Magazine article Musical Times

An Anonymous Tocata: Figure This

Magazine article Musical Times

An Anonymous Tocata: Figure This

Article excerpt

JONATHAN BAXENDALE questions the provenance of an intriguing example of 17th-century keyboard music

MUCH CONTROVERSY surrounds an anonymous A major toccata that was published by Barclay Squire in his Purcell Society edition of 1895.1 Consilting of several sections that alternate free writing with fugues, it follows a format common to many late Italianate baroque toccatas. Its figuration, design and style are comparable to similar works by North German composers of the late seventeenth century, as exemplified by such figures as Nicolaus Bruhns, Georg Bohm and Dietrich Buxtehude. However, several of its surviving sources contain puzzling attributions, none of which appears correct.

There are five existing sources: four are contained in the British Library in London, and one appears in a tutorial anthology known as Anne Dawson's Book in Manchester's Henry Watson Music Library.2 Two tell us that its composer was Henry Purcell (Add MS 31446 and 34695) and another seems to imply that it was Michaelangelo Rossi (Add 24313). Only Anne Dawson's Book and the incomplete Add 39569 carry no ascription.3 To confuse the picture further is a source that once belonged to the German musician Christian Friedrich Knuth (1793-1849), which, although now lost, was published in 1894 as a possible work by JS Bach,4 and so is our only source for this version.

Discovering when the sources were copied is problematic since only three can be dated with any accuracy: Add 31446 contains a printed notice on the inside of its front cover stating that earlier bindings bore the name George Holmes and that it was copied in London in 1698, this having been removed by a later bookbinder. From this was copied Add 34695 sometime before 1710.5 Of the remaining British Library sources, only Add 39569 is dated, with 1702 stamped clearly on both covers.6 Something about the script of Add 24313 suggests it is the earliest source: despite the use of upright format, a feature that has much in common with eighteenth-- century sources, both the notation and script are decidedly old-fashioned. In a previous binding, Anne Dawson's Book contained the date 1716; given its contents this seems quite reasonable since they reflect a vogue for Italian opera and concerti grossi, popular during the early part of the eighteenth century.8 The provenance of the Knuth manuscript is unknown, but it is reported to have contained several Bach toccatas. Thus its earliest date would be the second decade of the eighteenth century.9

Relationships between the English sources are relatively easy to clarify. Since all contain obvious errors, none is autograph. The versions in Anne Dawson's Book and Knuth are remarkably different to the others. Although possibly explained by their later provenance, the Dawson anthology is clearly a keyboard tutor in which many works, including this toccata, have undergone considerable simplification to make them easier; therefore, there is a possibility that it is a copy of one of the other sources. Knuth, on the other hand, contains considerable variants: many accidentals and note values are dissimilar and the section that falls between bars 11 and 29 is displaced by two beats. Allied to this is its Continental provenance, so we can be certain that its base source was very different from the others. Add 39569 is incomplete; finishing after bar 29, it is followed by a 'suitte' compiled from music by various English composers. Add 34695 is evidently a copy of Add 31446; both contain the Purcell ascription, and Holmes's copy contains a series of mistakes that are amplified in the other. For example, there is an instance in the first fugue where Holmes, to clarify voice leading, has separated two notes of a crotchet chord, thus giving the visual impression of a bar containing five beats. The scribe of Add 34695 evidently misinterpreted this and, in an attempt to correct what he saw as an error, rewrote them as quavers; thus, we can remove it from the picture. …

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