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Sit Fast...

The Royal Manuscript RM 24 d r (now in the British Museum) was copied by John Baldwine between 1581 and 1606, and is thus commonly known as the ‘Baldwine Manuscript’. It contains countless vocal and instrumental works by composers such as Cooper, Parsons, Woodson, Byrd, Giles, Taverner, Tye, Wood, and Baldwine himself. John Baldwine (also known as Baldwin, Baldwyne) began his career as a singer in the Chapel Royal at Windsor, and was made Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in London in 1598. He is most widely known as the copyist of My Ladye Nevells Booke (1591), a collection of harpsichord pieces, but he was also a rather gifted and original composer himself, as demonstrated by a range of his pieces in this manuscript.


A unique and interesting feature of this publication is the use of extremely complex rhythms in a number instrumental works, something found almost nowhere else in the Renaissance repertoire. In particular, the works of John Baldwine, Nathaniel Giles and Thomas Woodson really push the boundaries in their use of irregular proportions.


In the end however, it’s not just about the use of complex metric modulation – but rather about beautiful music with skilled instrumental writing, that showcases surprising compositional techniques.


The choice of these compositions from the Baldwine Manuscript is based upon these virtuosic instrumental pieces that make use of a cantus firmus as a ‘ground’ (a musical form where variations on a melody are set above a bass line that repeats), and fantasias. Central to this project is the musical metamorphosis around themes or the cantus firmus during the composition. These developments can take on a number of different forms, showing the broad range of compositional techniques that will be explored during this programme. The choice of repertoire is based upon potential for variation in both sound colour and tempo, as well as the contrasting characters and rhythmic complexities inherent in these works. These pieces have also served as inspiration for the commissioning of new compositions, and for the realisation of our own arrangements.   


In his ‘Upon Ut, Re, Mi, Fa’, Thomas Woodson treats the tetrachord ‘Ut, Re, Mi, Fa’ in the simplest of ways, using it as an un-transposed ground. The power of this composition lies in a strong melody line in the upper and lower voices, making effective use of the continuously rising tetrachord.


Baldwine’s ‘Coockow’ is a fantasia upon a ground of untraceable origin. This duo is an imaginative Bicinium, displaying the many rhythmic subtleties that have come to typify Baldwine’s style. This style was also demonstrated in his work ‘Sermone Blando, Angelus’. Next to the unbelievable rhythmic proportions that can be found in his fantasia, the opening bars even show an early example of bitonality, where cadences in two different keys are almost simultaneously executed in the upper voices.


The extraordinary ‘Lesson of descant of thirtie eighte Proportions of sundrie kindes made by Master Giles, Master of the children at Windsor’ represents a remarkable tour de force in rhythmic counterpoint by Nathaniel Giles, and was published under the title of ‘Miserere’ in the Baldwine Manuscript. Next to Christopher Tye’s ‘Sit Fast’, this work is a true highlight of the Renaissance repertoire thanks to its rhythmic complexity. The cantus firmus or tenor line of the ‘Miserere’ is used a ground, and repeats ten times. It is a melodically unchanged version of the antiphon ‘miserere mihi Domine, een exaudi orationem meam’, that would be sung with Psalm 133 on Dominica ad Completorium.


Our selection from the manuscript also showcases Baldwine’s ‘Browninge’. This fantasia is put together as a canon, and was based upon a short song that would have been well known in the 16th and 17th centuries. The piece makes great use of syncopations, with the original tune continually switching between the parts.


The last work in this programme is a masterpiece that actually does not belong to the Baldwine Manuscript, namely the Fantasia upon One Note by the master of the early English baroque – Henry Purcell (1659-1695). The instrumental music found in the Baldwine Manuscript is largely based upon a cantus firmus or scalic passages that are then used a ground (a very popular practice in the 16th century), as well as the Fantasia formula. In his Fantasia upon One Note, Purcell takes the concept of a composition upon a ground to its limits, by using just one note. This work was originally written for five viols, and lends its name from the tenor voice that plays a drone throughout the piece. Purcell excelled himself in this composition through his use of beautifully long phrases, rich harmonies, and its true originality.  


The title of this project, Sit Fast, is taken from the magnum opus of Christopher Tye (ca. 1505-1572): a rhythmic and harmonic labyrinth found in the Baldwine Manuscript. ‘Sit fast’ doesn’t refer to speed, but rather invites us to ‘sit still’ and listen. Through this innovative formula, Tye invited music lovers to dive into the enormous imagination presented in his works. At the end of ‘Sit Fast’ he wrote:

Singe ye trew & care not:- for I am trew & feare not:- (in modern English” ‘Sing true and care not, for I am true and fear not’). One could not wish for a more fitting motto when performing music!


The new works for the programme will be written by composers from different generations and backgrounds, such as Martijn Padding (NL, 1956), Wim Henderickx (BE, 1962), Giorgio Tedde (IT, 1958), and Tolga Yayalar (Turkije, 1973).



The programme (about 80 min. music in total):


- John Baldwine (1560-1615): Upon Ut, Re, Mi, Fa

- Thomas Woodson (?-1605): Upon Ut, Re, Mi, Fa

- Wim Henderickx (1962): Nieuw werk (2018)


- John Baldwine (1560-1615): Coockow

- Nathaniel Giles (c1558-1634): Salvator Mundi

- Tolga Yayalar (1973): Nieuw werk (2018)


- Nathaniel Giles (c1558-1634): Miserere

- John Baldwine (1560-1615): Sermone Blando, Angelus

- Giorgio Tedde (1958): Nieuw werk (2018)


- John Baldwine (1560-1615): Browninge

- Christopher Tye (c1505-c1572): Sit Fast

- Martijn Padding (1956):  Nieuw werk (2018)


- Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Fantasia upon One Note (1680)