Ayres, or Fa las for three voyces. Newly composed and published by Iohn Hilton, Bachelor of MusickeLondon, Printed by Humfrey Lownes, 1627
FIRST EDITION. Three vols. 4to. Cantus [A] , B-D . Bassus [A] , B-D . Quintus [A] , B-D . Each part with separate dated title pages. Roman letter, some Italic. Type set music, titles to each part within fine typographical borders, typographical and woodcut headpieces, fine suite of white on black criblé, grotesque and floriated woodcut initials, “extremely rare. I have never seen another copy. Joseph Warren.” in C19th hand on fly of Cantus, C18th engraved armorial bookplate of William Gostling on ffep of Cantus, gilt book label of Henry Huth on pastedown of each vol., armorial bookplate of John Whipple Frothingham on fly, Robert S Pirie bookplate on fly, with his purchase note in pencil on Cantus part. Title pages very slightly dusty, age yellowing, occasional very minor mark or spot, top, and outer blank margin of title to Bassus trimmed and expertly inlaid, expert repairs to tears in blank margin of A2-3 in cantus, likewise in small worm trail to lower blank margin of quire C, just touching one letter, running headline of Bassus fractionally shaved in two places. Very good copies, crisp and clean, in fine C19th tan morocco gilt by F. Bedford, covers single blind and gilt ruled to a panel design, large acorn fleurons to outer corners, gilt stamped arabesque with a criblé ground at centres, author, title, and part title gilt lettered to upper covers, spine with gilt ruled raised bands small acorn tool gilt in compartments, edges gilt ruled, turn-ins double gilt ruled in panel, with small acorn fleuron gilt to corners, all edges gilt.
A stunning copy of this extremely rare first edition, with exceptional provenance, complete, and beautifully bound by the great English C19th bookbinder Francis Bedford. This first edition is genuinely rare. ESTC records only four copies in the UK and one incomplete copy at the Folger Library in Washington. There was no other contemporary edition of this work, and only four surviving early editions of Hilton’s music in all, mainly single exemplars. John Hilton was an English composer and organist, probably the son of John Hilton, the church musician and composer. He received the B. Mus. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1626, and became organist of St Margaret’s, Westminster in 1628. His 1627 ‘Ayres or Fa-Las for three voyces’ was the last English madrigal publication. He also published a collection of glees and catches, ‘Catch as Catch Can’, in 1652, and composed verse and full anthems, services, a Te Deum and an elegy on the death of William Lawes. He is recorded as Lutenist to Charles I from 1635. In the 1630s, like Robert Ramsey, another Cambridge man, he composed mythological and biblical dialogues, such as The Judgement of Paris,The Judgement of Solomon,and The Temptation of Job, works that bear a direct relationship to opera and oratorio, which is what they were on a small scale.
“In 1627 he published ‘Ayres, or Fa La’s for thee Voyces’. .. In dedicating “these unripe First-Fruits of my labours’ as he calls them to Dr. Heather, founder of the Oxford professorship of music, Hilton speaks of them as ‘but a drop that I received from you the Fountaine’; which may be taken to mean that Heather was either his master or his patron. Anthony Wood in his notes on musicians now in the Bodleian Library, say: ‘He died at the time of Oliver, and was buried in the Great Cloysters at Westminster; at which time the singing at burials being silenced , as popish, the Fraternity of Musicians who intended to sing him to his grave, sang the Anthem in the House over the corps before it went tot he church, and kept time on his coffin.” Groves.
The earliest book-plate is that of the musical antiquarian William Gostling (1696–1777), some of whose transcripts of Steffani and other composers are in the British Library. He was the son of the celebrated bass singer John Gostling, for whom Purcell wrote several works whilst at the Chapel Royal. William inherited and extended his father’s music collection, which was dispersed at auction at Langford’s on 26–27 May 1777 (see ONDB). Hilton’s dedicatee, William Heather (1563–1627) founded the chair of music at Oxford.STC 13508. ESTC S118436. RISM H 5311.