St George’s Chapel, Windsor: first as lay-clerk (from 19 April 1630) and then organist (from 26 July 1632); St George’s Chapel was closed between 1643 and 1660 and he ‘retired to a small farm’ and composed; at the Restoration he returned to his post as organist at Windsor where he remained until his death in 1697. In 1660 he also became one of the three organists of the Chapel Royal and was in addition appointed composer in ordinary for wind music. He took the Oxford degrees of B.Mus. and D.Mus. in 1631 and 1663 respectively. Child’s career was relatively uneventful but his name appears frequently in the diary of Samuel Pepys who provides information about Child’s activities and contacts, including the fact that he served as private organist to Lord Sandwich.

Child’s First set of Psalmes… newly composed after the Italian way is one of the earliest examples of an Italianate concertato sacred-music publication by an English composer. The Psalmes are simple pieces that mix homophony with sections of imitation following Italian models. They were composed for two high voices and a bass voice with basso continuo and were designed for a devotional context in, according to the title-page, ‘private Chappells or other private meetings’. Such settings proved popular – particularly during the Commonwealth period – for Child’s psalms were reprinted in 1650 and, under the title Choise Musick to the Psalmes of David, again in 1656.

William Davis (c.1675/6–1745)

William Davis was a church musician who spent the majority of his life in the employ of Worcester Cathedral, successively as a chorister, player of the ‘little organ’, King’s Scholar, Lay Clerk and Master of the Choristers. He was a highly accomplished composer of sacred music and his output includes 16 anthems (six of which are incomplete), a service in G minor that includes canticles for Matins and Evensong, and a Jubilate in D minor, which was intended to accompany a setting of the Te Deum by Elway Bevin. Also amongst Davis’ extant compositions are two multi-voiced secular pieces, a number of solo songs and several duets and catches, some of which were published in The Monthly Mask of Vocal Music.

Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1532-1585)

Little is known of Andrea Gabrieli’s (1532/3–1585) early life beyond that he had some employment as organist at the church of San Geremia, Venice, and appears to have enjoyed the musical influence of Orlando di Lasso who probably came across Gabrieli (probably as early as 1562) on one of his frequent trips to Venice to recruit musicians for the Bavarian court in Munich where Lassus was employed in the chapel choir. It seems that, after a period of work in Munich, Gabrieli was eventually given a permanent appointment as one of the organists at San Marco, Venice, in 1566 alongside Claudio Merulo. He provided a considerable corpus of everyday music for the church’s year aimed partly at the needs of the surrounding churches and partly for use in San Marco on days other than the great feasts. We should not overlook Andrea’s role in the establishment of the international status of native Venetians after the dominance of Netherlandish composers.

The ‘Quando lieta sperai’ setting is a parody mass based on Cipriani Rore’s (or, just possibly, Morales) 5-part madrigal of 1549 to a sonnet text by Emilia Anguisciola. The quality of the harmonic material and the clarity of the word-setting in this (previously unknown) mass allow it to stand easily alongside better-known masses by such as Palestrina and Lassus. The setting is for SSATTB with optional organ seguente.

Nicolas Gombert (c.1495–c.1560)

Gombert was probably born in southern Flanders and was, according to Hermann Finck’s Practica musica (1556), taught by Josquin (if this is true it would probably have been during Josquin’s last years in Condé). In 1526 Gombert joined the chapel choir of Emperor Charles V in Spain, and by 1529 was its maître des enfants. His position at the most prestigious court in Europe allowed him to travel throughout the continent with the Imperial entourage and, as a result, his reputation spread. It seems that Gombert served unofficially as a court composer and his compositions were printed by all the major European publishers; his fame was such that the Venetian firms of Scotto and Gardano issued collected editions of his motets. However, in about 1540, his career was halted when he was sentenced to the galleys for gross indecency with a choirboy. He earned his release and finished his career as canon at the cathedral of Tournai.

Gombert’s compositions are all vocal, some for ensembles of up to twelve parts. His contrapuntal language is based on that of Josquin, but taken to the next level of complexity. Imitation is used even more consistently than did Josquin, and Gombert’s vocal textures are often densely packed and the individual lines are characterised by an avoidance of rests. A substantial number of Gombert’s compositions survive, and are here represented six motets for 4–6 voices and by the five-voice Missa ‘Media vita’, a ‘parody mass’ based on his own six-voice motet (which is included Motets volume). These editions were first prepared for The Hilliard Ensemble’s Gombert recording (ECM New Series 1884).

Bonifatio Gratiani (1604 - 1664)

Bonifatio Gratiani (1604-64), priest and composer, was active in Rome during the 1640s– 60s, as maestro di capella at Il Gesu and the Seminario Romano and other Jesuit institutions in the city. He wrote large- scale works, including two oratorios, and also smaller concertato-style motets. It is largely for his contribution to the latter genre that Gratiani was remembered, and during the second half of the seventeenth century his motets were reissued and appear in collections published in Antwerp.

John Hebden (c. 1701 - 1765)

John Hebden's place and date of birth are not known but he was probably born in Yorkshire in 1701 or so. He was active in the concert series given in York during the period from 1732-1742, after which he settled in London where until the end of his life in 1765 he was a concert performer on the bassoon and violoncello. He published 'Six solos for a German flute with a thorough bass for the harpsicord' (c.1740) and 'Six concertos in seven parts for four violins, a tenor violin, a violoncello with a thorough bass for the harpsicord' (c.1745).

Charles d'Helfer (? - 1664)

The French composer Charles d’Helfer (d. after 1664) spent his whole career outside Paris based as maître de musique at Soissons Cathedral, and his reputation as a mass composer is reflected by the extensive publication of his works after his death (his Missa pro Defunctis, published in 1656, continued to be used up to the obsequies of Louis XV in 1774). The Missa Benedicam Dominum and Missa Laetatus sum are typical of Helfer’s preference for a severe syllable-to-a-note style, although the vocal lines retain an elegant melodic charm.

George Jeffreys (c.1610–1685)

George Jeffreys was born around 1610 and by the early 1630s he was in the employment of the Hatton family of Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire, serving Sir Christopher (later the first Baron) Hatton first as a junior secretary and eventually as his steward. He continued in the Hattons’ employment for the rest of his life, managing their estates in Northamptonshire and, on occasions, representing their interests in London. Despite these weighty administrative responsibilities, Jeffreys was active as a composer from at least 1631, when he set four songs ‘made for some Comedyes by Sir Richard Hatton’, until the mid 1670s. His early work comprises instrumental chamber music, secular songs and dialogues, music for plays and masques, twelve Italian songs for three voices and an Italian cantata for five-part voices and strings. Later, he concentrated exclusively on sacred music, producing some thirty English anthems and devotional songs, more than twice that number of Latin motets, six Latin canticles, a three-part English Gloria, and music for the English Communion Service.

By far the largest group of Latin sacred settings is the series of motets (devotional songs) with basso continuo for one, two and three voices. In general style and structure these sacred songs superficially resemble the few-voiced motets of Dering: both composers model their settings on the work Grandi, but Jeffrey’s greater harmonic sophistication and occasional use of arioso reflect more modern influences, particularly that of Carissimi.

William Lawes (1602 - 1645)

William Lawes (1602-45) spent much of his career in the service of Charles I. He lost his life fighting for his king during the English Civil War at the Battle of Chester, a few years before Charles I himself was executed. While Lawes is well-known for his instrumental and stage works, he also wrote sacred music, mostly for Italianate three-voice scoring, and his typical vocal style, with Italianate declamation exploiting the limits of vocal range, chromaticism, dissonance and harmony, is not matched by any of Lawes’ contemporaries. These twelve remarkable Psalms to common tunes have elaborate solo sections alternating with unison chorus verses sung to the popular ‘common tunes’. There are few occasions when these pieces may have been performed, but it seems likely that they were heard in York Minster during the Siege of York in 1644. All twelve psalms are published in a single volume, with an extensive introduction on the historical, political and musical background.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (c. 1562 - 1621)

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (c.1562-1621) spent most of his life in Amsterdam where he was organist at the Oude Kerk. These motets are taken from his Cantiones sacrae, published in 1619, which takes texts (mainly) from the Catholic Latin liturgy and employs some of the latest musical techniques of the time eschewing any use of cantus firmus, employing some chromaticism and providing a so-called bassus continuus, although this is much more of an organo seguente. The motets can be performed unaccompanied and work well either as concert pieces or anthems. Of the 37 motets in this collection, 14 have closing sections to the word ‘Alleluia’; these codas show a considerable imagination ranging from the ecstatic to the mystical according to the preceding text. 12 of the motets are available in three anthologies; the complete collection will be available in the near future.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1549 - 1611)

Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611) was born in Avila, Spain and died in Madrid in 1611. His early musical education was in Avila until 1563/5 when he was sent to the Jesuit 'Collegio Germanico' in Rome to continue his education. Palestrina may have been one of his teachers in Rome and it was there too that he published the psalms and antiphons in these collections. The editions of these compositions, suitable for any festive occasion, are taken from revisions made by Victoria and published in Madrid in 1600; the sets of four and three psalms and the complementary anthology of four Marian antiphons may be performed either unaccompanied, with organo seguente or with instrumental doubling.

John Wilson (1595–1674)

The singer and lutenist John Wilson was an actor and later one of the principal songwriters with the King's Men; it is possible that he is the 'Iacke' Wilson cited in the First Folio (1623) of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. By 1641 he had been appointed to the King's Musick as one of the 'lutes and voices' and he was one of the musicians who attended Charles I at Oxford after the court's enforced move out of London. He remained in Oxford after the Civil War and in 1656 he was made Professor of Music at the University. He composed over 300 songs and a remarkable set of pieces for 12-course lute.

Collections

York Masses (c.1500)

The manuscript that contains this repertory (MS Mus 1, Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York) is a series of twenty-two paper leaves, most of which contain musical notation typical of the period c.1500. All the pieces within the collection are unique to it, and many of them are fragmentary. Since its description in Music and Letters in 1954, the collection has been known as the York Masses, on account of its current provenance and because all the pieces within it are settings of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei). The manuscript is clearly written, in brown ink on pre-ruled brown staves, and all the leaves are made of paper whose watermarks date them to the late fifteenth century. The York Masses have been transcribed and edited by Dr Lisa Colton of the University of Huddersfield.

Anthology of Music from York Minster

The anthems in this anthology of music have been composed by seven men who, over a period of some two hundred years, served York Minster in various capacities: Thomas Preston, Charles Quarles, Edward Salisbury, and John Thorne were organists; Thomas Ellway a songman and music copyist; and Edward Finch and William Mason both clergymen. With the exceptions of Charles Quarles and William Mason, the works in this anthology comprise the surviving output of their respective composers for the church, save for a few Anglican chants. Four of the composers included here (Finch, Mason, Quarles, and Thorne) were thought to be of sufficient importance as to warrant entries in the last edition of /The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians/; the remaining three (Ellway, Preston, and Salisbury) have a significance that is more local than national, and less musical than historical.

Divers Elegies, set in Musick by sev’rall Friends, upon the death of William Lawes (1648)

Divers Elegies were compiled and edited by William Lawes and elder brother Henry Lawes (1596–1662), who also contributed his own Arcadian lament ‘Cease, O cease, you jolly Shepherds’. Henry was a leading song composer of the period and, like William, had a successful career at court. He commissioned seven other musical tributes from friends and colleagues (each, most likely, using their own verse) and they were published in Choice Psalmes with Divers Elegies, set in Musick by sev’rall Friends (1648) alongside three-voice psalm settings by Henry and William Lawes.

John Wilson (1595–1674), who contributed the elegy 'O doe not now lament and cry', was a court colleague of the Lawes brothers and, like William and Henry, was involved in the performance of the Inns of Court-sponsored masque The Triumph of Peace in February 1634. In 1656 he was made ‘choragus’ (Professor of Music) at Oxford University, a position he held until 1661; John Taylor (1628–49), composer of ‘But that, lov’d Friend, we have been taught’, was Keeper of Instruments and a member of the Viols and Voices at court between 1628 and 1642; and John Cobb (1630–50), composer of ‘Deare Will is dead’, was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and was probably also a musician in the household of Archbishop William Laud.

Nothing is known about Captain Edmond Foster; presumably he was a soldier colleague of William’s and he contributed the short ‘Brave Spirit, art thou fled?’. Much more is known about Simon Ives (1600–62) who composed ‘Lament and mourne, he’s dead and gone’ on the death of his deare fraternall Friend and Fellow, Mr William Lawes. Ives was, like the Lawes brothers, John Jenkins and John Wilson, involved in Shirley’s masque The Triumph of Peace in 1634 and, although overshadowed by William Lawes and John Jenkins, was a composer of consort music of some note. 

John Jenkins (1592–1678) was perhaps the most distinguished composer to contribute an elegy to Choice Psalmes: ‘Why in this shade of night?’. Jenkins was ten years older than William Lawes, but appears to have been a close friend. Although Jenkins did not obtain a place at Court until the Restoration (as theorbo-lutenist in the Private Musick) he was based in London in the 1630s and had an important role as a violist in The Triumph of Peace in 1634. The final contributor to the elegies is John Hilton (1599–1657), composer of ‘Bound by the neere conjunction of our soules’. Hilton was a church musician and composer who became organist and clerk of St Margaret’s, Westminster in 1628; he later compiled Catch that Catch Can, a collection of rounds and catches published by John Playford in 1652 and subsequently enlarged in 1658 and 1663.