Tamesis Issue 242 March 2014
There are two interesting events coming up soon - the baroque chamber music
playing day at Burnham on 30th March organised this time by Peter Collier (whose
music library contains far more than mine does) and the Rosenmüller workshop a
week later in Oxford. Forms for both of these went out in January but you can print
them from the web site if you’ve lost them. There is a separate item below about the
Rosenmüller day which I hope you’ll read, but to sum it up we need more tenors,
basses and appropriate instruments, and you now need to pay for all the Park and
Ride car park or risk a heavy fine.
There is a lot of material this month as well as more advertisements than usual, so
I’ve only got room to say - please don’t forget to change your standing order to £9
for next year and pay the extra £2 for this year if you haven’t already done so.
Apologies: I completely forgot to welcome the two new Committee members, elected
at the AGM in December. They are Catherine Lorigan and David Butler – many thanks
to them for volunteering. Thanks too to Sarah Young who has retired after several
years owing to pressure of work and her studies – we are most grateful to her for her
work for TVEMF and in organising some of Michael Procter's events.
I didn't get to the workshop studying music from Georgia but heard good reports of it
and I'm very pleased that we broadened our coverage in this way. Anyone who has
ideas for workshops and is prepared to help to put them on should contact our
The Three Breakfast Show on Radio 3 has been constructing a musical map of Britain
and I decided that my home town of High Wycombe should be on it. I had my two
minutes of fame on air, talking about the Wycombe cornett, sackbut & curtal group
Arti Fiati (arts winds, but careful how you say it). Quite scary but it didn't seem to go
too badly and I hope people enjoyed the piece I chose: Canzona Prima by Grillo
played by His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts. It quotes from Susanne un jour and
Vestiva i colli and shows off the instruments very well, though I have to apologise to
the curtal players for omitting any mention of them: my mind goes blank under
Of course TVEMF ought to be on the map but has a less clearly defined centre –
perhaps Burnham? They have also been asking for nominations for Great British
Composers and I was horrified to see that in the first two months of the year William
Walton had as much representation as all the renaissance composers combined (5
pieces). On the assumption that other people will submit pieces by Byrd and Tallis I
suggested the Salve Regina by Peter Phillips, which was played this morning (6th Mar),
but the viol players should obviously be pushing Jenkins. I’ve argued that Anon
should be there too and offered an anonymous In Nomine which is surely English.
The Rosenmüller Vespers workshop
If you like the Monteverdi Vespers you’re sure to like these magnificent 10-part psalm
settings by Rosenmüller who was a student and organist in Leipzig but moved to
Venice. We need a lot of people to take part to do justice to the music but at the
moment there is a shortage of tenors and basses. We need more instruments too -
cornetts, sackbuts, curtals, strings and continuo would be appropriate. Please contact
the organiser, Nicola Wilson-Smith, if you would like more information n.wilson-
smithntlworld.com (0208 933 7908) and note that bookings have to be received by
29th March at the latest.
The venue is right in the middle of Oxford, well placed for shops and cafés at
lunchtime, so if you come by car you will need to use the Park-&-Ride service.
There are now parking charges at ALL FIVE Oxford Park-&-Ride sites (even if you see
no obvious signs there!), and details are on their new website
www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/park-and-ride which replaces the one shown
on the form.
Saturday 5th April 2014 in Oxford
TVEMF Renaissance Chamber Music Day 11.01.14
Once again we gathered in Burnham to discover what new combinations of
instruments and voices David Fletcher had conjured up. The answer was a remarkable
27 different groups across four sessions of the day. My subjective account is
necessarily limited to the four groups I was a part of, but this will give some indication
of the learning and musical challenges that were part of the day.
My first group comprised three singers, one cornett and one sackbut. We sang/played
through several pieces, trying out the balance of instruments and voices before we did
some serious work on a Gesualdo madrigal. This went fairly well until we reached one
chord which seemed consistently out of tune, although the individual notes were not.
Even considering the expected Gesualdo tonal and harmonic surprises this seemed to
be a dissonance too far. We looked at the notes in the chord, which amounted to
Cmaj9. A jazz harmony chord you can hear all the time in advertising jingles and
radio idents. Why was it so hard for us to make it sound acceptable? It seemed to
come down to the sound we were making. The three singers giving a lot of voice to
balance with the cornett and sackbut were making a robust sound which simply didn’t
work with such close harmony. The jingle singers on the radio use much less voice
and a cool sound with no vibrato which puts a smooth coating on their extended
chords. We tried again, bringing the volume down and it definitely helped - although
the next chord being A minor without a trace of modulation brought its own
My second group again had three singers, this time with two recorder players and a
theorbo. It was clear that the singers’ volume needed to come down to a suitable
level for the instruments and we found pieces in five parts which worked well. I was
intrigued to know how the theorbo player found appropriate chords to play on his
instrument when we were singing/playing polyphonic music. It seems that the
answer is in listening to the tonality as it moves along and providing rhythmic support
in line with that tonality. If I have completely misunderstood the theorbo then I will
be grateful for corrections from TVEMF members reading this. Another learning point
for me in this session was discovering how surprising the music of Thomas Tomkins
can be. Admittedly my knowledge of his music is limited, but when all five parts in
the piece we were working on moved up a semitone in parallel I was certainly
Session number three found me in a group comprising cornett, tenor curtal, sackbut
and three strong singers. Here we found an ideal balance and really enjoyed
ourselves. Each time we paused on a chord with Margaret Jackson-Roberts tenor and
my bass a fifth apart on the bottom, our overtones danced around the room together
in joyful reverberation. In Lassus’ Regina Coeli we made a brilliant sound which was
hard to give up. I hope that we can have this experience on another day.
Session four brought a larger group: three recorder players, a renaissance flute,
curtal, theorbo with myself singing bass. Perhaps because of this unusual
combination it proved more difficult to find suitable music for the group, but after a
few false starts we found a beautiful memorial piece by William Byrd saying “The Lord
Borough Is Dead”. This proved to work well and brought us to a solemn close for the
day. Once more I had a new experience – the renaissance bass flute with a wonderful
rich sound as played by Michael Mullen.
As ever, thanks are due to David Fletcher for all the planning and transporting of
boxes of music which make this day possible. Every January this day provides new
musical experiences for the participants and I would warmly recommend it to other
TVEMF members and their friends.
TVEMF Georgian singing day
A first for TVEMF: some 35 of us gathered at Ickenham United Church on February
15th to “explore” Georgian sacred hymns. This workshop had been planned for two
years by organiser Michael Bloom, who brought leader Malkhaz Erkvanidze, a
photocopied set of the very early (I understood 10th-12th century) hymns, a
pronunciation guide (example “q glish – it is a bit like
a cross between a k and a glottal stop in the back of the throat.”), and a slide show of
Georgian churches and landscapes.
From the outset we knew this was going to be something very different, as we found
ourselves sitting in a big circle. No tedious warm-up - the leader started right in
teaching each part separately, working by rote and repetition first on the
pronunciation and then on the notes, which were in modern notation, thankfully, but
not on the pitches shown, requiring considerable transposition. The harmonic system
was said to be based on an old natural tuning system on two dissimilar tetrachords,
requiring the bass line to be in a different key signature for us Westerners. The
harmonies and intervals were supposed to be different, but to be frank, it didn’t sound
as if we were “getting” much of that aspect. Afterwards, I listened to the real thing
on CDs that were available, and heard some of the amazing harmonies and intervals
of Georgian music that we had been told about but didn’t achieve. From that CD it
became obvious to me that leader Malkhaz had chosen some of the simplest, most
basic of the hymns for us to work on.
The music was all three-part a cappella, and all in Georgian script. This is a sample:
There was English sort-of transliteration for only the bottom line of this Georgian
script, incorporating the guidelines we could have studied of some of the unusual
sounds and consonant clusters (example: transliteration of the one- crotchet syllable
shown as “ghmrtis” to sound something like “ris”. Or so it seemed to be, sometimes.).
That was hard for the top-line singers, who had to read all that transliteration two
lines down. Although the notes we had to sing were straightforward (except for the
top-line tessitura) it was an eye-opener for me to find out how much of an obstacle
the words seemed to be for the group of experienced choral singers.
“Don’t sing the way you’re used to singing,” the leader had to keep repeating, “Sing
straight tones, from deep down.” Which strained the top line singers, mainly
sopranos, who were singing really low-down the whole day, never getting above A,
having to bellow in chest voice. Stretched out of our comfort zone in these many
ways, it was a really different experience, which most of us enjoyed trying. Although
TVEMF had been given two samples of Georgian three-part hymns which were put on
the web site, they weren’t the ones we worked on, and it might have helped if we had
been able to study the pronunciation in advance. The enthusiastic leader Malkhaz
showed great patience and perseverance by repeating many many times the way it
was supposed to sound; at the end he was asked to say something about it all. He
proceeded to talk a lot about it, whereas he should have just played one or two tracks
from his CD, of one of the pieces we had tried.
I liked this extract from the quotation on our music. It provided a view into the kind
of music we were introduced to:
“Within our music-making, the separation, the loneliness and isolation of our complex
modern-day existence has no place. Through this cherished vein we Georgians carry
all that we hold dear. The bloodline of our ancestors. The heartbeat of our nation. The
secrets of our immortality.”
Which provided an inspiring closing comment on the conclusion of this very different
Georgian Polyphonic Singing - History, Sociology and Musicology
Following the workshop on "Georgian Sacred Song" with Malkhaz Erkvanidze, I should
like to contribute a brief overview of Georgian polyphonic singing. The tradition is at
least two thousand years old, and odes to pre-Christian deities are still sung,
especially in the higher regions of the Caucasus mountains. Songs are almost
exclusively in three parts (representing the Trinity in the Christian tradition) and
unaccompanied, although some folk songs have parts played on local stringed
instruments. Christianity reached Georgia in 326 AD and there followed a considerable
creative develoment of sacred music, which reached a climax in the early 13th century
under Queen Tamar, known as Georgia's golden age.
In religious music or "Sagalobeli" it is the top part that holds the main tune while the
two lower parts have interweaving melodic lines that create powerful harmonies and
progressions. In folk songs the middle part holds the melody, with an ornamenting top
part and a supporting bass which is often a moving drone or has successive ostinato
sections. The folk singing tradition covers virtually every possible event and genre,
from music for weddings and funerals to lullabies, healing songs for children when
they are sick (based on the idea that illness is caused by spirits entering the body
which can be enticed to leave with sweet music), travelling songs for merchants and
those going to war singing about loved ones they have left behind, songs with dances,
patriotic songs, philosophical songs about life and death, etc. Songs are kept alive at
the ceremony of the "Supra" or Georgian feast, where much food is consumed and
wine drunk, with a series of toasts after each of which an appropriate song is
performed by the singers at the table. In Tsarist and Soviet times, when church songs
in Georgian were banned, they were kept alive at supras disguised as folk songs. The
eloquent art of the toastmaster or "Tamada" is greatly respected.
There are considerable regional variations in folk song styles. In the eastern district of
Kakheti there are many so-called table songs, frequently performed at the supra, with
soloists on the two ornamented top parts and a drone bass, moving by small intervals
to harmonise, sung by everyone else. In the high mountain region of Svaneti songs
tend to be slow with long held notes and there is much sliding between notes. The
western region of Guria on the Black Sea coast has fast, highly rhythmic songs often
with meaningless syllables. These may be different both lyrically and rhythmically
between the parts, which always come together at the end of each phrase. Gurian
songs may also include "Krimanchuli", a high, yodelling-type part always sung by a
male soloist in a falsetto voice, with repeated fast fragments such as (descending in
the octave) C, C, E, D or D, D, F, D, harmonising with a melodic middle part and a
supporting bass line. The western area of Mingrelia or (in Georgian) Samegrelo just to
the north, by contrast, has many songs with tuneful melodic lines similar to those
familiar in the West.
For centuries the original Georgian singing scale was used, which is based on the
Pythagorean perfect fifth with its 3/2 frequency ratio, rather than the tempered octave
we use today. Sacred music was notated using an ancient neumatic system, but folk
songs were largely passed down aurally and thus underwent more changes down the
centuries. Music only began to be notated in the Western scale in the eighteenth
century, which required considerable adaptation. In the old scale, each fifth is divided
into four equal intervals giving a slightly flattened second, a neutral third midway
between our major and minor, and a slightly sharpened fourth. To give the closest
approximation in the tempered scale, each fifth is notated in the key of its root note
as the scale ascends (e.g. C, G, D, A etc.), and therefore sharps enter progressively.
Descending from C gives fifths in F, Bb etc. with attendant flats. This explains a
noticeable feature of Georgian music scores, which is that the bass clef frequently has
one more flat, or one fewer sharp, in its key signature than the treble clef. This
adaptation leads to chords and chordal progressions not found in western music. The
old scale does not include a true octave, since the upper octave is the 4th note of the
second fifth, which is sharpened compared with the root. The third is also largely
avoided and typical triads are the 1st, 4th and 5th (e.g. C, F and G) and the 1st, 2nd
and 5th (C, D, G). These last notes are also found in the commonly found chord of
two fifths or 1st, 5th and 9th (C, G, D). Progressions not found in traditional western
music are parallel seconds (or ninths), fourths and fifths - these are particularly
noticeable in church music of the western Georgian school, which also contains other
unfamiliar chords and abrupt modulations. Songs, both sacred and secular, normally
end in unison or with one part at a fifth to the other two, and contrary movement is
frequently found with the top part descending to the final note and the bass ascending
to the same point. Another result of the scale adaptation is to give a modal quality to
the songs, such as Lydian mode (F to F on the white notes of the keyboard), and
Locrian mode (B to B). Malkhaz is one of a dwindling number of singers who can sing
in both the original and modern scales. With rare exceptions, children are no longer
taught the old musical scale and it is difficult to learn it in adulthood. However
Malkhaz is endeavouring to preserve old mode singing by teaching it to talented
students, and encouraging others to continue the tradition.
Georgia achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Prior to this, exposure
to Georgian music in the West was almost exclusively through official concert tours by
state-sponsored choirs, although a Georgian choir was started by non-Georgians in
New York in 1980. Following independence, cultural links with the UK were soon
established, at first through theatrical contacts (Georgians have a great love for
Shakespeare!). Visitors to Georgia were always invited to supras, where they heard
Georgian singing and in 1994 the first singing teachers were invited to the UK.
Demand for workshops and concert tours soon spread and created many enthusiasts.
Spurred on by excellent personal relationships formed with the Georgians, the desire
to support them in the harsh economic climate of the time, and the 2001 UNESCO
listing of Georgian polyphonic singing as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible
Heritage of Humanity, Georgian choirs were formed in several UK cities and staged
concerts and other events. These choirs were largely of the community choir format
studying songs by ear. This has continued to the present day, and concerts by
Georgian choirs, and workshop tours by accomplished teachers such as Malkhaz, are
frequent and well received throughout the UK and now also Ireland. Georgians have
always been willing to share their traditions and greatly appreciative of efforts made
to learn them, which has engendered a strong climate of mutual respect.
Georgian polyphonic singing deserves to be better known in the West, particularly
among classically trained musicians who are able to compare and contrast its
musicological characteristics with their own. Events promoted by enterprising groups
such as TVEMF will go a long way towards achieving this.
Musings on Pronunciation
In Puerto-Rican Spanish, final /h/ is phonemic (so, la muchácha - the girl. but lah
muchachah - the girls.) After listening to this musical language for some time I
decided that in future I would not articulate the final _s in Sanctus. (Someone else will
always do it for you - in fact while I produce a gentle Sanctuh, several people will spit
out /-s/s in a staggered sequence.)
I recently attended a workshop (not TVEMF!) where my neighbour, a much more
powerful singer, insisted on producing the -s in the minim rest after the bulk of the
choir had fallen silent. His "yet", "but" ... and a few other words were torture for me.
(The conductor had specifically outlawed long /s/`s, but had enjoined us to linger on
the l- of love.) I thought things could not get any worse after the final consonant of
`rebuke`, however the line beginning "`Twas" was realised like a multi-consonantal
Kabardian cluster, or a Mingrelian exolalic with simultaneous lip-rounding and
glottalisation. Why cant the English...?
In English Cathedral choirs a child who is aware that they have made a mistake is
expected to raise a hand. (In some English choirs one is urged to kick one’s neighbour
in these circumstances.) David Allinson tells me that Dutch choristers denounce each
other vigorously. I try to correct such solecisms as Dominus Vobiscus/Et Cum
Spiritum Tuum (and once tried to teach a Dutchman English Vowels and diphthongs,
but with little success.) Perhaps my greatest bugbear is the epenthetic /r/ of RP,
which has no place in Latin. (Some TVEMF members have been heard to sing Dona
Reis Requiem, and Gloria Rin Excelsis!) Thank the Lord for Philip’s insistence on
glottals in Praetorius - and thank heaven for German Choirs’ clarity - even if they can’t
pronounce Excelsis correctly, and waste hours arguing about it!
Handel at the Foundling Museum and Georgians at the British Library
The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square WC1N 1AZ has an exhibition on Handel’s
Music for Royal Occasions, which runs until May 18, with associated events at the
museum. For more details see their web site www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
The Georgians exhibition at the British Library is well worth a visit (I’ve been twice)
and has quite a lot of musical material including Handel’s manuscript of Messiah,
some song books and a violin which belonged to Jeremy Bentham with two
surprisingly modern-looking bows.
Pauline Thompson memorial concert
A lot of TVEMF members must have known Pauline Thompson who sadly died in
January. The Anton Bruckner Choir is putting on a memorial concert for her on
Sunday 6th April at 4pm at St Sepulchre’s in Holborn Viaduct where we hold many of
our TVEMF events. It will be a celebration of Pauline’s life-long love of music and she
chose the pieces you will be hearing at the concert, including Tallis’s 40-part Spem in
Pauline was in a lot of choirs and knew there would be people in the audience itching
to sing, so all singers who wish to can join with the choir for the final chorus and
chorale from the St. John Passion. The music (Bahrenreiter edition) will be provided
for this. It would be very helpful if all those who plan to be there and would like to
sing could let Pauline’s sister Pam Anderson know in order to have enough copies.
Pauline wanted her own largish music collection (mainly choral) to continue to be used
so it will be at the concert for those who wish to take any of it to use themselves with
a donation to Cancer Research.
There will be a retiring collection (non-obligatory) which will be donated to Cancer
Research. Could you please let Pam know 100pam.anderson100gmail.com (01753
887463) as soon as possible if you would like to attend, singing or not, so she can
have an idea of numbers.
Stephen Willis musical celebration
This has been arranged for the afternoon of Sunday 27 April 2014, at St James’s
Church, Hampton Hill. There was more information about it in the January Tamesis,
and Jill Davies would like to know as soon as possible now if you are going to be at
this celebration of her stepfather’s life. There will be some massed choir/instrumental
pieces. Jilldavies23btinternet.com 01684 850112
Opportunities to Make Music
If you enjoyed last month’s workshop on Georgian sacred music, or wish you hadn’t
missed it, you might be interested in going to a residential camp (accommodation
with local families) in the historic village of Bukistsikhe, Georgia, this summer.
Participants will work on tuning, ornamentation and vocal production with Malkhaz
Erkvanidze, who directed our workshop, and other members of his Ensemble
Sakhioba. They will study folk and sacred music from different Georgian regions,
learning mostly by ear, and folk dancing and instrumental instruction will also be
offered. There will be excursions to historic monasteries in the area as well. Michael
Bloom showed us slides of the area during the workshop and it looked like a wonderful
place to visit.
QUARTER PAGE SPACE
FOR TRY A VIOL DAY AD
FROM VIOLA DA GAMBA
BAROQUE STRING DAY WORKSHOPS
in Oxford with violinist Julia Bishop
working in detail on the great works from composers such as Bach, Handel
and Corelli as well as their colourful contemporaries!
Baroque instruments optional, pitch A440.
12 noon to 6pm, W. Oxford Community centre, Botley Rd, Oxford OX2 OBT.
Fee £30.00 each session.
A415 Baroque flute for sale. Stained boxwood Palanca copy with silver key
Made by Jan de Winne £750.
contact Shelagh Aitken (020 7722 2996) shelagheditorproofreader.co.uk
Dates in 2014:
Mar 6th, April 3rd, May 1st, June 26th, July 24th,
Aug 21st, Sept 18th, Oct 16th
Contact Julia on 07521 897422
* * *
6 String Bass viol (string length 67 cm) after Rose by David Miles1988, including hard
Palanka Baroque Flute 415 by Venner, almost brand new £1295
Helen France (07746 416 458)
available from teacher with over 18 years experience.
Whether you are looking to pass exams, diplomas,
improve your continuo playing, or just want to learn for fun,
lessons are designed to suit individual needs.
Please call Katharine May (GRSM Hons, ARCM) on 01628 783272 or email
www.handelhouse.org/whats-on To book tickets please call the booking line on
020 7399 1953. March concerts were in the January Tamesis.
Thursday 3 April, 6.30-7.30pm. Anakay Koshka (violin) will explore violin techniques of JS
Bach and Ysaÿe. The programme will include JS Bach’s Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005,
Ysaÿe Solo Sonata Op.27 No.5 and No.6 and Paganini’s Caprices Op 1.
Tuesday 8 April, 6.30-7.30pm. British Harpsichord Society Recital: From Vienna to Lübeck.
James Johnstone (harpsichord) traces the links between South and North German composers
in the generations prior to Bach. The programme will include works by Krieger, Pachelbel,
Froberger, Ritter and Buxtehude.
Thursday 17 April, 6.30-7.30pm. The Spirit of Gambo. Tobias Hume (c1569-1645) was a
Scottish soldier and viol player. His ‘Musicall Humors’ for the viol proved to be unsuccessful but
he left behind a remarkable array of compositions and glimpses of an eccentric, quarrelsome,
yet vulnerable personality. Gordon Waterson (counter tenor), Eszter Komaromi, Esha Neogy
and Henry Drummond (viols) explore the music of this intriguing character, contrasted and
complemented with compositions of his more successful contemporaries.
Sunday 20 April 12-5pm (last entrance 5.30pm). Family Event: Hallelujah Egg Hunt.
Discover the magic of Handel’s music. Collect a Family Easter pack and solve the riddles and
rhymes which will lead you to a chocolatey surprise!
Thursday 24 April, 6.30-7.30pm. Baroque Fathers. The representation of the older, masculine
presence in baroque opera and oratorio, or the father figure, often fell to the tenor, much more
so than in modern times, where they are more likely to assume a younger, more romantic or
heroic character. Christopher Diffey, accompanied by Mark Austin, will sing a range of baroque
arias expressing paternal feelings and emotions, be they in a caring fatherly way or an angry,
EXHIBITION AND DISPLAYS
On display at Handel House is a magnificent marble bust of George Frideric Handel, on loan
from the Royal Collection. Attributed to French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1762),
the bust has been in possession of the Royal Family since its creation.
SHE WAS DESPISED: HANDEL AND SUSANNAH CIBBER
Wednesday 26 February – Sunday 28 September 2014
To celebrate the tercentenary of her birth, Handel House Museum presents an exhibition on
the life and work of Susannah Cibber. The exhibition will tell Susannah’s fascinating, dramatic
and moving life story, through exhibits, contemporary texts, music and a programme of
From a promising start as a singer in a small opera company, Cibber’s career and social
standing were fatally blighted by the scandalous trial in which her husband Theophilus accused
her of adultery. Unable to appear on the London stage, she fled to Dublin. It was here that she
was chosen by Handel to sing in the first performance of Messiah in 1742, giving a moving
performance of the aria ‘He was despiséd’. From her performance in the London premiere of
Messiah a year later her career blossomed once again. She became one of the most significant
actresses of the 18th century, and for many years was David Garrick’s leading lady.
On Saturday afternoons at 3pm you can join a short talk researched and delivered by our
knowledgeable volunteers on a variety of subjects including costumes, paintings, music and
London in the 18th century. Talks are included in the museum admission price. Exhibition
talks will last between 15-20 minutes and take place on Saturday 29 March and Saturday 26