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Exploring Music: The Baroque Concerto in England, featuring Boyce and Woodcock

The MHS Review 380 Vol. 11, NO. 2 • 1987

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David M. Greene


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A recent history of 19th-century English music rather peevishly notes that, in terms quanity not of quality, England was devoutly musical in that era. And certain­ly English performers, with their attention to the likes of Arne and Boyce and Avison and Hebden and the Wesleys, have been doing their damdest to convince us that the previous century in their country was more respectably musical.

I am reasonably sue that the anonymous concerto grosso has been recorded before. It was long ascribed to Handel, chiefly because the younger John Walsh published it in place of the right F major Concerto in his initial edition of Handel's op.3. Apparently notified by Handel of the error Walsh corrected it. Obviously he did not know the real authorship of the work since he reprinted it in a collection of allegedly Italian concerti without affixing any composer's name to it. One agrees that it does not sound particularly Handelian.

William Boyce ( 1711-1779) was born and died a year later than Arne, who was his chief rival. Boyce was an important figure who served as organist of the Chapel Royal, was appointed to the laureate post of Master of The King's Music, and edited and published the great antiquarian collec­tion Cathedral Music. He was also a fine composer. The four concerti grossi were undiscovered until fairly recently, but since then the three complete ones have had several recordings.

At least some of Robert Woodcock's 12 concerti came to records in the early days of LPs. There was a Vox record by the once-ubiquitous Telemann Society, and I think I recall an earlier Westminster, though I can't find support for that memory, my Schwanns going back only until 1959. What we have here are the eighth and the last of the set of 12 publish­ed in the late 1720s by the firm of Walsh. A corrupt version of the last, again at­tributed to Handel, exists, but we are assured that the one on the record is authentic. I remember that when Wood­cock first turned up on records virtually nothing was known about him. That situa­tion seems not to have changed. He had a violin-playing brother who kept a cof­feehouse, was himself a flutist, and by 1734 was being called "late."

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