Polychoral Masterpieces from 17th century Portugal
New College School, Oxford. Sun 19th January 2003.
Directed by Peter Leech.
I find the TVEMF events well organised and most enjoyable and this
was no exception. It was a really enjoyable day full of rich harmonies
and well-constructed music, well led by an able and enthusiastic
Peter is the conductor of two choirs and specialises in 17th C music.
He was interesting and fun to work with, giving encouragement and
constructive comment. The workshop was attended by players of a
good variety of wind and stringed instruments, as well as singers.
Most pieces were for double choir of SATB voice or instrument. Peter
outlined the history of polychoral music in different parts of Europe
and Evora Cathedral in Portugal in particular. Two renowned composers
of the time, Duarte Lobo and Diego Dias Melgas, wrote pieces for
double-choir and I enjoyed learning this music that I had not heard
The music included Introit and Kyrie from Missa pro Defunctis by
Duarte Lobo. These had rich harmonies. Dies Irae by Diego Dias Melgas
repeated the same phrase many times, so we were directed in different
combinations of voices and instruments and dynamics to give variety.
We also studied Recordare Virgo by Diego Dias Melgas, Lamentucao
de Quinta, and Andai ao portal pastores, a folk style piece by anon.
I was interested to hear that this lively song about the shepherds
might well be sung alongside the solemnity of the Mass. In our "performance"
at the end of the workshop we sang it before the Agnus Dei.
I was nervous about sight-singing and felt pretty rusty, but
after singing rounds to warm up (a fun alternative to scales), and
sitting next to stronger singers, I soon relaxed and began to enjoy
learning the music. Those of us unfamiliar with Portuguese initially
found the pronunciation difficult, but improved during the day.
The exercise where we spoke the words in rhythm helped a lot. Peter
carefully managed the pace of the workshop. He gradually increased
the level of difficulty through the day so that we continued to
be challenged as we progressed and looking back it was possible
to see how much we had improved. The harmonious sound that we made
together by the end of the day was remarkable and a wonderful experience. Thank
you to the people who organised the day so well. The smooth-running
contributed much to the enjoyment of the event.
ABRSM Performer's Guides to Music
- of the Baroque Period ) each volume ca. 110 pp., ill., pb, with
CD of 19-25
- of the Classical Period ) excerpts as examples; The Associated
Board of the
- of the Romantic Period ) Royal Schools of Music, price £14.95/vol.
These excellent and modestly-priced volumes meet a real need. The
General Editor (Anthony Burton) writes: "Very often, only those
performers who have got as far as music college or university (and
by no means all of those) have been exposed to ideas about period
performance." Don't we know it....
TVEMF readers are most likely to be interested in the 'Baroque'
volume. As in the others, specialist authors deal with historical
background (Pratt) - notation and interpretation (Holman) - keyboard
(Moroney) - strings (Manze) - winds (Preston) -singing (Potter)
- sources and edition (Bartlett). All are good, often very good,
and are (with just a few reservations) well adapted to the needs
of the non-specialist reader - not that specialists might not learn
something from them! I was not however quite happy with
Manze on strings. It is wholly reasonable that "the violin family
takes pride of place in this chapter" (ca. 8000 words), but that
does not warrant his complete omission of anything about the baroque
(1600-1760) viola da gamba other than to assure us that "many of
the principles below apply equally to all stringed instruments".
Compositions for viols during that period surely call for at least
a paragraph. The chapter is exclusively about the violin family,
and mostly about the violin. I found myself wondering how much Manze
knows about viols and their history and literature, which so often
pioneered practices later exploited by the violin world. Preston's
well-judged chapter, by contrast, dealing with wind instruments
in less space, puts the recorder justly into its modest place without
Even readers who have the misfortune to take no interest in later
music should nevertheless read the 'classical' and 'romantic' volumes.
All are concerned with principles of evidence on performance practice
which apply to all periods. The 'romantic' CD in particular, with
its recordings of performers going back as far as Reinecke (1824-1910;
he knew Mendelssohn and Schumann) is sobering, showing the unreliability
of the written word (or unreliability of subjective human hearing);
performers and composers often did not do what they were supposed
to be doing (see in this context ‘Early Music Performer’,
Issue 10, August 2002, pp.15-23). Yet for older music we have only
the written word as evidence.
And Berlioz's 'March to the Scaffold'layed on contemporary instruments
- robust, almost brutal, attuned to an age when a public execution
was a public festival - is a convincing argument for 'historical
One interesting point; the keyboard instruments used in the CDs
are mostly specified briefly but helpfully (e.g. "clavichord by
J. A. Hass of Hamburg, 1767"); the strings, never (one cello is
described as "of 1709" - stop). I infer that editor and authors
have come to accept that one good fiddle, selected by the player
to suit his own style and taste, is much the same as another. Or
am I wrong?
The ABRSM are to be congratulated on these guides.
I don't know whether you want such a view; but these 'Guides' illustrate
the point which I have made before in 'Tamesis'. The battle for
'historically informed performance' is won. The former 'enemy' (the
Establishment) has changed sides
I have included this bit of John's letter, because I wonder
whether it is true that the battle is really won. I should for example
be very nervous of telling a pupil to play inégale in an Associated
Board grade exam. It is only about four years since I talked about
the idea of historically informed performance (including inégalité)
to an examiner whom I met at a Flute Society meeting, who replied
"Oh no, I don't think we would want to be bothered with that sort
of thing" and said (I can't remember her exact words) that if you
are playing a modern instrument you should play it in a modern kind
of way. It would be interesting to have other people's views about
I am very grateful to John for reminding me about these books. I
have been intending to buy the Baroque Period book ever since I
read the excerpt from Andrew Manze's section on baroque string playing
which was reprinted in Libretto, the Associated Board's magazine
for music teachers. Even as a non-string player I found it very
interesting and I particularly liked the quote he gave from J J
Prinner, one of Biber's colleagues, who wrote in 1677:
"If you want to play the violin properly you must hold the instrument
firmly with your chin, otherwise it would be impossible to play
quick passages which go high then low. Nevertheless, I have known
virtuosi of repute who put the violin against the chest, thinking
it looks nice and decorative, because they have taken it from a
painting where an angel is playing to St Francis and found it more
picturesque: but they should have known that the painter was more
artful with his paint-brush than he would have been with a violin
The next Bill Gregson Memorial Playing Day
held at Lains Barn on Sunday 11th May from 10.30 to 16.40 (10.00
reception). The tutors will be Delyth Holland (viols and recorders)
and Simon Pickard (loud wind). For more information contact Rosalie
Cornwallis, Glyme Farm, Charlbury Rd., Chipping Norton, OX7 5XJ.
Telephone 01608 641037
You might like to join the e-mailing list of the Clerks' Group
conducted by Edward Wickham who sometimes conducts workshops for
TVEMF. It is worth being on their list because there are a limited
number of reduced price tickets for their concert on March 9th which
are available to mailing list members (priority to Friends scheme
If you sign up for the Friends as well you will be given a complimentary
copy of their latest discAuditions for the Broadwood Harpsichord
will be held at Fenton House in Hampstead on 12th
and 13th May. It is open to UK based harpsichord students
under the age of 28 on the closing date, 28th February.
News of Members' Activities
Two TVEMF members have told me about their concerts during
the next few months. Andrew Kay
writes that for once he and
will be doing a real concert without the coffee
machine in the background! (They regularly play at Freud's Café
in Oxford.) This will be in New College Chapel, Oxford at 8.30 pm
and has the intriguing title "Musical Chocolates". Their next appearance
at Freud's Café in Walton Street will be on 3rd March
from 2 to 4.
When I spoke to Alison Bowler
last week she had just had
four exciting hours coaching from Philip Thorby for her concert
with her new group Pellegrina
on Sunday 23rd
The other members of the group are Kyoko Murai (soprano), Maria
Sanger (recorder) and Amanda Seaborn (viola da gamba). Maria is
one of Philip’s postgraduate students. Their programme for
their concert at the Colour House Theatre in London SW19 on Sunday
23rd February consists of English music from the eighteenth century,
with cantatas, songs, keyboard and instrumental music by Handel,
Purcell, Pepusch and their contemporaries. The nearest station is
Colliers Wood on the Northern line.
For more information phone 020 8543 9608 or look at www.pellegrina.co.uk
Alison also plays with Background Baroque
For more information about our sponsored Red Nose Day sonata
in Amersham please see page 3.
William Summers is running a Recorder Ensemble course
Fridays from 5.40 to 7.10 at Morley College, 61 Westminster Bridge
Rd, London SE1 7HT. There are vacancies, so if you are interested
phone the Music Department on 020 7450 1838 and ask about course