John Eccles: Incidental Music, Part 1 – Plays A–F

Edited by Amanda Eubanks Winkler.
A-R Editions: RRMBE 190
xxiv + 320pp. $225.00.
ISBN 978-0-89579-822-0

This is the third volume in a series devoted to the music of John Eccles and the first of two to concentrate on incidental music for the London stage. In fact, the scope is larger than that may sound, as there is also repertoire by other composers, such as Gottfried Finger and Purcell.

The introduction proper starts on p. xv and is followed by four pages of facsimile (two each of manuscript and printed sources).

The music written for the plays then ensues, preceded by background information about the stage work itself and followed by critical notes on the source(s) used for each. The volume covers 24 productions with instrumental music by Eccles only surviving for one of them (The Double Distress), though only three movements exist in their four-part form, the other six only have the melody line. There is also instrumental music by William Corbett and John Lenton. The extent of stage music varies considerably, too; some have only one song, others have three or four. While the vast majority are for voice(s) and continuo only, there are some interesting numbers (“Hark, the trumpets and the drums” and “Sisters, whilst thus I wave my wand” from Cyrus the Great; or, The Tragedy of Love  are well worth exploring, and the lengthy scena  for soprano and bass, “Sleep, poor youth” from The Comical History of Don Quixote, Part 1  with its four recorder parts, should suit those who like to programme such things. These aside, I suspect that, good as it is to make all of this repertoire available in these volumes (even including the texts of songs for which no music is known to have survived), most of it will remain on the library shelves. Although there is clearly an appetite to reclaim the music, there seems little if any parallel development in the stage world, in which context it truly belongs. Even 30 years after the event, I still feel enormously privileged to have had the opportunity to perform in the pit band for a student production (in a professional theatre)of Amphytrion; or, The Two Sosias  when I was a student in St Andrews. Despite that, all students should clearly have access to these volumes.

Brian Clark