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The Royall Consorts

The Royall Consorts, William Lawes' best known works in his own lifetime, are performed by Les Voix Humaines.

William Lawes (1602-1645)

Photo: Materialscientist (Wikipedia)

An anonymous portrait of William Lawes, (1602-1645), that lives in Oxford.

Many people who have opinions about this sort of thing think that the course of English music might have been different had Will Lawes lived longer.  Alas, he died in the English Civil War, killed, as it was said, “by those whose Wills were Lawes.”

Lawes was a part of the musical circle surrounding King Charles I, who himself played the bass viol.  He (Lawes) composed a good deal of music involving viols, including the ten suites, which he called “setts,” of the Royall Consort.  They exist in two versions, an earlier one for two trebles, tenor and bass viol, and a later one for two trebles and two basses.  Both versions have two continuo parts that were commonly played on instruments such as theorbos, which is after all one of the instruments that Lawes played, or later, harpsichords.

In 2012 ATMA Classique released a 2-CD set of all the Royall Consorts performed in its later version by the Canadian ensemble Les Voix Humaines.  The ensemble consisting of pairs of violins, viols and theorbos brings its special sound and interpretation to this very beautiful and unusual music, as we hear in this excerpt from the Ecco movement of the Sixth Sette in D Major.

William Lawes: Royall Consorts
Les Voix Humaines — William Lawes: The Royall Consorts (Atma Classique, 2012)
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album cover

William Lawes: Royall Consorts
Les Voix Humaines — William Lawes: The Royall Consorts (Atma Classique, 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Wendy Gillespie

Wendy Gillespie is Professor of Music, teaching early bowed strings and performance studies, at the Early Music Institute of the Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington, IN and President of the VdGSA. As a viola da gamba player, she has made more than 80 CDs and performed on five continents.

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  • Kittybriton KB

    English music might have been different. But Purcell accomplished more in his shorter life, so perhaps Lawes would not have made that great a difference had he lived longer. And I can’t help wondering how he might have fared under the commonwealth?

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