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Consort of Fower parts, Suite No. 1 in D Minor

Matthew Locke (1621/2-1677)

Consort of Fower parts, Suite No. 1 in D Minor

What draws me to the peculiar voice of Matthew Locke's figure far from a name in the history of music? At first it was Locke's brooding introspection that appealed to me most: I can't think of another seventeenth-century figure more revealing of his inner struggles with life's adversity than his rebellious Roman Catholic. In Locke's vigorous three- and four-part counterpoint, moreover, I began to appreciate a striking muscularity which totally belies the gently amateurish origins of much English consort music.

To be honest, It took me a bit of time to get used to the abrupt quality of Locke's musical thinking: Just as he has finished sketching an intriguing idea, the composer has no qualms withdrawing it from circulation and moving quickly on to his next nervous utterance. On the other hand, there is a compelling wit and intelligence in Locke's music which was immediately apparent, as well as the sense of conviction portrayed in all great music that a piece must be so and not so otherwise.

There is also, as I discovered, another Matthew Locke found in the Consort of Fower Parts, someone who expresses the purest lyricism and exudes the most generous warmth - true music of consolation. The almost unrelieved gloominess of the dark pieces in minor is therefore more than offset by the spectacularly sunny glow of the Setts in major. In playing these pieces over a few decades - constantly revising and fine-tuning them - has borne the most remarkable fruit. We hope you warm to these works as we have.

Mattew Locke was here!

At the age of 16 Locke had already asserted his rebellious nature by engraving his name and the year 1638 on the organ screen at Exeter Cathedral. Three years later his name is recorded again, but now twice: firstly as his own graffito, again by the organ, and secondly in the Cathedral's Chapter Book, by another hand, detailing his misdemeanour in fighting with a fellow chorister. During the Civil wars of the 1640's in England, he appears to have sided with the future King Charles II and spent a period abroad prior to returning to champion the cause of English music. He seems not to have softened with age, though, his tongue and his pen remaining sharp to the bitter end. At a time when Italian and French influences were beginning to dominate the European musical scene, Locke could declare, "I never yet saw any foreign composition worthy and English man's transcribing". Despite his combative nature, Locke was highly regarded in his day, much sought after as a composer of theatre music, well rewarded for his musical activities by the king and suitably mourned on his death in 1677 by the young Henry Purcell who set the elegy, "What hope for us remains?"

In terms of the glorious English tradition of consort music for viols, very little hope remained. After Locke's death, the great Purcell himself would compose the last masterpieces in a genre which stretched back over a century, finding its first master in the monumental consort music of William Byrd. This was a tradition of essentially private music, played largely by groups of friends and enthusiasts for their own education and entertainment and as such it is music ideally suited for an age where home entertainment is on the increase. The CD and the internet should do much to popularise the music of the likes of Matthew Locke.

This CD then, presents six suites for a consort of four viols (2 trebles, tenor and bass) by Locke and a single suite for three. His highly inventive, if idiosyncratic, consort music shows the composer at his rebellious best - presenting somewhat Zany experiments in tone colour and instrumental texture that would heavily influence the Purcell when he came to pen his own Fantzias. The Consort of Fower Parts consists of 24 movements divided into six suites. Each suite begins with a Fantasia which is followed by a series of popular dances - Courante, Ayre and Sarabande in each case, with the exception of the opening suite where a Galliard replaces the courante. The Flatt consort,' For my cousin Kemble' ends the disc with no less than three Fantazies, followed respectively, by a Courante, Sarabande and Jigg.

The consort of Fower Parts was probably written in the mid-1950's, but obviously thought highly enough of these pieces, regarding them as works-in-progress for around 20 years, revising them a good many times. Some of these movements are not always easy to listen to on first hearing despite a harmonic language that is more than pleasing and an approach to melody that is full of his testy, 'straight-between-the-eyes' with and character. The main stumbling-block with Locke - which also makes him so challenging to interpret - is that he exposes and develops his musical ideas in extremely concentrated bursts of energy. We're dealing here with a darting and mercurial spirit, someone who has little patience with more conventional notions of musical time and pacing. A phrase has been heard only a few times, passing from one viol to the next in imitation, when the composer decides to put a lid on the musical argument, and with a sharp and final sweep of the hand, dismisses it as out of the question. But no sooner has he done so than he pins another idea to the target and takes aim. One could easily charge Locke with being capricious were it not for his ability to bind his ideas into a satisfying whole. It also helps that he is a master at crafting grandiloquent closing gestures, and who cannot forgive a composer who can assert so definitively that a wonderful piece of music is complete. With a flourish, he seems to say "thank you and goodnight - Matthew Locke was here".

Laurence Dreyfus

Martin Ross


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