Tamesis Issue 178
I spent most of Christmas listening to Bach on Radio 3 – what a fantastic idea it was. It has inspired me to think that we should have a forum Bach motet day next year. More details later. There are several new dates for your diary already, but some need the venues to be arranged before they can definitely be confirmed.
Please could someone volunteer to liaise with Clifford Bartlett and take the bookings for the Striggio day in Waltham Abbey on 6th May. Clifford has already booked the Abbey and tutor (Philip Thorby) but it is our turn to do the rest of the organisation this year. The committee are all rather busy organising other events at the moment, or else can’t go, but obviously we will give you any back-up you need.
Brian Meadows-Smith lost his favourite curtal reed at the Christmas event in Amersham. I didn’t find it when I was sweeping up afterwards. Did anyone take it home?
Just too late to include in the November Tamesis I heard the very sad news of the death of John Richards. John actually taught me French at school for five years, and I remember with particular fondness his magnificently frightening performance as a murderous judge in the staff Agatha Christie play. As long-standing members of TVEMF he and his wife Isobel had managed to get to a number of TVEMF events in spite of John's increasingly poor health. We shall miss him, especially his singing at the Renaissance workshops, and extend our sincerest sympathy to Isobel.
Finally, a lot of thanks – to our contributors this time, to everyone who helped at events, and to all the people who sent kind messages of appreciation after last year’s events. Happy new year!
It is two months since our last Tamesis, during which time we have held three very well-attended events. I enjoyed all of them very much, in spite of a certain feeling of déja vu regarding the music. I suspect it would have been unfamiliar to most people but Jeffrey Skidmore had done a workshop for MEMF which included some of the same material, and the Beauchamp Summer School had covered one of Peter Syrus's Praetorius pieces. As for Philip Thorby's "Lesser-known polychoral music for Christmas", I knew all but one of the pieces, and as I pointed out in my thanks to him afterwards, Gabrieli's Angelus ad Pastores Ait featured in our first ever workshop in 1988. However the difference in the performance on the two occasions was quite startling. Philip manages to inject excitement into any piece he conducts and I would probably attend a workshop studying nursery rhymes, should he ever decide to run one. Hmm.. I wonder if Purcell ever set Three Blind Mice?
Last time I took part in Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort by Praetorius I found the tune going around in my head for days afterwards but so far this hasn't happened on quite the same scale following the recent Praetorius event. However it did occur to me that this piece, with its death wish for those of other faiths, would be ideal for the militant wing of TVEMF that I jokingly referred to in an earlier Chat. Although I am not keen on the fashion for political correctness, I was relieved, but not surprised, when Irene Auerbach remarked that the words have been amended for modern use. However I do think that it is good to be aware of the original words as they are very revealing of the political climate of the time when they were written.
If you find a membership renewal form with your copy of Tamesis it means that I had not received your subscription by the time the magazine was posted. It would be nice if you can find the original form, sent with the last issue, but please try not to send your subscription more than once!
If sending me an email please use don't use chairmantvemf.org as it will join the other 30 junk emails per day in my Deleted Messages folder, from which I may possibly fail to rescue it. Sadly there are people who generate various email addresses from the domain names and then send them rubbish daily. Therefore please substitute 'david' for 'chairman'.
Next month we have a workshop studying music for the Annunciation, directed by Andrew Carwood. I have not come across him before but have heard excellent reports and I shall look forward to meeting him and to visiting the new venue of St Mary’s Church in Perivale.
Moon, sun and all things
This was a fabulous event! Jeffrey gave us a real flavour of musical life in 17th Century Latin America. I think we started with the Moon - singing and playing ‘Dulce Jesus Mio’ first in Spanish and then in Chiquitan - a language spoken in Bolivia and thereabouts. Jeffrey described to us, quite enchantingly, how the South American Indians, converts to Christianity, would have gathered at their local mission church and then perhaps dispersed into the jungle night, singing this haunting tune. The next piece was sung in Quechua - which is still widely spoken in the Andean region. This had the extraordinary name of ‘Hanacpachap cussicuinim’ - and was all about the jungle animals (probably worshipping baby Jesus - my notes are faulty here). Very appropriately one of the verses was sung by ‘Snakebite’, who came to this event as a pre-formed group. Thinking of jungle animals, Jeffrey announced that he had fallen in love with the fabulous LIZARD very expertly played by Paul Lewis.
‘Deus in adiutorium meum intende’ by Juan Gutierrez de Padilla, a Spaniard who lived and worked in Mexico, was a beautiful two-choir piece. Jeffrey described his visit to Puebla, where he was researching this music and found the local students laboriously copying out old manuscripts. He felt rather guilty as he typed away on his laptop! In contrast, when he was working in Sucre, Bolivia, he asked if he could copy some old manuscripts and was given a CD with superb reproductions of all he needed!
The Sun was definitely shining on the fabulous ‘Salga el Torillo hosquillo’- a long villancico about a toreador who is compared to the Christ Child. As I was playing, not singing, I didn’t have a copy of the words, so only got the flavour of the story. There were some lovely repeating verses which urged the toreador/Christ Child to take care, to be careful, to be on guard..... I found this, and many of the other pieces, extraordinarily expressive and emotional. There was a lovely a capella piece composed by a Mexican Indian, Francisco Hernandez. This was a Santa Maria called ‘Tonantzin-cuicatl’ - with words in Nahuatl, the Aztec language which is still spoken in Mexico. Being brought up in Mexico, I found this particularly moving. The Nahuatl sounds were very evocative! Jeffrey explained that this composer studied with a Spaniard, Hernando Franco - and that it was the custom to take your teacher’s name, reversing the order of the names.
‘Convidando esta la Noche’ (inviting this the night) was another Christmas pageant piece which alternated story telling with dances. It reminded me of the Posadas which we attended in Mexico at Christmas where a large group of families would act out the Christmas story as a great sung drama. ‘Ay Andar’ by Juan de Araujo was another Christmas piece urging the participants to dance till they dropped!
The singers did a wonderful job, getting their tongues around all the difficult sounds - and I particularly enjoyed listening to the huge sound - expressive and clear. We had some excellent solos which contrasted well with the tutti passages. Jeffrey commented on the difficulty of singing/playing freely and expressively while at the same time keeping strictly to the beat. I thought we did a pretty good job! We had three children for the day - wonderfully well-behaved doing their own thing - and also contributing most happily to the percussion section. Jeffrey led us and the children with great skill and enthusiasm.
Jill Caudle’s excellent organization was much appreciated - we were 70 or so participants - and she and Jeffrey sorted out seating and music so that there was virtually no waiting around! Quite an achievement!!
We ended the day with a brief AGM – thank you to all who attended. And very special thanks to Victoria, Hazel and David who do so much sterling work for us all!
Lesser-known polychoral music for Christmas
A workshop for singers and instrumentalists with Philip Thorby
Amersham, 11 December 2005
Around 80 enthusiasts gathered at the Amersham Community Centre for this workshop. Over the course of the day we studied four two-choir pieces in the two main sessions, with Philip raising the stakes about catching his train by throwing in an ambitious three-choir piece after tea. This was more risky than it might have appeared, as the wealth of traditional Christmas fayre on offer (well done everybody!) took longer to set out and consume, and made the breaks seem more relaxed than would normally be the case.
With his accustomed drive and great humour, Philip first introduced us to a nine-part “Angelus ad pastores” by Hans Leo Hassler. He explained that Hassler had learnt his craft at the feet of Andrea Gabrieli as had Andrea’s nephew Giovanni. This setting involved a four-part higher choir against a five-part choir of lower voices. While the composer had made no attempt to turn the piece into a conversation between the angel and the shepherds, Philip wanted the searching quality of the questions to be reflected in the performance. Beats in threes duly made their appearance after 25 minutes (Philip was actually timing himself) but he explained that in this case the reason was a kind of stretto to generate greater urgency in delivery. Further interest was produced by choirs breaking in early in what would otherwise have been very pleasant repeated passages. Five bar sections for the alleluias and through to the end of the piece produced for Philip a further unsettling of the texture in a very colourful way.
We then moved on to a setting of the same words by Giovanni Gabrieli. This was for twelve parts, with an even greater contrast between higher and lower choirs. Indeed, the lower choir started off rather reticently in what Philip described as “a dim religious light” but soon warmed up. Again, the piece had numerous examples of expectations being set up only to be confounded. There was a general pause written in for this reason and to maximise the potential of the huge acoustic of St Marks in Venice. All in all, though, I much preferred the Hassler, and in conversation over lunch there were quite a few who agreed with me.
It took us all some time to pick things up after lunch, which was a problem because the third piece, a “Quem vidistis, pastores” a 8 by Andrea Gabrieli was perhaps the most considerable of the day and contained passages of some complexity. I blame the cheesecake: I do not know what others’ excuses were, but with Philip swaying in front of us to the rhythm of “I like to be in A-me-ri-ca” we were quickly and literally into the swing again. Shortly afterwards, baritones were enjoined to croon a little over the baby Jesus at “natum vidimus” or at least to “lose the Herod tendency” and get in touch with their maternal side. There was an antiphonal question-and-answer format for the fourth piece, again a “Quem vidistis” a 8, this time by Francisco Bonardo, a little-known name who wrote polychoral music in Venice during the same period. The writing was however very different to the earlier pieces of the day, more fussy somehow, so any opportunities for greater clarity and drama from the antiphonal format could not be realised. The final icing on the Christmas cake was a vigorous three-choir “Jubilate Deo” from Hieronymus Praetorius. Philip placed a tenor voice at the bottom of a first choir of cornets, lizards and recorders, and an alto at the top of a sackbuttish third choir, either side of a grand ripieno Choir 2. Once again, the piece included five bar phrases giving an energetic spring to the music. As always, our thanks go to Philip for his excellent, provocative and inspirational direction. Thanks to those who lent a hand on the day with various functions, with of course a huge thank you to Vicky for her organisation. The Drake Hall seemed to be generally admired too: in a very convenient location for trains, and with a big car park, it is a pleasant, tall and well-lit room with pretty good kitchen facilities including an industrial strength dishwasher. Wot? No mention of the Hemel Hempstead oil disaster? No, except to relate that one unfortunate member living near Hemel Hempstead had to cancel because she was surrounded by smoke and broken windows.
Madeline Seviour wrote to tell me that receiving the November issue with its formidable quiz reminded her that she’d had an idea for a quiz - well not really a quiz, more a challenge - but had forgotten all about it.
A while ago, standing at a bus stop I was passed by a vehicle reg. no: G4VOT - I wondered if it was a baroque musician or dancer, and if anyone had 'bagged' P4VAN or PAV4N. Some weeks later I saw B4CH followed by an initial - can't remember what it was but it wasn't J, unfortunately.
Now I was thinking about all this as I walked into Ilford to go shopping. Then I noticed parked a blue VW Golf reg. S4TIE (obviously not an early musician, though). During the course of my expedition I bought the December issue of BBC Music Magazine, and there inside was a photo of S4TIE with a paragraph about personalised number plates for musicians!
Any more ideas anyone?
Letter to the editor
As a mechanical musical instrument and automata enthusiast I am intrigued by the mention in November Tamesis of the presence of wind singers at the November playing day.
I wonder how one winds a wind singer; a key in the back as in a music box or a handle as in a barrel organ? Presumably the latter as the singing sound would have to be via a bellows. They must be useful to have – no wrong notes but synchronising them with human player and each other will need a very good organ grinding technique.
On second thoughts maybe I am wrong and it was a misprint for wild singers. That sounds like a category I could well fit into. Perhaps we should have a sub category in the voice sections of the members list; (w) for a wild voice.
Thanks Don, that really made me laugh when it arrived in my pile of (mostly) junk mail.
The Early Music Yearbook 2006
(reproduced from the MEMF Newsletter by permission of Beresford King-Smith)
'Nema' is The National Early Music Association, and for many years now one of its most significant contributions to the early music scene in Britain has been the annual production of The Early Music Yearbook; the 2006 edition has just appeared. The EMY provides three reference sections, each of which gives detailed information of vital importance to all those who are active in this field, whether amateur or professional.
The first is a 'Directory of early music in the UK, with details of organisations, promoters and agents, educational establishments, instrument collections, and dealers in books, music, records and instruments.' The second comprises 'a substantial Instrument Buyer's Guide to over 380 early music instrument makers and restorers', worldwide. The third reference section is the invaluable Register of Early Music, first established some 35 years ago, in which your name will be listed (if you have completed one of their slips*) stating who you are, where you live and what you do (sing, play, etc) in some detail, by the use of various 'key' letters against your name: a very useful means of contacting others who share your specialist interests.
The EMY is produced by an Editorial Committee, and (far from those images of horses and camels!) they evidently do a really good job. The area in which the book has moved forward most notably over the past couple of years is in the 'Editorial' section at the beginning, which now makes excellent reading. Comparison with previous issues shows that in 2004, the 'Introduction and Editorial Articles' comprised 10 pages; in 2005, 26 pages; and in 2006, no fewer than 34 pages, including articles about Tomkins and Pachelbel (both with anniversaries in 2006) three articles linked to the work of the Early Music Network, something about the Early Music Exhibition, Peter Holman on The Suffolk Villages Festival, Roger Wilkes on NWEMF and Matthew Spring on the musical instruments in the Horniman Museum's collection.
More details from The National Early Music Association at or e-mail enquiriesnema-uk.org .
*Forum members’ details are automatically included in the Early Music Register unless they opt out on their membership form.
Beauchamp House Summer School - Business as usual!
I always enjoy my week at Beauchamp House singing and playing renaissance music under the direction of Philip Thorby and Alan Lumsden. I particularly like the triple combination of music, the open-air life camping in Alan’s field (though bed and breakfast is available nearby), and the excellent meals provided by Karen who is in charge of catering. As many of you know, Alan has now sold the house and there was some worry about where the course would be held this year. I’m glad to say that Alan has now confirmed that the summer school will continue to be held at Beauchamp House and Karen has agreed to organise the catering again, so all will be well! The theme this year is Music in the Holy Roman Empire, and Clifford Bartlett will also be running his continuo course for those who are interested. (You can do both.) More information from admingamusic.co.uk