William Boyce

Symphonies (8), Op. 2

    Description by Brian Robins

    William Boyce's Eight Symphonies were first published in 1760, the title doubtless a reflection of the increasing popularity of the form at the time. In truth, they are not true symphonies at all, rather being overtures (the two terms were interchangeable in the eighteenth century) composed for a variety of occasional dramatic works written between 1739 and 1756. As such they differ little from the subsequent issue of Twelve Overtures, works drawn from similar sources, and so old-fashioned by the time of publication (1770) that the edition's failure caused the modest Boyce to refrain from publishing more of his own works. The Eight Symphonies however had met with greater success, enjoying a popularity that has been revived in modern times. In common with his English contemporaries, long saddled as being merely a clone of Handel, Boyce's music in fact displays all the best qualities of English music of the period. This may be characterized as owning to a tuneful, breezily open-air quality, often (as in the case of Boyce) incorporating an easy mastery of counterpoint that is always worn lightly, never academically. Such qualities typify these delightful little "symphonies." Three, No. 1 in B flat (Ode for New Year, 1756), No. 2 in A (Ode for the King's Birthday, 1756), and No. 5 in D (Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, 1739), have their origination in occasional works, the first two dating from the period just before Boyce took over from Maurice Greene as Master of the King's Musick and was already fulfilling some of the ailing Greene's duties. Three further works, No. 3 in C minor (The Chaplet), No. 4 in F (The Shepherd's Lottery), and No. 6 in F (Solomon), started life as overtures to dramatic works, while No. 7 in B flat is the overture to the splendid Pindaric Ode of 1740. The provenance of the final work, No. 8 in D minor, is not known. It is also known as "The Worcester Overture." With the exception of the two-movement No. 6, which concludes with an elegant Larghetto, all the symphonies have three movements, the last usually a stylized dance movement. As would be expected with works drawn from a variety of sources, the scoring varies. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 call for forces including pairs of oboes and bassoons, strings, and harpsichord continuo. In Nos. 1, 7, and 8, flutes replace the oboes in the slow movement (they were played by the same performers in the eighteenth century). No. 4 adds a pair of horns to this combination, while No. 5 is the most grandly scored of the collection, with trumpets and drums adding a ceremonial pomp especially in the splendid opening Allegro ma non troppo.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro
    2. Moderato e dolce
    3. Allegro
    4. Allegro assai
    5. Vivace
    6. Presto Allegro
    7. Allegro
    8. Vivace
    9. Tempo di Minuetto
    10. Allegro
    11. Vivace ma non troppo
    12. Gavot. Allegro
    13. Allegro ma non troppo - Allegro assai
    14. Tempo di Gavotta
    15. Tempo di Minuetto
    16. Largo - Allegro
    17. Larghetto
    18. Andante - Spirituoso
    19. Moderato
    20. Jigg. Allegro assai
    21. Pomposo - Allegro
    22. Largo andante
    23. Tempo di Gavotta

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Capriccio Records C 7250
    2014 L'Oiseau-Lyre / Decca 4786753
    2010 Decca
    2009 CRD Records CRD 3356
    2005 Naxos 8557278
    1999 CRD Records 3356
    1996 Vanguard 46
    1994 Nimbus 5345