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Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) was born to a family of church musicians in St Davids, Wales. His father was organist of the cathedral there, and while very little is known of the early life and musical training of the younger Tomkins, it seems certain that he was a chorister at St Davids. The family moved to Gloucester
in 1594 where the elder Tomkins was appointed minor canon and later precentor of the cathedral. The younger Tomkins may at some time have been a pupil of William Byrd. By 1620 he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and was for the greater part of his career organist of Worcester Cathedral. As his dates indicate, he suffered under the suppression of cathedral music during the Commonwealth,
though he remained nominally
the cathedral organist and resided in the cathedral close for the rest of
Dreyfus observes in his notes on the consort music that Tomkins wrote for viol
ensemble over the whole course
of his long career. The pieces included here “sample some of his most
striking compositions for three to six viols” that “stamp the composer’s
personal imprint on the consort style”. Three of the pieces are fantasias,
and the rest are in dance forms: pavan, alman, and galliard. The intense
chromatic writing of the six-part Fantasia 17 may remind listeners of
Gesualdo. The six-part Pavan & Galliard 18 is notable for a restless
oscillation between major and minor. Daniel Hyde completes the program with
three of Tomkins’s organ pieces.
here can hardly be faulted on
technical grounds. Sometimes the solo voices in the verse anthems are hard
to hear against the background of the viols, but the ear adjusts.
(Harmonia Mundi 907320; Sept/Oct 2003). The anthems are the same as on the present recording, but with a flavor of domestic chamber music. The contrast is quite striking.