Tamesis Issue 190
Thanks very much to our three reviewers this month. Someone offered to review the Rogier workshop with Sally Dunkley – if it was you, it’s not too late! It seems a pity for such a good workshop to go unrecorded. I certainly enjoyed it very much and it was very well organised by Jenny Gowing, whose wonderful home-made cakes set a new standard for event catering.
A number of people have sent me the petition to save live music, so here are the details. The wording of the petition is: ‘We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to recognise that music and dance should not be restricted by burdensome licensing regulations’. Dominic Cronin, who submitted the petition, adds: ‘The recently introduced changes in licensing law have produced an environment where music and dance, activities which should be valued and promoted in a civilised society, are instead damaged by inappropriate regulation. We call on the Prime Minister to recognise this situation and take steps to correct it.” If you want to sign the petition, go to http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/licensing/ and sign up by 11th June. There are 57.450 signatures so far.
Please may I remind you, though, that if you circulate this information to your friends you should list all the recipients of your email in the Bcc box (blind copies) so that their addresses don’t get circulated visibly. This should help prevent them getting on to spammers’ lists.
We have several joint events this year. The first is the Gabrieli day in May directed by Philip Thorby, where we shall be looking at two reconstructions of Gabrieli’s largest work, the Magnificat a 33, as well as one or two other large scale works from the same period. Philip is also the director for the NEMA day which TVEMF is hosting in London in November. The Margo Leigh Milner Lecture is always part of the NEMA day, and Philip’s topic for this is likely to be 'Creating the past - a discussion of research and intuition in early music performance, taking as its centre the making of the "Castra" Ferraran viols but ranging quite widely'. In October we are running a workshop jointly with the Wooburn Festival, near High Wycombe. Alan Lumsden will direct a day on Palestrina and his contemporaries, for voices and renaissance instruments.
As I mentioned last month, there will be no April Tamesis, and the copy date for the May edition is the first (Bank Holiday) Monday. If you can send me your copy before the last minute, please do.
As I predicted last month, I enjoyed three successive Saturday workshops, all excellent in their different ways. There had been talk that having two TVEMF workshops only a fortnight apart would reduced the attendance significantly, but we saw no evidence of that and both our workshops were full, as indeed was the SEMF one. Apologies for a slip which implied that the latter was organised by SWEMF - no, Tim, I did not venture into SWEMF territory trying to find Challock! We have a good number of events planned but are always looking for good ideas and for volunteers to help implement them. I feel we have given too little coverage to the later part of the 17th century, so if anyone knows of a good tutor with a passion for that period it would be good to hear from them. Next month we look forward to the Oxford Baroque Day run by Peter Collier, who I gather is recovering well from a quadruple cardiac bypass operation. He has impressive organisational skills and we are delighted that he feels strong enough to run this event. Many of the participants travel long distances to be there, so it's a chance to meet new people and enjoy some excellent music-making.
TVEMF Workshop with Andrew Carwood
Sat 3rd March at the Dutch Church
What a privilege it was to spend a day with Andrew Carwood singing works by Hieronymus Praetorius. The workshop flier had described the composer as an “unsung genius” which is an intriguing description – neither his music nor his genius was unsung by the end of the day.
Andrew started the workshop with a 10-minute physical and vocal warmup – instrumentalists too, no excuses accepted - and frequently during the day broke off from the music to offer guidance on singing technique and in particular reminders to stamp out the dreaded diphthong and not to be enslaved by bar-lines. This was not universally adhered to but improved as Andrew combined persistence with good humour.
Most of us had previously only a slight acquaintance with the works of Hieronymus Praetorius and knew even less about the man himself; I think we all went away wanting to sing more and to know more. Andrew described him as part of a dynasty of Hamburg organists and one of the first composers in the Germanic tradition to produce interesting polychoral music. This was illustrated by the wonderfully evocative motet “Videns dominus” about the raising of Lazarus and by the Missa “Angelus ad Pastores ait,” from Andrew’s own editions which are being prepared for a recording with The Cardinall’s Musick later this year on Hyperion –they are superb; make sure to get a copy of the CD especially if you missed this workshop!
Andrew occasionally interspersed tantalising snippets of information into the proceedings - Hamburg at this time was a free city in which the church was Reformed but retained the Catholic liturgy; although Hieronymus Praetorius’s music has a strongly Italianate feel, unlike Hassler the composer never strayed far from Hamburg.
A particular privilege was to sing the ten-part Jubilate Deo from copies which were only permitted for one-off use. Four of the ten lines are for tenors, but Michael Reynor had assembled sufficient forces for this.
Having instruments as well as voices on most lines was good and added to the joyful exuberance of the sound, especially when we ran-through the pieces in the resonant acoustic of the church at the end of the day.
The acoustic at the Dutch Church is a bit of a problem even downstairs; the vaulted roof and (essential) extractor fans make it hard to hear from the back what the tutor is saying. It is a great pity that some people find it necessary to chatter during the musical sessions – of course workshops are informal, friendly events but is this really courteous to our tutors and to other participants?
Andrew is an interesting and inspiring tutor and I hope we will be lucky enough to have another workshop with him in the future. Many thanks to Michael and Mary Reynor for organising the event so that it ran perfectly smoothly and enjoyably, with ample opportunities for tea, cakes, fresh air and socialising – despite Transport For London! Arranging for a sunset worthy of Turner and a total eclipse of the moon to finish off a superb day in style was a nice touch.
Andrew Carwood – Hieronymus Praetorius [1560 -1629]
Hieronymus was in no way related to Michael and, seemingly, was never more than a distinguished local composer in the area of Hamburg where, in the late 16th century, the Reformed Church still chose to use the Latin Catholic liturgy.
Such was some of the information that we received throughout the day from Andrew in exploring three works by Hieronymus Praetorius. All three works showed an awareness of the Venetian use of two or three choirs to achieve a sense of pomp and splendour in large spaces. It was therefore most appropriate that we spent a considerable part of the morning looking at the Gloria of the two choir mass, ‘ Angelus ad Pastores’; with constant exhortations to look at the words, to forget the bar lines, and to drag the second basses out of the comfort zone of their Conservative club chairs! Andrew’s comments and exhortations went a long way to translating the two dimensional writing into a three dimensional realisation of the scale and originality of the work.
Instruments can be a variable feast (as can singers!), but the judicious placing of instruments with voice parts did seem to reduce the sense of a fourth dimension emerging.
The Agnus Dei was, unsurprisingly, a quiet contrast, but also had dancing movements in three which included off beat voices in bass 1 and tenor 2 to gently liven the whole section. We only had time to read through the Sanctus and the Benedictus, which I am glad that we did, as I thought the Benedictus was a little gem: only sorry that we did not have time to explore it a little more: although getting the volume down might have been a problem!
However we did look in more detail at the other two choir piece, ‘ Videns Dominus’, a dramatically set piece giving an account of the raising of Lazarus, with whatever the musical equivalent of onomatopoeia is; moving from the plangent weeping of Christ, to the urgent, repeated calling of Lazarus to, in no uncertain terms, arise! Certainly a convincing example of the ability of Hieronymus to write motets for passiontide. Although Andrew’s comment that our apprehension over a certain bar on page 4 was due to an implied augmented fourth was received with a somewhat stunned silence!
The final work was perhaps the most bravura of the three: a three choir setting of ‘Jubilate Deo’. We were instructed that choirs 1 and 3 would probably have been largely instrumental, with possibly one voice, while choir 2 would have been largely the singers: and so it was designed. With the large resources Andrew did also put singers in choirs 1 and 3 – which, I can testify, - left some of the singers in those choirs feeling a little exposed; although it has to be said that the sops in choir 1 did sound pretty instrumental. The highly intricate dancing movement in the middle section, tackled in the middle of the afternoon, probably made some think that we had bitten off something more than a good lunch. But when we finally went up stairs to sing in the knave of the Dutch Church, it was probably the fact that we did accomplish a modest rendering of this piece that gave the greatest satisfaction. We shall look forward to a more sublime rendering by the Cardinal’s Musick in due course: but there was a sense of achievement of doing something of a Lazarus on this piece! Andrew is to be thanked for his resourcefulness, perceptions and energy, as well as his helpful suggestions on singing. (I shall never go into Westminster Cathedral again without looking to see if he is still trying to run up the walls as he sight reads!)
Michael and Mary Reynor deserve thanks for a very successful and well organised day: Michael must deserve a medal for the amount of photocopying that he did: and David was, as ever, hovering in the background, and oiling wheels.
Viol Consorts Playing Day with Sarah Mead
24th February 2006
TVEMF events vary in scale and this one was certainly at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Christmas spectaculars of 70, 80 or even 90, was it, this year? A mere dozen viol players (but certainly not a dozen mere ones!) arrived at Alison Crum’s house one Saturday morning to attend a session on ‘Improving Resonance on the Viol’, presented and tutored by Sarah Mead.
Sarah is a well-known American viol performer and teacher of Early Music at Brandels University, Massachusetts, and is currently taking a sabbatical with the aim of producing a book about viol playing in consorts. It became increasingly clear throughout the day that we would move well beyond the title of the workshop and benefit from many of the other ideas destined for her final manuscript. For those who have played for any length of time, especially in consorts, many of the individual themes weren’t new, but the approach was fresh and helpful. Sarah skilfully drew out what we knew, and then helped us to re-examine and slot it together in a cohesive way. The sparse and deceptively simple choice of music also channelled us into concentrating on just a few, interrelated points rather than just playing a lot of notes through twice, which we all to often do when unsupervised!
After charging ourselves up with coffee (or is it herbal tea we viol players are reported to drink?) we convened in the largest room for an introductory session. We discussed what might influence resonance, including finger position relative to the frets, bow distances, speed and pressure. We agreed that bow distance and angle were important and began with this. When playing normally, gravity and lines of sight can make it difficult to judge the best position. Therefore the six of us with instruments were asked to place one ankle on the other knee and to rest the viol on the higher knee as horizontally as possible, resting the neck on the left shoulder. We then bowed horizontally, gently, so as to let the bow go where it would. We moved it deliberately too high and too low to see and hear what happened. Not only did the resonance improve when the distance was right, but the bow tried to return to the right place, as if it had its own groove. The same thing happened when we moved away from a position parallel to the bridge. The bow tried to return. This was true for every string, though we also confirmed what we all know in theory - that the preferred position is further from the bridge on the lower strings. We swapped places so that the other six could try this too. It was quite striking. We then reverted to the normal playing position, and although harder, it was still possible to feel and hear the difference, and Sarah maintained that we could became more sensitive to this on our own instruments if we were to try the horizontal approach, then reinforce it by listening and feeling as we play. We also discussed (and made) the sounds created when the bow is not in the preferred place. Bowing closer to the bridge gives a harsher sound at normal bow speeds, with more high harmonics, which though normally undesirable, can have its place very occasionally for cutting through the texture. The sound improved as the bow slowed, and very slow speeds are achievable near the bridge, useful when running out of bow. Conversely, a more ethereal sound is produced further away, rather weak for regular playing, but useful for a light or mysterious mood. We were encouraged to experiment with all of this in our normal playing, and our group later found a quiet passage which we decided to make ‘mysterious’ in this way. We hoped it worked. We certainly thought so! A fast high bow can still be very light, which is useful for the weak note in a triplet or in compound time, when there is a limit to how far you can move down the bow! All too often the ‘weak’ note is too loud as we try to move the bow back quickly (Sarah gave a convincing demo at this point!). We practised playing strong-weak, strong-weak in a 6/8 rhythm, moving the bow in a circle, up-bow at the normal distance, fast light back bow further from the bridge.
Within our groups we also did some work on tuning. Sarah suggested tuning from below the note, as the human ear can tolerate a certain amount of sharpness, so we are more likely to settle on the sharp side (when coming down) than the flat side. In fact, some players like to tune slightly sharp as it gives them an edge, making it easier for them to hear themselves and be heard! The very interesting point here is that your sound ‘disappears’ when you are perfectly in tune. If you can hear the note easily when tuning you are probably not there yet. We practised this, hearing and being satisfied with the point when we disappeared. I found this worked very well when tuning to one person, but was much harder when all six of us were trying it, because the whole balance was changing, so I kept appearing and disappearing.
Related to tuning and the theme of resonance was the balance between the parts within a chord. We discussed how much root, third and fifth we needed and what balance of lower and upper notes. Sarah gave us a mixture of tonics and fifths to play, and asked us not to watch her fingering as she put in the third. We had to say whether it was major or minor chord, and when it changed, which was all that’s needed from a third. We discovered that she could play very quietly indeed against five players and we could still hear the third. This was likened to making ice-cream. You might need, say, a gallon of cream (or several pints, anyway!). Without cream it wasn’t really ice-cream, but sorbet or some other confection. Similarly we had to have a strong root as our basis. How much sugar did we need – about a cup, to establish that it was sweet, ice-cream, not mayonnaise or salad cream? Similarly, once we had a fifth we knew what sort of chord we had and what the root was. Finally, how much vanilla did we need to establish the flavour? Maybe only a teaspoon. This was our third – major or minor flavour. The person playing the third often tries to fight to be heard, but it’s not necessary.
We also discussed how difficult it can be to tune chords, and particularly to tune the third. If the chord is out of tune, then the third will never sound right. Although we needed a strong root, with other tonic notes and some fifths, too many or too much of the high tonics and fifths can make tuning harder as the harmonics are closer together and fight more easily. We experimented with different balances between the tonics and fifths at different pitches which reinforced what Sarah was telling us – go lighter on the top notes. A few other ideas were discussed during the consort playing, but I will spend less time on these as there were many instances of putting ideas into practice and experimenting with what had been discussed. Sarah told a story of a player at the Conclave (the large annual American course), who though she had been placed in the wrong group as she ‘was normally asked to play a lot more notes’. This was her way of introducing the single piece on which we were to spend most of the day, working through each passage gradually, so that we could really listen and concentrate. It was the Richard Dering Fantasia No 1 for six viols and, I would imagine, was chosen for its deceptively simple sparsity of notes and the inclusion of a single semi-quaver section, though some of the first parts were high. In this way we could concentrate on starts, stops, and awareness of the other parts. We swapped players once, so that those who had played first in one group changed to second in the other group and vice versa.
We discussed starting off, and the fact that the first person to play needs to give not only an indication of the start, but also the first few major divisions, such as half-bars, to confirm the speed. This is unnerving and takes practice, but can give everyone more confidence at the beginning of the piece. Being accurate about note and rest lengths at the ends of phrases were also important ways of giving clues to everyone else, to help with timing and phrasing. There was also a lot of pairing of parts in this piece, particularly between equal instruments, and we were encouraged to look for these in the score or listen for them and play them in pairs, so that we would listen for each other when back in the six-part texture. We also had to look for new phrases and decide who needed to lead them, who came in a beat before others etc. This was particularly difficult in the semi-quaver passages, where listening was critical. This was a lyrical passage and we were encouraged to resist the urge to stress the first note of each four too strongly as it would break the flow. I think many of us were encouraged to do this when first learning music, so that we didn’t rush and could feel the major beats, but I realised I was guilty of overdoing it, and, like stabilisers on a bicycle, once you’ve got the idea you no longer need the props that got you there.
I’m sure most of us went home having played fewer different notes that we’d ever played in a whole day before, but still managed to gain and consolidate a lot of information. It was an extremely useful, sociable and enjoyable day. Many thanks go to Johanna for arranging it, Alison and Roy for the lone of their house, and to Sarah for her preparation and patience. Apologies go to Sarah and the other players if I have not done the explanations justice. For that, unless anyone has anything to add, we await news of the book.