English Keyboard music 1650-1695: Perspectives on Purcell

Purcell Society Edition, volume 6 PC6
Edited by Andrew Woolley
xlii+190pp, linen bound. £85
Stainer & Bell ISBN 979 0 2202 2345 7; ISMN 978 0 85249 930 6

This volume will be welcomed by anyone interested in 17th-century English keyboard music. With typical Purcell Society thoroughness and equally typical Stainer & Bell beautiful book publishing, it comprises 32 pages of introduction and facsimiles, then 126 movements (plus variants), divided into sections:

  • Organ music from Restoration Oxford (six works, mostly anonymous)
  • John Cobb (including two dubious and four anonyma)
  • Commonwealth and early Restoration suites (Mell, Locke, two dubious, two anonyma)
  • Pieces by or associated with Frnacis Forcer (including Blow, Farmer and Lully)
  • John Blow and his milieu (three dubious, seven anonyma, Lully & Lebègue)
  • Pieces collected by Charles Babel
  • Giovanni Battista Draghi (four suites)

There follow two appendices, the first an Almain in D minor by John Cobb, the second a suite in F by Davis Mell, then a thoroughly detailed Textual Commentary giving all the variants of the multiplicity of sources. Just this description of the layout of the contents gives some impression of just what a massive undertaking the project was, and what an achievement its realisation is. Woolley and co. (and Stainer & Bell!) have produced a book that is both unparalleled in its informative value and inclusive scope, and in the presentation of that which is most important, i. e., the music itself, in a performable format. Where variants are too complicated to describe in detail (or are, perhaps, deemed of equal value?), third and (especially in the music by Draghi) fourth staves are very cleverly added to allow musicians to have both versions available in a single score.

I did find it rather tiresome to see the editor credited on every page of music, likewise the Purcell Society Trust asserting their copyright similarly but in this age of digital reproduction it is quite right of them to ensure that everyone knows who has invested so much time, effort and money into producing such a monumental and excellent contribution to our understanding and appreciation of this repertoire.

Brian Clark

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