Tamesis Issue 219 May 2010
I forgot to mention in the last Tamesis what a good time I had at the Renaissance day
at Burnham which David organised in February. The baroque chamber music day at
Oxford organised by Peter Collier was also very good and I’m planning to run one
myself in November. The Sennfl day with Philip Thorby was excellent, and although I
haven’t yet received the promised review I did get a number of thank you letters and
emails which I very much appreciated. I’m not going to be at the next three forum
events to remind you about it but I hope some of you will be inspired to write reviews.
All the committee members, and particularly the Chairman/Membership Secretary
(David), Treasurer (Jim) and Secretary (me) are very happy to spend t ime running
the forum and organising events, but there are a few things you could do to reduce
the time (and occasionally money) we spend on it. Please consider paying your
subscription by standing order so that the Treasurer doesn’t have to pay in hundreds
of cheques. This will also save you from finding your membership has lapsed, as
happens to quite a lot of people each year. Don’t ask us to phone you on a mob ile
phone if you have a land line. And please print your own map using the postcode and
web site supplied on the booking forms, unless you haven’t got a computer and can’t
easily do it at your local library.
Clifford Bartlett has at last managed to get hold of the music for Striggio’s 40-part
mass so we shall be able to do it at the Waltham Abbey workshop on 30th April next
year. This is the first May bank holiday weekend but it’s the only date when both
Philip Thorby and the abbey are available, so please put it in your diary now. We shall
need at least sixty players and singers because the agnus is in sixty parts. You may
have heard its first performance at the Proms a couple of years ago, and with Philip’s
magic touch we should be able to do it even better.
As we are approaching the holiday season, the July and September newsletters may
come out a bit early, or late, to fit in with my availability to write them and David’s to
print and post them. So please make sure you send reviews or other contributions in
good time, and any information about concerts and events in early September in time
for the July issue.
This year's joint event with EEMF in Waltham Abbey was a bit different from the
previous ones in that there were never more than six parts, a noticeable contrast with
the 12- or 40-part pieces we have done previously. This did not mean, however, that
it was any less of a challenge, as Tallis's Gaude Gloriosa is extremely demanding. It
is somewhat in the style of the Eton Choirbook as there are long melismas with few
syllables and the parts often leap about in unpredictable ways. Philip Thorby was at
his most genial, and his patient good humour ensured that by the time we came to
the run-through we managed a passable performance. A few days after the event I
noticed that the Renaissance Singers under their new conductor David Allinson were
performing the piece in their concert on the 1st of May. Sadly, a prior engagement
prevented me from attending but I did send emails to those TVEMF members who
were at Waltham Abbey telling them about the concert, so it would be good to have a
brief report from anyone who went. You may like to know that next year we are
reverting to our original model for the EEMF/TVEMF event in that we plan to tackle
Striggio's 40-part mass with its 60-part Agnus Dei.
My mention of the Eton Choirbook reminds me of the superb concert given by the
Cantores Chamber Choir in Eton College Chapel on the 25th of April. David Allinson
manages somehow to gather together his choir, formerly from Exeter University but
now scattered widely, for one or two concerts a year and they are always well worth
hearing. You will have seen the flyer in last month's Tamesis and there were more
than a dozen TVEMF members present in the appreciative audience to hear the
haunting Missa Mille Regretz by Morales amongst other items which included Lambe's
Nesciens Mater from the Choirbook. David is directing a workshop for TVEMF on 15th
May which of course I'm looking forward to very much. I believe it's pretty full,
though tenors might have a chance of a late application being accepted.
Robin Michael Woodbridge 1934-2010
Those of you who knew Robin will be sad to learn that he died in March. Robin was a
knowledgeable enthusiast of renaissance and baroque music. He particularly enjoyed
playing viols, baroque flute and recorders. He built up a large collection of
instruments, all of excellent quality, and had a superb and meticulously ordered
collection of music.
Robin and his wife Anne moved to St Albans in 1958 and Robin joined the BBC where
he had a distinguished career for 35 years rising to Personnel Manager of Central
Services, the Corporation’s largest department. Family was always very important to
Robin throughout his life, but as his two sons grew up he was also able to devote an
increasing amount of time to music. After retiring from the BBC he worked part-time
at his local Police Station and joined Probus. Sadly, Anne died in late 2002, but Robin
remarried and enjoyed sharing the last six years of his life with Margaret.
As well as attending many music courses including TVEMF events, Robin organised
coached viol consort days over a period of many years and very generously offered
the use of his home for these sessions. He also frequently hosted music sessions just
for fun and many amateur musicians have enjoyed playing early music at his home.
Robin was a kind, thoughtful man always ready to offer advice when asked, and
although he took life seriously he also had a keen sense of humour and enjoyed a
glass of good wine. His interests and knowledge were very wide and he was a great
The huge gathering at Robin’s funeral was testimony to the number of people whose
lives he had touched. Members of the Rose Consort of Viols played at the Service.
This was a fitting tribute to a man who had done so much for amateur musicians. He
was always pleased to offer help and encouragement to other players including
beginners. He was a much loved man who will be greatly missed by all his family and
his many friends.
David Allinson Renaissance Singing Day at Challock 20th Feb 2010
David’s warm-up exercises are always a hoot, from singing a-e-i-o-u in a chewy
sort of way as if you were masticating gum, to downhill ski-ing exercises and
swaying one’s hips. For those of us no longer in our first flush of youth the chance
to sashay and rumba a bit is quite delightful.
The theme to be tackled by our 68 singers was Missa ad Imitationem; this is where
composers used multi-voice material (as opposed to a single line) from madrigals
or motets when composing masses, presumably to reduce the time and effort
involved in composing new material from scratch. Often identical or very similar
material occurs in each movement of the mass. This helps unify it and also makes
us realise just what an enormous and lengthy task church composers were faced
with when setting a Mass. Does anyone know just how many words comprise a
The formal term used by musicologists for imitative masses is “parody mass,” but
the word parody is used without the usual meaning of caricature or making fun of
something. Sensibly, David realised most of us have limited technical knowledge
and that we principally want to spend as much time as possible singing the music.
The madrigal Ultimi miei sospiri (My final sighs) by Philippe Verdelot (1485-1552)
wallowed in exquisitely beautiful grief and torment and was set in a heavy, low-
pitched motet style. Next generation Fleming Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) used
this work in his Missa Ultimi Miei Sospiri (published Northern Italy late 1550’s). De
Monte grew up in the musical world of Ghent, Cambrai and Mechelin and as a
young man he went to Northern Italy where he soon made a name for h imself as a
singer, teacher and composer. He worked for the Medicis and Cardinal Orsini. He
came with Philip II of Spain to England during the reign of Queen Mary but as the
only Spaniard amongst the Court musicians he felt an outsider.
He was such a good musician that his employers would not allow him to retire and
he had no choice but to work on into old age. Despite being post Council of Trent
he shows no concern for the rules they introduced about brevity and textual clarity.
When Lassus wrote imitative masses, he would transpose entire blocks of music
from the source piece, whereas de Monte would develop the music, introducing
about 50% new material.
Orlando di Lasso ‘s madrigal Mon coeur se recommande a vous (Look favourably on
my heart) is used in Eckhart’s “transfer mass” where blocks of music are lifted
wholesale from the original. Modern copyright laws would prevent such practices
nowadays without written permission (on parchment) from the composer or EMI
(Early Masses Inc?). Then, it enabled second rate composers to gain financially
from the work of their superiors rather like mass-produced (forgive the pun) Gucci
handbags in an Essex street-market.
After lunch we relaxed into the familiar strains of Josquin’s (c. 1450-1521) simple
yet divine Mille Regretz which Morales turned into an equally heart-rending mass.
Perhaps it was a happy change of pub but we didn’t suffer the usual post-prandial
slump where the hapless conductor is faced with a sea of flushed faces, helplessly
glazing eyes and the occasional nodding head.
The Agnus Dei of Victoria’s Missa Trahe Me Post Te (Make me follow You) pulls off
the difficult trick of being both dignified and sensual and also combines two
separate canons at the unison which is a technical feat in itself. It is based on the
motet of the same name. Palestrina is regarded as the master of the imitative
mass and his Missa O Rex Gloriae is based on the motet of the same name.
We were also treated to a commentary on how David’s singing workshops are
received abroad. Whereas in England we might ask the conductor to help us with a
problematic part when we really mean that our neighbour is getting it wrong, in
Holland they will simply say out loud “he’s getting it wrong!” Such is ‘Dutch blunt’.
Early in the day we did have a tendency to keep going flat. “Keep it bright” David
said cheerily, then deftly turned it around by explaining that this was the polite
non-musical way of saying “keep in tune”.
As always Challock’s village hall was well-lit, warm and welcoming and the spacious
kitchen did a brisk trade in teas, biscuits and coffees on that bitingly cold February
Letter from Leipzig from Brian O’Hagan
I've recently visited the newly opened Bach Museum in Leipzig next to the
Thomaskirche, in what was in Bach's time the home of the wealthy Bose family. Bose
was godfather to several Bach children, and there are touching details of the
friendship between the two families. I'm a Luddite when it comes to IT, but the 2m
by 1m interactive table-top was great fun - I could have played for hours, and it
would turn any child into a budding musicologist. Entry is free on the first Tuesday of
the month. There is a shop and small cafe. Items on display include the console of
the (Johann Scheibe 1743) organ from St John's in Leipzig. (The original bench has
ben whittled away, and the keys which Bach actually touched have been replaced or
stolen.) A chest (originally from Meissen Cathedral, but now with the Bach seal) is
known to have belonged to the Bach family.
The account of the discovery of the aria ''Alles mit Gott und Nichts ohn' Ihn'' (BWV
1127) after the 2004 fire in the Anna Amelia Library (Weimar) is exciting and one can
then listen to the performance by Carolyn Sampson with the Masaaka Suzuki Bach
Society of Japan. I loved the film snippets, and the Court Musicians in the Doll's
House of Princess Auguste-Dorothea of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. (Oddly, I saw no
mention of the beautiful little church of Dornheim, two miles east of Arnstadt, where
Bach's marriage to Maria Barbara took place ,and I find myself missing the wonderful
second-hand music shop - now in a warehouse in Zschochersche Strasse.)
An impressive statue of Mendelssohn went up two years ago in front of the
Thomaskirche, and ''Motetten'' (choir concerts) by the Thomanerchor take place on
Fridays (6pm) and Saturdays (3pm). The Mendelssohn-Haus itself vaut le voyage -
there are regular concerts, and I love the travelling-case with the painting of The
George Inn, Southwark. Did the multi-talented Felix execute this himself? The
Schumann-Haus also has occasional concerts.
I won't talk about the Opera House, but the Gewandhaus has an impressive Schuke
organ. The Nicolaikirche - the largest church in Leipzig - is important for organists,
and the interior is beautiful. I've seen several Lehar operettas in the Muko (Musical
Comedy Theatre). Leipzig town centre can provide surprises - a Cossack choir with
contrabass balalaika - it needed a cello-style end-pin - or a brass ensemble playing
The Internationale followed by Jesu meine Freude. The Meissen Porcelain shop has a
CD of an organ with porcelain pipes - I resisted - but when I came across a bilingual
Finnegans Wehg for under 8 euros I snapped it up. Last year I heard a wonderful
harp concert in the Oberlandes Gericht (Law Courts), and went to a great party at
Syhre's (brass instrument makers - their products include Scandinavian Lurs in both
left-hand and right-hand versions, and they provided trumpets for Ludwig Guttler.)
One can have a reasonable meal in the Rathaus (Town Hall) but lovers of literature
will gravitate to Auerbachs Keller, where Faust and the students first meet
Mephistopheles. For 15 euros there is a 30 minute tour (starts 11 am) followed by
the Plat du Jour and an outsize chocolate ''Mephisto Dollar'', or at 3pm you can have a
Mephisto Kaffee-Klatsch (coffee and a portion of Mephisto Torte, with a Mephisto
Dollar to go) for just 10 euros.
Now that ''The V & A has lost its charm'' (ie its historic instrument collection), why not
visit Leipzig's Grassi Museum - Orientalia, Ethnography and Musical Instruments!
Free entry on the first Wednesday of the month, and a modestly-priced restaurant if
you stay more than 4 hours (easily done!) There are keyboard instruments in
abundance, nests of serpents, rarities like an arpeggione (less attractive than a
baryton), an ivory oliphant, various glass brass instruments, assorted pieces of pipe
work, a 9-foot high contrabass saxophone, a piano-roll mouth organ; AND a piano-roll
accordeon. Then there is the dancing-master's pochette with integral fan(!) , a
combination clarinet-cum-walking-stick (who needs such an instrument, unless
perhaps The Shepherd on the Rock?) Alas, the Silbermann Cembalo d'Amore exists
only as a diagram from the 1723 book - someone must have put a damper on the
actual construction. I was enchanted by a kitsch ''Polyphon'' musical box, while
tuning fanatics will drool over the many bakelite (?) keys of the Orthotonophonium
(built by the Konigliche Sachsische Akademie fur Wissenschaft in 1914). Based on the
physicist Arthur von Oettingen's division of the octave into 72 microtones, it produces
pure thirds/ fourths/ fifths...Who could ask for anything more?
There is a second Orthotonophonium upstairs in the child-friendly Klanglabor (Sound
Laboratory), but I wasn't allowed to play it. I became extremely irritated at one
multi-media display which insisted on pronouncing timbre as ''timber''. (Am I a
pedant, or just a Grumpy Old Man?) Harmony was restored however (and I was
taken back like Marcel Proust to the Meccano of my childhood and the Galt's Early
Learning Centre wooden structures of the early 60's) when I got to play the chamber
organ with its clear plastic case - the Zymbelstern was magical, as was the
Vogelstimme (water-cistern) and the ratchet-mechanism Kukkuk. You just can't
follow that. I got lost trying to find my way out, but my wanderings led me
serendipitously past the Harp-Ship and the Crocodile-Zither in the Thailand Gallery.
Regards, Brian and Renate