The bright and sonorous combination of three violins and bass was popular in Italy and much of northern Europe from the early seventeenth century. It was apparently introduced to England by the German violinist Thomas Baltzar, who arrived in London from Lübeck in 1655. The present volume brings together eighteen complete pieces (and one fragment) apparently written in England between about 1660 and 1690. It also provides the context for Henry Purcell’s contributions to the genre, the Pavan in G minor (Z. 752) and ‘Three Parts upon a Ground’ (Z. 731).
The earlier English three-violin pieces were apparently written for (or were performed by) a group at the Restoration court. Baltzar’s court appointment in 1661 brought the number of violinists in the group to three, making it possible for it to perform his extended Suite in C major, and apparently inspiring his friend John Jenkins to compose ten fantasia suites for three violins, bass viol and continuo. Jenkins became a court musician for the first time in 1660 aged nearly 70, and the set contains some of his most mature and refined music. Purcell’s two pieces, composed nearly twenty years later, may also have been written for court musicians, and ‘Three Parts upon a Ground’, with its intricate contrapuntal devices, certainly inspired Bartholomew Isaack’s Ground. Nicola Matteis’s ground, written around 1685, belongs to a rather different tradition, related to the virtuosic and dissonant divisions on popular tunes and their associated chord sequences in John Playford’s Division Violin (1684) and Matteis’s own Ayrs for the Violin (1676 and 1685).
The volume ends with sonatas by the Moravian bass viol player Gottfried Finger, who came to London in the 1680s, working initially in James II’s Catholic chapel. After 1688 he became a freelance musician, publishing music for amateurs, organising public concerts and writing for the theatre. He left England in 1701 after coming last in the competition to set Congreve’s masque The Judgment of Paris. Some of Finger’s three-violin sonatas were apparently written for the Catholic chapel, though the extended and virtuosic one in B flat (RI 204) may be a product of the concerts he ran at York Buildings in the 1690s. Finger was the most prolific and influential composer of sonatas during the Restoration period, and his sonatas popularised some of the idioms of his native central Europe in England.