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The Consort

John Collins

Volume 66, Summer 2010

Fitzwilliam Handeliana vol.1. Richard 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion
compositions for harpsichord and organ
Edition HH236.SOL, Bicester 2009
(pbk 14.95)
ISMN 979 0 708059 85 1

This volume contains 21 compositions for harpsichord and organ by Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745-1816), the founder of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Judging from this selection of pieces from MS159, the Viscount was an accomplished composer and performer: he had studied with John Keeble in England and Jacques Duphly in Paris, and built up a library containing many outstanding works, from Philip Hart's collection of 1704 onwards. In this volume, several of the pieces in the same key were almost certainly intended to be grouped together, as may be deduced both from their forms, and also from linked thematic motifs, such as the use of A-C#-D#-E in nos.18-20. Others make pleasing suites of pieces: nos.1-2 in G minor, nos.3?5 in Bb, nos.6-9 in E minor, nos.10?11 in D minor, nos.12-15 in D, and nos.16-17 in C.

Handel's influence is apparent in many pieces, particularly in the Allegro in Bb no.5 and that in D no.14, and especially in the Minuet no.17, which is markedly similar to Handel's Minuet from Rodelinda, the original being included as Appendix 2. Handel's influence is also evident in the Allemande, Courante and Giga in E minor. Other influences include Roseingrave in the Allegro no.1, Stanley in the piece for two manuals in E minor and the similar Largo in D minor no.12, and Keeble in the Andante in dotted rhythm, followed by an incisively sequential Allegro (no.16). Also discernable is the influence of Paradies, whose sonatas were published in 1754. These pieces display their composer's assimilation of a wide range of styles; it is also, however, possible that they were intentionally derivative, in homage to composers whom the Viscount admired.

A charming touch in the Air and Variation in D no.15 is the transference of the melody to the bass in the variation. Also of note are the passages in octaves that conclude several pieces. No.21 is of particular interest: it is a transcription of the overture to Rameau's Dardanus; its Allegro requires care to ensure that its many repeated semiquavers are heard cleanly and clearly. The concluding Rigaudon makes an attractive end to this collection, many of which would sound equally well on the organ as on the harpsichord.

Several of the pieces, although in two voices only, require careful and alert fingering and phrasing, a testimony to the success of the studies that Viscount Fitzwilliam undertook. The format of this volume is portrait with stapled binding; the editing is exemplary and the printing clear. The introduction contains much interesting information about the Viscount's life and studies, as well as the specification of the small Snetzler organ that he played. Appendix 1 illustrates Fitzwilliam's slightly abbreviated setting using a cantus firmus motif utilised by Thomas Morley for his treatment of discant, in which Fitzwilliam follows Keeble's example of meticulously annotating the contrapuntal devices employed.

There is a full set of textual notes covering the source description, editorial method and critical commentary, which includes one or two alternatives found in the manuscript. Further comments about the stylistic background to Fitzwilliam's harpsichord compositions are to be included in the Introduction to the next volume, which is in preparation. Meanwhile this selection offers plenty of excitingly fresh material for harpsichordists to include in concerts.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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