The Sound of Drums

February 10, 2015

The Sound of Drums is the working title for our CD focussing on sacred music that provides a commentary on the events of the English Civil War.  (Those of you wondering if the title is inspired from the Doctor Who series 3 episode featuring the Master would be incorrect - its taken from the BBC's 1980s excellent Civil War drama By the Sword Divided). So, rather than being music exclusively written during the Civil War (a provenance being hard enough to prove at the best of times, let alone during a conflict), we are aiming to contextualise the conflict at various religious, political and personal levels.  Those of you who have attended our concerts of this programme will have heard readings which give a further layer of reference.

 

So, the recording is framed by two composers with no direct link with Charles I, William Byrd and Matthew Locke.  Both were Catholics, worshipping and working in the Chapel Royal as 'strangers in a foreign land', a reflecting longterm religious conflict that provided a backdrop to the squabbles between monarch and Parliament, from James I to James II.  Byrd's 'O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth' appears reworded honoring Charles I in John Barnard's 1641 First Book of Selected Chruch Music, while Matthew Locke's 'How doth the city sit solitary' was copied by John Blow in Christ Church MS 14 (see previous post), Blow evidently recognizing the skill with which Locke intergrated Italianate vocal writing in the Anglican verse anthem.

 

Thomas Tomkins and William Child are two of the better-known composers from this period. Tomkins became organist at Worcester Cathedral in 1596, a post he held till the choir was disbanded in 1646, and held alongside responsibilities as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and composer at court.  'O God, the proud are risen against Thee' marks a high point in the English Renaissance polyphonic anthem (and the words, taken from Psalm 86, particularly 'and the assembly of violent men, Which have not thee before their eyes, seek after my soul', are well-suited to our theme).  After his cathedral duties were suspended, Tomkins continued composing organ and consort music,including 'Sad Pavan: for these distracted times' written shortly after the execution of Charles I.  William Child was organist at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle from 1632 till his death in 1696 (the choir was disbanded 1643 and re-established in 1660).  His church music shows moderate Italianate influence, although 'O Lord God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance' he choses a contrapuntal style that recalls the penitential works of Byrd. The text, Psalm 79, is deliberate, as Child's subtitle to the anthem states that it was 'composed in the year 1644 on the occasion of the abolishing the Common Prayer and overthrowing the constitution, both in church and state'.

 

In my next post, I'll be considering the circle of musicians and composers associated with Charles I's Chapel Royal as it followed his court to Oxford, and particularly William Lawes, who took part in the conflict.

 

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