Merrie Dances and Ayres (LHS)
“The pieces in this collection are from four different 16th and early 17th century sources. The earliest is a collection of dances arranged for keyboard published by Pierre Attaingnant in 1531. The shortened title of this work is Quatorze Gaillardes (original spelling) and it contains pavanes, branles and basse danses, as well as galliards. The composers are not named but are assumed to be among the clavecin performers and teachers active around the French court. The dance tunes were probably well known at the time. Another collection of dance pieces for harpsichord appeared in Venice in 1551. The publisher of Intabolatura Nova (shortened title) was Antonio Gardane, who also chose not to name his composer/arrangers, but describes them as “excellent and diverse.” Most of the dances in this collection are galliards and passamezzos.
The other two sources for these harp pieces are in manuscript from and are 17th century English collections. The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book was compiled around 1620, but contains pieces dating back to the mid-16th century. It is an enormous collection of pieces for virginal (harpsichord) by various composers, including well known names like William Byrd, John Bull and Giles Farnaby. Composers of this school delighted in inventing variations on short, popular tunes. Many sets of variations are extensive and so intricate that they challenge even the present day harpsichord virtuoso. Ornaments, mostly slashes through the note stems, are abundant and interpreted with great individuality by harpsichordists. Both “Wolseys Wilde” by Byrd and “Meridian Alman” by Farnaby are in this variation form but shorter and less complex. These are two of the few pieces in the English manuscripts that can be translated for the harp without being greatly simplified. A small section of “Meridian Alman” (the last 6 bars) has been modified by replacing 16th note patterns in the left hand with 8th note groups, while still retaining the style and flow of the piece.
“The Nightingale” is a delightful piece that appears in the Elizabeth Rogers Virginal Book, an English manuscript dated 1656. It is one of many “bird” pieces written in the 17th and 18th centuries for the harpsichord. Ornaments and rhythmic figures imitate various bird calls. This piece has a clean crisp style on the harpsichord; for the harp, simple written-out ornaments and a few staccato notes help to bring out the imitative patterns.” J. Borgwardt
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