Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Rebecca Herissone (Lancaster University, UK)

‘To fill, forbear, or adorne’: the realisation of organ parts in Restoration sacred music

Anthems and service settings from the Restoration period are regularly performed in choral institutions in the UK and beyond, yet there has been no systematic investigation of continuo realisation styles appropriate to this repertory. Such neglect perhaps derives from the fact that contemporary English treatises are thoroughly uninformative about realisation styles. Fortunately, the surviving notated music—in the form of organbooks copied expressly for performance purposes—is surprisingly revealing. Whereas previous scholars have interpreted the books as little more than short- or skeleton scores, in this paper I demonstrate that they are much more subtle sources of information to the accompanist. A careful consideration of their relationship with the full scores reveals several important features: inner-part doublings are included selectively to incorporate specific musical features—principally imitation—suggesting that the continuo did not serve a solely harmonic function; figuring is largely interchangeable with parts doubled on the score and sometimes reproduces entire melodic lines; doubled parts are often adapted and simplified, suggesting that such information is not purely referential; and there is a surprising amount of independent material in both parts and figures, which, to the player, is indistinguishable from part doublings. This evidence suggests that right- and left-hand parts in organbooks should be considered more as prescriptive than descriptive notation—to be played rather than just viewed. Such an approach differs significantly from that adopted by most modern editors, and throws into question much of the accepted continuo practice in modern performance of Restoration sacred music.

Last updated on 10 May 2004