The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is the most important source of Elizabethan and early Jacobean keyboard literature to have come down to us. Its 297 pieces represent the most influential composers of the age, and such names as William Byrd, John Bull, Peter Philips and Giles Farnaby stand alongside slightly lesser-known figures such as Giovanni Picchi and Jehan Oystermayre. It is the only source of many of the pieces it contains and stands as a testament to the remarkable variety of English music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Dated c. 1614-1617, the manuscript was copied by the catholic recusant, Francis Tregian, reputedly during his incarceration in Londons notorious Fleet Prison, where he was held for the non-payment of debt. Yet it would be nearly 300 years before the first edition was made available to the public, which was undertaken in 1899 by William Barclay Squire and John Alexander Fuller Maitland. Although pieces from the FVB have appeared in various anthologies including the renowned Musica Britannica series, no new version (apart from a slight revision of Barclay Squire and Fuller Maitlands books) has been published. Representing over 18 months of work by its editors, Francis Knights and Jon Baxendale, this new edition corrects the 10,000 errors found in the manuscript.
The new edition is presented in three volumes with a substantial preface heading the first. It examines:
The background to the period in which the known FVB composers lived.
A detailed discussion of the manuscript and its notation.
Notes on genre and instrumentation.
Information on performance style (ornamentation, fingering, black notation and time signatures).
An overview of instruments available to musicians of the period.
In comparison with the 1899 edition, the editors have returned the notation to a near facsimile of the manuscript. Their philosophy is that this allows the player a more intimate connexion to the music. This means that:
The original beaming and appearance of chords have been reinstated.
Original time signatures have been restored.
The black notation associated with compound time pieces has been retained.
All other features of the manuscript such as accidentals and their placing appear as they did originally.
For those unfamiliar with music ficta, the editors have made suggestions to help decide which notes should be chromatically altered.