English Keyboard Music c.1600-1625

  • Keyboard Solos and Duets by Nicholas Carleton, John Amner and John Tomkins: six pieces from Volume XCVI of Musica Britannica, edited by Alan Brown.
    Stainer & Bell (K48), 2015. £8.75, 32pp
  • Jacobean Keyboard Music: An Anthology, selected from Volume XCVI of Musica Britannica, edited by Alan Brown.
    Stainer & Bell (K49), 2015. £8.75, 32pp.

Musica Britannica 96 contains 77 items with a few extras: the two short volumes contain six and 17 items at good value. Each book has a page of comments. Keyboard Solos and Duets begins with a short Prelude  (supplemented by an editorial upper part, though with space and barring enough to make it clear that it was intended to be for two players) and A Verse  [In nomine] for two to play by Nicholas Carleton. This is certainly a vast improvement (without the Prelude) on what I knew from a 1949 Schott edition! The pages can be turned by the higher part. There are two other single-player pieces: A verse of four parts  is densely polyphonic, but also has manageable page-turns; Upon the sharp is in three parts, with not one but all five sharps! John Amner’s O Lord, in thee is all my trust  is a metrical setting of Psalm 31 in 88.88.88 meter and eight verses. The first three have two dotted semibreves, then the other five split the bars to make reading easier. There are evidently breaks between verses, though it is odd that the end of verse one has a single minim: since there is a pause, it seems superfluous to worry about dotting it. I’m not sure whether it is too lengthy. I played it through in my library: there’s enough variety for domestic playing without too much concern with registration, though a larger church organ could be more expressive. It has 218 bars, but verses 1-2, 3-4 & 5-6 can be treated independently. John Tomkins, younger half-brother of Thomas, wrote the only secular item here: John come kiss me now. He imitates Byrd by also having 16 variations of eight bars. I wonder, though, if one of the volumes could have been more plausibly suitable for organ.

The second book is most likely to be aimed at virginals, etc., though there are several items that could have been swapped with the first book – the Carlton duet in particular, but also the perhaps Upon the sharp  on the grounds that modulating the black notes can be adjusted far more easily on strings. I won’t go through the items, though it is interesting to compare the Fortune my foe  by Byrd and Tomkins with the anonymous setting here. The final item is the anon Pretty ways for young beginners to look on  with 16 short (to start with five) bars until no. 9. The bass is, adjusting for the mensuration, identical throughout. Try until you understand them mentally and on the keys.

Clifford Bartlett