[AN OLDE FOCUS RELEASE] LeStrange Viols’ modern premier recording of the chamber music of William Cranford on the Olde Focus Recordings division is the first major single-composer release by an American viol consort in more than two decades. Little is known about the life of composer William Cranford (fl. 1630s) beyond his remarkable surviving chamber music for viol consort, a Renaissance string ensemble that attracted the best English composers from William Byrd to Henry Purcell. Cranford’s music—by turns sonorous, expressive, quirky, and forward looking—represents some of finest surviving writing for the ensemble.
|01||Fantasia a6 no. 6|
Fantasia a6 no. 6
|02||Fantasia a6 no. 2|
Fantasia a6 no. 2
|03||Fantasia a6 no. 4|
Fantasia a6 no. 4
|04||Quadran Pavan a6|
Quadran Pavan a6
|05||Fantasia a6 no. 3|
Fantasia a6 no. 3
|06||Fantasia a6 no. 1|
Fantasia a6 no. 1
|07||Fantasia a6 no. 5|
Fantasia a6 no. 5
|08||Passamezzo Pavan a6|
Passamezzo Pavan a6
|09||Fantasia a4 no. 3|
Fantasia a4 no. 3
|10||Fantasia a4 no. 1|
Fantasia a4 no. 1
|11||Fantasia a4 no. 2|
Fantasia a4 no. 2
|12||Fantasia a4 no. 4|
Fantasia a4 no. 4
|13||Fantasia a5 no. 2|
Fantasia a5 no. 2
|14||Go From My Window a5|
Go From My Window a5
|15||Fantasia a5 no. 1|
Fantasia a5 no. 1
|16||In Nomine a5|
In Nomine a5
Few specific facts about the life of William Cranford are currently known. The inclusion of his psalm tune “Ely” in Ravencroft’s psalter of 1621 and a possible reference to him in a list of royalist supporters (“delinquents”) from 1643 suggest that Cranford’s compositional career spanned the twenty-odd years coinciding with consort music’s final efflorescence under the Stuart kings James I and his son, Charles I. Though a handful of Cranford’s psalm tunes and catches made their way into print, the bulk of his surviving music was collected in several manuscripts associated with an enthusiastic and prolific community of musicians centered around St. Paul’s in London. It was among these composers and consort players, who included John Ward, Simon Ives, Thomas Ford, Thomas Brewer, Thomas Myriell, and others, that Cranford’s consort music was likely initially played and enjoyed.
Like English coterie poetry of the period, Stuart consort music served as a nexus of creative sociality and circulated almost exclusively in manuscript. For example, the Lestrange partbooks (GB BL Add. MSS 39550-4), one source of Cranford’s five- and six-part pieces, contain extensive contemporaneous annotations. These annotations reveal the careful side-by-side comparison of numerous manuscript copies that evidently circulated among Nicholas Lestrange and his circle of consort enthusiast friends. As one might expect of a composer deeply embedded in a community of connoisseurs, Cranford’s music is rich in quotation and allusion to the works of other composers of the idiom. Listeners familiar with the music of John Ward, Martin Peerson, William Lawes, and William Byrd, to name a few, will recognize various citations and playful adaptations. One prominent example is Cranford’s quotation of Lawes’ six-part sett in F major—the “sunrise” fantasia—in the opening point of his first six-part fantasia.Read More
Perhaps because Cranford’s musical style is so idiomatic to a particularly insular vein of Stuart consort music, it has not yet found the popularity among modern listeners enjoyed by the brash and flamboyant William Lawes or the incredibly prolific and cultivated John Jenkins. Gordon Dodd’s characterization of Cranford’s music as “pointilliste” and “mechanical” has managed to cast a shadow, perhaps, across Cranford’s evident enjoyment of unique textures and droll sequences of close imitation. Cranford’s fantasias reveal an astonishing breadth of internal contrasts and subtle use of an often strikingly modern-sounding harmonic palette, such as his conspicuous use of modal mixture in the opening of the fourth fantasia a4. His consort music is also quite technically demanding, requiring frequent forays above the frets in the treble parts and the nimble execution of tricky divisions in the close quarters of dense ensemble textures.
Unlike Dodd, the seventeenth-century consort enthusiast Dudley North wrote of being quite “taken with what hath proceeded from Mr. Cranford.” We hope you hear in these pieces some of Cranford’s evident love for this esoteric but highly expressive idiom, a bit of the “gravity, majesty, honey-dew spirit, and variety” that North remembered of Cranford’s music.
- Loren Ludwig
Produced by Loren Ludwig and LeStrange Viols.
Recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio in Yonkers, NY.
Tina Chancey, session producer.
Additional editing by Hansdale Hsu.
Special thanks to Catharina Caldwell, Axel Pollak and John Mark Rozendaal for the use of their beautiful instruments and to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Inwood.
CD images by Francis Barlow from Æsop’s fables with his life (1666)
Tray image: John Blagrave The Mathematical Jewel (1585)
Design: Marc Wolf
LeStrange Viols was formed in 2014 to record the modern premiere of William Cranford’s consort music, a CD that made The New Yorker’s list of notable recordings of 2015 and was hailed as “one of the most strikingly original and exciting early-music debut albums in years” by Early Music America. Since then LeStrange has continued to distinguish itself through its original programming and distinctive, acclaimed performances of music for viol consort. The ensemble is named for British Library Additional Manuscripts 39550-4, an important collection of consort music assembled by the 17th-century English nobleman Nicholas Lestrange.
Writing of the 17th century British composer William Cranford's work for string ensemble, Dudley North, his contemporary, observed it possessed: "gravity, majesty, honey-dew spirit and variety." One may ask how such music was lost -- a story of provincial culture and aristocratic friendship -- Cranford wrote for his closest musical friends, artists all, who collectively played within the circle of St. Paul's. (One is reminded of Elizabethan court poets writing behind palace walls, collecting verse in A Mirror for Magistrates.) The difference: Cranford's music for strings is prescient and wholly original.
Now, for the first time, a recording of his Consort Music for 4, 5, and 6 Viols has been released by LeStrange Viols and the complex, lyric inventions of Cranford can be heard at last.
The CD's press release points both to the intricacies of Cranford's music and the vitality and experimentation of string composition in the age of Milton:
Little is known about the life of composer William Cranford (fl. 1630s) beyond his remarkable surviving chamber music for viol consort, a Renaissance string ensemble that attracted the best English composers from William Byrd to Henry Purcell. Cranford's music--by turns sonorous, expressive, quirky, and forward looking--represents some of the finest surviving writing for the ensemble. LeStrange Viols presents the modern premier recording of nearly all of Cranford's surviving works for consort, including the complete fantasias for 4, 5, and 6 viols, the substantial and virtuosic 6-part pavans ("Passamezzo" and "Quadran"), and Cranford's distinctive 5-part setting of the In nomine and playful variations on the well-known tune "Go from my window."
Playful variations, yes, but something more comes across in the recording--a polyphonic conversance among viols, as if Cranford hoped to gather spirits in a wilding call and response. Each player conveys lyric urgency and amusement, so much so, the result seems contemporary--there's an evolving unexpectedness from the instruments. Strange indeed.
At times one feels as if both the elder Beethoven and a youthful Shostakovich had somehow flown backwards into Cranford's circle and one wonders if this neglected figure was a Baroque composer at all.
This is the hook: LeStrange Viols has recovered and recorded an exquisite and odd music, "odd" not in the way of the "oddly shaped pearl" --that old apophthegm for Baroque ornamentation--but work so timeless and original its recovery reminds us how progressive the imagination can be. Additionally one is reminded of the creative ferment surrounding early string ensembles, a time when evolving instruments and intimate exchange made it possible to step out of time.
- Stephen Kuusisto, Huffington Post, 10.20.15
There is only one Cranford logged in the Fanfare archive, and he’s buried in a review of bawdy Elizabethan songs on Dorian DOR 90155, reviewed by Tom Moore in 16:5. Unfortunately, Moore never tells us his first name. We do learn from the program note to the current album that this Cranford’s first name is William. But Cranford is not an uncommon English name, so I can’t tell you if this Cranford and the one who set lewd lyrics on the bawdy songs album are one and the same, but there’s a good chance they are. It may seem incongruous that Cranford, whose nine catches are preserved in Hilton’s and Playford’s publications, was a lay vicar at St. Paul’s Cathedral during the reign of Charles I, and who, in service to the Church and the King, also composed Anglican hymns, anthems, and sacred works in polyphonic style, but he was and he did. According to an entry on HOASM’s (Here of a Sunday Morning’s) website, “More than 20 [of Cranford’s] compositions for viol are known, many perhaps dating from the period of suppression of choral services.” Cranford’s birth date is unknown, but he’s believed to have been born towards the end of the 16th century and to have flourished between 1613 and 1621. It’s fairly certain that he died in 1645. I’m assuming that the pieces for viol heard on this release are among those mentioned by HOASM. In a recent review of William Lawes’s Royal Consort Setts (see 39:2), I neglected to mention that I first fell in love with early 17th-century English viol consort music back in college, when the instructor in our early music class played a recording for us, which turned out to be a Telefunken Alte Werk LP, evenly divided between viol consort works by William Lawes and William Byrd, performed by the Leonhardt Consort, with Gustav Leonhardt conducting and playing organ, virginal, and viol. That very afternoon, after classes, I went to the record store and bought it.Cranford is of approximately the same period in early Stuart England that fostered not only Lawes and Cranford, but John Ward (1590–1638), Thomas Ford (1580–1648), Thomas Brewer (1611–c. 1660), and a number of others centered around St. Paul’s in London. All of these men were noted in their time as accomplished viol players who contributed to the viol consort literature. They also added to the repertoire of songs, ballads, and catches—naughty and nice, lovelorn and lewd—as well as to the body of Anglican Church music. On the current album, the players named in the above header, collectively performing under the banner of LeStrange, give us 16 of Cranford’s pieces—mainly Fantasias, but a couple of Pavans, a song setting (Goe from my Window), and an In Nomine—variously scored for four, five, and six viols. The ensemble is an American group which takes its name from the 17th- century English nobleman, Nicholas Lestrange, who gathered together important an collection of viol consort manuscripts. If you’re familiar with the viol music of William Lawes or others of the period, I don’t have to tell you what to expect. If you’re not familiar with the genre, prepare yourself to be transported to a time and place that was probably nowhere near as pure, peaceful, and pristine as these pieces suggest. This is music of sublime beauty, and it’s sublimely performed by these six wonderful players. Very strongly recommended.
-- Jerry Dubins, Fanfare
We don’t know much about the English composer William Cranford, though contemporaneous documents suggest that he flourished just around the time that consort music was falling out of fashion. His exercises in the genre are mostly preserved in a set of manuscripts collected and preserved at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His writing style is rather intellectual and allusive, and some listeners may not find it as immediately accessible as that of his contemporaries, but the LeStrange Viols ensemble make a strong case for its value and I find both the compositions and the performances very enjoyable. Recommended to all early music collections. - Rick Anderson, 1.4.2016