This landmark set gathers all seven volumes of Pieter-Jan Belder’s exhaustive exploration of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book in recordings spanning the current decade.
The precious, historic tome, copied and compiled by Francis Tregian from music, written by 25 named composers and anonymous authors or intabulated by them from popular contemporary and earlier vocal works, for the early keyboard instruments of the harpsichord family (in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, any stringed keyboard instrument could be described as a virginals, the term applying equally to the smaller virginals, a harpsichord or possibly even a clavichord or spinet) provides us not only with compelling music of great mastery but also with a fascinating insight into the socio-cultural atmosphere of its time.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 by Henry VIII followed by Mary Tudor’s blood-soaked crackdown, it was clear that being a Protestant in Tudor England was risky business. Once Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1558, she established a moderate form of Protestantism and halted the campaign of religious persecution. But the damage was already done, and many composers decided to steer clear of religion altogether and focus their efforts on secular music. The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is a vital record of such works. Compiled in the late 1700s, the book today resides in a dedicated museum in Cambridge.
Pieter-Jan Belder is a musicologist as well as a polished performer, and his in-depth study of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book has meant his approach is always informed by rigorously evaluated performance practice. In their entirety, the seven volumes of this cycle bring this fascinating book to life offering the varied soundscape of early English keyboard music to be discovered and enjoyed.
The first complete recording of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book on 15 CDs!
This remarkable collection of works for the virginal, or small harpsichord, is found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is the largest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean keyboard music, all handwritten and totalling nearly 300 compositions, all of which predate the first keyboard music published in England by about 50 years.
The identity of the copyist of these works is uncertain, although a fascinating riddle. The manuscript is a role call of the leading composers of the era – John Bull, Giles Farnaby, William Byrd, Peter Philips, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tomkins and a number of unknown composers all feature. Research seems to point to one Francis Tregian from Cornwall, who may have copied the music whilst in Fleet prison from 1608 until his death in 1619. Tregian’s remarkable work – which extends to four volumes and 2000 pieces – ensured the survival of music by many of the most important composers of this era.
Pieter-Jan Belder, one of the world’s most respected and prolific harpsichordists, received rave reviews for his previous issues in this series: “..a captivating portrait..full of rhythmic drive..he displays a keen sense of rhythm…broad and brilliant gestures…one of the most important recording projects of this decade..”(Musicweb-International).
Belder’s discography includes works by Scarlatti (complete sonatas!), Soler, Rameau, Corelli, Bach, Purcell and many others. Currently he is completing the complete harpsichord works by J.S. Bach.