Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 213
I’ve just heard from Jeffrey Skidmore about his plans for the music for the Christmas workshop, and it sounds wonderful. It will be “An exploration of the extraordinary Baroque music of Latin American with its fusion of Amero-Indian, European and African elements. We will perform in Inca and Aztec languages as well as Spanish and Latin and look at music from Mexico, Peru and Bolivia.” Make sure you’ve got the date in your diary. It’s a big hall so there should be plenty of room for everyone who wants to come.
David Allinson's workshop is full. We have a waiting list for all voices at the last count (of four sopranos, one alto, one tenor and two basses). Of course, it's a considerable time till September so it might still be worth applying to go on the waiting list.
I’m sorry there isn’t a review of the Festa workshop, which I hear went very well. If you’re the person who offered/was persuaded to do it, I’ll be very glad to put it in the next issue. I hope someone will do a review of the Croce weekend at Kilburn too. I’m very sorry to be missing it because I’m playing in a concert.
Don’t forget that there won’t be an August Tamesis, but it would be helpful to have information for September as soon as possible to allow for possible early (but more likely late) publication of the September issue.
I was very saddened to hear of the recent death of Brian Meadows-Smith who had been a member of TVEMF for many years. Originally a recorder player he had taken up the curtal in recent years and was making good progress with this challenging instrument. Brain was a very affable person who was fun to play with and will be much missed by all who knew him.
I enjoyed the workshop directed by Peter Syrus where we studied music by Costanzo Festa, who is a neglected composer with much to offer. I already knew a few good pieces by him, including some of the 125 contrapunti on the La Spagna theme. I have to admit that I was not too keen on one of the contrapunti, where Festa was perhaps running out of ideas, as the top line (mine) played the note A wherever it fitted with the cantus firmus, otherwise it had rests, making it memorable for the wrong reason. Fortunately the parts I played at the workshop were considerably more inventive!
I expect that, like me, many of you are off to summer schools, so I look forward to hearing news and perhaps seeing reviews in Tamesis when you return.
Brian Meadows-Smith 1932 - 2009
Those of you who knew Brian will be very sad to hear that he died from cancer on 21st June 2009. During recent years he recovered well from two major operations and a long bout of chemotherapy but when it finally spread to his brain and lungs the end came with startling rapidity.
Brian's love affair with early music began thirty years ago when he heard Christopher Ball playing the recorder at a concert and asked him to teach him. When he arrived for the first lesson Chris was startled to discover that he had to teach him to read music first. Their fortnightly lessons continued for the rest of his life. Brian will be remembered for many fine things: his unfailing good humour, his kindness, his enormous enthusiasm, his hearty bass curtalling, his reliability and his consideration for the needs of others. He was a keen supporter of TVEMF, EEMF and SEMF events, often driving long distances in his beloved Volvo - the only car he had ever found that would comfortably accommodate his "luxury length legs".
He loved dressing up in his black and red velvet doublet and onion hose and thoroughly enjoyed participating in concerts. Getting silk hose for those long, long legs was a bit of a problem, though. Finally a ballet shop in London found some extra long white silk men's tights that had remained unsold for over ten years! He was a bon viveur and lived life to the full. Whether he was digging out a koi carp pond, building a dry-stone wall, enjoying a glass of "red knock-out drops" or playing croquet or early music, everything he did was done with great enthusiasm, vigour, optimism and bonhomie. He was an immensely colourful, warm and kind person who brought sunshine and laughter with him wherever he went.
Loquebantur variis linguis
On Saturday 20th June, 2009 at the Centre at St Paul’s, Hills Road, Cambridge a workshop for singers tutored by David Allinson was held to study Responds and compline hymns by Taverner, Sheppard, Tallis and Robert White. The main unifying factor of the workshop was the use of the plainchant cantus firmus set in long and consistent values in one of the vocal lines and determining the mode and structure of the music.
There were nearly as many TVEMF members as EEMF members so it was, in a sense, a joint meeting of these two fora. However EEMF must take sole cred it for the organisation of the event which was excellent.
The workshop started a vigorous warm-up by the end of which there was much merriment and the singers were in a state of enhanced alertness. The first piece we studied was the four part Respond In manus tuas by John Sheppard. This was a relatively straightforward piece and it was explained that although it finishes with chant and which might perhaps seem an anticlimax, this was necessary for liturgical reasons.
We sang three Tallis works starting with the well-known five part compline hymn Te lucis ante terminum which David described as a little gem or maybe a lettuce. The second Tallis work, David Wulstan’s edition of the seven part Loquebantur variis linguis (after which the workshop had been named) had five flats in the key signature because it was thought that the standard pitch of music of the Tudor period was a minor third higher than today. This theory has now been discredited. The final Tallis piece was the five part Respond Honor, virtus et potestas. This was exhilarating to sing and we performed it as an ‘encore’ at the end of the day.
The first Taverner piece we sang was a six part setting Quemadmodum desiderat cervus. Although I appreciated the skilful compositional technique in this work I found it rather dry. Perhaps I just needed more time to let its beauty reveal itself. I was however very impressed by Taverner’s five part Respond Dum transisset Sabbatum. The 1950 edition liberally marked various notes with accents presumably to call attention to the fact that the bar lines are musically fairly meaningless. David spent some time working on dynamic contrasts in our performance and the end result was gratifying. We concluded the workshop with Robert White’s five part compline hymn Christe, qui lux es et dies.
After detailed work on each piece, including valuable comments by David on structure and use of compositional techniques, we sang it through firstly with the choir in its standard set-up and then with the singers scrambled. David was very pleased that despite the smallness of the choir, about 30 singers and with a reasonable balance of parts, we were able to get through all seven pieces he brought with him and had no trouble with any even when we scrambled. The standard of sight-singing and overall quality was indeed highly respectable and it was great to see and hear singers all around me who were clearly very confident and obviously enjoying themselves. This is one of the best Early Music Forum events I have ever attended. My grateful thanks go to David Allinson, the workshop organisers and to all the participants.
News of Members’ Activities
TVEMF member Gerald Place has recently contributed to a major new BBC Radio 4 documentary on the composer Carlo Gesualdo. The programme is fronted by Aled Jones and also features an interview with Professor Glenn Watkins, plus a report from the town of Gesualdo itself. Of special interest to singers will be a section of the documentary where Gerald prepares some portions of madrigals for performance with members of his ensemble the Gesualdo Consort. The broadcast can be heard on Tuesday the 4th August at 13.30 and again on Saturday the 8th August at 15.30 both on Radio 4 (nb not R3!).
Opportunities to make music
The Whitehill Recorder Group, an advanced recorder class led by Maria Sanger, meets on Wednesday mornings at 9.45 till 11.45 at The Whitehill Centre in Chesham. There may be vacancies when classes re-start in September.
Forum member Gerald Place will be taking over the Baroque Chamber Music Workshop run by Hounslow Adult Education from this September. This friendly and talented group of both players and singers numbers somewhat less than twenty and gathers in the atmospheric 18th century Quaker Meeting House in Isleworth. The group has been taken up to now by its founder Helena Brown. Gerald is a busy professional tenor and director, and also plays recorder and viols. He records for Naxos and has contributed to BAFTA winning broadcasts and an Italia Prize-winning film, as well as regular recital work both as soloist and with his ensemble The Gesualdo Consort. The group is flourishing, but welcomes new members, both singers and players but especially oboes, strings, tenor singers, and basses who read well. Music is performed at A440 and mostly on modern instruments at present, though emphasising period style and performance practice. The class takes place in term time on a Tuesday evening from 6.30 to 8.30 and full details can be obtained from Gerald on sgeraldplace @ hotmail.co.uk.