Doing my research for my next Concert Preview for the La Jolla Music Society, (billed as “Two Pianos, Three Composers, and Four Hands“) I happened across what could possibly be the first piece written for “keyboard four hands” – a century before Wolfy and Nannerl were barnstorming their way around Europe. It’s by English composer Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), and it’s called “A Fancy For Two To Play.” Fancy that! I’m trying to imagine two Proper English Ladies in hoop skirts sitting side-by- side at a tiny virginal keyboard trying to play it. No wonder it took another century for the four-hand idea to catch on!
As for the good composer from Worcester, England, the Thomas Tomkins Forum labels him as
“arguably, the culminating musical genius of the English Renaissance. Like Bach, he was primarily a great consolidator, who perpetuated – often in perfect form – the styles of an earlier generation. But that is not all. He is often called a conservative composer, and so he was: the times in which he lived must have made him highly sceptical of change. Yet he was by no means lacking in individuality and – again like Bach – was not incapable of employing some aspects of contemporary style.”
He may have written A Fancy, but Tomkins certainly knew misfortune. At the age of 77 we wrote his most famous piece, the profoundly moving “A Sad Paven For These distracted Tymes.” “Distracted” is an understatement….it came right after the execution of Charles The First in 1649 and the abolishment of the British monarchy. Check out this wonderful performance by the Badke Quartet…