9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Compositional Choices in Purcell’s ‘Three Parts upon a Ground’

Peter Holman

Historical musicologists are proverbially reluctant to write about the music they are interested in. Partly this is because they are usually preoccupied with the task evaluating source material, making editions, and establishing a credible historical and social context for particular repertories. But there is also a feeling that the analytical tools developed for Classical and Romantic sonatas and symphonies lose their validity when applied to music from before 1700. We need to develop ways of looking at seventeenth-century music that do not impose anachronistic structural or harmonic concepts on it, and take full account of the sort of information about sources, historical contexts and performance practice that historical musicology traditionally provides.

This paper will suggest ways in which this can be done through a close examination of Purcell’s ‘Three Parts upon a Ground’ for three violins or recorders and bass Z731. A reexamination of the source material leads to a consideration of the significance of the work’s scoring, and its place in a court tradition of music for three violins. I will also discuss the significance of the contrapuntal techniques used in the light of the English ground bass tradition, and will explore the possibility that the piece’s unique mixture of learned counterpoint, virtuosic division writing and dance idioms in the ‘step tripla’ was a response to Charles II’s ‘utter detestation’ of fantasias.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita