Complete Consorts of William Whyte

Thomas Tomkins, William Whyte

Judson Griffin, violin
Małgorzata Ziemnicka, violin
Lawrence Lipnik, tenor viol
Rosamund Morley, tenor viol
Sarah Cunningham, bass viol
Patricia Ann Neely, bass viol
Carlene Stober, bass viol



The Jacobean (1603-1625) and Caroline (1625-1649) periods are perhaps the most culturally prolific in English music history. The contributions by composers were extraordinarily rich, and provided the church, court and countryside with, among others, voice anthems, consort songs and instrumental consorts or fantasies. Composers, such as William Byrd, Giovanni Coprario, Alfonso Ferrabosco II, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Lupo, Thomas Tomkins, John Ward and William Whyte were principal contributors to all three genres and represented a major musical dynasty in the employ of Charles I (1600-1649).
Very little is known about William Whyte’s background. Although he composed a few anthems, only 14 instrumental consorts for viols (in two, three, five and six parts) are extant and can be found in several late-Jacobean and Caroline sources. We know that he appears in records in 1603 as a “singing man at Westminster” and was paid to participate in Queen Elizabeth’s funeral that same year. Whyte is represented among 225 compositions which appear in the 1616 part books of Thomas Myriell’s Tristitiae remedium. Cantiones selectissimae, diversorum tum authorum, tum argumentorum; labore et manu exaratae. Based on the dating of the sources in which his consorts appear (the latest being Oxford. Christ Church MSS 61-66) it is believed that his most prolific phase may have been around 1620, at the height of the Jacobean period. Whyte is mentioned in Thomas Mace’s Musick’s Monument (1676) among composers of “very Great Eminency, and Worth,” in John Playford’s “Musick’s Recreation” (1652) and in Christopher Simpson’s “A Compendium of Practical Music” (1667).
Although we know little about him, there is no doubt that Whyte was well-respected by his peers. Thomas Tomkins dedicated his madrigal, “Adieu ye city-prisoning towers,” to Whyte in his “Songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 Parts” (1622). The madrigal contains hockets, perhaps as an homage to Whyte as he employs the same device in his Fantasia No.6 in 6 parts or perhaps Tomkins’ dedication may have influenced Whyte to incorporate the technique in his fantasia as an acknowledgement of Tomkins. Although hocket was a well-known vocal device, its appearance in instrumental music was rare. Whyte’s consorts are also characterized by a pervasive use of instrumental writing in pairs, bincina style. As a result, Whyte is considered adept at the art of imitation and creating various textures and moods. At times he creates a vivid musical dialogue in which a variety of emotions are musically brought to life, an important element of consort style summed up by Roger North in his essay, “On Music.”
“My thoughts are first in general that music is a true pantomime or resemblance of Humanity in all its states, actions, passions and affections. And in every musical attempt reasonably designed, Humane Nature is the subject...so that an hearer shall put himself into the same condition, as if the state represented were his own.... So the melody should be   referred to [man’s] thoughts and affections. And an artist is to consider what manner of expression men would use on certain occasions, and let his melody, as near as may be, resemble that.” [Quoted in John Wilson, Roger North on Music (London: Novello, 1959), 110ff.]
Not only are pairings of instruments commonplace in Whyte’s fantasies, quotes from popular melodies or melodies associated with his contemporaries appear as well, perhaps subtle hints as to his working environment and who he may have known. For example, his Fantasia No.4 for 6 viols is a nod to William Byrd in a reference to a melodic motive from one of Byrd’s 6-part fantasies.
With regard to the orchestration of fantasias during this period, that being whether the music was played on an entire consort of viols or a mixture of violins and viols, we know that Prince Henry and Prince Charles were dedicated amateur musicians and employed both violinists and viol players in a royal household known for its string consort music activities. Coprario, Ferrabosco II, Lupo and Gibbons were among the chief composers who were members of the royal ensemble known as “Coprario’s Musique.” John Woodington and Thomas Lupo were among the violinists employed at court and in fact Thomas Lupo was acknowledged formally as “Composer for the violins.” Although today we favor the use of a chest of viols as a standard bearer of English consorts, we must recognize that a mixed instrumental ensemble was highly probable given the activity in the royal household and the knowledge that some composers specified violin in compositions featuring a treble, bass viol and keyboard part in the latter part of the period.
Without placing too much emphasis on historical orchestration and speculation, it is most important, nevertheless, that the execution of the music reflect the beauty, sentiment, and intention for which it was created.
“With respect to amusement, and relief of an active mind distressed either with too much, or too little employment, nothing under the sun hath that virtue, as a solitary application to music. It is a medicine without any nausea or bitter, and is taken both for pleasure and cure.” [Wilson, 257ff.]
Patricia Ann Neely [April 2023]
WILLIAM WHYTE (1571-1634)
Pavan a 6, No.2

THOMAS TOMKINS (1572-1656)
Galliard a 6, No.92

Fantasia a 6, No.1
Fantasia a 5, No.2
Fantasia a 3, No.14
Fantasia a 6, No.3
Fantasia a 2, No.1
Pavan a 6, No.1
Fantasia a 6, No.5
Fantasia a 5, No.3
Fantasia a 2, No.2
Fantasia a 6, No.2
Fantasia a 6, No.6
Fantasia a 5, No.1 “Diapente”
Fantasia a 6, No.4

Recorded 19-20 December 2017 at St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Staten Island, New York; and 8-9 January 2020 at The DiMenna Center, New York, NY. Produced, engineered, edited and mastered by Dongsok Shin. Additional production and editing by Lawrence Lipnik, Patricia Ann Neely and Małgorzata Ziemnicka.

MSR Classics