north east scotland's festival of new music

David Smithorgan


  • Improvisation
  • Peter Philips (1560/61-1628) Paget Pavan and Galliard
  • Giulio Caccini, set by Peter Philips Amarilli, mia bella
  • Peter Philips Veni Sancte Spiritus
  • Improvisation
  • Ascanio Mayone (c.1570-1627) Pieces from Diversi capricci per sonare (Naples, 1603)
    • Ricercar primo
    • Canzone francese quarta
    • Toccata quinta
    • Partite sopra Fidele

This recital was to have included the premiere of a work by Tim Raymond, performed by Roger Williams. Unfortunately, Roger Williams is indisposed, and there was not enough time for the music to be prepared by anybody else. Instead, the composer has agreed to supply themes relating to his piece to serve as the basis of one or more improvisations. There will be two themes: a plainsong Alleluia on which his new piece is based, and a non-tonal manifestation of it. The themes will be presented to the performer twenty minutes before the recital.

The inclusion of music by seventeenth-century composers in a recital forming part of sound 2010 may seem odd. However, Ascanio Mayone would probably not have felt all that out of place performing in a concert of contemporary music himself. Mayone was one of a number of composers working in Naples at the turn of the seventeenth century who formed the avant garde of their day. His first publication of keyboard music, the Diversi capricci per sonare of 1603, begins with a series of ricercars, which on the surface seem to belong to a more serious 'old style'. The works move in white note values (predominantly minims and semibreves), and appear to belong to the stile antico of sixteenth-century polyphony. However, the polyphony involves odd voice-crossings, and some strange harmony, suggesting that even works purporting to belong to the prima prattica were in certain respects experimental in nature. The next group of works are canzonas, which may be said to correspond more or less to lighter forms of secular vocal music. Still imitative, they move in black note values (crotchets, quavers and semiquavers). There is then a transition to a more idiomatic instrumental via an intabulation (literally, placed into tablature - in this case keyboard notation) of a vocal piece by Arcadelt (not included in tonight's performance). The toccata performed tonight stands at the end of a group of five, and creates difficulties of a musical kind in perfiormance because it combines some passages moving in slow, 'white' notevalues (minims, semibreves) with others moving in demisemiquavers and hemidemisemiquavers. Mayone experiments with his use of notation to try to convey speeding up and slowing down. The publication ends with some variation sets, including one on Fidele. In this, as in many of the other passages, there are places in which the composer demands the performer to play the impossible, writing stretches that defy even the largest hands.

The stylized pavan and galliard was the great English contribution to the development of keyboard music at this period. Both pavan and galliard are cast in three sections (called 'strains'), each of which is repeated with elaborate idiomatic keyboard figuration added to the framework. In fact, Philips's Paget Pavan and Galliard is based on a pre-existing polyphonic version for viol consort, so even the first statement of each strain represents an elaborated version. Added to this, Philips was the only English composer to compose a matching galliard out of the same thematic material, thus effectively creating a triple-time variant of the pavan. The structure of these dances creates a constant shift from 'white' note values to shorter values and back again, thus placing similar demands on the performer to the Mayone toccata. This particular pavan and galliard is dedicated to 'Charles Paget' in one late source: he was a notorious double (or triple?) agent of the time, whom Philips undoubtedly came across in his travels with his brother, Thomas Lord Paget. The tradition of writing a pavan as a memorial for someone who has died was prevalent at the time, and combined with the rather doleful mode (mode 1, twice transposed), makes Thomas the more likely dedicatee; the other source of the work, the famous Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, contains no reference to Charles.

The inclusion of a setting of a work by Caccini in tonight's programme demonstrates Philips's awareness of contemporary developments in music c.1600. However, on closer inspection the work turns out to be not a setting of the famous monody, but a six-part version published in Antwerp in 1601, before Caccini's Le nuove musiche appeared the following year. Caccini's music circulated widely in manuscript between its composition in the 1580s and eventual publication; it is even possible that Philips (who lived in Rome in the 1580s) was responsible for taking a monody intended primarily for professional singers and adapting it for amateur performance in the Low Countries.

Although Philips spent most of his career (1597 to 1628) at the archducal court in Brussels as the principal organist, only two pieces of liturgical organ music survive: the professional organist's art was by and large an improvised one, which leads us neatly back to the inclusion of improvisations in tonight's recital. In Philips's Veni Sance Spiritus the chant is put into triple metre, and placed in the bass throughout. The even-numbered verses are ornamented versions of the odd-numbered one, and the overall effect is not that dissimilar to the composer's galliards.


Tuesday 26 October 2010, 7.30 pm

King's College Chapel, University of Aberdeen, High Street, Aberdeen, AB24 3FX

Ticket Prices: Free