chapter  2
52 Pages

‘Choice consorts … (rare chests of viols)’: The evidence of the repertory

In 1658 Lord Dudley North (1581-1666) wrote to Henry Loosemore (c.1607-70), organist of King’s College, Cambridge, to thank him for having participated in a consort performance at North’s home in Kirtling. In a postscript he gave a rare insight into how one keen viol player of the early modern period responded to the consort music he loved: ‘There is a kind of brisk, lusty, yet mellifluent vein, that flows as in In nomine; and I have found it in a double C fa ut piece of Mr Wards 4. Parts … that stirs the bloud, and raises our spirits, with liveliness and activity.’2 Such a record is invaluable, since despite the wealth of music from Tudor and Stuart England appropriate for performance on viols, we are still some way from conceiving what it actually sounded like in performance. Surviving instruments tend to post-date the music and are frequently compromised by later alterations and the lack of original fittings (see Chapter 3). However, the repertory played on viols may yield significant insights into some of the instruments’ characteristics.