Tamesis Issue 215 October 2009
The Thames Valley Early Music Forum AGM will be held at approximately 5.30pm
after the end of the Latin-American Christmas event on Sunday 6th December at
Drake Hall, Amersham Community Centre.
Many thanks to our contributors this month. In the absence of Sidney Ross, three
people were inspired to review David Allinson’s Magnificat workshop in September, so
I’ve printed them all. It sounds as if it was an excellent event and I wish I could have
found time to go, though I did enjoy a probably equally good workshop of David’s in
Cambridge a few months ago and, also in Cambridge, an enjoyable weekend course at
Gonville and Caius with Michael Procter. It’s wonderful how many early music courses
there are these days and it’s frustrating not being able to go to more. I’m particularly
grateful to Wayne Plummer who produced an excellent review/synopsis of Philip
Thorby’s lecture/workshop only two days after the event, sav ing me and probably a
lot of other people the problem of trying to interpret the notes we took on the day.
This clashed with an improvisation course at the South Bank Centre and I’d be glad if
someone could find time to review that.
There is quite a lot about NEMA this month, and there are two contributions about
dance, so this is probably the biggest issue we have ever had. Don’t forget that after
next month’s November issue, Tamesis will only be appearing every other month
(January, March etc) so you will need to think ahead more. Copy date will still be the
first Monday of the month.
Two events this month, but totally different in nature. I enjoyed Philip Thorby's
workshop on the 4th of October rather more than I had imagined, given the damage
to my thumb which makes recorder playing still feel a bit uncertain. Although we
indulged in some massed playing the event was not comparable to the kind of SRP
meetings I used to go to 40 years ago. The performance of Schmelzer's 7-part sonata
was vastly better than the multi-track recording I made in the 70s, playing all parts (I
didn't get out enough in those days). Philip is always interesting, and his exposition
of the various 16th and early 17th century recorder tutors was very illuminating. If
we held a day with him to study "Three Blind Mice" I would go in the expectation of
thoroughly enjoying it.
The next event is music for All Saints with Alistair Dixon, who has run several
successful workshops for us in the past. I have a copy of the complete works of
Thomas Tallis recorded by him with his Chapelle du Roi and very good it is too, so I'm
looking forward to find out what he has in store for us.
Finally don't miss the Baroque Day on the 8th November when our Secretary wi ll be
weaving her usual magic in arranging interesting one-to-a-part groupings. I do
apologise to her for forgetting to thank her for organising the Recorder Day. As well
as those two events she is editing Tamesis and taking the bookings for the Christmas
event - many thanks. Please can we have a volunteer to co-ordinate the people
looking after the Greenwich Exhibition stand (13th-15th November) as she can hardly
be expected to do everything.
Those of you who knew Eileen and Michael Groser, and made music with them in
Oxford before their move to Ireland a few years ago, will be sad to hear that Michael
died on September 23rd, a few days before his 91st birthday.
Michael was known to many members as a fine viola da gamba player. For many
years he had been a member of New College Choir, and earlier of Westminster Abbey
and St. Paul's Cathedral choirs. His work as a stonemason/sculptor included the
carving of many grotesques and gargoyles on Oxford college buildings.
Renaissance Recorder Workshop with Philip Thorby at Amersham
Community Centre on Sunday 4th October
It was with a certain degree of trepidation that I voluntarily entered a room with 39
other recorder players (having once had a nasty experience many years ago at a
"traditional" SRP meeting outside the TVEMF catchment area)!
As it turns out, I needn't have worried because much of the day was spent listening to
Philip's entertaining and informative presentation style... and when the ensemble did
play together, the overall sound was remarkably sonorous (phew!).
Since the application form stated that there would be lecture content to the day, I
came armed with a clipboard, paper and pen (though I seemed to be in the minority)
- I think that's why Vicky pounced on me to produce this review (that'll learn me!)
Anyway, here is a greatly abridged précis of my notes from the day.
Philip explained that, in recent years, the recorder has "pillaged" much of its
repertoire from sources that would not originally have been played on recorders... and
that the recorder did have its own true history.
First, Philip revealed (to me at least) that the name "recorder" comes from an old
word meaning "to sing like a bird" (how sweet!); next, that the earliest known
recorder dated from the 14th century and was discovered during archaeological
excavations in a sewer (not quite so sweet!) – he speculated how the i nstrument may
have ended up there!
The recorder flourished between the end of the 15th century until half-way through
the 17th; it was often referred to as the "English flute" (as opposed to the "German
flute" which implied the transverse flute).
Philip spoke about early recorder tutors, one of which admonishes: "If your flute you'd
learn to play, you must learn to de-re-de-re-DEH"; this is the anti-thesis of some
modern tutors which teach children to play music as separate bricks; the whole point
being that you need to think of whole phrases with shape and articulate subtly
throughout. It was also expected that students would learn all of the fingerings in one
step at the very start of their learning journey - not the way we spoon-feed note
fingerings to children today.
Philip spent a lot of time discussing the famous tutor by Ganassi, who wrote: "Just as
a gifted painter can reproduce all the creations of nature by varying his colours, you
can imitate the expression of the human voice on a wind or stringed instrument... and
just as a painter imitates natural effects by using various colours, an instrument can
imitate the expression of the human voice by varying the pressure of the breath"; by
contrast, baroque recorder tutors don't mention soft vs. loud at all!
Ganassi teaches fingering, articulation and divisions. Fingering included fingerings for
seven or so new notes at the top of the instrument that he had discovered himself.
Articulation included vowel sound formed in the mouth during note production as well
as the consonant used for start the note. Divisions are covered at great length with
examples give for unison and all falling and rising intervals for 4, 5, 6, and 7 crochet
Trills would come from one of three "moods": "vivace" - tr ills of a third or more,
"soave" - trills of a semi-tone or less, and "mezzo" (where "you feel that there's a trill
coming on and you're not in either of the other two moods") - trills of a tone.
Some tutors seemed positively to encourage vibrato (of the breath, finger or tongue) -
Philip demonstrated these very effectively. He went on to question our recent
revulsion for vibrato in early music performance – perhaps vibrato of all different
forms was used far more than some of us would appreciate nowadays?
As the years went by, a bass recorder in B-flat was added to the bottom of the
consort - this would not seem to fit in particularly well with the existing discant in G,
tenor in C and bass in F. The trick is that they weren't all used together but music that
worked on a four-part consort of 1x disc in G, 2x tenor in C and 1 x bass in F could be
moved down to a consort of 1x tenor in C, 2x bass in F and 1x bass in B-flat using the
same fingering as before. A higher instrument, a discant in D was added at the
top to allow the same trick to achieve a higher tessitura.
One exercise Philip had us perform was a four-part piece where one group of us
played at written pitch (for recorders - i.e. four-foot p itch, or "batmosphere" as Philip
put it!), transposed down a fourth (by assigning parts to instruments and telling them
to use fingerings inappropriate for their instruments (apart for the bottom line which
he had written out transposed down), and finally at eight-foot pitch. We all agreed
that the transposed version sounded most comfortable on recorders and th is is what
would have apparently often have been done.
Finally, my favourite Thorbyism of the day was in regard of playing the recorder
many-to-a-part: "[it] is very unforgiving (I'm not going to forgive you!) - you end up
fading and fading, going flatter and flatter until you disappear up your own sound
In summary, it was a very educational and enjoyable day. I think we should certainly
consider more events like this (with lecture content); I think it helps us think a bit
more about what the music we play might really have sounded like.
A Benevolence of Magnificats
In the absence of our regular learned reviewer [I believe that we are to congratulate
the said parties having a golden celebration] I will offer a much less learned account
of David Allinson’s very enjoyable day at St Mary’s Perivale on Saturday 12
It seemed entirely appropriate within the octave of the Anglican celebration of the
birth of the BVM to spend a day looking at English magnificats pre and post
reformation, thus covering a fair period of time, and with considerably different
dispositions, from the development of melismatic embroidery, to monosyllabic
harmonies; but with unmistakable DNA profiles in the progress.
Having just returned from Russia, where the orthodox church was in the octave of the
Dormition of the Mother of God, it seemed like a very pale blue interlude; and the
weather echoed this with an idyllic day, such that David had us all gyrating amidst the
gravestones before we settled down to serious singing. [I wonder what the early
golfers thought on the adjacent Ealing golf course!].
From a suitcase of music David introduced us to and persuaded us through
magnificats by Fayrfax, Cornysh, Tallis, Gibbons, Mundy, and Tomkins; and I think
that there was one by White that we just didn’t have time to fit in. As a result of the
liberation of the Eton Choir Book, early music singers are noticeably more adept at
coping with the intricacies of Cornysh, Brown and the like: and the group of 48
singers made a laudable rendering of the Cornysh, to the extent that we were
encouraged to sing it scrambled: inevitably louder, but still quite respectably.
David was astutely selective in the material that he exposed us to; so that we sang
only part of the sublime and elegant [reviewer’s preference!] Fayrfax, since it splits
into solos, trios and duets elsewhere; and only the ‘Glory to the Father’ of the Mundy;
since it is not so inspiring elsewhere. Tallis’ DNA was unmistakable, the elegiac [a
touch of exquisite mournfulness?] in his chord progressions.
Nicola had the day well organised in the lovely little church of St Mary Perivale: very
good to see the female altos helping out the few male tenors: and a fine back up team
of Michael and Mary, and of David and Elizabeth.
For those who missed it, I think that David is doing a very similar programme in
Holland fairly soon; except that it is presented as evensong/vespers rather than the
12.09.09 MAGNIFICATS FROM TUDOR ENGLAND
On a beautiful September day we gathered at St Mary's church, Perivale, by the River
Brent with David Allinson. We began the day by warming up in the churchyard, raising
some concern in the neighbouring golfers.
Once inside the church the focus of the day was the response of Tudor compos ers to
the fast changing religious environment in which they lived. The Tudors have been
much in evidence in the media recently, but their sexual activity has been more
featured than their religion. Their music has had even less attention in the television
programmes yet it is a direct reflection of those changing times. By chance I was
recently reading about the life of Londoners in Henry VIII's time and how dangerous it
was not to be in tune with the latest approved religious position as Henry's reign
progressed. It was said that on the same day a man was burnt at the stake at
Smithfield for expressing independent Lutheran views, while another was hanged at
Tyburn as a Papist. Composers were in the public eye and so more at risk of criticism.
The elaborate settings of Latin texts for the Roman church had to be replaced with
another kind of setting of English words. A setting where the meaning and
communication of the text had to be seen to be more important than the beauty of
the music. How difficult it must have been to consciously relinquish the luxuriant
polyphony of the Latin settings where one vowel could be spun out across 10 bars
(had they had bars). Replacing it with settings where the music had to be secondary
to the clear exposition of the English text.
Throughout the day we moved back and forth between the two mus ical positions.
From the elaborate Latin settings of William Cornysh to the familiar English of Thomas
Tallis. One page of Cornysh, having been changed from white notes to black notes,
contained so many demisemiquaver decorations that at first glance it could have come
from a bel canto opera. Later English settings held on to occasional false relations like
a souvenir from the past, but the decorated, extended lines of pre-Reformation
English church music were gone. You could almost see the pathway beginning which
would eventually lead to Victorian hymnody.
David presented this musical history lesson, illustrated with beautiful music, with
convincing erudition and his usual quickfire humour. I can't quite recall which point he
was making when the success of Celine Dion became an illustration, but it seemed apt
at the time. Perhaps more intriguing was his nostalgic wish to have been part of a
backing group singing diatonic triads* behind the stars of yesteryear on Top of the
Pops. But that is in the past. At this workshop David worked hard throughout the day
and was rewarded with an excellent choral sound, and the usual TVEMF high standard
of sight reading. It was a day to enjoy much beautiful music, and to reflect on a time
when one melisma too many could cost a composer his life.
*The Diatonic Triads sounds like a good name for a group! [DF]
David Allinson Workshop - Magnificats from Tudor England
The venue for this rewarding day was the beautiful 12th Century church of St Mary,
Perivale. The Sunny weather made us all feel happy, and the day began with David's
inimitable warm-up exercises outside in the churchyard. A passing golfer or a low-
flying helicopter pilot would have been amused to see all 47 of us shaking our arms
and legs about among the gravestones, and emitting strange noises, which included
the tricky singing of scales to numbers, with omissions thereof.
Once inside the church again, we began by reading through a Magnificat by Gibbons,
chronologically one of the latest works we sang. This was followed by 'Regali ex
progenie' by Robert Fayrfax, who according to a contemporary source was, when he
died in 1521, considered to be 'the prime musician of the nation'. The style of this
second piece was much more florid, with use of melisma; it was written only a few
decades after the completion of the Eton Choir Book. We now needed some rehearsal
of separate parts, as we did also in the Magnificat by William Cornyshe, a 5-part work
which included some syncopation. David told us that Cornyshe was known to have
written at least three full masses, all of which were lost at the Reformation; the
suggestion was made that they may be walled up in some monastery and one day
may be miraculously discovered! It is interesting to note that as court composers,
both Fayrfax and Cornyshe attended Henry VIII at the Fie ld of the Cloth of Gold.
Turning next to a Magnificat by Tallis, David told us some interesting facts about that
composer's reputation. During the 18th and early 19th centuries Tallis was praised
most for his simpler settings, such as the metrical psalms and easier English anthems.
The Latin motets and 'Spem in Alium' were considered to be anomalies or
anachronistic novelties not worthy of note.
The final two works we sang through were by William Mundy, a Gentleman of the
Chapel Royal under Elizabeth, and Thomas Tomkins, a contemporary of Gibbons,
organist at the Chapel Royal and of Worcester Cathedral, where perhaps one can
imagine this Magnificat was sung. According to David, this last work was 'more of a
curate's egg than that of Gibbons'! We much enjoyed the challenge of singing
'scrambled' and the acoustics of the building seemed to lend itself to this.
David's energy and friendly good humour added great enjoyment to the day, as did
his scholarly comments about the composers and the music. He showed us how the
Latin Magnificat, the song of Mary after the Annunciation, in the Roman Catholic rite
an integral part of the service of Vespers, became after the Reformation as it were
'twinned' with the Nunc Dimittis, the song of Simeon, in the Anglican service of
Evensong. Time did not allow us to attempt the setting by Robert White; however
David promised to take us through another similar workshop (perhaps devoted
entirely to pre-reformation settings) saying that 'The Thames Valley is the best of the
Early Music Forums (Fora?)!
Very many thanks to Nicola Wilson-Smith for her organisation, to the helpers who
provided tea and coffee, notably Michael and Mary Reynor, and special thanks to Mary
for the delicious cakes.
NEMA Survey of Early Music Performers
At a meeting in 2008, National Early Music Association (NEMA) council members
searched their souls thus:- Is NEMA delivering what our members want? Are we
fulfilling our mission1? If not, what priority issues must we address? We needed some
answers, so we launched this survey of early music performers, whether NEMA
members or not. As I had done this sort of work before, the tasks of preparing the
questionnaire and conducting the survey fell to me. You can download my 42 page
report from www.nema-uk.org. The key conclusions are highlighted below, together
with some thoughts on the way forward.
I take the question of NEMA’s raison d’être first. Our first surprise was that a high
proportion of respondents knew little about NEMA apart from the name, had not seen
our website, did not use The Register of Early Music in The Early Music Yearbook and
had not read the articles either in the Yearbook or Early Music Performer (EMP).
Clearly, our PR and marketing are deficient, perhaps because no council member has
professional skills to offer in these areas. Many respondents felt that NEMA needs to
be more outward looking and, in particular, to work more closely with the early music
fora. While we keep in touch with TVEMF, because your Chairman, David Fletcher,
also has a major role in NEMA, our liaison with other fora needs to be improved.
Gratifyingly, respondents who HAD seen the website reported that it was above
average or excellent, and those that HAD read our publications found them useful or
interesting. Certainly, some members feel that EMP is a bit too esoteric. But do watch
that particular space. Our new editor, Andrew Woolley2, plans to make EMP more
appealing to amateurs, without jeopardising its academic standing.
83 out of 115 participants were members of one or more fora. They value h ighly the
excellent workshops and other services. TVEMF with 353 members is the largest,
followed by MEMF and EEMF with 277 and 266 respectively. I estimate the total
number of fora members at around 1,300, after adjusting for people belonging to more
than one forum. How do we grow this number? This will be hard, given that our
respondents perceive the growing scarcity of young amateurs to be the key problem.
It is good that some fora have launched local initiatives to tackle it. Comments
included: “Don’t just send mailshots to Heads of Music; ask to go in and talk to staff
and students (especially 6th form). Get a rep in the major schools, i.e. those with
strong musical reputation”, “I’m working with MEMF committee to look at schools
outreach”, “Attract younger people by performing at venues such as National Trust
properties, shopping malls, etc, where the general public could hear music in an
informal setting”, “Offer cut-price membership of the fora and cheaper entry to
workshop, say for those under 25. Perhaps NEMA could co-ordinate the regional fora
committees in implementing this?”
The last quote raises the question: what should NEMA be doing about the problem?
Any national initiatives would require engaging with numerous musicians, teachers
and administrators throughout our mammoth education and arts industry, whether
centralised or devolved, funded quangos or unpaid volunteer associations (like NEMA
and the fora), which is a daunting prospect. To start with, we (with the fora) plan a
strategy meeting next month. The topics “Attracting young amateurs” plus the
associated issue of “Early music education” will head the agenda. Is anyone in TVEMF
working on this? If yes, do please email me at richardbethellbtinternet.com.
The report includes an exploration of early music performers’ tastes. This takes the
form of “top 20” type charts and lists of respondents’ favourite composers, singers
1 To bring together all concerned with early music and to forge links with other early music organisations in the
UK and around the world. NEMA also acts to represent musicians in the early music field to outside bodies,
2 See Andrew’s article on Henry Purcell’s keyboard music in the 2009 Early Music Yearbook and his editorial in
issue 24 of EMP.
(male and female), instrumentalists and ensembles. The charts are headed by J S
Bach, Andreas Scholl, Dame Emma Kirkby and The Sixteen respectively. However,
the favourites lists contain a huge number of some 670 composers and artists. The
latter include many pop, jazz and folk performers. Early music fans certainly can’t be
criticised as narrow, obsessive specialists. Dear reader, when you get to this part of
the report, do spend some time googling the artist’s name followed by “samples”; I
guarantee that you will make some discoveries. It also notes that the latest Early
Music Register lists about 200 early music ensembles in the UK alone, massively up
from about 40 in 1972. We conclude that the professional early music scene is very
healthy, almost too much so, because many excellent artists and groups are in danger
of being swamped.
The rest of this article contains findings and reflections on my own particular hobby-
horse, early music singing. In my role as
organiser of NEMA’s conference Singing Music
from 1500 to 1900 held in July 2009, I felt
that it would be a good idea to include a
question on early music performers’ preferred
vocal styles, so that we could compare them
with delegates’ opinions. Respondents were
asked to choose which vocal style (“Operatic”,
“Early Music Mainstream” or “Clear Smooth
Sweet Chaste”) they liked best for Handel’s
arias. Although conference delegates used the
same voting slips issued to survey
respondents, they were additionally prepared
by three recorded performances of Handel’s
Lascia ch’io pianga, sung in the three different
styles by the same singer, soprano Peyee
The results of this experiment (see chart) are truly astonishing because they evidence
the huge gap which exists between what informed consumers want and what they
actually get. What they nearly always get, of course, is the modern operatic style
which has prevailed for 150 years now, i.e. huge volume overpowering historically
correct orchestral accompaniments, combined with head-mistressy lower larynx
timbre and a wide throbbing vibrato, although only 8% of respondents prefer this
style. 51% chose the compromise “Early Music Mainstream” style, as developed by
singers such as Dame Emma and Suzie LeBlanc. 41% favour “Clear Smooth Sweet
Chaste”. This was a surprise because this style is never heard today in professional
Handelian performance, even though the historical record suggests that this style was
the norm for around 200 years throughout Europe, until at least 1830. Incidentally,
this experiment knocks on the head a widespread notion that, once a singer has
formed their style, he or she is stuck with the product, typically the “one size fits all”
operatic voice. Peyee Chen demonstrated to the conference that a good, wel l-trained
singer with a beautiful natural voice can vary their sound and style to suit almost any
music, in terms of volume, timbre and a vibrato ranging from wide to zero.
Finally, a message for those of you who are not yet NE MA members. Do complete the
form in your July issue (No. 213), or download it from our website, and send to us
with your subscription, thereby qualifying for the 2010 Yearbook and the next Early
Music Performer, both of which are due out shortly. You will get good value.
PDF from early music performer
NORVIS 2009 1 – 8 August 2009
Over the years I have often attended summer schools but th is was my first visit to
NORVIS. The course is for viol, recorder, lute, singing – in fact all aspects of early
music. There are classes for solo as well as consort groups with a wealth of tutors,
fourteen in all. I had registered as a viol player but hoped for informal recorder
playing in the afternoons. The first session each day was a technique class and I was
lucky to be one of four with Andrew Fowler as tutor. He has an easy manner with a
ready sense of humour and quickly put us at ease. We all found him an excellent
teacher able to note individual difficulties and suggest ways to overcome them.
Each session began with concentration on bowing fluidity. Long notes, scales, starting
and finishing notes, increasing and releasing tension in the bow. In the specially
chosen pieces we were helped to make bowing decisions (push or pull) and fingering,
including some chordal fingering, phrasing and preparing ahead. We were persuaded
to take turns leading into each piece and finding ways to communicate. After the first
day, each class began with a review of the previous day’s pieces before going on to
something new. As the week progressed under Andrew’s sympathetic gu idance, our
consort improved enormously.
The second session of the day offered a choice of viol or recorder consorts, trio
sonatas, solo singing and lute ensembles, to name only a few. I had chosen viol
consort as that was my main reason for attending. The group was fixed: in my case
we were six players, with the same tutor for two days running, then that tutor moved
on and a different tutor came. The music chosen was always interesting but of a
manageable standard. The emphasis was on good consort balance – drawing back
when other parts had the greater interest, keeping together, maintaining contact,
deciding on bowing and fingering, phrase endings and so on.
Immediately after lunch most days there was a “prom” concert, often students playing
solo or trio sonatas; sometimes tutors playing. The atmosphere was informal and
these concerts were very popular. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to choir or
orchestra rehearsal if such was your choice and otherwise ad hoc playing or a walk to
stretch your legs.
At 4.30 p.m. after a cup of tea, there was a ‘Choice of Delights’, often with as many
as six possibilities. Consort songs, part-book playing and singing, a lecture and
Alexander Technique are just a sample of the delights available. One day, Richard
and Vivien Jones brought several of their renaissance viols, which Richard makes, and
anyone had the opportunity to play these beautiful instruments in consort – what a
privilege! Andrew Fowler quickly organised us into a reasonable “working party” and
those fortunate enough to play had a wonderful experience.
Each evening after dinner, there was a concert, by students or tutors or both together
which were well attended and very enthusiastically received. Most evenings finished
with an “Epilogue” in the chapel – perhaps a poem followed by some music or a song.
It was a relaxing and thoughtful half hour to end the day. One evening was devoted
to a ceilidh led by Alistair Anderson who played, most eloquently, his Northumberland
Pipes and concertinas before the dancing began. The final evening concert included
the choir work studied, with the Baroque Orchestra as well as solo and consort items.
What a huge effort all the tutors put in to make the course a resounding success.
They must have been exhausted. My first NORVIS was a joy from start to finish and
my congratulations go to all who made it work. I hope to be back another year!