Term adopted by modern writers (there was no exact contemporary equivalent) to distinguish a 17th-century English genre. It originated with the 24 fantasia-suites of Coprario (MB, xlvi, 1980), distinctive features of which are the scoring for one or two violins and bass viol ‘to the organ’, and the three-movement plan of fantasia, almaine and galliard (ending generally in a common-time ‘close’). Apparently composed in about 1622–5 for a consort formed within the household of Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles I) known as ‘Coprario’s Musique’, these are among the earliest English chamber works scored specifically for violin, which is treated in a lively and eloquent manner. For suites with one violin, Coprario furnished written-out organ parts; for those with two, a score or keyboard reduction of the string parts was used, with independent strands for organ indicated where essential to the texture. Fantasias open in verse-anthem manner with organ alone; subsequently the keyboard provides a background to the strings’ dialogue, but may also (particularly in those with one violin) supply solo linking passages, introduce a new point, or join in imitation. The abstract dances, of irregular phrase structure, are sometimes called simply ‘aire’ in the sources. The ‘close’ may be part of the galliard’s final strain, but more often follows it (as became standard practice). Thematic connection between movements is not a feature. Movements are normally (as North remarked) ‘all consistent in the same key’, though examples occur of almaines in the relative minor or galliards in the tonic major.
Coprario’s fantasia–almaine–galliard model was taken up and developed by William Lawes, John Jenkins, John Hingeston and Christopher Gibbons. Lawes’s 16 suites (MB, lx, 1991), whose composition seems to have shortly preceded his appointment in 1635 to Charles I’s private music, contain some of his boldest writing, while Jenkins’s 27 (e.g. WE, i, 1950, pp.57–77), dating perhaps from about 1635–45, show a characteristic sense of melodic and contrapuntal breadth. Violins were specified by Lawes and Hingeston, though not in the manuscripts of Jenkins’s suites, which were perhaps made for country houses where the viol still reigned. Lawes, in his fully-textured organ parts, doubled the violin less than Jenkins; both exploited the bass viol’s division technique more than Coprario. Hingeston’s fantasia-suites probably formed part of the repertory of Cromwell’s private music during the Commonwealth (the violinist Davis Mell was one of its members). They include one in which a harpsichord with ‘pedal’ stops is specified as an alternative to the chamber organ, and two in which cornetts and sackbut replace violins and bass viol. Gibbons may have taken up this genre when organist to Sir John Danvers in the 1650s. Although he did not depart significantly from the traditional three-movement form he brought to it a harmonic and rhythmic style that is generally closer to Locke than to Coprario or Lawes, and in one suite there is a rare instance of thematically related movements.
Besides suites that keep closely to Coprario’s model, Jenkins composed others of more independent profile, in which galliard is replaced by corant (without ‘close’) and division writing is prominent. Nine composed for a treble, two division bass viols and organ (dating from about the middle of the century) demand the highest level of viol technique, and probably provided the inspiration for Christopher Simpson’s no less spectacular Seasons suites (facs. of latter with introduction by M. Urquhart (Geneva, 1999)). In the fantasias passages of solo display and intricate interplay are set against grave fugal sections and lively triplas; each dance strain is normally followed by a virtuoso variation. Seven pieces for two trebles, bass viol and organ (WE, x, 1966), each comprising a fantasia and extended air, contain similar passages of technical display, in which the organ occasionally shares. Jenkins’s late style is represented by a further collection of paired fantasias and airs (e.g. WE, i, 1950, pp.78–100), eight fantasia–almaine–corant suites for two trebles, two bass viols and organ thoroughbass (MB, xxvi, 1969, nos.33–40), and ten more, now known for sure to be by Jenkins (see Charteris, 1993), for three trebles, bass viol and thoroughbass. In these virtuosity is largely laid aside: textures are subtly varied, forms lucid and concise.
Locke left no suites of the traditional pattern, but used fantasias in combination with dances to form individually planned sequences in his bass viol duos, Consort of Two Parts, Flatt Consort, Broken Consort part i, and Consort of Four Parts (MB, xxxi–xxxii, 1971–2); in these collections the device of the ‘close’ is extended to suites ending with a saraband or jig, and this is sometimes balanced by a slow introduction to the initial fantasia.
H.J.Sleeper: ‘John Jenkins and the English Fantasia-Suite for String Ensemble’, BAMS, iv (1940), 34–6
C.Arnold and M.Johnson: ‘The English Fantasy Suite’, PRMA, lxxxii (1955–6), 1–14
A.Ashbee: ‘John Jenkins’s Fantasia-Suites for Treble, Two Basses and Organ’, Chelys, i (1969), 3–15; ii (1970), 6–17
C.D.S.Field: ‘Matthew Locke and the Consort Suite’, ML, li (1970), 15–25
C.D.S.Field: The English Consort Suite of the Seventeenth Century (diss., U. of Oxford, 1970)
J.T.Johnson: The English Fantasia-Suite, ca. 1620–1660 (diss., U. of California, Berkeley, 1971)
P.Holman: ‘Suites by Jenkins Rediscovered’, EMc, vi (1978), 25–35
J.T.Johnson: ‘Violin versus Viol in English Fantasia-Suites’, JVdGSA, xv (1978), 88–101
R.Thompson: ‘The Sources for Locke's Consort “For Seaverall Freinds”’, Chelys, xix (1990), 16–43
C.D.S.Field: ‘Consort Music I: up to 1660’, Music in Britain: The Seventeenth Century, ed. I. Spink (Oxford, 1992), 197–244
R.Charteris: ‘A Rediscovered Manuscript Source with some Previously Unknown Works by John Jenkins, William Lawes and Benjamin Rogers’, Chelys, xxii (1993), 3–29
P.Holman: Four and Twenty Fiddlers: the Violin at the English Court 1540–1690 (Oxford, 1993, 2/1995)
C.D.S.Field: ‘Formality and Rhetoric in English Fantasia-Suites’, William Lawes (1602–1645): Essays on his Life, Times and Work, ed. A. Ashbee (Aldershot, 1998), 197–249