Tamesis Issue 184
This is a bumper edition, with so many contributions that I’ve had to hold over Penny Vinson’s review of Ariodante at the Coliseum until next month. Very many thanks to all our authors. There are actually three reviews of the Michael Procter weekend, which must be a record. Andrew and Lesley Black have taken some excellent photographs of the event, which I was very sorry to miss. You can see them at You will see that we are pressing on with events for the coming season. Alan Lumsden’s workshop for voices and instruments on Sunday 8th October has now been confirmed, and the form will be sent out with next month’s Tamesis. The title is Dixit Dominus - polychoral settings of Psalm 110 from the late 16th and early 17th centuries by composers including Grandi, Lassus, Pujol, Rigatti, Romero and Schütz. Some of these settings have obbligato instruments and all benefit from substantial instrumental participation. We are still trying to fix a medieval workshop in December, but it is proving difficult to work out a format that will suit everyone. There are now three events to put in your diary for next year as well. Please note that there will be an August Tamesis, but there is unlikely to be one in September as that is when I have to hand in my course work. Please make sure you send in your contributions and information for the August issue by the second Monday in the month at the latest.
Beauchamp House Early Music Week
On Sunday 23rd July I’m going to the Beauchamp House summer school which is going to be held at its usual venue in the countryside outside Gloucester, even though Alan Lumsden has now sold his house and moved permanently to France. The musical part of the course ends on Friday evening, but breakfast is provided on Saturday morning for those who decide to stay. The food is always wonderful, with plenty of fresh local produce and cider, and no doubt Alan will bring over some wine from France. I like to take my tent, but there are good bed-and- breakfast places nearby. The city of Gloucester is just up the road.
This is a lovely informal course, more like a summer holiday with very good music, and the theme this year is Music in the Holy Roman Empire. Alan Lumsden always edits a lot of new music specially for the course. Philip Thorby is the other conductor, and Clifford Bartlett will be there too, tutoring keyboard players in continuo playing for some of the time and playing continuo himself. The course is for singers and players of cornett, sackbut, violin and continuo. Recorder and viol players are welcome too but they need to be willing to sing.
If you think I’m selling the course rather strongly, you’re right. Because of the change of management there are rather fewer bookings this year, and there is a shortage of tenors and basses in particular. If you fancy a few days in the country, the contact details are in the Events listings at the back, and the Chairman or I will be happy to tell you more about it.
I was asked to send out leaflets for the Early Music Weekend at the South Bank but when I read the programme my heart sank. The words "inspired by..." and "a 21st century interpretation of..." and "Medieval music meets contemporary jazz" suggest that the plan was to have an early music weekend without having to do much early music. I see they are also putting on music by those neglected composers Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi amongst others. Still some of our members may enjoy it, so you will find a leaflet in your copy of Tamesis. Is it time to start the Campaign for Real Early Music (CREaM)?
The mention of leaflets reminds me that last month we included a leaflet for a concert by David Allinson's Cantores choir. Those of us who attended (and I counted 15 from TVEMF) enjoyed a magical evening of sixteenth century polyphony by Victoria, Guerrero and Palestrina. The venue had to be changed from Charterhouse to the nearby church of St Bartholomew the Less. This proved to be an ideal setting as the audience was close to capacity and the acoustics allowed the choir to be heard to perfection. David founded Cantores when he was studying at Exeter University and is to be congratulated on the energy and enthusiasm which has kept this excellent choir almost intact during the eight years since he left. All but one of the original members sang in the concert, coming from as far away as Sweden. Charterhouse, which was a monastery founded in 1371 but converted to use as a charity school under Henry VIII, should be an interesting place for their next concert - see for more details when they become available.
A number of TVEMF members came straight to the Cantores concert from rehearsing for the mass in St ugustine's with Michael Procter, which I gather was going really well.
The South Bank weekend you mention, David, is more evidence of a worrying trend. Members may recall that half the concerts in the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in May were subtitled ‘Beyond Baroque’. The programme included those well-known early music composers Messiaen, Schubert and Schoenberg, as well as three recitals on the modern piano.
TVEMF at The Dutch Church: 10th June 2006 with David Allinson.
There is little information on John Sheppard in my Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. There, under Shepherd, he is said to have been a chorister in the Chapel Royal in Mary Tudor's reign. His dates are vaguely given as circa 1520-circa 1563 and he was clearly a Catholic. Only four masses by him survive. David Allinson explained that many Catholic composers, living in Protestant times, found it safer to compose for other parts of the liturgy rather than the more controversial mass, and it was from such motets and antiphons that he had selected the pieces we tackled. These were the "Libera Nos" (Trinity Sunday Matins), "In Manus Tuas, Domine" (Compline on Passion Sunday), "Salvator Mundi" (Compline on Christmas Day), which we only had time to sing through once, and the piece on which we focused, the complex and monumental "Media Vita in Morte Sumus" (Antiphon for the Sunday in Lent which falls two weeks before Passion Sunday). I am pleased to report that we achieved a very reasonable standard of performance of this piece - all but one verse which there was no time to tackle. "Media Vita" is complex in structure, with interpolations of plainsong including one of the whole text of the "Nunc Dimittis", as well as verse interpolations and repeated sections. Both the high lying soprano part and the plainsong cantus firmus in the baritones were, I thought, very well sung; the remaining four parts were wide ranging, with unexpected shifts and fleeting dissonance with other parts. There is no attempt at word painting; in fact one syllable of a word could continue for many bars, with the odd rest, so on a purely verbal level, the listener might make little sense of the text - one of the chief objections of the Protestants. However, the emotional intensity of the music always appropriately matched the text. David told us that Sheppard's music had been compared with architecture, but stressed that this did not mean it lacked emotion, and I think the variety in the pieces he selected bore this out. He also used the phrase " endlessness with energy" which seemed apt. I particularly recall a phrase in "Libera Nos" introduced in succession by all seven parts on a descending scale and repeated - "0 beata Trinitas" which beautifully conveyed eternity and was rapturous in its effect. This contrasted sharply with the weightiness of texture in "Media Vita" with its emphasis on man's helpless dependency.
As ever, David Allinson was, despite a cold, a thorough, enthusiastic, enlightening and encouraging tutor, drawing a very good sound from the group, and achieving good, if not perfect results. Making things fun certainly encourages hard work! Congratulations are also due to Johanna Renouf for the organisation of the day - including good clear copies of the music and wonderful cakes for tea. The Dutch Church is a comfortable venue, with the added advantage of being able to sing things through in the Church itself. I now feel that I would like another day on the lesser known English composers of this period as the repertoire seems well worth exploring and very satisfying to sing.
Embarras de richesses : Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria, Morales and Guerrero
in Kilburn and the City
St. Augustine’s Kilburn is notoriously a freezing cold church in which we normally sit around huddled in about 3 sweaters apiece, but in the sweltering heat of last weekend it was very pleasant to be able to retreat from the sun beating down outside and sit in short sleeves in the merely comfortably cool interior – quite apart from the pleasures of working with Michael Procter on Palestrina’s Missa Tu es Petrus and Byrd’s propers for the feast of SS Peter & Paul, which we were due to celebrate at the service on Sunday.
After an extended warming/loosening-up session (including some shadow-boxing when we were enjoined not to damage any tenors if we could help it), we had a quick sing through the motet on which the mass is based (which happens to be one of my all-time favourites – a friend of mine refers to it as “the trumpet-blast of the Counter-Reformation”) before getting down to work on the propers and the mass, just the Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, as the vicar wanted to use the (not very exciting) Gloria which the congregation normally sings, and the Credo is not used as it is said by the congregation. The propers proved the trickier to get under our belts, and it took a lot of time and some hard work before we got them to a reasonably respectable state - we had the usual problems with altos (rather thin on the ground on this occasion) having to sing what are really tenor lines and being unable in consequence to bring things out where needed in some places because the line lies in the wrong part of the voice, and people also seemed to be having difficulties with the rhythms, which if one doesn’t have a built-in sense of pulse do often require pretty careful counting. The mass was more straightforward in many ways, though perhaps slightly uneven – Michael expressed mild doubts as to whether it was really written by Palestrina, in spite of being based on his motet. Apparently after Palestrina’s death a great flood of works purporting to be by him, of which this was one, appeared on the market (the Pergolesi syndrome), and Michael felt that there were some things in this mass which Palestrina would have done differently, but no matter who wrote it, it is a good piece, carrying some of the word-painting of the motet into its new context, and having some very pleasing lines to sing. People had to keep their linguistic wits as well as their musical ones about them, as we were using Italianate Latin for the Palestrina, as one would expect, and English Latin for the Byrd, which some of us found confusing, but we were just about getting there by the end of the day.
After finishing work on the Saturday several of us repaired to the church of St Bartholomew the Less, just inside Bart’s hospital, for a glorious concert by David Allinson’s Cantores, the small choir which he started, as The Cantors, when working on his Ph.D at Exeter University. Nearly all the founder members had foregathered from various far-flung places for this concert, and proved to be as good as ever, with an excellent sense of line and a pleasing sound, and the 15 voices well able to raise the roof when required. The church represented a last- minute change of venue, from the Great Chamber in the Charterhouse, the management there having suddenly woken up to the fact that the Medical School ball would be taking place there, with hordes of people wandering about, amplified rock bands, etc.- not conducive to civilized performance and enjoyment of 16th-century music. Although some of us were disappointed not to see the Great Chamber, which I am told has a rather fine plaster ceiling, the acoustics in the church were probably more singer-friendly, and there was also more space, so that those who had failed to obtain a pre-booked ticket were now able to come and get one at the door, if they got the information in time. The main work was Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus, preceded by the chant on which it is based and the Jubilate written by Morales for the Peace of Nice, which also uses it, and which Victoria took as a model. As well as providing programme notes, David (now quite a frequent leader of TVEMF workshops) gave us a little talk on how the mass was constructed, and he went into some detail as to how the chant was used, so that we could listen out for it. The mass was interspersed with the motet O quam gloriosum in the middle and a double-choir Ave Maria at the end, which fitted very well (and O quam gloriosum in particular is a treat anyway). The second half consisted of settings of texts from the Song of Songs, mostly by Victoria, but with a contribution apiece from Palestrina and Guerrero - David reminded us that all three had been in Rome at the same time, and that there was a good deal of cross-fertilisation (Michael had been saying the same thing earlier in the day). It was a gorgeous selection, ending with another of my all-time favourites, Victoria’s Vidi speciosam, which David described as pure joy – and that was certainly how it came across. There are to be two further Cantores concerts, in September and November, in the Charterhouse, and the choir intends to record its 4th CD shortly, but it is going to need help with funding for this to happen, so anyone with ideas for sponsorship or fundraising is invited to contact David (djallinsonhotmail.com).
The next day we returned to St Augustine’s to sing the Palestrina mass in the context of the service, always slightly nerve-wracking as there are so many pieces of paper to get into order – the bits and pieces, hymns, responses, etc., get given to us on separate sheets, photocopied on both sides, and we need to keep track of them and slot them in at the right places, and look at the service book at the same time if we are not familiar with the ritual. We sing from the choir stalls, while the service is conducted at a secondary altar at the head of the nave rather than the high altar in the chancel, so it is quite easy for Michael to discreetly hold up the piece we have to sing next, which is very useful if one has lost track of where we are. We had one glitch, which has never happened before that I can remember – the church forgot to give us a sheet for one of the hymns, and we were all at sea when the organist started out on a totally different tune from the one we were expecting – frantic consultation of the service sheet (which we normally don’t need to look at, as we have all the music) to find the number, followed by scrabbling around to try and find hymn-books – words only, and not enough to go round, but most of the choir was able to join in by about verse 3, and more than doubled the volume coming from the congregation. The music we had worked on went pretty well (though as always some details got missed in the heat of the moment), and came in for some very appreciative comments from the vicar.
After lunch (some people picnicked as on the Saturday, but several of us went to a not-too-far- away pub which does very nice Thai bar food at reasonable prices, where we were able to sit out in the shade of the trees, so no problems with cigarette smoke) we usually indulge ourselves with the Credo, as we don’t get the chance to sing it in the service, but Michael’s busy schedule had only allowed him to edit the bits of the mass that we were actually using, so we had a nice detailed look at the Tu es Petrus motet instead. After various parts had been unpicked and put back together again we returned to the mass with an enhanced consciousness of the basic material, so that we could appreciate better how it was used than we were able to do on the Saturday, when we had so much to get through that we did not have time to linger over finer points.
Altogether it was a most rewarding weekend, with the Cantores concert as a bonus. It is an event which I, and I am sure many others, look forward to from year to year – long may it continue, and many thanks to Neil Edington for organizing it as well as to Michael for his informative and entertaining tuition.
Michael Procter weekend at St Augustine's Kilburn
The weekend started with the usual coffee - a chance to chat to people you haven't seen for some time. This was followed by a rather energetic warm up (I avoided this on Sunday by taking some photos!)
There were two strands to the music - the Palestrina motet "Tu es Petrus" and the Mass derived from it and the propers to the Mass written by Byrd.
I had assumed the major emphasis would be on Palestrina whereas in fact more time was spent on Byrd. The motet itself was given a cursory attention then put on cold storage until Sun pm. We didn't cover the Gloria or Credo of the Mass at all. On reflection I think this different emphasis was a welcome change - it was nice concentrating on the less well known Mass propers rather than the Mass itself (which must be one of the most commonly sung sets of words in the choral repertoire). This change from the usual pattern gave the congregation a chance to hear different music from the norm.
As this was an early music event, Michael expected authenticity in pronunciation. So we were asked to sing the Byrd and Palestrina in English and Italian Latin respectively. I found this a little bit of a strain. Michael gave little stories as we went along that lightened the proceedings a bit.
The traditional lunchtime meal took the form of a visit to the Warrington Hotel. Pleasant beer and Thai food. We sat out side on 4 different tables. A big advantage of a pub is that people pay when they order - thus avoiding the time honoured ritual of settling a rather large bill.
St Augustine's Kilburn - a bird's (or Byrd's?) eye view
I am a loyal hanger on of Andrew's various choral endeavours and have attended concerts and services in many churches as a result. This is now the fifth time that I have been to St Augustine's and I always look forward to it.
One of my interests is Christian liturgy and it is always a joy to me to hear music performed in context at the appropriate time of year. Michael Procter has an excellent liturgical sense and never fails to deliver in this respect. On the Sunday of the workshop, St Augustine's celebrated the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The music performed at the Mass on that day was all appropriate to the feast, namely Palestrina's Missa 'Tu es Petrus' and the Mass propers by Byrd.
Apart from being part of the fan club, my other role on the day was to act as photographer, using Andrew's new 'toy' a digital SLR camera. Permission having been given by the church, I ascended to the gallery along with my son. He had been delegated to take the shots from the East end of the church, where I was too short to see over the parapet. The gallery goes all the way round the church and we were able to move around to get pictures from different angles.
Anglican churches don't come much higher than St Augustine's, with its array of servers and clouds of incense. However, unlike some others, you never feel they are putting on a performance and I am struck on every occasion by the genuineness of the worship and the real sense of community. Into this form of worship the music fitted seamlessly, always part of the liturgy and never an add on extra. The Byrd Mass propers in particular, which replaced some of the hymns, serve to mark the structure of the Mass. The whole flowed naturally from beginning to end.
The acoustic and the view from the gallery were excellent, so one got a sense of choir, clergy and congregation being part of the same whole. The singers and their hangers on were warmly welcomed by the people of St Augustine's and the music was treated as a benefit to the church, not an intrusion. I sincerely hope the connection will continue.
I only have one minor criticism from the point of view of a member of the congregation. It would have helped to have a sheet with a little information about the music and the text of the Mass propers.
Finally, I was very thankful to be in such a wonderfully cool church on such a hot, sticky day.
All you ever wanted to know about Giulio Cesare but were afraid to ask…
Calling all Handel opera fans! If you are in London with a spare half-hour or so, and find yourselves within striking distance of the Foundling Museum (north side of Brunswick Square – see article in Tamesis for August 2004, available online if you’ve thrown yours away), you could do worse than visit a delightful little exhibition on the subject of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the work which was perhaps the most instrumental in the revival of interest in Handel’s operas, initially in Germany in the early 20th century.
The exhibition is entitled HANDEL’S Giulio Cesare : from EGYPT to ENGLAND, and good use has been made of the space in a smallish room in the basement to display a wide range of materials, many from the Museum’s own Gerald Coke collection of Handeliana, the rest borrowed from other institutions. The equally wide range of visitors has been well catered for, and groups of children have even constructed a couple of Egyptian tombs in nearby rooms (ex- cellars?). So we have various examples of scores of the opera (not the full autograph score, which lives in the British Library, but a sample pair of facsimile pages from it is on show); music deriving from it, such as arrangements of the melodies for flute; a contemporary libretto; programmes from various periods; portraits of the principal singers (and of Handel himself, of course); The Ladies Lament for ye Loss of Senesino (the first Giulio Cesare); photographs of several 20th century productions; a set model, costume designs and masks used in the ROH production of 1997; relevant journal articles; posters, etc., etc. Useful and interesting information is displayed on wall panels, such as contemporary opinions of the singers, notes on how the Baroque theatre worked (useful for appreciating exactly why Handel arranged things as he did), a summary of the plot of the opera, and a select chronology of latter-day productions. And for those with more time to spare, the DVD of last year’s Glyndebourne production is constantly playing in one corner (though not so loudly as to disturb one’s concentration while examining the other items) – with a bench in front of it.
A small series of talks and concerts is being mounted in connection with the exhibition – we have already had an interesting talk from Richard Gregson on the staging of the opera, and “From Rinaldo to Orlando, or Senesino’s path to madness” from Dr. Melania Bucciarelli of the City University, and there is a talk by Dr. Andrew Jones about Handel’s Cleopatra on 29th June, an evening with James Bowman on 6th July, and a couple of concerts in the autumn, while from 31st July-3rd August the museum joins forces with the Handel House to run “Julius Caesar in Egypt”, a summer school for 8-13 year olds with music, art and drama to create a new work (sounds exciting). The talks are free (I’m afraid they will be over before this reaches you), but there is a fee for the concerts – details, I think, from their website
Even if you don’t manage to get to any of these events, the exhibition runs till November, and I gather is hopefully the first in a series of similar happenings in years to come, so keep an eye open for them.
Letter to the editor
CAOS from Japan!
CAOS is a recorder ensemble from Yokohama in Japan whom I had the good fortune to meet and play with when I was in Japan in 2004. The group are visiting London in September and will be giving a lunch-time concert at St Martin-within-Ludgate Church at 1.15 on Wednesday 27th September 2006. I don't have details of their programme yet, but I can recommend a visit to hear them. From my experience in Japan they are very conscientious and meticulous about detail - their performance should be memorable.