A Postcard from Rome?

By Maxim, Christopher | Musical Times, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

A Postcard from Rome?


Maxim, Christopher, Musical Times


Hugh Facy's Ave Maris Stella

CHRISTOPHER MAXIM discusses a little-known keyboard piece by an enigmatic seventeenth-century composer

This article is based on material found in Christopher Maxim: `British cantus firmus settings for keyboard from the early sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century', two vols, PhD dissertation (University of Wales, Cardiff, 1996).

UGH FACY is an intriguing and somewhat enigmatic character. What little is known of his life points to his having 'flourished' around 1620. He lived in Exeter, a city where his surname was common. Susi Jeans speculated that he was perhaps the son of one Anthony Facy (1558-1621),1 and it is known that Hugh was a chorister and secondary at Exeter Cathedral, where he received tuition from Edward Gibbons (brother of Orlando) and Greenwood Randall.2 Facy must also have known John Lugge (1580-1647 or after), organist of Exeter Cathedral from 1603 and lay vicar choral from 1605 until 1647.3 Lugge is remembered today as a composer of some remarkable cantus firmus settings for keybord4 and he may, therefore, have exerted an influence on, or been influenced by, Facy.5 An entry in the Exeter Cathedral Chapter Act Book for 1 March 1618 records the decision to allow Facy to play the organ for services 'sometimes'. One can but wonder whether Lugge had anything to do with this decision and, in view of it, it seems impossible that Facy and Lugge were not acquainted. Further entries in the Exeter Act Book shed a little more light on Facy's career. On 6 November 1619, the Chapter granted him leave from his duties in the Quire for the following year without loss of stipend. On 4 November 1620, the leave was extended for a further year. However, this is the last mention of Hugh Facy in the cathedral records. What then, became of him? Did Facy die in late 1620 or 1621, or did he 'flourish' in pastures new?

Susi Jeans suggested that it is possible that Facy went abroad, since he was sometimes known by an Italianate form of his name, Facio.7 This, and the existence of settings of Latin texts among his tiny surviving outputs may suggest Roman Catholic sympathies (which, as Jeans pointed out in her New Grove article, were not unknown in Exeter at this time); or even that Facy composed music on the Continent, some of it finding its way back to his native country. It is interesting, and possibly significant to our understanding of Facy and his career, that his colleague, Lugge, had Catholic connections. In 1617 John Lugge's brother, Peter, sent him a letter from Lisbon that was intercepted and led to John's being brought before Bishop Cotton on suspicion of being a Roman Catholic. While the composer escaped punishment, the Bishop commented: 'I fear, and by conference do suspect that he hath eaten a little bit, or mumbled a piece of this forbidden fruit, yet I verily believe that he hath spit it all out again'.9

However, this was not the last time that Lugge came under scrutiny for Catholic tendencies. Four years later his house was searched, but nothing incriminating was found. 10 One wonders whether this was because the Lugges had been tipped off: theirs was certainly a household of which the authorities had reason to be suspicious. The chronicler Anthony a Wood tells us that Lugge's youngest son, Robert, who was also an organist, subsequently `went beyond the seas and changed his religion for that of Rome'.11 Did he change his religion, or was he a Catholic already? More to the point: did he follow the example of Hugh Facy? Did he even go to the Continent to join Facy?

While remembering that there is no definite proof either that Facy went abroad or that he was a Catholic, one of the pieces that supports these suggestions is his Latin setting of the Magnificat.12 Had this work been intended for use in Anglican services, the text would normally have been in English and coupled with a setting of the Nunc Dimittis (as is the case in Facy's own English 'Short' service `for meanes'). …

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