Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 212
There are two new dates for your diary this month. The first is a choral workshop with Alastair Dixon in Ealing. Michael Reynor, who is organising it, has asked me to stress that this is at a new and much larger venue so all those who were disappointed to be left out last time can be sure of getting a place this time – always assuming that we get enough tenors.
The second is a workshop early next year with Philip Thorby on Senfl. As David says in his Chairman’s Chat, there was a most enjoyable workshop on his music in Lincoln which we both attended, and I immediately booked Philip to do a workshop for us. Senfl’s style is quite idiosyncratic and he produced a great variety of music, so I’m really looking forward to exploring more of it next March. David will probably put on a renaissance playing (and singing) day in February to fill the gap after the January John Milsom workshop, and I hope to get Will Carslake back again, but the rest of the year is quite free for your suggestions.
While I was in Lincoln I took the opportunity to talk to Philip Thorby about the recorder workshop on Sunday 4th October. It will be a day exploring the renaissance recorder, looking at techniques and the way they and the instrument were used in the 16th and 17th centuries. We will look at descriptions by Girolamo Cardanus, Sylvestro Ganassi, Virgiliano, Marin Mersenne and others, covering everything from extended techniques to consort and ensemble playing. One or two people had told me that they didn’t fancy a day of massed recorder playing, but obviously it won’t be that, and I hope it will appeal to everyone.
There has been some discussion about the merits of playing through at the end of workshops rather than polishing each section or piece as we finish working on it. Your opinions on this are invited now, and we may take a vote on it for one of our forthcoming workshops.
As there are not many contributions this month (reviews of Senfl at the Bergs’ and Saul in Nottingham are suggestions for next time, as well as our own workshop on Festa), I have taken the opportunity to include rather more information than usual about some forthcoming non-TVEMF workshops.
There will not be a Tamesis in August, so please make sure that I have your contributions and listings in good time for the July issue, and include as much information for September as possible as well to allow for possible late (or early) publication of the September issue.
One of the joys of being a member of TVEMF is that one hears about all sorts of happenings in the world of early music. Several members have recently returned from a course with Michael Procter in Venice which culminated in singing and playing music by Giovanni Croce at a service in St Mark's. As a cornett player I am naturally extremely envious of this as it is something one dreams of, though the sense of occasion might have had an adverse effect on performance in my case. I missed out on a previous chance to do this when I had already used all my holiday trekking in Pategonia, but who knows what the future may hold? Those wishing to sample some of the music by Croce should sign up for Michael's TVEMF event on the 11th & 12th July where we perform at high mass in St Augustine's Church.
Costanso Festa is not a very familiar name, though I have come across some of his music, but I look forward to finding out more at the TVEMF event with Peter Syrus on 27th June. Another composer who may not be very familiar is Ludvig Senfl or Sennfl as Kathleen Berg styles him in her book on him and his music. Several TVEMF members came to the course in Lincoln organised by her and her husband Peter, directed by Philip Thorby, and enjoyed it enormously. There are several Senfl pieces published by London Pro Musica which I've known and loved for a long while but it was good to discover more gems.
10 May at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe
The centrepiece of the day was conductor Will Carslake. It was his first appearance with TVEMF. He exuded boundless energy and enthusiasm, and came not only fully prepared with the details of the pieces, but in the distribution of instruments and pre- planned timing and sequence of the rehearsal work. For singers and players this kept the efficiency and attention of the day at maximum all the time. He sat cross-legged on a desk, conducting the 22 singers and 11 instrumentalists, which were 3 cornetti, a sackbut (would have been better with two more) a dulcian and 6 tenor recorders.
The second thing that marked the day was that we got to do most of the “Earthquake Mass” by A. Brumel (c1460-c1515) who was the first of the all-French composers of the Franco-Flemish school. He replaced Obrecht at Ferrara. Why “Earthquake”? Barbara Moir, one of the altos, found the reason for the name after the event. It is because Brumel uses the plainchant Antiphon from Lauds for Easter which includes the bit from St. Matthew's Gospel about the veil of the temple being rent and the earth quaking. Brumel uses a lot of canonic effects so that the work sound tremendous.
It is in 12 parts of which 6 tenor parts. For this reading 6 altos valiantly took on three of the tenor parts, sometimes reading up an octave when it got below the staff. The other three tenor parts had one on a part, including Margaret Jackson-Roberts holding down the first tenor part. The three soprano parts were fairly low, too, but they had two singers on each of them, as did the three bass parts, with two on a part. Two on a part turned out to work well for blend and balance, even if the altos were out of their range a lot of the time.
We were to discover an amazing piece of polyphonic writing, in Venetian- Flemish style with all kinds of effects, including hoqueting in several parts. Carslake started us on the Gloria and ended working on the Kyrie, which had the most complications and merited extra work. We also worked on Josquin’s “Tulerunt Dominum Meum” in 8 parts, with two more low alto parts. Carslake explained how the same music from this piece later appeared with the words “Lugebat David” (When David heard) by Gombert. Other versions kept appearing, including another Gombert version to the incongruous words of “Je Prends Congié” (I say goodbye). Carslake’s interpretation of the “Tulerunt” words moved at a really different tempo from the “Lugebat” version I had sung last November.
Some Carslake quotes : “There was some fantastic goal-saving that time.” And “These are the sprung bits of the piece”. I heard one alto remark at the break that the initial warm-up Carslake had us do had induced her to sing some notes more easily than she would have thought possible. Two of the tenors (I was one) had the same kind of thing to say about amazing themselves, too.
Our final run-through suffered from some of fatigue the players were experiencing and some loss of concentration from the singers that had set in. But in several places I experienced moments of the kind of exhilarating tonality that makes Renaissance music so worthwhile. Will Carslake is a really good addition to the Forum’s course leaders – I look forward to more of his courses in the coming season.
Letter from France
Many of you will remember Masaomi Yanagisawa and Catherine Westover who were TVEMF members before they went to live in France. I hoped to get over to Normandy to visit them while I was in Jersey last month but due to a combination of gales at sea and lack of time I didn’t manage it. I almost put this in ‘Opportunities to Make Music’. You’ll see why at the end. Catherine writes:
Masaomi and I have been in France for almost three years now. It's been quite a time, especially the first two years when we had huge renovation work going on. We moved accommodation five times during that period. We then moved into the barn just over a year ago and we really enjoy living in this small French community. We've met with some extraordinary kindness and generosity from local people. They seem to appreciate the fact that we turned a former cow barn into a traditional home which guards the 'patrimoine'.
Masaomi has worked incredibly hard as a translator and I am so very grateful to him. As I couldn't work as a teacher here (various reasons) I found work as a nurse. However, in August, we will return to Tokyo as I've been offered a HOD (Religious Studies) job at my old international school there. It's an exciting proposition and move for both of us. I thoroughly enjoyed life in Japan when I was there previously and it will be good to see old friends and former colleagues again. Importantly, Masaomi will be able to see his now elderly parents on a regular basis and they are delighted that we will soon be returning to Japan. However, we will very much miss our life and home here in Normandy. We currently have 300m2 of space but in Tokyo we'll downsize to a 50m2 apartment. Also, the population of Quettetot is 727, compared with, I am told, 32,000,000 in Greater Tokyo - the world's largest city. I told Masaomi that we'll never be bored! We've had to find a home for our two beautiful dogs, Midori and Pluto, a labrador and Brittany spaniel, which will be the truly sad part of the move, but I think we've now found a good home for them both and they will move there in mid-July.
Even though we play music here, we miss TVEMF.
If you are inspired to take a holiday in their part of the Cotentin Peninsular, 30km south of Cherbourg, Catherine and Masaomi are running a bed and breakfast in their newly finished barn conversion, but obviously you will need to go before the end of July. They are staying in Japan for six or seven years but plan to return to France each summer. Meanwhile they are hoping to let their barn for 6 to 8 months from mid-August, perhaps to a retired couple wishing to experience life for a while in a rural French village. It sounds most appealing, with new kitchen and bathrooms, underfloor heating and kitchen garden, and as an added attraction they can introduce you to local musicians (baroque music and string quartets). If you would like to contact Masaomi and Catherine their email addresses are masaomi.yanagisawa @ nifty.com and catherine.west