Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Many thanks to all the people who have contributed articles this month so that this is not just a listings magazine. Occasionally event organisers remember to commission a review, but it is very interesting to have more than one view of an event, so please do not wait to be asked. Otherwise events tend to be forgotten forever and people who didn't go won't know what they missed!
I thought my baroque day in November went quite well and I'm sorry that I forgot to thank everyone who helped in the December Tamesis. I admit though that it was a mistake to have the AGM at lunchtime on a day like that so this year we will probably hold it at the end of Philip Thorby's workshop in Chesham in October. The music for this has yet to be decided, but it will probably be music from the New World. It will certainly be suitable for voices and instruments so you can book the date in your diary now.
The form for Peter Collier's baroque day is in this mailing. It will be organised very much like a normal TVEMF baroque day. There doesn't seem to be a lot of information on the form, but Peter sends out further details to people who have booked. If you think that more information is required before you book, send me an e-mail and I will put it in next month's Tamesis. One question that kept being asked last year 'no, it isn't compulsory to eat your picnic in the garden!'
BACKGROUND BAROQUE RED NOSE DAY Friday 14th March
SPONSORED SONATA MARATHON
TVEMF members were very generous with their sponsorship of Background Baroque in their marathon performances in aid of Comic Relief in 1999 and 2001 when we collected over £1000 on both occasions (though not just from TVEMF members of course). A form is included in this mailing and we hope that you will feel able to contribute again this time
In 1999 we played trio sonatas. In 2001 it was the complete 5-part consorts by Anthony Holborne. This time it will be baroque sonatas-– mainly trio sonatas but interspersed with quartets and perhaps a few solo sonatas. Please sponsor us per sonata. We intend to play continuously for three hours so you can work out that we are unlikely to play more than 30! (Suggestions for what we might play in 2005 will be gratefully received as we are running out of ideas.)
We are all members of TVEMF – Victoria Helby (recorder and baroque flute), Hazel Fenton (recorder and spinet), Alison Bowler (spinet and recorder), Judith Parker (baroque oboe and recorder) and Elaine Mordaunt (cello and gamba). We will be playing in St Michael's Church, Sycamore Road (the main shopping street) in Amersham on the Hill starting at 10 o'clock. We are glad to say that a member of the congregation has already sponsored us by paying for the church heating, so if you would like to drop in for a while and listen (or encourage people to donate money) we will be very pleased to see you.
If your magazine arrived in a window envelope containing a renewal form, this is because we believe you have not yet paid your subscription. This issue will be the last you receive unless you pay it. Here are some belated thoughts prompted by the returned membership forms:
1. Family membership implies that only one Tamesis is sent to a couple (or family) - their marital status is irrelevant.
2. If there is a cross printed in a box e.g. the one to prevent your entry appearing in the membership list, then there is no need to put your own cross as well. If you wish to remove the cross then write a note to that effect.
3. As far as I can remember, in fourteen years we have only ever sent out one mailing other than our regular monthly Tamesis, so you need have no worries about being inundated with junk mail if you don't put a cross in the appropriate box.
4. We do not have a key for sopranino recorder because, although I do possess one, I feel its use in early music is rather dubious, and the same goes (a fortiori) for the garlein. If anyone disagrees with me then they are welcome to engage in some correspondence, perhaps to be published in Tamesis.
5. We only allow one email address in our membership listing, so please nominate your preferred one.
6. In the case of vocal ranges we do not make fine distinctions, so bass 1 counts as baritone and soprano/alto counts as mezzo. Because of the chronic shortage of tenors I do sometimes allow both tenor and baritone voices for one person, in case they elect for baritone if forced to choose!
7. I reserve the right to omit any listed interests that seem to have little or no relevance to early music e.g. my roller-skating qualification (grade 4, in case you were interested).
I am looking forward to the Alistair Dixon workshop on the 22nd February, which will be devoted to the music of William Munday, and to the 15th March when David Allinson conducts a workshop studying music written for Lent.
Portuguese Day - A Curate's Egg
Sunday 19 January 2003 saw the usual enthusiastic mix of singers and instrumentalists assembled at the Choir School of New College, Oxford, to investigate 17th C. Portuguese liturgical music under the guidance of Peter Leech. The main item was a Missa pro defunctis of Duarte Lobo: typical of the music in the old polyphonic style of the High Renaissance which persisted in Portugal into the middle of the 17th C. Between the movements of this large work (not all of which we played) Peter inserted, in what he convinced us was justified by the practice of the time, four other movements: Lamentaçao de quinta feira santa and Recordare virgo both by the later Diogo Dias Melgas, a strange Dies Irae, and a contemporary arrangement, under the title Andai ao portal pastores, of a folk melody, the last two both anonymous. All these works were in a basic eight parts, some having an additional basso continuo, and one a second additional bass part for harp (of which Peter told us we could authentically have had up to six). The most common division was into two choirs, each of SATB, and we split into a typical church choir arrangement, the two choirs facing each other across an aisle, with instruments
The Missa was a sound work with some very impressive tutti passages, not revealing to me any obvious differences from typical Italian works of the same or slightly earlier periods. The two Melgas works were also in the stile antico and were of high quality, the Recordare virgo being particularly appealing. The other two works, though both also contrapuntal and with a maximum of eight independent voices, were a marked contrast in style and in emotional impact. The Dies irae was fast and, in Peter's interpretation, appropriately fierce. It consisted largely of the same short phrase, sung many times in alternation by the two choirs, until a short coda brought the two together. Peter informed us that multi-part settings of the Dies irae are extremely rare: it was normally sung in plain-chant. Andai ao portal pastores had solo verses, with bass-only accompaniment, and contrapuntal choruses, all in a brisk 3/4 or 3/2 rhythm. Percussion accompaniment would have been appropriate.
Despite certain handicaps noted below, Peter was well organised, used the time well, conveyed an infectious enthusiasm, gave particular attention to Portuguese and Latin pronunciation and to the use of the words in indicating the dynamic and phrasing of the music. He also identified some examples of rhythm contradicted by modern barred editions. He had interesting ideas to vary the repetition in the Dies irae, giving some passages to singers alone and others (since we were not in church, where it would have been inappropriate) to the instrumentalists. His commentaries on the works and their likely context were interesting, informative and authoritative.
What tarnished the day for me, and many of the other instrumentalists also, I suspect, was that, apart from one or two continuo bass parts, we were reading from scores. Moreover, these scores were ill-adapted to our needs, being too small, laid out with no consideration for page turns, lacking stave identification after the first page, and in one case (Andai ao portal pastores) the worst quality photocopies it has been my misfortune to use for several years. Even the Mapa Mundi edition of the Lobo, despite being a good scholarly edition (one of only two with incipits out of the five we used), had difficulties, in particular in not separating the two choirs. My partial solution to the page turn problem was to co-operate with my neighbour, putting our two stands together and both reading from both scores. This worked passably well during most of the day, except for Lamentaçao de quinta feira santa for which insufficient scores had been provided, so that we only had one between us. That not everyone had an equally good solution was made clear when the texture thinned dramatically and inappropriately in the middle of the orchestra 2 solo section of the Dies irae. However, our trick led to worse problems in the play-through, when the combination of poor illumination as the daylight faded, small print, and the change of angle required for sharing led to both of us missing out large chunks in two of the works.
Would I apply again to play Portuguese music under Peter Leech's direction? If I knew that all instrumentalists would be playing from good parts, an enthusiastic "Yes"; if I suspected the material might be as on this occasion, a reluctant "No".
Polychoral Masterpieces from 17th century Portugal, Directed by Peter Leech.
New College School, Oxford. Sun 19th January 2003.
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 director.
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 before.
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 fuss.
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 awareness'’.
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 this.
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 bow."