Since “Parthenia” (1612/13), ‘the first musicke that ever was printed for the virginalls’, as its own title-page declares, a devotee had ready access to high-quality English harpsichord music. A steady stream of publications followed as the century progressed. At first the trend was to issue books containing music by various composers. Later, volumes dedicated to single composers appeared of which the earliest were the Choice Collection[s] by Purcell (1696) and Blow (1698). Aside from miscellaneous pieces, often arrangements of ‘ayres’ and ‘theatre tunes’, the Suite was the principal form, with its standard sequence of alman, coranto and saraband, often introduced by a prelude.
David’s aim with this CD was to offer a personal anthology of English harpsichord music, perhaps imagining himself as a contemporary of William Croft reviewing the previous one hundred and fifty years. He took a cue from Croft’s older colleague John Blow who created his own anthology of favourite pieces (though in his case the preferred composers were contemporary German-speaking harpsichordists). The point in time is not entirely arbitrary. It was the last moment, more or less, when a cherished manner of tuning keyboard instruments prevailed, quite different from that of today or indeed later in the eighteenth century, but established long before the time of William Byrd. Pollock recorded all the pieces on a harpsichord tuned in quarter comma meantone. The pure major thirds recreate a richness of sound that many early-eighteenth century English musicians were reluctant to abandon. Such a contemporary would certainly have been familiar with the great trio of Restoration composers; Blow, Purcell and Croft. But he may also have possessed in his library a copy of “Parthenia” which continued to be reprinted well into the mid-seventeenth century and extracts from which are found in manuscripts even fifty years after that. And through this portal he would have discovered one of the greatest English composers, William Byrd, who almost single-handedly created an idiomatic keyboard style of immense sophistication.