By Jonathan Wainwright

Many years ago, as an undergraduate, I remember finding a couple of articles suggesting that Walter Porter was a pupil of the great Monteverdi—G. E. P Arkwright, “An English Pupil of Monteverdi,” Musical Antiquary 4 (1913), and Charles W. Hughes, “Porter, Pupil of Monteverdi,” Musical Quarterly 20 (1934)—and thinking, “an English composer called Walter who studied with Monteverdi: a bit unlikely?!” As I continued my studies at the Ph.D. level and discovered more about the dissemination and influence of Italian music in England in the first half of the seventeenth century, my disbelief continued. In my thesis, published as Musical Patronage in Seventeenth-Century England (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997), I made the point that Walter Porter didn’t need to go anywhere near Italy in order to study and get to know the most up-to-date Italian styles, and that all Monteverdi’s publications were easily available for purchase from the London bookseller Robert Martin. I admitted that it was “feasible that Porter was a pupil of Monteverdi’s,” but, I’m sad to say, my skepticism still shone through. Twenty years later, when editing Walter Porter’s collected works for A-R Editions, I had the opportunity to really get to know Porter’s music—the Madrigales and Ayres (1632), in particular, are wonderful “Italianate” music—and I’m now slightly embarrassed about my previous skepticism. I can now quite believe that Porter was a pupil of the great Monteverdi! A few key facts about Porter seem in order.

The English composer Walter Porter (ca. 1587 or ca. 1595–1659) was one of a small number of English composers from the first half of the seventeenth century who embraced “progressive” Italianate methods of composition. He was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1617 until the fall of the king, and, like many Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal at that time, held a dual appointment: sometime between 1639 and 1642 he was appointed as Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey—a post he held until the disbandment of the choir in 1644. His works survive primarily in two printed collections: Madrigales and Ayres (1632—the last book of English madrigals to be published) and Mottets of Two Voyces (1657). Evidence for Porter’s trips abroad is also found in his two published collections. In his Madrigales and Ayres of 1632, the dedicatee John Digby, Earl of Bristol (1580–1653), is thanked for his “rare goodnesse in my attendance in Spaine”: this most likely coincided with the period when Digby was ambassador to Spain (1622–24) and was involved in the doomed marriage negotiations between Prince Charles and the Spanish infanta. It is possible that Porter also traveled to Italy during this period. In the preface to Porter’s Mottets, mention is made of “my good friend and Maestro Monteverde” (“Monteverde” has been added in ink by Porter in many of the surviving copies of the publication), and this is the key evidence that Porter traveled to Italy and was a pupil of the great Italian composer.

Ten of Porter’s anthems appear in a Chapel Royal wordbook of 1635, but unfortunately all but one is lost. The surviving anthem, “O praise the Lord”—which, slightly bizarrely (it not being a madrigal or an ayre), appears as the first piece in the 1632 Madrigales and Ayres—is remarkable. It is presented in the publication as a devotional song cast in “verse anthem” form, and it is notable for its use of Caccini-like florid vocal lines and ornaments such as the trillo—perhaps a first in English sacred music. There must be a lost history for the evolution of this piece. In its surviving form it could have been performed in the Chapel Royal by singers who could cope with the passaggi and ornaments, but interestingly the chorus parts are scored not for an Italianate SSATB choir but the standard five-voice English cathedral scoring of treble, two contratenors, tenor, and bass. If, indeed, you were to remove the solo-voice embellishments in the “verse” sections, the remaining piece becomes a standard cathedral-type verse anthem, so one wonders if the piece began life as a Westminster Abbey anthem and, given Porter’s Italianate contacts at court (which included the likes of Angelo Notari), if the embellishments were then added for court performance. The other pieces in Madrigales and Ayres are also noteworthy for their remarkable variety. There is an elaborate solo madrigal with chorus (“Farewell, once my delight,” no. 15, which is constructed over a strophic bass related to the folia and passamezzo antico patterns) and other pieces that include virtuoso solo passages (e.g., “Sleepe all my joyes,” no. 4); continuo duets and trios with baroque-style voices over a bass (e.g., the two-voice “Tell me you starres,” no. 9, and the three-voice “Sitting once, rapt with delight,” no. 6); a strophic song (“Since all things love,” no. 14); and five-voice madrigals in the new style (often including concertato-style writing with solos, duet and dialogue within the five-part texture, e.g., “Old poets, that in Cupid’s hand,” no. 10, and “Thus sung Orpheus to his strings,” no. 11, which includes sections of dramatic recitative-like writing). There are also a few pieces in a more conservative style (such as “Hither we come into this world of woe,” no. 2), along with tuneful ayres or partsongs with verse and chorus sections (e.g., “He that loves a rosie cheeke,” no. 3). The sheer quality of the music is such that study with Claudio Monteverdi is now, in my mind, not so unlikely after all!

Porter’s later life is a sad story, for, like many musicians, he suffered much during the Commonwealth years. He lost his posts at Court and Westminster Abbey, and Anthony Wood reports that he “suffered much in ye rebellious time.” A number of undated petitions in the Westminster Abbey Muniments demonstrate just how desperate Porter had become: in his last petition to the “Hono[ura]ble Governors of ye Schoole and Almesmen” of Westminster, he notes that, being “growne old & not able to travaile & take paines for a living as formalie hee hath done,” he is “now exposed to great necessitie & want having 4 children to keepe whereof 3 were Choristers w[hi]ch he hath bin forced to keepe at his own charge, who together w[i]th himself are all likelier to perish w[i]thout yo[u]r ho[noura]ble favo[u]r herewith extended.” It is not clear whether Porter was successful with any of these petitions for help, but his financial predicament must have been one of the reasons why, in 1657, he decided to publish his simple Mottets of Two Voyces—an ideal devotional-psalm publication for the Commonwealth market. Anthony Wood noted that the lawyer and politician Sir Edward Spencer (1594–1656) had been a generous patron to Porter and, in the preface to the publication, the composer acknowledged that “most of these Mottets were composed for a great Lover of Musick, and my especial friend, Sir Edward Spencer, an Honorable Mecenas,” who had recently died. After Spencer’s death it seems Porter had to turn to the help of other friends and patrons, and the Mottets—as well as a way of making some money—may be regarded as a gift to his benefactors and a potential bid for new patrons. The general dedicatee of the publication was the ejected minister and religious writer Edward Laurence (d. 1695), who, according to Anthony Wood, supported Porter in his later years. Unusually, however, each of the seventeen pieces is also given an individual dedication—presumably in an attempt to spread the prospect of future patronage as widely as possible. It is not known if Porter gained any rewards from the publication of the Mottets; he died only two years later, just months before the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, and was buried on 30 November 1659 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. His two publications continued to be advertised for sale by John Playford well into the Restoration period, and Samuel Pepys reported that, on 4 September 1664, he and his boy enjoyed “the singing of Mr. Porter’s mottets.” Porter’s importance to the Italianate style of singing is acknowledged by John Playford in the 1666 edition of A Brief Introduction To the Skill of Musick, where he notes that “singing after this new method by Trills, Grups, and Exclamations . . . have been used to our English Ayres, above this 40 years and Taught here in England, by our late Eminent Professors of Musick, Mr. Nicholas Laneare, Mr. Henry Lawes, Dr. Wilson, and Dr. Colman, and Mr. Walter Porter, who 30 years since published in Print Ayres of 3, 4, and 5, Voyces, with the Trills and other Graces to the same.” However, by the late 1680s, Porter’s music appears to have become outdated, though in 1691 both his publications appear in an anonymous Catalogue of Ancient and Modern Musick Books (most likely by Henry Playford). Thereafter Porter is relegated to brief mention in the history books until renewed interest in him in the twentieth century. I hope that my edition of Walter Porter’s music will further encourage performers to explore this wonderful repertoire by an English pupil of Monteverdi.

Jonathan WainwrightJonathan Wainwright, editor of Walter Porter’s Collected Works (Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 194), is professor of music at the University of York, UK. He is a musicologist and performer and has written extensively on early modern English and Italian music. His books include Musical Patronage in Seventeenth-Century England: Christopher, First Baron Hatton (1605–1670) (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997) and, with Peter Holman, From Renaissance to Baroque: Change in Instruments and Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), and he has edited two volumes of music by Richard Dering for Musica Britannica (vols. 87 and 98, 2008 and 2015); a volume of sacred music by Henry Lawes is forthcoming in the series Early English Church Music. Wainwright has also been active as a performer: from 1996 to 2001 he was assistant choir trainer at York Minster, and his recordings range from a CD of Sarum plainsong and Medieval carols through to the first commercial recording of Percy Whitlock’s Organ Symphony, recorded in York Minster.