Last month I complained that no-one had written a review of the
excellent Bach Family day in Oxford - now there are two reviews,
so thank you very much to both writers. Many thanks too for the
review of the course in Italy. There is certainly a lot more to
read this month.
I also asked last month if anyone had been to a Pro Cantione Antiqua
course. Pat Field reminds me that he reviewed one in the November
2002 Tamesis. As I write this Tamesis before February 2003 has disappeared
from the web site, but I hope that all the earlier issues will shortly
I hope you enjoy the seasonal book review provided by David!
Neil Edington told me about a month ago that tenors are still needed
for Michael Procter's weekend in May. I'm not sure if this is still
true, and I think that other parts are already full, but it's worth
You will find on the back page a booking form for a singing day
with one of our favourite conductors, Dr David Allinson. It's called
a Tudor Feast but I don't think food is involved! If you don't want
to cut up Tamesis you can photocopy it or send a letter with the
details asked for on the form.
Please note that from next month the copy date will be the second
Monday of the month, instead of Wednesday.
I gather the Baroque Day was very
well attended and went well, thanks to a huge amount of work by
the indomitable Peter Collier - many thanks Peter. Sadly, I was
unable to attend as the Inter-Fora meeting took place the same day
in Sutton Coldfield. This has nothing to do with florists, but is
the annual meeting of Forum representatives at which we discuss
matters of mutual interest. Forum boundaries were on the agenda,
following a proposal to align them with county boundaries. I pointed
out that we actually had as many members in Cyprus as in Bedfordshire
(which had been allocated to TVEMF), but 35 in Surrey which was
not thought to be TVEMF county. The idea was abandoned but the Forum
map in the Yearbook will be changed to reflect the fuzzy nature
of the borders. My claim on behalf of TVEMF to the historic lands
of Burgundy (on the grounds of once having had a member in France)
was left on the file.
Next month sees our annual liturgical mass with Michael Procter,
this time in St Mary Le Strand whilst St. Augustine's is being renovated.
This is always a successful event and it is good that we occasionally
remind ourselves of the purpose of much of the music we sing.
Thames Valley Early
Music Forum Members by County as at 18th April 2004
Cyprus, Beds, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Leics, Suffolk, Warks , Wilts,
Yorks 1 or 2 each
Durrell: The Alexandria Quartet
Set in early twentieth century Egypt, this book explores the passions
and relationships between four very different people. The lovely
Justine tempts Darley away from his lover Melissa but is finally
seduced by the eponymous Alexandria who dominates the recorder quartet
with her unique blend of arrogance, sexuality and musicianship.
Waugh: Viol Bodies
An enterprising instrument maker sets out to convince the world
that viols should be made trapezoidal, rather than the traditional
shape. He fails.
Arrowsmith: Jackboots and Coronets
A salutary tale of the perils of too readily accepting a spell checker's
suggested correction. The early brass ensemble suffer the attentions
of Neo-Nazis and fortune hunters after a misprint in a concert title
is "corrected". Not for the faint-hearted.
This appears to be a somewhat verbose translation of the libretto
of Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patri but in an idiom which
some may find offensive. Some of the book is difficult to relate
to the original, but just close your eyes and think of Italy.
Dadd: Mutant Ninja Curtals
An early wind band attempts to save civilisation as we know it but
merely succeeds in annoying the neighbours.
The Oxford Baroque chamber music day
I don't know how many people there were at this joint event
with the Friends of the Oxford Baroque Week (who support the annual
summer school) but there seemed to be an enormous number. It was
really frustrating to see so many friends and hardly to have time
to talk to them, never mind play in the same group with them.
As usual the day was admirably organised by Peter Collier, the
director of the summer school. On a day of torrential rain, the
weather almost cleared up for a few minutes at 9.30 in the morning
and 6 in the evening so that it was possible to unload and load
harpsichords without getting them too wet. Lunchtime was not so
good. I had only just got back from my holiday so couldn't take
a picnic lunch. Someone kindly lent me their umbrella so that I
could splash over to the pub, where I eventually discovered that
there was a waiting time of an hour for food. I think next time
Peter should suggest that everyone takes their own food, though
I did in fact eventually find a very nice café in Headington,
the Café Noir, where they managed to produce a very good
hot sandwich for a couple of drowned rats in record time.
This kind of day is always difficult to organise if you don't know
all the people who are going to be there, but Peter managed to arrange
about fifteen groups for each of the four sessions and was 99% successful
in avoiding making anyone play the same piece twice. I heard about
one or two less than perfectly compatible groups, but on the whole
I think they worked very well. I had some very good sessions, two
of them in particular. One of them was playing Couperin's Les Nations
on baroque flute with a baroque oboe d'amore on the second part,
a particularly successful combination. For me of course it was also
a great pleasure to take part in a baroque day that someone else
The Genius of the Bach family:
a workshop for voices and instruments with Peter Leech
My attempt to respond to Vicky's request for a review of the
Bach Family Workshop by Peter Leech in Oxford on 28th February 2004
is somewhat restricted by the fact that I was so caught up in enjoyment
of the day that I neglected to write down legibly many details of
the pieces studied - so please forgive me for being rather non-specific
at times. I arrived a bit cross, having wandered round the many
buildings of Magdalen College School in search of TVEMF, but this
irritation was speedily dispelled (and David forgiven for leaving
behind the directional signs).
Peter Leech was informative on the effect on German music of the
100 Years War, which had just ended at the relevant time, pointing
out the twin themes of Doom or Fate (as evinced by the many settings
of "Das Blut Jesu Christi") and Redemption. In some settings,
these themes were split between a high and a lower choir, before
the choirs combined more optimistically towards the close of the
piece. Peter gave information as a guide to interpretation in performance
and I thought the balance between talk and actual music- making
was just right.
We actually worked on 7 pieces, achieving a creditable performance
of 6 of them at the end of the day. In this respect, this was one
of the best workshops I have attended, as the music chosen was relatively
straightforward, though rewarding, and there was time to achieve
a polished performance. Peter was satisfactorily complimentary about
our sound and our performance at the end. This was a well attended
event, with visitors from Midlands EMF as well as pupils from the
school - the latter adding a nice countertenor sound behind me in
There were unexpected delights. "This is just like Brahms!"
my neighbour, accurately, pointed out, while a brief and pleasing
bit of Soprano/Alto duetting reminded me of Schubert's Mass in G.
A Hassler piece was included to remind us of Italian influence,
and one of the pieces concluded, very unexpectedly, with a joyous
and dance-like 'Hallelujah'. I was particularly struck by 2 of the
pieces by Johann Ludwig Bach (one of the "Das Blut"s and
"Gott sei uns gnadig"), and also "Unser Leben ist
ein Schatten" by Johann Bach, but it was all wonderful, and
Magdalen College School Chapel, once found, was an excellent venue.
Oxford, on the day, was cold, bright and sunny, and as always beautiful.
May I request more similar events with Peter Leech, please, so we
can explore more of these undiscovered gems from the other 45, or
however many, members of the Bach family living in and around Eisenach?
The Genius of the Bach family:
a workshop for voices and instruments with Peter Leech
Magdalen College School was the venue for the latest TVEMF workshop,
an exploration of works by members of the Bach family earlier than
the great Johann Sebastian. Around 65 early music groupies were
joined by staff and students from the school, which I note from
one of my books was founded in 1478, 20 years after Magdalen College
itself. We were in Big School, a combined hall and chapel built
in 1964-6 with plenty of board-marked concrete, and described by
Pevsner as "generally canted in the sixties way".
The day was very ably run by Peter Leech, director of the Bristol
Bach Choir and the City of Oxford Choir, who combined great musical
skills and a well-tuned ear for the colour of the German language
with fascinating glimpses of the local conditions in which many
of these works were created. Firstly, Peter pointed out to us that
Germany lost around a third of its population during the Thirty
Years' War (1618-48) through conflict, disease and famine, the population
only recovering to its former size around the 1740's. Thus in the
first piece we tackled, a two-choir 'Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil'
by Johann Michael Bach (?1648-90), the second choir with its bouncier
rhythms possibly represented Hope while the first choir in more
serious chorale mode pointed the finger of Fate. The ensemble was
pretty tidy right from the start of the day, which earned compliments
from Peter and promised well for the rest of the workshop.
We also learned that of the 85 musical members of the Bach family
of this period, most lived and worked without ever leaving an area
of 50 mile radius in Thuringia. (Andrew Benson-Wilson very usefully
described this to me in the lunch break as the "bottom left
hand corner of East Germany"). They all knew each other's work,
and it is evident that the pieces stayed in the repertoire because
in many cases the surviving manuscripts are much later than the
original composition dates.
We moved on to another double choir piece, 'Das Blut Jesu Christi'
by Johann Ludwig Bach, born 1677 and a third cousin of JS. For Peter,
the 7/6 cadences of the initial phrases were a musical sigh or sob,
requiring delicate phrasing. Because of the seriousness of the subject
and the contemporary difficulties of existence, he thought that
the lighter music might represent the transience of life.
Then came another setting by Johann Ludwig, this time of Psalm
67, 'Gott sei uns gnädig'. This was a liturgical piece based,
Peter thought, on the tone scale of a particular Magnificat. While
the setting was for two unequal choirs, SATBB/SATB, it could be
better described as two equal choirs with an astonishing added bass
line, sometimes ascending and descending in scales of B flat major,
and sometimes breaking out into cascades of semiquavers against
homophonic antiphonal writing for the rest of us.
The next piece was a more intimate five part setting of 'Das Blut
by Johann Michael again. The chorale in the top line prompted Peter
to tell us that there was a long tradition of chorale singing, and
indeed choirboys were expected to know a large number of chorale
tunes by heart as part of their education. The forces expanded again
for Johann Bach's 'Sei nun wieder zufrieden'. This particular Bach
lived between 1604 and 1673 and was not a direct ancestor of the
great JS. He knew the music of Schütz, who though working for
Catholic courts in southern Germany brought polychoral composition
style to Germany as a whole. Here his influence was felt in the
more immediate borrowing of music between the two choirs.
Another Johann Bach piece, 'Unser Leben ist ein Schatten' brought
back the idea earlier expressed of one choir, this time a smaller
three part ATB group telling the story of the piece in simpler harmonies
between more florid writing for a larger SSATTB choir. Finally,
by way of contrast, we tackled 'Angelus Domini descendit' which
showed the influence of Lassus on the South German musical scene,
this time in the hands of Hans Leo Hassler writing for two unequal
four part choirs. The joyful Latin was quite a change after the
generally more pensive German.
We managed to get through a great deal of music, and our thanks
go to Peter for his excellent handling of our varied forces, his
great sense of fun and his application of just the right amount
of knowledge and musical wisdom. Thanks also to Andrew Benson-Wilson
for playing the organ (rather a busman's holiday for him), to John
Graham for organising the day, and to Magdalen College School for
generously donating the hall by making the workshop an educational
experience for staff and pupils. I hope that they enjoyed the day
as much as I did.
PASTIME WITH GOOD COMPANY
Whilst many people in Britain were agonising about whether or not
to go and see Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, TVEMF
stalwarts Sidney Ross and I, together with members of Brighton Consort
and Southern EMF, were in Italy, doing Palm Sunday for real. The
occasion was a weekend workshop from 2nd to 5th April that was held
in Triora, a picturesque medieval village set high up among really
stunning surroundings in the still snow-capped Ligurian Alps. This
workshop was organised by Tallis Scholars Deborah Roberts and Andrew
Carwood and was aimed at experienced singers with a particular love
for old-fashioned liturgical music and practice. Sidney and I both
qualify on this score, on account of a preference for pre-Baroque
Thus it was that a mixed bag of 5 sopranos, 5 altos, 2 in-betweenies,
5 tenors (two of us female), 1 baritone and 4 basses gathered on
a Friday night in our hotel to explore our collective ability not
just to sing through but to make music of some lovely repertoire
from the sixteenth century, mostly but not exclusively from the
pen of Tomas Lu?s da Victoria (and comprising Pueri Hebraeorum;
O vos omnes; Vere languores; O Domine Jesu Christe; a double choir
Agnus Dei; a 4-part piece for men's voices, Tenebrae factae sunt;
Domine non sum dignus; Caligaverunt oculi mei; a short set of Lamentations
for Holy Saturday for the Third Reading; and an extract from the
Improperia: Popule meus, quid fecit tibi). Italy was represented
by Anerio's Christus factus est, and England by Thomas Weelkes'
stirring anthem, Hosanna to the Son of David. In addition, a small
group of us, more familiar with Gregorian chant, formed a Schola
cantorum to provide an authentically ecclesiastical opening and
some plainsong interludes to pad out Crux fidelis, attributed to
King John IV of Portugal.
The locals having been warned in advance, we processed through
the narrow streets on Palm Sunday morning, singing the hymn Gloria
laus, et honor tibi sit. The most memorable recollection is of Andrew
Carwood walking backwards, one arm raised high in the manner of
a tour guide leader, whilst attempting to hold together a choir
that was largely hidden from a sight of him (and the dots) round
dark medieval masonry bends; all this without stumbling or falling,
and in the teeth of a wind that threatened to remove the written
neums to another realm. (P)neumatic rendition, as one might say.
One participant, as a child of the Hebrews, was mightily relieved
at not having to carry any olive branches while attempting to concentrate
on producing the required degrees of stress on the horizontal epizemata
and reduction in volume on the liquescents. After this we performed
most of the prepared music in an adjacent church, San Giovanni Battista,
to an appreciative audience, many of whom were old enough to remember
when this glorious sound was still considered the authentic voice
of Holy Mother Church; sadly, this is in general no longer the case.
And naturally, this being rural Italy, some energetic quaffing
of local brews, relaxed enjoyment of good food and conversation,
striding the hills and medieval streets, and purchasing of regional
staples such as olive oil, was engaged in to a degree by all present.
Since one can count the experiment as a major success, Deborah Roberts
hopes to make it something of a regular occurrence in future years.
Any prospective applicants may wish to register this fact now for
News of Members' Activities
TVEMF members Julia Raeburn (Voice/Recorders) and Dawn Johnston
(Lute/Theorbo) together comprise "The Muses Gardin"
Duo. Julia writes:
"Our aim is to bring the Renaissance and Baroque periods well
and truly alive with "themed" concerts, e.g. "Shakespeare
and Love!", "Let there Be light!", "Come Ashore
Merry Mates!". We include a great variety of vocal/instrumental
pieces, with readings from the time to add an extra dimension -
a entertaining "buffet" of many small musical dishes rather
than a "sit-down" meal
!! - We have given concerts
from Leeds to Cornwall, for Music Societies and the National Trust.
We were delighted to be invited to give four concerts at the National
Maritime Museum, Greenwich, over Summer 2003, as part of their prestigious
"Elizabeth" exhibition, marking the 400th Anniversary
of the death of Queen Elizabeth I.
Our new programme for Summer 2004 is "In an English Country
Garden" celebrating the beauty and imagery of the flowers,
gardens and landscapes that have been for many centuries an essential
element of the English Country House, in music and readings from
the 14th-17th centuries. This programme is receiving its first outing
in a free Lunchtime Recital at Kingston-upon-Thames Parish Church,
(All Saints), Market Place, Kingston, Surrey, on Thursday 27th May
1.15-2.00. TVEMF members most welcome! You will also catch sight
and sound of Dawn at the Globe Theatre, playing at a number of performances
of "Much Ado About Nothing" this Summer."
Pellegrina - Kyoko Murai (soprano), Maria Sanger (recorders),
Amanda Seaborn (viol), Alison Bowler (harpsichord) will be playing
in an afternoon concert on Sunday 23rd May at St.Anne's Church,
Kew Green at 3.30pm. The concert will include cantatas, songs and
instrumental music by Handel, Purcell, Pepusch and Finger. Teas
will be available afterwards and there will be a retiring collection.
For more details, please email Alison Bowler.
Renaissance Singers 60th
2004 sees the 60th anniversary of the Renaissance Singers and
a number of unique events are planned and are open to all.
The main Anniversary Celebration will be an all-day open workshop
in London on Saturday June 5th. A number of TVEMF members took part
in the 50th anniversary celebrations, which were a uniquely memorable
musical experience, a highlight of which was singing Palestrina
under the direction of our founder, the late Michael Howard. For
the 60th anniversary, we are again inviting former directors and
musicians of the Singers to take part and lead events.
More recently, many TVEMF members will remember the Renaissance
Singers concert tour of City Churches in summer 2002, which turned
out to be a phenomenally popular, enjoyable and successful event.
On Saturday, July 10th, starting at 4.30pm, the Singers will once
again explore with their audience some rarely visited historic churches
in the City of London. Music from the Singers directed by Edward
Wickham, and short commentaries by our guest speaker Andrew Joncus,
will help reveal the unique identity of these hidden architectural
On May 22nd, the Singers will give a concert with a difference!
The theme will be parody mass settings based on the tune 'L'homme
armé'. Different sub-groups of the Singers will prepare and
perform four different composers' settings starting with the Kyrie
movement. After each movement the audience will be asked to cast
votes on a setting to knock out. Just one setting will end up being
performed fully. The concert is designed, as always, to be musically
illuminating, and supported by additional elements of competition
The final arrangements for each of these three special and complex
events are still being worked out. Please see the Singers
website for the latest information.