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Fitzwilliam Virginal Book

Composer: Various

Tags: Piece


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Selections. 161. Anonymous: Why Aske You PDF 0 MBSelections. 210. Bull: Praeludium PDF 0 MB
Selections. 1. Bull: Walsingham PDF 0 MB



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The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is a primary source of keyboard music from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods in England, i.e., the late Renaissance and very early Baroque. It takes its name from Viscount Fitzwilliam who bequeathed this manuscript collection to Cambridge University in 1816. It is now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. The word virginals does not necessarily denote any specific instrument and might refer to anything with a keyboard keyboard instrument.
It was given no title by its copyist and the ownership of the manuscript before the eighteenth century is unclear. At the time The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book was put together most collections of keyboard music were compiled by performers and teachers: other examples include Will Forster's Virginal Book, Clement Matchett's Virginal Book, and Anne Cromwell's Virginal Book. It is possible that the complexities of typesetting music precluded the printing of much keyboard music during the late Renaissance and it was not until the advent of engraving music plates that pieces for keyboard were published. The first known example of this is Parthenia, which was published in c. 1612.
The FVB was once given the nomenclature pf Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, although the title cannot be correct since much of its contents were written after her death in 1603. Another hypothesis, which still has supporters, is that it belonged to Francis Tregian the Younger, a recusant and amateur musician. It has been argued that Tregian may have copied the entire collection while imprisoned in the period leading up to his death in 1614. The nature of Tregian's contribution to the book has been disputed. Although other scholarship suggested that, as compiler, it is unlikely that Tregian was imprisoned long enough to undertake the copying involved, a closer inspection of the manuscript reveals two layers of copying, of which nos. 1-95 pieces form the first. This layer might have been done at any time previous to Tregian's 1612 incarceration.
The manuscript includes music dating from approximately 1562 to 1612 by John Bull, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Giles Farnaby (51 of whose 52 known pieces are included), Thomas Tallis. and Martin Peerson. Continental composers are also represented by the English composer in exile Peter Philips, whose music is largely arrangements of sacred music, madrigals and chansons. Other foreign composers are represented by, among others, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the elusive Jehan Oystermayre and Giovanni Picchi. There are 298 pieces which includes the eighth variation of 'Treg. Ground' (also Hugh Ashton's Ground in My Ladye Nevells Booke) as a separate piece. It is found under a flap on which has written no. 276, 'Pescodd Time' and it is assumed that Tregian either did not recognise the variation or thought it worthy of inclusion; as it happens, it is incomplete. As with many keyboard manuscripts of the time, the pieces were not written for a specific instrument, and most sound happily on all contemporary keyboard instruments, including virginals, harpsichord, clavichord and chamber organ. Many of the pieces in the book are short, and many of them are character pieces with droll and memorable titles, including "Put Up Thy Dagger, Jemy", "The New Sa-Hoo", and "Quodlings Delight" by Giles Farnaby; "Nobody's Gigge", by Richard Farnaby; "Pakington's Pownde" and "The Irishe Dumpe" (anonymous); "The Ghost" and "The Earle of Oxford's Marche" by William Byrd; "Worster Braules" by Thomas Tomkins; and the famous "Lachrymae Pavan" by John Dowland, as arranged by Giles Farnaby and by William Byrd.
In 1899, Breitkopf & Härtel published an edition in two volumes (the Maitland Squire edition, see the Sources below) with only a basic critical commentary, which has been reprinted by Dover Publications and is available inexpensively. A microfilm facsimile of the manuscript is included in The music collections of the Cambridge libraries (Woodbridge, Conn. : Research Publications, 1991). Musica Britannica is preparing a volume dedicated to the "Keyboard Music from Fitzwilliam Manuscripts" [1]. A new three-volume edition was published by Lyrebird Music in 2020, edited by renowned English music scholars Jon Baxendale and Francis Knights.
Richard Strauss used several selections from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book in his 1935 opera, Die schweigsame Frau, and cited them accordingly at their appearances in the work. They appear at ritualized moments in the action to provide commentary and atmosphere in the Act 2 marriage scene (No. XIV and No. XC) and in the Act 3 courtroom scene (No. XXXVII).
The first recording of selections from the anthology was made by Joseph Payne in 1964. It was issued by Vox Box (i.e. Vox Records) as a three-LP boxed set and features Payne performing three album sides on harpsichord (a modern Eric Herz instrument) and three sides on organ. Generally the more moderately paced and sustained pieces are performed on the organ.
(For each composer, the pieces follow the order in which they appear in the manuscript)
BK numbers refer to Musica Britannica: William Byrd Keyboard Music, ed. Alan Brown (London: Stainer & Bell, 2 vols, 1969/71)