Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 204
I’m just managing to fit in a Tamesis between the Beauchamp early music week, which was even better than usual this year, and the Oxford baroque week. These are my two regular summer holiday activities, and I wish they weren’t so close together. Please note that there will not be a September issue, but copy date for the October issue will be Monday 29th September so that the form for the baroque day will get to you in plenty of time.
Neil Edington has asked me to say that he would greatly appreciate volunteers for taking responsibility for the catering on the John Milsom day at Ickenham.
I hope you’re all having a good summer.
For many years the Arts Council provided funding for the Early Music Network which promoted concerts of early music around the country. However from this year there have been significant cuts in Arts Council funds and such money as is available for early music has been given to the Early Music Centre in York which is responsible for the York Early Music Festival amongst other things. One of the functions of the Early Music Network was to publish two directories: one of performers and one of promoters. It would be a pity if these were to vanish but fortunately Jeremy Burbidge of Peacock Press is hoping to keep them going, in conjunction with the National Early Music Association, as there is substantial overlap in content with the NEMA Yearbook.
The early music world has good reason to be grateful to Jeremy, who took on publication of the NEMA Yearbook and the NEMA journal Early Music Performer a few years ago for minimal (possibly negative) reward. He is not a musician, though his wife Ruth is a keen recorder player, and his primary interest is in bee-keeping (he runs Northern Bee Books) but as well as rescuing NEMA and publishing the Recorder Magazine he has recently acquired the Jacks, Pipes and Hammers business.
We have had a request from Norma Herdson for help with funding the newly-formed Thames Baroque Orchestra. This is an amateur group, based in the Maidenhead area, with currently about 21 members . This seems a very worthwhile enterprise and the TVEMF Committee is currently looking at whether we should provide some modest assistance within the terms of our constitution, which amongst other things gives us power to "Sponsor or promote on its own or with others, concerts, recitals, broadcasts, recordings, seminars, lectures, classes and courses and events of an allied nature." One could debate whether an amateur orchestra constitutes a class or a course. I attend the Morley College Southwark Waits at which would be so described, though it could also be called a wind band. Maybe we should broaden the constitution or perhaps people feel this is beyond our remit? In any case I'm sure Norma would welcome a few more members so if you are interested I suggest you get in touch with her: email nherdson @ tiscali.co.uk. It may be that we can organise some sort of joint event in the future - I am conscious that we do not put on many baroque events, partly for lack of string players.
I felt some withdrawal symptoms when I heard how successful this year's Beauchamp course was. I gather that Philip Thorby considered that the concert was the best ever - perhaps my absence was a factor there! I dropped in to the Oxford Baroque Week and was pleased to see so many TVEMF members there but again there was some regret for not being there. A recent burst blood vessel in my right eye makes it tricky to read music at present so maybe not doing a summer school was for the best, but I hope things will improve with time.
This summer, I have been introduced to a Jacobean soldier and fine amateur musician and composer, namely, Captain Tobias Hume. I first met him at a concert by Labyrinto in the Lufthansa Festival, then again on 24th June at a free concert at Charterhouse given by the Rose Consort under Alison Crum. This last was a delight with Hume’s music for viols and voice interspersed with that of some contemporaries (including a somewhat disapproving John Dowland) and Hume’s own words, delivered convincingly by an appropriately garbed actor – Crawford Logan. The Rose Consort and the soprano, Katharine Hawnt, were in fine form, responding to Hume’s advocacy for the versatile viol.
I love being at Charterhouse. It is a courteous and hospitable place and despite some tragedy in its history, and being a mixture of historical styles, overall gives an impression of tranquillity untouched by time. In the setting of the Great Chamber it was easy to feel one was part of an evening of Jacobean domestic music-making (despite the unexpectedly large audience) and this impression was enhanced by the inclusion of a work by Dowland for two players on one lute, and Hume’s riposte – a piece for two players on one viol. If accuracy was not perfect this could be forgiven as it was joyous to see the players overcoming such physical difficulties much as would have been the case in the 17th century. The Elizabethan and Jacobean delight in “conceits” was reflected in these pieces and Dowland must have enjoyed the challenge of the technical difficulty in composition as well as performance, with the need still to create something musically pleasing. Hume’s piece showed his combative personality – anything you can do, I can do better? I also found it pleasing to reflect that the performance of these two pieces presented a perfect opportunity for illicit lovers to be legitimately close in public – my imaginings, I hasten to add, related to the 17th rather than the 21st century. I’m sure they were very popular party pieces. Humour was evident in some of Hume’s music (titles such as “Tickle Me Quickly” almost speak for themselves) and The Soldier’s Resolution contains clever imitations of drums and trumpets, but there were more unexpected profundities with veins of melancholy, tenderness and pathos, not only in the songs (e.g. What Greater Grief), but also in pieces for viols such as Lamentations and Pashion for Musicke among others. Hume described his love for music as “the one effeminate part of mee…. which in mee hath beene always Generous because never mercenary”. His profession was as a mercenary soldier, and when in 1629 he found himself out of work and destitute, he was admitted as a brother to Charterhouse. As a brother he must have been unmarried and he seems to have been unhappy there. In 1642, at the age of 66 (or possibly 72), he unsuccessfully petitioned the Lords in Parliament to supply him with men and his “war engines” so he could go and subdue Ireland. He complained that he had no money or food and was forced to gather snails from the garden to eat. If this were true, it would be a poor reflection on the care given to the destitute brothers in Charterhouse but I suspect that thirteen years of inaction and obscurity had a depressing effect on a man who had travelled widely and earned respect in his military profession. Furthermore, we do not know if he still had opportunities to play and compose music there. The only extant music we have of his (The First Book of Ayres and Captain Hume’s Poeticall Musicke) were both published when he was in his 30’s and he was around 60 when he entered Charterhouse. He died there three years after his Petition, in 1645.
It would be fascinating to discover more, but at least this contradictory and unusual character and his music are now emerging from a long obscurity. He claimed that his music borrowed nothing from others, either Italian or French, but was entirely his own, and, to paraphrase him, “if you don’t like it you can write your own”. Captain Hume, I do like it!