His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
Celebrating its 40th anniversary season in 2022-23, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts continues in the same spirit as always: aiming to bring the sound of its noble instruments to the 21st century, through pan-European repertoire from 16th- and 17th-century composers, attracting new audiences via recordings, radio, television and (best of the lot!) live performance.
The group’s illustrious-sounding name is taken from Matthew Locke’s “Five-part things for His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts” that were probably played during the coronation celebrations for King Charles II in 1661. Essentially a recital group comprising three cornetts, three sackbuts and keyboard continuo, HMSC often joins with singers and string players, and is frequently asked to take part in projects with choirs. Recent collaborations include work with Fretwork Viols and the Magdalena Consort, Dunedin Consort, Alamire, Magnificat, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and Ex Cathedra.
Individual members of HMSC teach at conservatoires and universities throughout the UK and Europe and the group is often invited to give masterclasses and workshops as a part of its educational work.
Activities over the group’s forty-year history have been diverse, ranging from sound and vision recordings for the BBC comedy The Two Ronnies, to appearances in the Salzburg Festival, St. Mark’s, Venice, Sydney Opera House and at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. HMSC has more than thirty recordings to its credit, including several critically acclaimed discs of Venetian instrumental music from the turn of the 17th century by Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Battista Grillo, and Gioseffo Guami.
In addition to rediscovering the forgotten repertories of the past, expanding the contemporary repertoire for cornetts and sackbuts is an increasingly important part of the group’s mission and legacy. HMSC has enjoyed a particularly fruitful relationship with composer Martyn Harry, whose extended suite At His Majestys Pleasure, a 65-minute ‘opera without words’, was commissioned for the group’s 30th anniversary in 2012. In addition to recording the music on CD, HMSC has since performed selections from the work in recitals in Spain, Germany, the USA, and on numerous occasions in the UK, culminating in the first full performance of the suite (rescored for an enlarged ensemble) at the Oxford Early Music Festival in February 2020. HMSC has also recorded the music of Timothy Roberts (a former keyboardist with the group), On the Wall, Off the Wall: Six Venetian Sketches for cornetts and sackbuts (2004) on a CD for Toccata Classics (2022).