CULTURE: MUSIC. FROM THE ORIGINS TO THE “ENGLISH VIRGINALISTS”
The first precise information on musical activities in Great Britain dates back to the 10th century. VII, when the practice of Gregorian chant was introduced to the island. The musical evolution since then took place parallel to that which took place in the major countries of the European continent, providing for the treatment of polyphonic forms of French origin (organum, clausula, motetus) alongside original British works such as gymel and fauxbourdon . According to Constructmaterials, the earliest known example of a canon comes from an English manuscript. In the sec. XII-XIII there was a notable polyphonic flowering, crowned in the middle of the Renaissance by the work of J. Dunstable (ca. 1380-1453) who worked mainly abroad and was studied and assimilated by the Franco-Flemish G. Dufay (ca. 1400-74) and G. Binchois (ca. 1400-60). Worthy followers were L. Power (d.1445), R. Fayrfax (1464-1521), author of sacred music (on Latin text) and also of agile profane pieces (on English or French text), and J. Taverner (ca. 1495-1545). Ch. Tye (ca. 1500-73), T. Tallis (ca. 1505-85) and R. White (ca. 1530-74) is responsible for the identification of the musical forms that have become characteristic of the English Reformed liturgy (anthem, serviceetc.). With the advent of Queen Elizabeth I it also began in the musical field a period of great splendor and originality. Music was encouraged at court by the queen herself, who favored contacts above all with contemporary Italian schools, on whose solutions the great flowering of the English madrigal was largely based: first the ayre (similar to the Italian song and lie) then the catch and glee . Famous composers in the sacred genre were W. Byrd (1543-1623) and O. Gibbons (1583-1625), while in the profane they excelled Th. Morley (1557-1602), J. Wilbye (1574-1638) and T. Weelkes (ca. 1575-1623). The fact that in England all the parts of a vocal composition were replaceable with instruments also left ample room for research in the purely instrumental field. Typical of that season were the consort of viols perfected by Gibbons and the lute songs by J. Dowland (1562-1626) and Ph. Rosseter (d. 1623). All the composers mentioned also actively dedicated themselves to keyboard music, forming a circle that passed through the history of music with the name of “English virginalists” (from virginal, the instrument they used and most widespread of the time). The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book collectionand numerous others, compiled in those times and including a large number of pieces for virginal in the most varied forms (variations, fantasies, transcriptions of vocal pieces, etc.) are the effective testimony of an absolute originality in keyboard writing, destined to influence widely contemporary and subsequent production in Northern Europe. Particular mention in the field of virginal music deserve J. Bull (ca. 1562-1628), G. Farnaby (ca. 1560-ca. 1620) and the aforementioned W. Byrd.
CULTURE: MUSIC. THE EUROPEAN INFLUENCE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
During the subsequent reign of the Stuarts and Cromwell, English music declined considerably, leading to the disappearance of the polyphonic tradition and the dispersion of the original values expressed in the instrumental sphere. Towards the middle of the seventeenth century the masque began to spread, the first form of English opera soon conditioned, however, by the then prevailing Italian operatic style. Musicians were active at that time such as H. Lawes (1596-1662), M. Locke (ca. 1632-77) and, above all, J. Blow (1649-1708), whose work Venus and Adonis marked the beginning of a brief but dazzling musical rebirth, dominated at the end of the seventeenth century by the great figure of H. Purcell (1659-95), who made a very happy synthesis between Italian instrumental style, French melodrama and English tradition and created with Dido and Aeneas (1689) the masterpiece of his art and of all English opera. However, Purcell’s experience did not follow, also due to the arrival in Great Britain of composers (GF Händel and J. Chr. Bach), singers and foreign instrumentalists, who imposed, however without apparent difficulty, the new tastes developed in Europe.. The local musicians had only to resume other people’s schemes, often without much originality, except for some ballad operas such as the famous The Beggar’s Opera by J. Gay set to music by J. Ch. Pepusch (1667-1752). Throughout the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century the only authors worthy of mention are W. Boyce (1710-79), Th. A. Arne (1710-78), S. Wesley (1766-1837), J. Field (1782-1837) and WS Bennett (1816-75).
CULTURE: MUSIC. THE DEVELOPMENT OF VOCAL MUSIC AND THE AVANT-GARDE
Only in the second half of the nineteenth century, promoted by the culturally committed organizational activity of A. Manns and Ch. Hallé and also following a precise approach common to other European countries, was an English national school formed, which had major protagonists, in subsequent times, A. Sullivan (1842-1900), A. Mackenzie (1847-1935), E. Elgar (1857-1934), F. Delius (1862-1934), G. Th. Holst (1874-1934), WT Walton (1902 -83) and MK Tippett (1905-98) and was characterized by the prevalence of symphonic and symphonic-choral production, often faithful to German formal and stylistic models and more precisely Brahmsian. The large number of prestigious choral festivals (Three Choirs Festival) organized in various cities since the early nineteenth century also contributed to the development of vocal music. Inserting himself on this substratum, sensitive also to popular song and careful observer of European lexical innovations, R. Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) placed himself as the greatest and most original British composer of the early twentieth century. Worthy continuer of this national tradition but also aware of the innovations that emerged in more recent times was B. Britten (1913-76), firmly placed among the eminent personalities of modern European music. The avant-garde is represented by P. Maxwell Davies (b.1934) and H. Birtwistle (b.1934). From the point of view of institutions and musical structures, concerts and theatrical activities have always been very lively in Great Britain: just remember the famous Covent Garden Theater in London (active since 1732), the Promenade Concerts (since 1840) and the music festivals of Glyndebourne (from 1934) and Edinburgh (from 1947).