Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 188
Happy New Year to everyone. There are several TVEMF events during the next few months, so I’m looking forward to seeing many of you before too long. Unfortunately the Sally Dunkley workshop has been full since before Christmas, and Johanna Renouf tells me that the viol day on 24th February is also full up, with one person on the waiting list. Get in touch with her if you would like to be added to the list. The music for the joint event with EEMF at Waltham Abbey in May has changed but Clifford Bartlett, who is organising it this year, has assured me that it will be a good big Italian work in many parts.
This is a big issue so thanks to everyone who has contributed. Now is the time to think about writing something for next month. One suggestion is a review of a summer school you’ve attended, to help readers to choose one for this year (though it would have to be something very unusual to lure me away from Beauchamp House and the Oxford Baroque Week). As you’ll see from this month’s issue, all sorts of contributions are welcome, serious or light-hearted, so get writing.
On a personal note, now that I’ve finished my PGDip(Mus) I’m theoretically much freer, so I’m looking for opportunities to sing or play, or to earn some more money from teaching, administration and other music-related activities. For the last two years I’ve been so busy that I’ve rather dropped out of things, so please let me know if you have any ideas.
We’ve got some more TVEMF events in the pipeline, but suggestions for these (with or without an offer to help organise them) will be very welcome. More about this in the Chairman’s Chat. I’d like to welcome Nicola Wilson Smith to the Committee. She was elected at the AGM in November.
The church at Perivale is not large, so we have had to restrict numbers for the workshop with Sally Dunkley. Consequently it is absolutely full and there's a long waiting list - apologies to those who had to be omitted. Because of the large membership (over 360) we have been having this problem more frequently of late. We will try to find larger venues but TVEMF is not a choral society, so for me the ideal approach would be to run more workshops and reduce the numbers attending each one. This of course requires someone to organise the workshops and I'm very glad to see that some non-committee members have been running events recently. Please think about whether you could spare some time to do this - there are old hands like myself to offer help and advice and it can be a joint effort. It would be good to branch out a bit - we don't cover the late 17th century very well for example.
There are several more TVEMF events coming up, notably those with Peter Syrus in February and Andrew Carwood in March which I shall certainly look forward to. Incidentally, to spare the organiser unnecessary work, workshop applications will not be acknowledged unless you cannot be accepted for some reason, you enclose a stamped, addressed envelope or you send an email requesting confirmation.
Letter to the editor
Wayne Plummer’s appeal for waits for the Long Crendon ‘Mystery Plays’ brings back memories of the 1970’s, when I sometimes joined in a viol consort to provide incidental music for these events in the church, led by my old friend Eric Johnson. I have still a few papers and bits of music for May 8th 1976, if anyone would be interested to see them.
We were got up in surplice-like white gowns (held on by nappy pins), packed rather close in the chancel. Lighting was by common wax candles, fastened precariously to common folding music stands by makeshift candle-holders, and on one occasion the proceedings were enlivened by singeing of a player’s hair. The church atmosphere brought tuning and peg problems and I learned to re-tune (more or less) inconspicuously and pretty well inaudibly during a few bars’ rest. Rehearsals had not made it clear that we were sometimes supposed to fade out after a few bars, and we were rather taken aback to find the parson waving his arms in front of us to switch us off.
In the chancel it sounded (as it indeed was) amateurish and rough in tuning and ensemble; yet my wife, who was in the body of the church, told me that it sounded fine. Later, during a summer school, in the Victoriabethan ‘hall’ of Lambton Castle, I noticed this phenomenon again. A quartet of recorders was playing in ye Mynstrel’s Gallerye, and it sounded grand. In the gallery the intonation was – well – not exactly grand.
I have never seen any scientific explanation of this effect of a resonant building pulling a rough performance into harmony – the ‘sneeze under the dome of St Paul’s’. Can any reader enlighten me?
Did you Know That…?
‘Hildegard of Bingen…is credited with many miraculous cures…Hildegard’s Physica contained some curious remedies. For leprosy she recommended an ointment made from unicorn’s liver and white of egg, and she even tells her readers how to capture a unicorn, using a young woman as bait.’
(A History of Medicine, Guthrie, 1945, p. 102)
(thanks to John Catch)
TVEMF Christmas workshop and lunch
Over 80 singers and instrumentalists attended the Forum’s Christmas event at the White Hill Centre, Chesham on Sunday 26 November. Philip Thorby led us through various ensemble sections from the first two of the great Florentine Intermedi of 1589. We were rather shoehorned into the smaller upper room during the morning, while locals practised archery below. We were able to spread out downstairs at lunchtime for the tremendous buffet lunch to which everyone contributed, and for the afternoon session.
Intermedio is Italian for “interlude”, and in this sense means the artistic pieces that punctuated plays, processions and other festivities. The 1589 Intermedi were the six extravagant musical creations to celebrate the wedding of Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Christine, the daughter of Charles, Duke of Lorraine. They were staged many times between 2 May and 8 June in the Uffizi Theatre, principally to frame the five acts of Bargagli’s comedy La Pellegrina. Their main theme is the power of music, with the notion of a classical “Golden Age” as a favourite piece of Medici ideology.
The Intermedi are in many senses the culmination of this art form, which owes its roots to Poliziano’s La fabula d’Orfeo, presented to a Gonzaga banquet in Mantua in 1480. With this piece, Poliziano virtually invented pastoral drama, free from the rules of comedy or tragedy. For the first time on stage, gods and goddesses appeared to mortals and it seemed natural for characters to speak in song. Philip referred to the contemporary interest in these concepts resulting from the exposure to the Orpheus legend from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and mentioned that the famous Galileo’s father had conducted experiments to see if music really could move trees or other natural objects. This was the effect for which we had to strive!
Like many intermedi and similar pieces over the following century, the 1589 Intermedi are important as a step on the road to opera, which appeared as a distinct self- contained form shortly afterwards in the hands of Peri, Monteverdi and others. Unlike most other intermedi, however, the music survives and a great deal is known about the orchestration, the artists and the accounts and minutes for the vast preparations for these highly complicated spectacles.
Donning my own rather simpler spectacles I waited with the others as Philip found out what forces we had (“viol players to the front – they need extra space and access to their herbal tea!”), arranged us and handed out the music for our opening number, O figlie di Piero (“O daughters of Pierus)” the closing sequence from Intermedio II. This concerns a singing contest between the Pierides and the Muses, with music by Marenzio (1533-1599) to words by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562-1621). In the final section, Hamadryad nymphs in the judging panel declare for the nine Muses and against the nine daughters of Pierus, who are unhappily transformed into magpies. (Perhaps if this was a more usual result of public competitions there would be fewer game shows and “talent” contests on the telly.) Marenzio sets the piece for three choirs in 18 parts: the nymphs berate the Pierides* and award the contest to the Muses (a voi “to you…!”) with what Philip called a “Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year” moment as the Muses in Choir Two acclaim their triumph (a noi! “to us…!”).
We then moved on with a certain amount of repositioning and copy distribution to the previous piece in this intermedio, the winning entry from the Muses entitled “Se nelle voci nostre” (“If these our voices ring in accents sweet and gentle …”). This was quite a big “If” for us as far as Philip was concerned (“This section will be completely consonant – please God”) but he enthused about the noble simplicity of the largely homophonic writing, calculated to appeal to the judges. As there are only nine female Muses and the music was in twelve mixed parts, there must have been some extra magic going on somewhere in 1589 that we could not tap into. Certainly Philip accused us at one point of giving him Rhine maidens when he wanted nymphs in streams!
Instead of Pisa transforming itself into a garden, or a cloud descending to vanish into a temple on the outskirts of Rome, as in the original 1589 production, a medium-sized room and small kitchen were magically transformed into a larger room with a bigger kitchen and a banquet, simply by everyone moving downstairs and putting out tables, chairs and food. After an excellent lunch, we looked at the unsuccessful entry by the Pierides that preceded the Muses. It must be an interesting exercise for any composer to write a piece specifically to lose a competition, even if he is writing the winning entry as well. Entitled “Chi del delfino”, this six part motet suggested that neither Arion, who was saved by a dolphin from a watery death – see Intermedio V - nor Orpheus himself could sing more sweetly. We were evidently sufficiently pathetic to escape magpiedom as threatened by Philip. At one point he asked us to “imbue a phrase with all the pathos that C major has to offer”.
Finally, we tackled the finale to the first Intermedio, “A voi reali amanti” (“To you, royal lovers …”), a hymn of praise to the happy couple who had actually wed by proxy at Blois, and only met for the first time when Christine arrived in Italy the month before the festivities. We were back to three choirs, with 15 voices. While the words were again by Rinuccini, music this time was by Cristofano Malvezzi (1547 - 1599), a much underrated composer according to Philip. “Not only diminuendo, but get softer as well” we were advised.
It was all in all an interesting day, where the organisational complexities relating to location, copies and groaning tables were more demanding than the dots on the pages. Nevertheless we needed all of Philip’s customary enthusiasm and humour to start to bring these noble, large-scale pieces to life. Thanks to him for the musical organisation, to Vicky Helby who arranged the rest of the tasks, and to anyone else who “did their bit on the day”. Next time with sirens on a central cloud against a starry sky, or with the earth opening to reveal demons lamenting their fate, perhaps?
*I first typed “the Pierian daughters” but this would confusingly mean the Muses, who were born at Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus:
A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, and taste not the Pierian spring… (Pope)
We received a number of appreciative comments about the Christmas event, and I think most people found it a very enjoyable occasion. One person complained about the length of time it took to give out the music. Unfortunately not everyone managed to arrive at the beginning so it took Philip a little time to get the first event going in the rather confined space but I hope and think that it didn’t spoil most people’s enjoyment. Next year for David Allinson’s Christmas workshop I’ve managed to book the much larger hall at Amersham community centre where we went in 2005.
I’d just like to thank the people who helped on the day and helped to make things run smoothly. I was particularly impressed with the speed at which all the washing-up was done and the hall made ready for the afternoon session. Thanks ev eryone.
Here is the Weather Forecast for today, 13th of December, read by Ana Crusis –
The day will begin with fog, in fact, a Magnum Mysterium, which will clear as the sun rises and Masses of Byrd song will be heard followed by gentle Ayres among the Hemiolas.
Now that the Schutzing season is here, Gibbons may be Haydn along the banks of the Holborne.
Although The Leaves Be not Green, there are Anonymous Parsons playing Fantasias in the Aeolian fields.
As Christmas approaches, Macaronic carols will be heard, with very few Musica Ficta above the Cantus Firmus.
The night will be in Phrygian Mode. There is even a possibility of Hail Bright Cecilia!
We hope no Purcell will arrive from False Relations.
Now let us celebrate at the Double Bar because Hodie, Hodie, Alexus Natus Erat!!
And now back to the studio for today’s sports news with Viv Aldi, Grace Notes and Tom Kins.
This musical weather forecast was composed for Alex Ayre, on a significant birthday, by his Wednesday Recorder class and sent to me by member Kathy Edmonds.