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The British Clavichord Society

John Collins

Newsletter No. 45, October 2009

The Selosse Manuscript: Seventeenth Century Jesuit Keyboard Music,
edited by Peter Leech.
Published by Edition HH as HH077; second edition, 2008. Price £33.00. http://www.editionhh.co.uk

John Collins, Worthing

This most interesting manuscript was found in a London second-hand bookshop in 2004 by the editor. It was probably compiled by one Antonius Selossius, who in 1659 appears in the lists of St Omer English College as teacher of music, the name being a Jesuit alias for Antonio Mason (1621-87). Many of the thirty or so pieces are also present in a late seventeenth-century manuscript (M 1471) owned by Christopher Hogwood, which was edited by him and issued by the same publisher in 2003 as 'fitt for the Manicorde'; most of them are otherwise unknown. As in M 1471, the items are grouped conveniently by key. The repertoire covers a broad spectrum of the genres essayed in seventeenth-century Europe, and shows the openness of the compiler to a wide range of influences. The only named composer is John Bull: his The King's Hunt appears as the third item, evidently still a work of great popularity some fifty years after the composer's death in Antwerp in 1628. The great bulk of the pieces are dances, most of which also feature in the Hogwood manuscript. Although only a few bear a specific title in the manuscript, Peter Leech has assigned titles to the others by style. Several have variations in binary form, which raises the question whether they are intended to stand as separate works or just to act as a varied repeat.

The volume opens with a monumental setting of La Folia, running to some 24 variations including the opening statement, four variations more than the version in M 1471: in both sources it is untitled. Interestingly, in both sources the theme is written mainly in equal crotchets throughout. There follows a Chaconne in 3/2 with a syncopated rhythm (found just as a bass in M 1471) identical to the Ciacona in Bernardo Storace's Selva of 1664: these two pieces sound very much like arrangements of guitar pieces. Two other shorter Chaconnes are also included: No. 12 in C and No. 25 in F, the former being structurally more varied. Piece No. 4 is an imitative work showing kinship with the Spanish repertoire found in the Martín y Coll MS, with the second part being in triple time, including a short passage in 6/1, before closing in a chordal section in C time. No. 20, a chordal piece, tentatively entitled 'Toccata' by the editor, includes the direction Vox Humana, the only specific registration indicated in the manuscript. No. 21, The Hunting Lesson, is good fun to play but of limited musical value! The fugue No. 22, plausibly based on Ite Missa est, contains varied writing from the crotchet, almost homophonic introduction to a triple-time section, before a slow chordal ending in minims. No. 23 is a brief toccata-like piece that would be effective on a divided keyboard, as would No. 24, a brief setting of the Bergamasca, quite different to that in M 1471: these are very rare English settings of this tune so popular in Europe.

The remaining pieces are dance movements, the set in D commencing with No. 17 being prefixed by a most interesting attempt at an unmeasured prelude, possibly unique in English sources until Keeble's organ pieces c.1777, the notation in its opening arpeggios showing a broad similarity to Le Bègue's use of varied note values in his first book of pieces of 1677. Only one example of a menuet is found, No. 10 in F, in flowing quavers, but the variation in 9/8 has been entitled 'Jigg' in this edition, which seems incorrect. The nine Allemandes are broadly similar to those included in Locke's Melothesia, only No. 33 having a variation. Strangely, the second half of No. 32, the Allemande in C minor, is shown as a separate piece, although comparison with M 1471 will dispel this idea. Of the five Courantes, No. 5, so entitled in the manuscript, is unusual in not having an upbeat, with wide spacing between the parts in places, the smooth variation written in quavers and semiquavers losing the characteristics of the dance. The style brisé is also lacking in No. 27. The first half of No. 18 has a similar syncopation to the Chaconne No. 2, but the second half is based on equal quaver figures passed between the hands. Of the Sarabandes, No. 6 and its variation in 9/8 are rewarding, No. 8 in F and No 28 in D are built around a dotted second beat, and the G minor No. 15 is quite plaintive, as is its variation in broken chords. No. 19, the only true 'Jig', thus entitled by the editor, is a jaunty 3/4.

Ornaments indicated include the double stroke written across the note stems, found in just three pieces, The King's Hunt, The Hunting Lesson and the Courante No. 27, where it may be interpreted as both trill and beat. A unique occurrence in No. 18 is the sign for an arpeggio, although obviously this is such an integral part of keyboard style that one wonders why it is found here. Of far greater interest is the very frequently occurring wavy line with a comma-like graphic joined to it:turn. This sign does not occur in any other English source: it is very close to D'Anglebert's sign for a trill with turned ending, and this interpretation is successful in many instances. Interestingly, the facsimile page of La Folia shows the wavy line without the 'comma', although it is transcribed as with it. The dances, in particular, would almost certainly have been heavily embellished as in contemporary French and English sources, and a comparison with the pieces in M 1471 will provide help in this area.

Not elucidated by the editor are the curious ties between two notes that are separated by a note at the same pitch. There are still a few transcription errors, even in this second edition, mainly of a note(s) misplaced by a third; but in the Allemandes Nos. 29-33b the player will have to make his or her own decision about the application of accidentals in accordance with musica ficta. The M 1471 versions of the same pieces provide a useful comparison for assisting with this problem. Terence Charlston has made a recording of all the pieces in the manuscript, and will be offering further thoughts, including his own readings of the manuscript on this problematic area, on his web page http://homepage.ntlworld.com/terence.charlston/Selosse.htm

Printed with four staves to the page and generous spacing of notes, this volume is somewhat easier to read than 'fitt for the Manicorde'. Peter Leech has written a succinct introduction to the manuscript, and there are several facsimile pages. Although this edition is not cheap, the outlay will be repaid many times by the pleasure derived from the contents, which provide a further selection of some fascinating and beautiful music that enriches our somewhat scanty knowledge of Restoration keyboard music in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Although some of the pieces demand a skilled hand, the dances offer a more recreational choice, and particularly complement those available in Elizabeth Rogers' Virginal Book of 1656 and Locke's Melothesia of 1673.

We are grateful to John Collins and the editor of The British Clavichord Society Newsletter for permission to reproduce this review.

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