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ClassicsOnline Home » LOCKE, M.: Broken Consort (The), Part I / Tripla Concordia: Suites in G Major and E Minor (Wayward Sisters)
Matthew Locke was the most prominent English musician of the generation before Purcell, occupying a unique place between the Renaissance consort tradition and Baroque chamber music. The Broken Consort refers to a group with mixed instruments, and Locke’s pieces entertained royalty with their ambitiously chromatic tonal language and rhythmic quirkiness. The Composer to the Private Musick was never happier than with surprisingly angular melodies and dramatic gestures ‘into the theatricall way’. This recording is the début release of Wayward Sisters, winners of the 2011 Early Music America/Naxos Recording Competition.
Matthew Locke (c. 1621–1677)
The Broken Consort, Part I • Tripla Concordia
Matthew Locke was the most prominent English musician of the generation before Purcell and occupied a unique place between the tradition of contrapuntal English Renaissance consort music and mainstream Baroque chamber music. We have little idea of his roots or his early career, apart from a defaced organ screen. He was probably born in Exeter and trained in the cathedral choir as a singer and organist. He vandalized that cathedral, carving a sloppy but elaborate Mathew Lock/1638 into the cathedral organ screen, near another graffito, ML/1641, perhaps commemorating his departure. He travelled in the Netherlands and Belgium with Prince Charles (the future Charles II), and weathered most of the Interregnum overseas and in Herefordshire. By 1656 Locke had arrived in London. The Puritans’ ban on spoken plays had, presumably unintentionally, encouraged the development of musical theatre, and Locke picked up work as a theatre composer. With his royal contacts, he was well positioned for the Restoration in 1660 and was appointed Composer to the Private Musick (the little band that entertained Charles II at Whitehall) and to the 24 Violins, the court orchestra. He served as organist in the Catholic chapel of Catherine of Braganza and wrote Latin and English church music for the Chapel Royal.
In the last five years of his life, Locke used his position at court to prosecute a vituperative music theory argument in print. In 1672 the young theorist Thomas Salmon published An Essay to the Advancement of Music, in which he proposed replacing conventional notation with a system in which the staff would always indicate the same pitches, viz., the bottom line would always be G (sol), with a B (bass), M (mean), or T (treble) to show range. There are many practical problems with the idea, but his essential point was that the regime of seven or eight clefs was prohibitively complex, preventing people from enjoying the study of music. Locke responded in The Present Practice of Musick Vindicated that Salmon’s system ‘… undeniably destroys all you pretend to build, and confirms what so furiously you would destroy; notwithstanding your desperate threatning to pull down (Sampson-like) the Observer in your ruin, and crush him with five times the weight of his own Objection’, and he did his part to rehabilitate Salmon from his ‘illiterate absurdities […] to do him that Justice which his Follies merited. Though for the fame he gets by this I shall not much envy him; with whom it will fare, as with common Criminals, who are seldome talkt of above two or three days after Execution’. His attack on Salmon, an academic, probably explains why Locke, unlike most composers of his stature, never received any university honours. He was probably too busy to worry about the endorsement of pedantic eunuchs in academia since he was writing incidental music and operas, playing the organ and composing for the king and queen of England, spending time with the young Henry Purcell and the diarist Samuel Pepys, and in 1674, in the Curtain Tune in his incidental music to The Tempest, becoming the first composer to indicate a crescendo and decrescendo in orchestral music with the instructions in all the parts, ‘Lowder by degrees’ and ‘Soft and Slow by degrees’. In 1677 Locke contributed to an anthology called Tripla Concordia, or A Choice Collection of New Airs in Three Parts. The three suites he included, two of which are included in this recording, are the last music he published. He died in August of that year and Purcell took up his post at court on 10 September. Locke had for twenty years been the busiest composer in London and left behind a considerable body of music for the church and theatre, but his chamber music is the focus of most of the attention paid him today.
Consorts of viols, violins, or wind instruments throve during the English Baroque, and viols in particular were the beneficiaries of some of the greatest music of Ferrabosco, Gibbons, Purcell, and many others, but England also had for much of the seventeenth century a penchant for heterogeneous ensembles, with various combinations of viols, violins, wind instruments, and plucked strings. Such mixed groups were often called ‘broken consorts’, and the Private Musick included a select group called ‘The Broken Consort’. Locke wrote two volumes of suites called The Broken Consort. The first, the centrepiece of this recording, is dated within months of his appointment to the Private Musick, and survives in at least eight manuscript sources, including an autograph score. It comprises six fantasy-suites, each of four movements: Fantazie, Courante, Ayre, and Saraband. The fantasy-suite, prefacing dance music with an abstract, imitative movement, was a venerable form by the time Locke took it on, though he replaced the Renaissance pavan and galliard with Baroque French dances.
The tonal language of the Fantazies ranges from diatonic (No 2 begins and ends in a very tame G major) to capricious (eg the powerful modal opening of No 4). The most ambitious Fantazie must be No 3. After an introductory chorale, the first theme covers a melodic range of a twelfth within just a few beats, and the canonic passage that follows sticks to just a few keys. There follows a lengthy, moody passage with lots of chromaticism, no real resting point, and a succession of angular themes. The movement’s coda begins with the sole passage in all the suites in which the continuo line diverges from the melodic bass, with the theorbo sitting out for a little cadenza by the other instruments, which is followed by a closing ‘drag’, his term for a ritardando.
With all their rhythmic ambiguity and quirkiness, it is tempting to explain Locke’s Courantes as an embrace of French style, but his treatment of the dance doesn’t admit such glibness. Locke seems to be happiest in an angular melodic idiom with irregular phrase lengths, and he diverts himself most freely in his Courantes. No 5, in particular, merely touches on its indicated triple metre before Locke begins playing with larger rhythmic units. Go on, count ‘1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3’. See where it gets you.
The Ayres are the most lyrical movements, with No 4 being especially notable for the repeated note throb of its opening tune. The first section barely strays beyond the key of C major, then the second section moves forward with the upper voices mostly in strict parallel for a playful harmonic snipe hunt.
The Sarabands are quick, short, and angular. Nos 1, 4, and 5 are homophonic; 2 and 3 are canonic. Saraband No 6 is a romp with echo effects, one of Locke’s favourite gimmicks. Its binary form has written repeats with diminutions in the Renaissance style, and it ends The Broken Consort with a slow, duple-time coda.
The G major suite from Tripla Concordia falls very much into line with the Broken Consort suites. It is more expansive and includes three through-composed movements, but preserves the essential feeling of intimate consort music. In stark contrast, the E minor suite begins with a theatrical overture in energetic dotted rhythms, and the dance movements and fancy that follow recollect a ballet or a suite of incidental music. The eminent critic Roger North, mostly a Locke supporter, lamented Locke’s turning from the old-fashioned viol consort style ‘into the theatricall way’, but the opinion of this writer, at least, is that here the greatest composer of the Restoration has succeeded in a synthesis of his talent for large-scale drama and his genius for small ensemble.
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LOCKE, M.: Broken Consort (The), Part I / Tripla C...