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   Chapter 9 MATTHEW LOCKE

Twelve Good Musicians By Frederick Bridge Characters: 13789

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

1630 (?)-1677

A prominent personage in the seventeenth-century musical world was Matthew Locke. The exact date of his birth is not known, but it was approximately 1630. Matthew Locke laid the foundation of his art as a chorister in an English Cathedral, and at Exeter there is evidence that he occupied that position in 1638. The evidence cannot be disputed, as it is graven in the very fabric of the old Cathedral. The embryo musician took the trouble, upon two occasions, to inscribe his name upon the walls of the Cathedral, together with the dates. Upon the inner side of the old organ screen runs the legend "Matthew Lock, 1638," and in a more abbreviated form at a later date "M. L., 1641." As a boy he seems to have been content with a name of four letters Lock; in his later years he always attached a final "e" to his patronymic. At Exeter he had the advantage of being trained by Edward Gibbons, brother of the great Orlando, and, in addition to Gibbons' share in his training, he owed much to William Wake, Organist, for whom he wrote one of his first published works.

The period following Locke's later inscription-1641-was one not calculated to encourage or foster the art of music; the country was in a state of civil war, the soldiers of Cromwell wrought sad havoc in the Cathedrals, and the musical portions of those establishments came in for no small share of their destroying wrath.

At Westminster Abbey we are told "the soldiers brake down the organs for pots of ale," and the Cathedral at which Locke served his pupilage fared very badly at the hands of the Roundheads.

It is natural, then, that during the stormy times which marked that period we have little intelligence concerning the doings of Locke. We have the dates of some of his compositions, one as early as 1651. The chief interest, however, which attaches to his work between 1650 and 1660 is that it is so much connected with the stage, and in that way marks the progress towards the Opera, of the English form of which Locke is sometimes credited with being the originator. As instances of this kind of work we might, perhaps, draw attention to his association with Christopher Gibbons in Shirley's Masque Cupid and Death (1653), and the music he wrote in 1656 for Davenant's Siege of Rhodes, in the production of which he himself shared-playing the part of the Admiral. Henry Lawes wrote some of the music of this Opera, and Purcell's father was one of the actors.

The next item of importance that we have concerning him is in the Diary of Samuel Pepys; there, under date February 21st, 1659/60, we read:

"After dinner I back to Westminster Hall. Here met with Mr. Lock and Pursell, Master of Musique, and with them to the Coffee House, into a room next the Water by ourselves. Here we had a variety of brave Italian and Spanish Songs, and a Canon of eight voices which Mr. Locke had lately made on these words 'Domine Salvum fac Regem,' an admirable thing."

This is a very interesting entry. It shows Locke associated with Purcell's father; it gives another instance of Mr Pepys never missing the opportunity of cultivating the friendship of good musicians, and, apart from the musical side, as an historical matter of interest the words of the Canon Domine Salvum fac Regem show the feeling of loyalty towards the Crown which ended in the Restoration; words which ten years before it would have been a heresy to utter. It may be pointed out that the entry February, 1659, by the old way of reckoning, was really February, 1660, and therefore the year of the Restoration. In the Ceremonies connected with that great event Locke played an important part; it was to his music for Sagbutts and Cornets that the Royal Progress was made, from the Tower to Whitehall, the day before the Coronation 1661. As a reward he was made "Composer in ordinary to His Majesty," and "One of the Gentlemen of His Majesty's Private Musick."

For the next year or two he appears to have been engaged in composition, both for Church and stage; amongst the former may be mentioned some Anthems, whilst his music for Stapylton's Stepmother presents another instance of his association with dramatic music. This dramatic side of his nature may have been the cause of Roger North's complaint that "he sacrificed the 'old Style' for the modes of his time" and of "his theatrical way."

The year 1666, the year of the Fire of London, is rather an important one in the consideration of Locke's life. It introduces us to him in another character, and that of a literary type. As will be seen later, he was a scathing and bitter critic of his detractors, and first gave evidence of this quality in the year now under notice. The cause of this outpouring of his wrath was the treatment a Kyrie of his composition had received at the hands of the Chapel Royal choir. It would appear that he had set the Kyrie in an original way, giving different music to each response; such an innovation did not meet with the approval of the Choir, and they seem to have given it rather a rough time. The result was that Locke published it, and supplied a Preface entitled "Modern Church Music; Pre-Accused, Censured, and obstructed in its performance before His Majesty, 1st of April, 1666. Vindicated by its Author, Matthew Locke." Some of his observations are very severe and abusive. I give a small portion of the somewhat long and windy preface.

"He is a slender observer of human actions who finds not pride generally accompanied with ignorance and malice, in what habit soever it wears. In my case zeal was its vizor and innovation the crime. The fact, changing the custom of the Church by varying that which was ever sung in one tune, and occasioning confusion in the Service by its ill performance. That such defects should take their rise from the difficulty or novelty of the composition I utterly deny, the whole being a kind of counterpoint, and no one change from the beginning to the end but what naturally flows from, and returns to the proper centre, the key".

With regard to the Vindication, however convincing it might be, I believe the Kyrie was not performed again at the Royal Chapel.

Pepys refers to the incident in his Diary of September 2nd, 1667, in which he says: "Spent all the afternoon, Pelling, Howe and I and my boy, singing of Locke's response to the ten commandments, which he hath set very finely, and was a good while since sung before the King, and spoiled in the performance which occasioned the printing them, and are excellent good." Mr Pepys evidently sympathized with the lacerated feelings of the injured author.

I may say that some little time ago I edited these Kyries and the Creed, and they have been sung in the Abbey and in various Cathedrals. The Kyries are, many of them, very tuneful, and the whole setting of Kyrie and Creed does Locke great credit.

I have not s

pace to dwell longer upon his Church music, of which we have some excellent specimens in the way of Anthems.

Somewhat later he was appointed Organist of the Chapel at Somerset House; this Chapel was part of the establishment of Queen Catherine, the Queen of Charles II, who throughout her life remained a Roman Catholic. It would appear from Roger North that Locke was not altogether a success in this position. He says: "Locke was organist of Somerset House Chapel as long as he lived, but the Italian Masters that served there did not approve of his manner of play; but must be attended by more polite hands, and one while, one Signor Baptista Sabancino, and afterwards Signor Baptista Draghi used the Great Organ, and Locke (who must not be turned out of his place, nor the execution) had a small Chamber Organ by, on which he performed with them the same Services." This seems a somewhat humbling position for such a man-and one wonders what he said about it!

Another sharp controversy he took part in was in answer to Mr Thomas Salmon, M.A., of Trinity College, Oxford, who had written and published An Essay to the Advancement of Music by casting away the perplexity of different cliffs and writing all sorts of music in one universal character.

The desire to simplify musical signs seems to have been an old theme and one that gave rise to a fierce controversy between Matthew Locke and Mr Salmon. It is only fair to say that Mr Salmon was not over judicious in his method of recommending his scheme. He seems to have purposely hit out at music masters (of whom Locke was one of the most eminent), and suggested that their opposition to his ideas sprang from the sordid desire to make as much as they could out of their pupils, by keeping them as long as possible under tuition.

Matthew Locke replied to this in a treatise entitled The Present Practice of Musick vindicated against the exceptions and new way of attaining music lately published by Thomas Salmon, M.A. The controversy was very warm. You shall hear a short address "To the Reader" which will give some idea of the style of discussion Locke adopted.

Though I may without scruple aver that nothing has done Mr. Salmon more kindness than that his books have had the honour to be answered, yet I have been forced to afford him this favour rather to chastise the Reproaches which he hath thrown upon the most eminent Professors of Musick than for anything of learning that I found in him. Those gentlemen he accused of ignorance for not embracing his illiterate absurdities for which it was necessary to bring him to the "Bar of Reason" to do him that justice which his follies merited. Though for the fame he gets by this, I shall not much envy him, with whom it will fare as with common criminals, who are seldom talked of above two or three days after execution.

A little farther on he gets angry and says:

Had I been "purblind," "copper-nosed," "sparrow-mouthed," "goggle-eyed," "hunch-backed" or the like (ornaments which the best of my antagonists are adorned with) what work would there have been with me?

Attention has already been directed to Locke's association with dramatic music, and so it would be well to glance briefly at the claim he possesses to be considered the "Father of English Opera." The work which entitles him to be ranked as the writer of the first English Opera is Shadwell's Psyche; this, with the music to The Tempest, was produced in 1673, with the title of The English Opera. It contained a Preface, setting forth Locke's opinions on real Opera. North calls his works in this branch of Art "semi-Operas," but from the title just quoted it may be inferred that Locke, at any rate, considered them full-grown specimens. It should be added that the Act tunes in Psyche were written by Draghi. The writer on Opera in Grove's Dictionary marks Purcell as the originator of English Opera. "Henry Purcell (he says) transformed the Masque into the Opera, or rather annihilated the one and introduced the other." Perhaps Roger North's term "semi-Opera" is the best expression for Locke's essays in this connection.

With regard to Locke's other dramatic music, reference must be made to the Macbeth music, which has for so many years been associated with his name. For long the matter has been the subject of conjecture as to whether he was really the author of it or not.

The music of Psyche is so good that there is no ground for saying he could not have written the Macbeth music. He was exceedingly dramatic and also melodious. There is a beautiful Dialogue on the death of Lord Sandwich, the great patron of Samuel Pepys, which is to be found in the Pepys Library of Magdalene College, Cambridge. No doubt this was written at the suggestion of Pepys. And there is a remarkable setting of Hamlet's soliloquy, also in MS., in Pepys' book, which I firmly believe is by Locke.

As usual Locke wrote an aggressive Preface to Psyche. It begins:

That Poetry and Musick, the chief manifestives of Harmonical Phancy, should provoke such discordant effects in many is more to be pityed than wondered at: it having become a fashionable art to peck and carp at other men's conceptions, how mean soever their own are. Expecting, therefore, to fall under the lash of some soft-headed or hard-hearted composers (for there are too many better at finding of faults than mending them) I shall endeavour to remove these few blocks which perhaps they may take occasion to stumble at.

He goes on to say the title Opera is of the Italian, and claims that as far as his ability could reach, he had written agreeably to the design of the author, and that the variety of his setting was never in Court or Theatre till now presented to the nation, "though I must confess there has been something done, and more by me than any other of this kind."

Locke evidently considered Psyche as a real Opera and a novelty in this country. The work was dedicated to James, Duke of Monmouth, who (the composer says) "gave this life by your often hearing this practised and encouraged and heartened the almost heartless undertakers and performers."

Amongst his other works was one called Melothesia, or Certain general Rules for playing upon a continued Bass. This is said to be the first book of its kind, and he contributed to many other works. Roger North tells us "Locke set most of the Psalms to music in parts for the use of some vertuoso ladyes in the City, and he composed a magnifick Consort of four parts after the old style which is the last that hath been made."

His life was not long, but it was important, and perhaps the greatest tribute to his memory was that Henry Purcell wrote an ode commemorative of his decease "On the death of his worthy friend Mr Matthew Locke, Music Composer in Ordinary to His Majesty, and Organist of Her Majesty's Chappell, who dyed in August, 1677."

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