Walter Porter: Collected Works

Edited by Jonathan P. Wainwright
A-R Editions, Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, B194
xxxiii + 10 facsmilies + 256pp, $250.00
ISBN 978-0-89579-846-6

This volume presents Porter’s Madrigales and Ayres  of 1632, his Mottets of Two Voyces  of 1657 and four pieces of dubious attribution in an appendix, and is thus the first to contain the complete surviving music by an important but little-known composer. The comprehensive introductory material includes all that is known of Porter’s life, including a table identifying the likely dedicatees of his music, and the full texts in poetic format.

The music itself is impressive. The 1632 set (for two to five voices with continuo, 22 of the 27 pieces also featuring two violins) display an array of genres. Smaller pieces have instrumental introductions followed by the vocal music which is repeat for subsequent verses, while the larger settings are through composed and alternate extended solos very much in the Italian vein (he styled himself a friend of “Monteverde”) with tutti passages (violins double the sopranos) that are predominantly homophonic but often hint at imitation. The Mottets  are similarly short and once again predominantly melody and bass, rather more reserved in style than the virtuosity of Italian duets of the 1650s – the lower voices is always a bass, mostly doubling the continuo line. The appendix has a simple strophic song for soprano and continuo, and three catches (canons) for three basses.

The edition is nicely laid out with differences between the bass viol and continuo parts shown with minimal fuss. Typically of A-R Editions, they are generously spaced but with the wide syllables of English, in this case that is a good thing. All original accidentals are retained (also on consecutive notes) and very few are added. I was struck by the choice to split Orpheus’s wife-to-be’s name as “Eu-rid-i-ce”, and I cannot begin to describe the ugliness of the hyphens placed tight to the right of each syllable. My only musicological reservation is – once again – the inconsistency of bar lengths in non-tripla; Wainwright argues that rather than indicating a minim count per bar, the two time signatures are more like tempo markings than metrical, but he does not explain why he has chosen to divide some measures into four minims and some only two.

Brian Clark