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The Consort

Wendy Hancock

Summer 2009, Vol. 65

Simon Ives The Four-part dances,
Edition HH, HH078.FSP, Bicester, 2008 (pbk £30)
ISMN 979 0 708059 69 1

This collection of 25 four-part ayres was mainly composed by Simon Ives (1600-62), although a few pieces by other composers are here 'set' by him in four parts. It may have been copied for the London waits (who at the time provided music for the Blackfriars Theatre) some time around 1650, although many of the dances must have been composed by the 1630s. Indeed, Ives himself became a London wait for 'song and music' in 1637. The collection is unique in presenting the Ives pieces as a discrete group in full consort settings in four parts, arranged into seven suites plus one single dance, within the set of part-books BL Add. MSS 18940-04, and this volume is intended as an edition of that collection. As the editors maintain, 'it is therefore of great importance in the history of English theatre music'.

Many of the pieces have concordances elsewhere, often for a wide variety of instruments, such as lyra viol(s), lute, or harpsichord, (especially the five concordances with Anne Cromwell's Virginal Book of 1638). The concordances often reinforce the theatrical associations.

The collection - which was almost certainly copied by an unknown scribe from a score - consists of five part-books: two treble books named Superius and Altus, a tenor labelled Medius, and two bass part-books, one named Bassus and the other Bassus Continuus. The treble parts were probably intended for violins, since these were the instruments of professional players in the London theatre bands. Occasionally (but not within the Ives set), the bass parts contain sparse and identical figuring, which implies a continuo. Perhaps these figures were accidentally copied into the (string) bass part, or perhaps a third part-book (for the string bass) is missing, implying the use of two theorbos rather than one. Certainly, there are three bass books in some sets of part-books, such as Ob MSS Mus.Sch. E.431-6, in which all three parts are unfigured. The use of unfigured bass implied the use of lute or theorbo in England at this time, and these instruments would have formed an important 'continuo team' in masques too.

The connection with the masque is clear, and we know that Ives contributed music to Shirley's masque The Triumph of Peace which was given at the Inns of Court in 1634, under the direction of the Puritan lawyer Bulstrode Whitelocke. He enlisted Ives' services in his famous Coranto, described in his memoirs for the year 1634:

I was so conuersant with the musitians, & so willing to gaine their favour, especially att this time, that I composed an aier my selfe, with the assistance of Mr [Simon] Iues, and called it, Whitelockes Coranto, which being cryed up, was first played publiquely by the Blackefryars Musicke, who were then esteemed the best of Common Musicke in all London…

Sadly, little music by Ives survives for this production, but, as the editors write, 'Two pieces in the current edition have titles that sound as if they come from The Triumph of Peace…. 'The Fancy' (no.22) may be the music for the first antimasque, of Fancy, Opinion, Confidence, Novelty, Admiration, Jollity and Laughter' … [and] 'The Virgin' (no.23) may have accompanied the next antimasque… Even more are included in ACVB, including Mr Whitlock's Coranto, which occurs here in its consort version as VdGS no.24.

As for the modern edition, this one at first sight seems exemplary, providing as it does that perfect solution, the best of scholarly and practical editions. It consists of a score with a full and detailed Introduction by the editors, which is both very readable and informative; an Appendix consisting of a three-part Saraband by Ives from another source, with reconstructed tenor, which makes it available as a four-part air like the rest; a List of Sources and their Abbreviations (a very useful list of all the concordances for these pieces, with full descriptions of the manuscripts concerned); a Textual Commentary, and Notes to the Textual Commentary, describing editorial practice. Also included are a set of four individual parts labelled Treble 1 and Treble 2 for the Superius and Altus, Tenor for the Medius and Bass for the Bassus. There is no separate Basso continuo for the Bassus Continuus.

It is clearly printed, in slightly larger-than-usual print, on good quality paper, with editorial accidentals which last for a bar, printed above the stave. However (a minor point), the numbering system could have been clearer - it is best to follow the VdGS system, which is printed small at the top of each part (but sadly not followed in the Contents list).

However, it is difficult to determine the object of this edition. Is it intended as a scholarly practical edition for professionals only? If so, why to all intents and purposes ignore the amateur market? The music hardly has sufficient substance to interest professional string quartets. As a practical edition, especially for amateurs, it is not ideal on three counts. First, it is described on the cover as being for 'Violins, Viols or Wind Instruments' (perhaps mimicking Holborne's title-page); yet the lack of an alternative tenor part in transposing treble clef prohibits its use by most amateur recorder consorts, in my experience. This would have been simple to provide (as it is with most LPM editions).

Secondly, since no ranges are given at the beginning of each part (or in the score), it is difficult to check the suitability of any given dance for the forces at one's disposal. Originally these pieces were for a theatre band, hence for professional players who played violins - and the occasional low C in the bass part perhaps suggests the bass violin; but nowadays, and sometimes in the 17th century too, surely, a consorts of viols is just as likely, with the bass ideally tuning its bottom string to C.

Thirdly, although the addition of continuo is mentioned as a possibility in the introduction - and indeed it is made clear that the original sources specify it - there is no concession to the needs of the modern amateur player. True, one might argue that any continuo player worth his salt could play from the score, which indeed is laid out to avoid awkward page turns; but an extra bass part, perhaps with editorial figuring, or a short score in staff notation, perhaps again with figuring, as in Bernard Thomas' edition of Thomas Simpson's Taffel-Consort of 1621, LPM TS1 (with which this music has much in common in terms of scoring and dance style), would have been extremely helpful. In an ideal world, even a lute or theorbo in addition to the four-part strings would mimic the type of ensemble which originally played such music. But to add a 'harpsichord or organ', as suggested by the editors, would be a great deal better than nothing. When I tried out these pieces with four viols, the addition of a lute playing continuo made a huge and surprising difference to the texture.

This music has much of the quirky nature of masque music, with a wide variety of styles and a somewhat uneven quality too. These are not fully-composed 'airs' in the tradition of Locke and Jenkins: the pieces have neither the harmonic richness of Coprario, nor the harmonic and rhythmic waywardness of Lawes. Nevertheless, they have much to recommend them. They are essentially dance pieces, as distinguished by their texture, which is 'top and bottom heavy', and they make an ideal conclusion to an evening of consort playing.

In his book, Musick's Monument, or A Remembrancer of the Best Practical Musick (London, 1676; facs. ed. J Jacquot and A Souris, Paris, 1958, pp.235-6), Thomas Mace sums up the style: '...when we would be most Ayrey, Jocond, Lively and Spruce…Then we had Choice, and Singular Consorts, either for 2, 3, or 4 Parts, but not to the Organ… but to the Harpsicon: yet more Properly, …to the Pedal… [an instrument of Mace's invention]…. We always Added to This Consort, the Theorboe Lute…'

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