The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book


Music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, transcribed for mixed consort.


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"an inspired concept…outstanding in every respect"

BBC Music Magazine 

Charivari Agréable

Susanne Heinrich – Viols
Lynda Sayce – Flute & Lute
Kah-Ming Ng – Keyboards


Rupert Jennings – Tenor
Oliver Webber – Violin
Susanna Pell – Bass Viols
Reiko Ichise – Bass Viols
Jacob Heringman – Cittern & Lute

Release date:1st Sep 1999
Order code:SIGCD009
Barcode: 635212000922

Viola da Gamba Society of America News – March 2001

If you are adverse to early music groups playing arrangements, perhaps you should read no further, but then on the other hand, perhaps you really should! Charivari Agréable’s forte is playing arrangements?very carefully researched arrangements, and certainly following historical practice in which it was popular for a composer to make a setting of another composer’s piece, long before the days of copyright lawyers! The group is one of the UK’s most outstanding ensembles and it has an international reputation for fresh and yet scholarly approach to early chamber music. The ensemble consists of flutes, various pluckies and keyboards, violin and viols?the latter played by Susanne Heinrich, Susanna Pell and Reiko Ichise.

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book album uses the whole ensemble and presents such favorites as Byrd’s Walsisngham and Rowland, Morley’s O Mistress Mine,Inglott’s The leaves bee Greene and Peerson’s The Fall of the Leafe. The arrangements are copyrighted by various members of the group.

Particularly arresting on this CD was Bull’s Ut re mi fa sol la because of its chromaticism. The piece is based on the hexachord and daringly modulates through all 12 keys. Since Fitzwilliam is for keyboard, it suggests that some form of equal temperament or a keyboard with split keys must have been used. But there is no sound evidence of either equal temperament or split keys in England during Bull’s time, so it has been surmised that the piece may have been conceived for viols (like the hexachord fantasias by his contemporary Alfonso Ferrabosco II) and later adapted to keyboard.

Particularly enchanting on this CD were the violin divisions in Farnaby’s Daphne. Also special were the gutsy King’s Hunt (Bull) and Gipseis Round (Byrd). These two were done with full ensemble, and it’s fun to follow the keyboard score and see what clever things were done texture-wise in the scoring. Byrd’s Rowland divisions make a wonderful duet for two bass viols and are admirably played by Susanne H. and Susanna P. There is also a handful of non-English pieces of which Sweelinck’s Praeludium Toccata is an outstanding duet on this recording, as performed ravishingly by Susanne Heinrich and Lynda Sayce [theorbo]

Martha Bishop

American Record Guide, May 2000

These are transcriptions. Since I love the keyboard idiom in the Fitzwilliam, it was at first hard for me to imagine a translation to a new medium. But after hearing those incredibly difficult passages in Byrd’s ‘Walsingham’ whip by at a speed unthinkable on the harpsichord (with the possible exception of Pierre Hantai), I was convinced. The noble and gentle viol seems to be a remarkably adaptable instrument.

Kah-Ming Ng, of Charivari Agreable (a group formed at Oxford University in 1993), did all the transcriptions, and he certainly picked some beauties. The two seven-course lutes playing Farnaby’s ‘Loth to depart’ are pure magic, for example. And I’ll even argue that some of the pieces work better in consort arrangements anyway: the counterpoint in Bull’s masterly fantasia ‘Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la’ makes a powerful impact on viols. A special treat is the sudden appearance of a human voice in the pieces that refer to sung texts – Morley’s ‘O Mistress Myne’ (as arranged by Byrd), Farnaby’s ‘Daphne,’ and Caccini’s ‘Amarilli’ (arranged by Peter Philips). Rupert Jennings’s supple, unobtrusive tenor fits the homogenous blend of the broken consort perfectly.

Rob Haskins

Lute Society Newsletter – April 2000 

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book contains much fine keyboard music, and this excellent CD offers seventy minutes of imaginative transcriptions for mixed consort. A wide and varied cross-section of the manuscript is presented, ranging from music for one and two lutes, and duets for two bass viols, to larger-scale consorts including violin, viols, and flute. There are even three reconstructions, with voice, of songs set in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book for keyboard.

Skilful musical transcription and breathtaking virtuosity are key features of this disc. Among the solo items, I particularly enjoyed the two-lute rendition of Farnaby’s ‘Loth to depart’, which sounds as though it was intended for these instruments, and Sweelinck’s ‘Praeludium Toccata’, executed with great panache on bass viol and organ. Slightly less successful, perhaps, are the solo-lute arrangement of Gibbons’s ‘Lord of Salisbury’ Pavan (which has a few odd accidentals, such as a suppressed cadential alto d’# in the third strain) and the choice of organ for Peerson’s ‘Fall of the leafe’ (an almain-like piece surely much better suited to the harpsichord).

The biggest obstacle to arranging for consort from keyboard is the need to allow for the more idiomatic keyboard decoration and filling, and a smooth transition has been achieved in most of the consort’s arrangements. Byrd’s ‘Walsingham’ variations is the most, and Bull’s ‘The King’s Hunt’ arguably the least, successful in this regard. A few pieces have an air of the ceilidh about them, and nowhere more than in Byrd’s ‘Gipseis Round’ which brings the disc to an exhilarating conclusion. Among the remaining consorts, Bull’s masterly ‘Ut re mi’ scores up naturally in four ‘real’ parts, though despite the beautiful sound I wonder whether a homogenous viol consort (with treble viol rather than violin) would have suited better its seamless polyphony. And I also wonder whether Byrd’s ‘Pavana’ and ‘Galiarda’, which are played on violin, tenor and two bass viols, and lute, might have benefited from a fifth string part. (Controversy continues to rage over the question whether or not any of Byrd’s keyboard dances beside the so-called ‘First Pavan’ began life as five-part viol consorts: but, given a consort of strings and lute, five parts would seem to be the most likely requirement.)

In three cases (Farnaby’s ‘Daphne’, Morley arr.Byrd ‘O Mystress Myne’ and Philips’s ‘Amarilli di Julio Romano’) a solo voice is added to the group’s consort reconstructions. The results are undeniably beautiful, though the solo voice sometimes seems a little overwhelmed by the busy consort textures. That said, all deserve an airing: and ‘Daphne’ is, for me at least, one of the loveliest songs of the period.

But the arrangement of consort music from keyboard sources can be a thankless task with a tendency to generate more heat than light from critical commentator and, in such a context, these are minor quibbles. Charivari has risen to the challenge outlined in the liner notes, of ‘adapting and arranging, [and] responding to resonances of consort provenance in some pieces, and innovating ? in others’, and has met it with great success. This is a thoroughly enjoyable release, sensitively played and spaciously recorded, and is guaranted to be a source of pleasure to lovers of English music of the period.

Ian Payne

Viola da Gamba Society (Switzerland) – December 1999

For their latest recording, charivari agréable, who have drawn the public’s attention to themselves with several recent recordings, have chosen 18 pieces from the rich and main source of keyboard music around 1600, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, which contains almost 250 pieces. There is a certain temptation to re-arrange these keyboard works for the many varied forms of ensemble in English consort music, due to the fact that most pieces in the FWVB are already adaptations for the keyboard or free arrangements of vocal or instrumental pieces. Indeed, this CD presents a colourful and varied spectrum of re-arranged ensemble pieces. Only Peerson’s Fall of the Leafe has been kept in the original version, here masterfully played by Kah-Ming Ng on the organ. 

The arrangements vary from intimate lute duets and consort songs (sung by Rupert Jennings in a slightly amateurish manner, albeit completely agreeable) to various whole and broken consort transcriptions. It is especially in the larger ensemble pieces that the musicians exhibit their undoubtedly first-class virtuosic skills.

This is not the place to discuss the difficult subject of vocal and instrumental re-arrangements. However, the question arises as to why a group, which is able to make music in such a homogenous and refined discriminating manner and create such a beatiful sound, does not turn its attention towards the rich and varied original English repertory, but creates its own historicising arrangements.

Bernhard R. Appel

BBC Music Magazine – December 1999

Once, this collection of early 17th-century pieces was fair game for the piano; then, in the name of “authenticity”, only virginals would do. Now, in the true spirit of their age, 18 numbers appear transcribed for a wonderfully colourful mixed consort. The process is justified by know contemporary practice – dances, for instance, were freely transferred between media. Many of the pieces were themselves arrangements. Ballad tunes generated sets of spectacular variations. But if you still doubt the principle, the sound will convince you: this is an inspired concept, played with the exuberance and commitment which presupposes technical mastery of the highest order. Recording quality is superb, alive to the scrape of bows on strings, the snap of fingering, yet never oppressively close.

The ensemble’s variety is endless: tenor viol plays a recurring melody at three registers, bathed in organ polyphony; tenor Rupert Jennings sings original song texts above the new instrumental variations (requiring the recomposition of missing bars); Bull’s cerebral fantasia on 17 transpositions of a scale takes on new life as viols clarify the counterpoint – especially effective with violin ingeniously matched with treble viol – while his King’s Hunt is positively orchestrated with dramatic silence and extended flute trills. Outstanding in every respect.

George Pratt

Jerusalem Post – November 1999

Even more captivating is The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a variety of 16th-century music performed in a virtuoso way by the Charivari Agréable ensemble, whose members manage to ignite our musical imagination with their brilliant performances of these British selections, some by William Byrd, others by anonymous or lesser-known composers.

Michael Ajzenstadt

Gramophone Early Music – Autumn 1999

What a wonderfully varied resource the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is! The romantic notion of it being copied by Francis Tregian while incarcerated in the Fleet prison may now be disputed, but he certainly had access to music of the highest quality, since most of the great Jacobean keyboard composers are included: Byrd, Bull, Farnaby, Gibbons and Philips. However, not a single track here is played on the virginals, since the music has been given the charivari agréable treatment and been arranged for a variety of instrumental ensembles typical of the time. These range from solo lute to a colourful broken consort of flute, violin, viols, cittern and harpsichord. This is often effective, since much of the music in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book depends for its success on the creativity brought by performers to its sometimes formulaic decorations, such as Byrd’s Walsingham variations.

Sometimes Charivari gild the lily, with superfluous viols doubling the repeated melody in Inglott’s setting of The leaves be greene, and it is often the simpler re-workings that are most telling. The solo lute version of Gibbons’s majestic The Lord of Salisbury his Pavan has a stylish poise and clarity of part-playing that would be hard to equal on the less flexible virginals, while the plangent tone and brisk attack of lyra viols provide a highly convincing approach to Byrd’s Rowland. The problem of arranging solo music, especially when it depends on apparently spontaneous embellishments, is that it ideally requires greater flexibility of tempo and phrasing than an ensemble can sometimes achieve, and some tracks here do feel over-regimented and hurried.

Three tracks are vocal in origin, and while it is good to hear how the songs were transformed into instrumental variations by the Fitzwilliam composers, I can’t help feeling that Rupert Jennings’s singing is unduly restricted by the irrepressible twiddling which surrounds him. This is particularly true of Caccini’s Amarilli mia bella, designed to be sung freely to a simple chordal accompaniment. Here, in Philips’s setting, the vocal line sounds as if it’s lost in a jungle of instrumental foliage. But there is much to enjoy on this CD, not least the sense of competitive fun and games the players bring to the more rumbustious numbers, such as Byrd’s rollicking Gipseis Round.

John Bryan

EMFS News – September 1999

I should begin by saying that I have reservations about “transcribing” for full consort music composed for a solo instrument. The process, of which little is said in the CD booklet, involves taking music written in one idiom (in this case the highly idiomatic keyboard style of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) and developing the polyphonic lines, which can often only be hinted at in the original, into independent parts – in fact speculatively adding to the original. I can talk of this process with some authority as my own ensemble Coronach frequently perform my own consort arrangements of Scottish lute music. However, in the Scottish context the situation is slightly different on two counts: for historical reasons there is a sad dearth of Scottish consort music from the period, and the lute sources are themselves transcriptions of popular and bardic material. These mitigating circumstances hardly apply in the Elizabethan context, where consort music abounds, and the Fitzwilliam Book is perhaps most remarkable as a record of precisely how familiar composers adapted their style to the idiom of keyboard music. Having said all that, I was more impressed with this present performance than by charivari agréable’s previous CD on Signum. The music is beautifully played throughout, and while much of the division writing crises out for keyboard the players negotiate it on a variety of alternatives with great virtuosity?. This is a disc to be enjoyed, but with scholarly health warnings attached.

  1. William Byrd – Walsingham – – [5:52]
  2. Giles Farnaby – Loth to depart – – [3:43]
  3. Thomas Morley (arr. William Byrd) – O Mystress Myne – – [4:16]
  4. Giles Farnaby – Lord Zouches Maske – – [2:27]
  5. John Bull – Ut re mi fa sol la – – [5:33]
  6. William Byrd – Pavana – – [4:04]
  7. William Byrd – Galiarda – – [1:22]
  8. Giles Farnaby – Daphne – – [5:16]
  9. Giles Farnaby – Up [T]ails All – – [5:17]
  10. William Inglott – The Leaves bee greene – – [3:35]
  11. Martin Peerson – The Fall of the Leafe – – [1:11]
  12. John Bull – The King’s Hunt – – [3:50]
  13. Orlando Gibbons – The Lord of Salisbury his Pavan – – [6:13]
  14. William Byrd – Rowland – – [2:18]
  15. Anonymous – Alman – – [1:44]
  16. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck – Praeludium Toccata – – [5:50]
  17. Peter Philips – Amarilli di Julio Romano – – [3:26]
  18. William Byrd – Gipseis Round – – [3:25]