Henry Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols [Hybrid SACD]

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Muzyka Barokowa
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kontynent: Europa
kraj: Anglia
opakowanie: digipackowe etui

Editor's Info:
The Fantazia for consort of viols is one of the glories of English music, and this unique repertoire, spreading over nearly two centuries, represents the loftiest and most perfect kind of instrumental chamber music written in Europe before the era of the classical string quartet. Between the early sixteenth and the late seventeenth century hundreds of such 'Fancies' appeared, and the greatest masters of the age - Byrd, Gibbons, Lawes, Jenkins, Locke and many others produced masterpieces of the kind. But in the face of the victorious progress of 'the new-fangled violin', the Fantazia grew rapidly out of fashion, to be replaced by the Dance Suite or the Sonata: the Restoration of 1660 gave the signal to the invasion of continental music, above all French, which enjoyed the exclusive favour of Charles II. The admirable set of Fancies by Matthew Locke published in that very year, 1660, was the last of its kind to find a publisher. It was Purcell's immediate model. Purcell's fifteen Fantazias have come down to us as a manuscript kept at the British Museum, most of whose pieces are dated. As they would not have aroused any interest at the time, the young composer did not even attempt to have them published, and they only appeared in print, edited by Peter Warlock, in 1927! This unique collection of pieces of from three to seven parts, a true 'sum' of polyphonic thinking, to which only Bach's Musical Offering and Art.... Of Fugue may be compared, are the product, incredible as it may seem, of a very young composer of twenty-one at the beginning of his all too-short career. Written during the summer of 1680, they bring two centuries of uninterrupted instrumental tradition in England to a crowning conclusion. Indeed, Purcell must have been aware that his endeavours were as out-of-date, and thus as transcendental and unselfish as Bach's writing the Art.... Of Fugue some seventy years later. In the manuscript just mentioned are to be found three Fantazias of three parts, nine (plus a fragmentary tenth) of four parts, most accurately dated and written in close succession between the 10th June and the 31st August 1680, sometimes succeeding each other at only one day's interval, one of five parts, one of six and one of seven. These pieces are short, none of them exceeding a hundred bars in common time. They each consist of two to five episodes, contrasting in mood and tempo. Let us set apart at once the two pieces in six and seven parts: they are In Nomines. This was a peculiar form of the Fantazia, based on a cantus firmus in long notes around which the other instruments weave their counterpoints. The cantus is the plainsong Gloria tibi Trinitas according to the Sarum rite. The Tudor composer John Taverner had written one of his most masterly Masses on that tune, and the passage in the Benedictus setting of the words In nomine, featuring the entire Cantus, was especially admired and gave rise to a number of transcriptions. This enticed other composers to try their hand at similar, but this time purely instrumental settings, and thus the genre of the In Nomine was born, of which the two by Purcell are the latest in existence before Peter Maxwell Davies revived the genre in our own time. The very strict rules applying to the In Nomine result in norms differing from those found in Purcell's remaining Fantazias. Their idiom is more austere, more archaic, their tempo remains invariable, and the permanent presence of the Cantus precludes the homophonic episodes of transition found elsewhere. However, each of them breaks down into three sections, featuring as many themes, whose polyphonic fabric is successively confronted to the Cantus. The only harmonic audacities to be found (though they were not audacious at that time) are the familiar false relations due to the coexistence of the ascending and descending shape of the melodic minor scale. Purcell's In Nomine of seven parts surpasses its neighbour of six parts both in size and quality of inspiration.
Examining the remaining thirteen pieces, we notice a growing care for unity and integration: the first Fantazia of three parts calls for no less than six successive themes, whereas the masterly ninth four-part Fantazia (probably the climax of the whole series) is entirely built on two motives of four notes each. The norm is two or three themes, separated or framed by those homophonic episodes where Purcell's harmonic genius celebrates its greatest triumphs. Only two pieces (the third of three parts and the ninth of four parts) dispense with them, and thus have only two sections each.

The deep melancholy so characteristic of Purcell's temper results in the fact that only five pieces are set in major keys. His favourite g-minor (a predilection he shares with Mozart) is to be found no less than four times, and three further Fantazias are in d-minor. Except for only three pieces, flat keys are favoured. But beyond that rather restrained choice of tonalities, these pieces feature a prodigious tonal mobility, unexcelled anywhere before the twentieth century. Constant and very fast modulations (at times, up to four or five different tonalities within a single bar!) drive the composer into regions practically uncharted in his day, such as f-sharp, c-sharp or even g-sharp minor, as well as D-flat major, b-flat and e-flat minor. The systematic use of chromaticism, of changing function of a 'pivot' note (for example a leading-note becoming a dominant), of irregular resolutions or even false relations, the wealth of appoggiaturas, of double and triple suspensions... Such are the means used by Purcell to express his feverish and tormented soul. But close analysis shows all these audacities to be the result of supreme contrapuntal logic, where nothing is left to chance: thus Purcell thinks above all horizontally, and his most disquieting encounters are due to the superposition of lines which modern analysis often shows to belong to two or three different keys. Here we have to bow to a contrapuntal virtuosity which even Bach never excelled: themes superposed to their mirror, to their augmentation, sometimes to their retrogradation, combination of two or even three simultaneous themes in their different shapes, sometimes in double canon, are all applied with baffling ease. Moreover, Purcell hardly uses 'mechanical' devices, such as sequences, imitations, fugatos, etc. In his music we find total freedom allied to total rigour, and the triumph of asymmetry, the leading feature of the baroque spirit, also shows in the flexibility and variety of rhythms, freely striding over the bar-line.

There now follows a short survey of some of the most felicitous details to be found in the Fantazias in three, four and five parts.

In the First Three-part Fantazias (in d-minor), as homogeneous as the following ones in spite of the multiplicity of its motives, one should notice the bouncing syncopations of the second section, so modern in effect, and the 'meteoric' modulations of the following section, where twelve tonalities are touched in as many bars, finding the way back to the opening d-minor after having reached as far out as e-flat minor!

In the Second Three-part Fantazia (in F-major), it is the concluding homophonic episode that amazes us: the F-major close of the previous section is followed, without any preparation except for a brief silence, by E-major (a shattering and highly dramatic stroke), which turns out to be the dominant of A-major, after which a labyrinth of complex modulations, with chromaticisms and suspensions of Mozartean boldness, leads to the conclusion. Notice the extraordinary bass line, falling in successive fifths in two steps (semitone and diminished fifth!).

As to the Third Three-part Fantazia (in g-minor), a marvel of free polyphony, its second half features endless modifications in the melodic and rhythmic structure of the theme, combined and superposed to its own inversion.

Right from the beginning of the First Four-part Fantazia (in g-minor), dated June 10, 1680, the entrances of the admirable theme occur in three different keys (g-minor, c-minor, f-minor, the latter acting as a true 'secondary tonic'). Again the central homophonic episode is of startling boldness: through the use of tonal shufflings, of pivotal notes (leading notes becoming dominants), of interrupted cadences totally modern in spirit (one of them, from the dominant of D-major to that of C-major, is done through a false relation f-f sharp and an ascending skip of a minor ninth of the upper voice!), one reaches the remote keys of F-sharp major and B-major. From the latter, d-minor is most abruptly returned to in less than a bar, owing to a prodigious double suspension of the altus and bass. But in fact, according to horizontal reading, the whole place is strictly tonal, in d-minor: this is true sorcery!

In the Second Four-part Fantazia (in B-flat major) dated 11th June, 1680, attention goes above all to the pathetic chromatic overture of ten bars, skirting up to D-flat major, whose expressive tension is due both to the melodic lines, high-strung in their painful ascent, and to the altered chords and irregular resolutions resulting from melodic chromaticism in all the voices. The lively closing section of this Fantazia beguiles through the very English folk-song character of its theme.

The Third Four-part Fantazia (in F-major) dated 14th June, 1680, with its exceptionally lively and merry opening, also features a marvellous slow middle section, which owes its expressive intensity to the genius with which the composer uses suspensions.

The Fourth Four-part Fantazia (in c-minor) dated 19th June, 1680, dark-hued, austere and tragic, one of the supreme masterpieces of the series, is probably the most baffling, owing to its harsh and searing discords: this is the triumph of the false relation, used in a purely linear spirit, but with an evident aim at expressing pain of the soul (g-f sharp against f natural, then b flat-a against a-flat). At bar nine, the suspension (a natural) of the second voice, while purely thematic, results in the absolutely modern tonal effect of an unprepared chord of the augmented fifth (f-a-d flat), whereas it is merely a second inversion of b-flat minor with suspended landing note!

More classical and more tonal, the Fifth Four-part Fantazia (in d-minor) dated 22nd June, 1680, whose polyphonic fabric is particularly tight, frequently evokes Bach's Art of Fugue. Towards the end, one notices sudden and fast interrupted cadences, related by minor thirds, such as are to be found in Cesar Franck and the late romantics (b-flat minor dominant to g-minor, then g-minor dominant to e-minor)!

The Sixth Four-part Fantazia (in a-minor) dated June 23,1680, begins with a slow harmonic overture, like the second, but more intimate and elegiac. It leads to an admirable polyphony superposing four different rhythms, the three upper voices playing the same theme in different time values, whereas the bass features another theme, with powerful syncopations. As early as by bar four, the inversions of those various elements appear, and the whole is combined, with astonishing stretti, into a muscular counterpoint which could belong to our own century (cf. Michael Tipett).

The Seventh Four-part Fantazia (in e-minor) dated 30th June, 1680, whose harmonic middle-section is more extended than usual, opens with a theme whose characteristic dactylic rhythm, as well as its expression and elaboration, irresistibly call to mind the Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

As to the Eighth (in G-major) dated 18th August, 1680, its soft and serene light comes as a soothing ray of sunshine after the sombre pieces which precede it. But neither the tasty shufflings between modal and leading sevenths, nor the false relations resulting from the parallel progress of voices in different keys are absent here.

The Ninth and last Four-part Fantazia (in d-minor) dated 31st August, 1680, the most rigorous and most perfect of all, has only two rather extended sections, each one resting upon a mere four notes! The first uses a purely horizontal theme (a-g-b flat-a) close in spirit, as can be seen, to the illustrious B-A-C-H, and whose inversion is identical to its retrogradation. These various forms are combined and superposed in an almost 'serial' fashion! The same applies to the second section, which rests upon two ascending fourths (a-d-c-f). Here modulations are bolder than anywhere else, tonalities change with lightning speed, sometimes at every beat! There are a few bars of linked dominants (at a whole tone's distance) by chromatic motion, which the young Schoenberg would certainly not have disowned! In the course of twenty fast bars, one notices as many as thirty changes of tonality, encompassing sixteen different keys! Bach never reached a comparable tonal mobility, far from it!

A Tenth Four-part Fantazia (in a-minor), of a much later date (24th February, 1683), remained unfinished. The extant thirty-one bars constitute a single section on a single theme, the harmonic idiom being less tormented and more restrained than usual.

Emerging from such superhuman mental tensions, a true oasis of peace and freshness is reached with the single Five-part Fantazia (in F-major), one of Purcell's most celebrated pieces, since this is none other than the Fantazia upon One Note, the fourth of the five voices maintaining a long-held C throughout, around which the other voices weave the most suave and harmonious counterpoints. The music features only the most fleeting halo of melancholy during the two brief homophonic episodes in the middle and at the end. The held note is generally used as a dominant, either of F-major or f-minor; in the central Slow, one briefly touches A-flat major, and the merry ensuing fast section, which combines a spirited theme in the character of an English folksong with the typical motive in semiquavers upon which the Finale of Mozart's 39th Symphony (in E-flat major, K. 543) was to rest one century later, takes off in C-major before regaining the main key. Nothing can describe the radiant sweetness of this music!

The collection obviously remained unfinished: at the head of the ensuing In Nomine of six parts, we read the autograph words: 'Here begineth the 6, 7 & 8 part Fantazia's', but the manuscript stops after the second of these...


Jordi Savall: dessus de viole
Wieland Kuijken: basse de viole
Sophie Watillon: hautecontre de viole
Eunice Brandao: ténors de viole
Sergi Casademunt: ténors de viole
Marianne Müller: basses de viole
Philippe Pierlot: basses de viole

1: Fantasia upon One Note in F major, Z 745
2: Fantasia for 3 Viols in D minor, Z 732
3: Fantasia for 3 Viols in F major, Z 733
4: Fantasia for 3 Viols in G minor, Z 734
5: Fantasia for 4 Viols in G minor, Z 735
6: Fantasia for 4 Viols in B flat major, Z 736
7: Fantasia for 4 Viols in F major, Z 737
8: Fantasia in Nomine a 6 in G minor, Z 746
9: Fantasia for 4 Viols in C minor, Z 738
10: Fantasia for 4 Viols in D minor, Z 739
11: Fantasia for 4 Viols in A minor, Z 740
12: Fantasia for 4 Viols in E minor, Z 741
13: Fantasia for 4 Viols in G major, Z 742
14: Fantasia for 4 Viols in D minor, Z 743
15: Fantasia in Nomine a 7 in G minor, Z 747

total time - 54:10
wydano: 2008
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Alia Vox (SP)
Henry Purcell [1659-1695]
Hesperion XX / Jordi Savall
Henry Purcell
Viola da gamba
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