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John Bull - The In Nomines In Particular


Nick Bennett
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Do any of you play these amazing pieces? Which do you think is the best?

 

My first encounter with them was at a King's recital circa 1975. I can't remember who gave it, and I have no idea which one it was, but it has stuck in my memory for 30 years, to the extent that I have recently forked out the exorbitant price of Musica Britannica volume XIV. I have been learning number IV with a fair degree of success. I've also been giving number IX a try, but it's absolutely extraordinary. It has a time signature (4/4 + 4/4 + 3/4 leading to 6/4 + 6/4 + 9/8) that wouldn't look out of place in Book 6 of Mikrokosmos. I'm having great difficulty with the section in triple time not so much playing the notes but finding any music in them!

 

I heard one of them referred to as "The Great". Does anyone know which one this is?

 

What about the Fantasias? Which of these is most worth getting to grips with?

 

One final question - did they have bigger hands or smaller keys in the late 16th century? Some of the stretches are almost impossible!

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Thank you for reminding me of these; it's years since I last looked at them.

 

The trouble I have with Bull's keyboard music is that it requires a lot of work to get the virtuosity off pat (though he's not as difficult as Farnby) and if I'm going to spend that much time in learing something that difficult I reckon my time will be better invested in something more modern. But I'm incurably lazy about things like that.

 

I've just sight-read them through and I agree that they are nearly all good. Can't say I thought much of no.5 - too much note-spinning. Similarly, I'm not sure there is much music in no. 9! This one has always struck me as rather contrived. It's basically in 11/4 throughout, with the beats from bar 139 onwards divided into triplets, though this is not immediately obvious from the editor's notation.

 

Incidentally, Bull was not the first to experiment with irregular time. The dona nobis pacem of Richard Alwood's mass "Praise him praiseworthy", written probably in the 1550s, is in quintuple time, as is an isolated three-part Osanna (presumably from a lost mass) ascribed to Taverner, but probably not by him.

 

The two I enjoyed most were no.1 and no.12. The latter is in some respects formulaic (e.g. the offbeat left hand at the start was a standard 16th-century descanting technique; it was described by Morley), but I like the way it gradually winds itslef up; it's by no means without panache.

 

Of course the useful thing about programming something by Bull into a recital is that it gives you an excuse to scandalise your audience with the lurid details of his private life.

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A couple of thoughts.

 

My copy of MB XIV, which I purchased back in the late 60s, attributes several of the hymn verses towards the back of the volume to "[Tallis?]" Does the current printing still retain these ascriptions? I really cannot see these as being by Tallis, though they probably are by one of his contemporaries. Not by Bull at any rate. If we really must indulge in speculation about the authorship, surely the most likely suspect would be John Blitheman?

 

One piece of Bull that I do like very much is the first Salve regina. The trouble performance-wise is that this seems to be an alternatim setting. Does anyone happen to know a readily obtainable source for a contemporary Dutch version of the chant?

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A couple of thoughts.

 

My copy of MB XIV, which I purchased back in the late 60s, attributes several of the hymn verses towards the back of the volume to "[Tallis?]" Does the current printing still retain these ascriptions? I really cannot see these as being by Tallis, though they probably are by one of his contemporaries. Not by Bull at any rate. If we really must indulge in speculation about the authorship, surely the most likely suspect would be John Blitheman?

I've the 3rd edition (2001) ed Alan Brown (Only available in hardback at an eye-watering £75). He has removed the ascriptions to Tallis. His preface refers to the discussion in Oliver Neighbour's 'Consort & Keyboard Music of Byrd' p105n 'The harmonic style suggests a somewhat younger man'. PM me if you would like copies of the relevant bits of either/both. I'm dubious about settings like Jam lucis (45) - it just looks too much like Redford to me. Walker Cunningham, in his thesis on Bull's keyboard music, is doubtful: 'If Bull did write these pieces, ..he was under influence of Tallis's soberer style .. and, to a certain extent, Blitheman......It is easier to imagine Bull taking copies of older liturgical settings with him to the Continent....than to to see why he would have chosen to compose for an extinct rite and in so uncharacteristic a style.' (p180)

One piece of Bull that I do like very much is the first Salve regina. The trouble performance-wise is that this seems to be an alternatim setting. Does anyone happen to know a readily obtainable source for a contemporary Dutch version of the chant?

There a complete version of Salve Regina on p 160 of 3rd edition taken from Processionale, ritibus Romanae.... (Antwerp 1602) again PM for a copy

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I heard one of them referred to as "The Great". Does anyone know which one this is?

As (IX) is by far the longest, the most complex, and with the most ingenious substructure (Crudely 4:2:1) I'd guess that it earnt the nickname. There's more analysis in Cunningham if it is of interest.

What about the Fantasias? Which of these is most worth getting to grips with?

I particularly like the two Chromatic Fantasias (XIV:4 and 5)

One final question - did they have bigger hands or smaller keys in the late 16th century? Some of the stretches are almost impossible!

I think the octave was a little narrower Certainly old french keyboards are.

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Thank you for reminding me of these; it's years since I last looked at them.

 

The trouble I have with Bull's keyboard music is that it requires a lot of work to get the virtuosity off pat (though he's not as difficult as Farnby) and if I'm going to spend that much time in learing something that difficult I reckon my time will be better invested in something more modern. But I'm incurably lazy about things like that.

 

I've just sight-read them through and I agree that they are nearly all good. Can't say I thought much of no.5 - too much note-spinning. Similarly, I'm not sure there is much music in no. 9! This one has always struck me as rather contrived. It's basically in 11/4 throughout, with the beats from bar 139 onwards divided into triplets, though this is not immediately obvious from the editor's notation.

 

Incidentally, Bull was not the first to experiment with irregular time. The dona nobis pacem of Richard Alwood's mass "Praise him praiseworthy", written probably in the 1550s, is in quintuple time, as is an isolated three-part Osanna (presumably from a lost mass) ascribed to Taverner, but probably not by him.

 

The two I enjoyed most were no.1 and no.12. The latter is in some respects formulaic (e.g. the offbeat left hand at the start was a standard 16th-century descanting technique; it was described by Morley), but I like the way it gradually winds itslef up; it's by no means without panache.

 

Of course the useful thing about programming something by Bull into a recital is that it gives you an excuse to scandalise your audience with the lurid details of his private life.

 

=====================

 

 

I must confess that in spite of my harpsichord tutor's efforts, I never really did get to grips with Bull at all.

 

If there was one thing which struck me about a great deal of this music, and that of Bull's contemporaries, immediate predecessors and those who followed the "Antwerp School" in Flanders, it is the influence of secular dance-music. Those "running dances" would probably work perfectly well in all sorts of rhythms: irregular or otherwise, and I just wonder (for no particular reason) if those mentioned by "Vox" and "Nick Bennett" are displays of riotous "running" for the sake of it, rather than any attempt at regular melody or steady dance rhythm?

 

You've only got to look at some of the titles of the works in the Fitwilliam Virginal Book, to realise that music was a source of great courtly amusement, with titles (the pieces written by numerous composers) such as

"Put up thy Dagger, Jemy," "Nobody's Gigge," "The Ghost" and "Worster Braules."

 

As for the scandals, it is easy to see why Bull was one of the "founding fathers" of the "Virginal school."

 

He was forced out of his position at Gresham College after making some lady "great with child," and even though he filed for a marriage licence after losing his job, he wasn't allowed back there.

 

In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury said of him, "The man hath more music than honesty and is as famous for marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals."

 

Rather appropriately, he was also charged with "breaking and entering."

 

In any event, Bull was Welsh in origin, and born in Old Radnor; the real John Bull being the horse-loving, beer-drinking, roast-beef eating, overweight duffer we associate with the British character.

 

There is no connection with "A bull in a china shop," though I believe that there is a connection between even that and the organ. I rceall reading an article in the newspapers, where a Bull ran amok on the way to the slaughterhouse, and rampaged through an antiques fair; scattering precious onjects and doing quite a bit of damage. The unfortunate animal was eventually trapped between two "antique organs" before it was finally shot-dead.

 

And talking of shooting, I have heard it suggested that John Bull (the musician) took his own life, by dramatically shooting himself through the head with a flintlock pistol; thus leading to the suggestion that, "He lived by canon, but died by ball."

 

He was certainly a character!

 

:)

 

MM

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You've only got to look at some of the titles of the works in the Fitwilliam Virginal Book, to realise that music was a source of great courtly amusement, with titles (the pieces written by numerous composers) such as "Put up thy Dagger, Jemy," "Nobody's Gigge," "The Ghost" and "Worster Braules."
Not exclusively courtly though.

 

As for the scandals, it is easy to see why Bull was one of the "founding fathers" of the "Virginal school."

 

He was forced out of his position at Gresham College after making some lady "great with child," and even though he filed for a marriage licence after losing his job, he wasn't allowed back there.

That was because the Gresham lectureship could only be held by an unmarried person.

 

In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury said of him, "The man hath more music than honesty and is as famous for marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals."
The really lurid bit is what precedes this remark in the letter in question. You really don't want to know. Well actually a lot of you probably do...

 

Rather appropriately, he was also charged with "breaking and entering."
I would take this with a very large pinch of salt. So-called "forcible entries" were often completely fictitious events trumped up as an excuse to allow a dispute to be brought to court. See John Harley's book on William Byrd, where a similar event is discussed in relation to one of Byrd's many court cases.

 

In any event, Bull was Welsh in origin, and born in Old Radnor;
Well, not absolutely certainly, though the evidence does very much point that way.

 

And talking of shooting, I have heard it suggested that John Bull (the musician) took his own life, by dramatically shooting himself through the head with a flintlock pistol; thus leading to the suggestion that, "He lived by canon, but died by ball."
I'm sure there's not a scrap of evidence for this.

 

HOASM is generally very sound on early English composers, though the page on Bull gets a black mark for calling Blitheman "William". There never was a William Blitheman.

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