Ferrabosco Fantasias - Stylistic Observations

Bruce Bellingham


Now that the bulk of English fantasias have been published in complete editions (Musica Britannica, Fretwork, PRB Productions, Faber Music, etc.), perhaps a next stage in developing a greater understanding of Viol Consort repertoire can be provided by thorough and clear analyses of the core works by the leading composers.

The four-part fantasias of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Younger (c.1575-1628) stand both at the climax of Renaissance polyphony and at the turning point to Baroque tonal planning. They are models of structural design as well as outstanding vehicles for performing Viol Consorts - and have been recognised as such since their origins in the court of James I and his son Henry, Prince of Wales. Their appearance in so many manuscripts, usually in virtually complete series of 22 or 23 pieces, attests to their 17th-century popularity and the present-day admiration of their musical substance.

Over the years that I have studied and played these works, I have made the observation to many other Viol players that the music falls well under the hand, that they are rewarding to players as well as to listeners - somewhat the way that Haydn quartets satisfy more recent players and audiences.

The following materials were developed in various stages:

  • First, analyses of all the four-part fantasias of Ferrabosco II were carried out in preparation for the complete Musica Britannica vol. 62 edition published by Stainer & Bell in 1992 as score and associated String Parts (H350).
  • Further revisions occurred when musical sight examples were added in preparation for a CD recording of the complete set of fantasias by the New England Chapter of the VdGSA as a celebration of its 25th anniversary in 2002. (Thanks to all the players who agreed to have their music borrowed in excerpts)
  • Finally, in preparation for this project of making all the analyses available on a website, short excerpts were selected from the CD recording in order that each of the musical sight examples would have an audible sample. Each sample is accessible by clicking directly on the desired audio format.

Thanks to Peter and Linda Payzant for their sage advice and technical expertise in designing and creating these web pages.