David has written elsewhere about the Greenwich Exhibition. I enjoyed it so much I may have to go for three days next year instead of just two! Just suggest a better hotel than the Ibis please.
Our next event is the West Gallery Day in Chesham in a new and spacious venue, the Baptist Church (complete with West Gallery). You may be interested to know that there is a concert by the Chiltern Baroque Orchestra in St Mary's Church in Chesham on the evening of the same day. It should be well worth staying for. The orchestra is made up on professional musicians who live in the Chesham area, led by Peter Hanson who recently gave a wonderfully sensitive performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with our local Misbourne Orchestra (which I play in) using original fingerings. That's a whole new aspect of authentic performance which I hadn't met before. The December 4th programme consists of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos numbers 4 and 5, a Bach cantata "Ich habe genug" BWV 82 and Corelli's Christmas concerto. The orchestra's concerts usually sell out so phone Perfect Pitch music shop on 01494 774826. If you prefer to risk it and wait until the day, the shop is virtually next door to the Baptist Church.
I see from my diary that Peter Holman mentioned clarinets as a possible instrument for the workshop. David didn't know about this when he wrote the form. Peter also asked for baroque bows for the strings, but as this wasn't mentioned on the form either don't worry if you haven't got one.
Many thanks to Sidney Ross for providing our annual Christmas competition this year. You will find it on page 6.
Some TVEMF workshops stay in the memory for non-musical reasons, and for me the recent Baroque Day will be remembered mainly because I had to climb the gate and rouse the caretaker to let us in. I still have memories of the famous time, at a changeover between caretakers, when we had to pass harpsichords through windows. Fortunately on this occasion we still managed to start on time and thanks to Victoria's intensive efforts the rest of the day went very smoothly. We were able to make good use of the new rooms which occupy the location of the old swimming pool (so don't bring your swimming costume in future). I did leave with some good musical memories such as those of the session with voices with continuo and obbligato recorder accompaniment - not a repertoire I often take part in.
The Early Music Exhibition is a very special event in that it combines an amazing display of instruments of all kinds with a series of concerts showing them off. For the last few years it has been at the former Royal Naval College at Greenwich, now home to Trinity College of Music. It was a real privilege to sit at the Forum stand in the Painted Hall, with its trompe l'oeil columns and stunning ceiling, created by Sir James Thornhill over a period of nineteen years, and lovely to meet so many members and friends. I gather we signed up nine new members for TVEMF and a few for NEMA and the other Forums. Many thanks to all who helped man the stand, and especially to Hazel Fenton who organised our part in the Exhibition so successfully.
There is still time to sign up for the TVEMF Christmas event, West Gallery music with Peter Holman, but no more cellos or bass viols please. Peter's last event for us was both entertaining and informative, so I look forward to seeing many of you in Chesham on the 4th of December.
Crumhorn playing day
On the 19th of September Chris Thorn ran another of his occasional series of Crumhorn Days (one per decade). I wasn't sure about playing all day, not on grounds of stamina or aesthetics but merely that I like to play tennis if weather permits. I arrived about 12.45pm to the strains of the well-known La Spagna attributed to Josquin. It is a tribute to the musicianship and stamina of those present that even after a couple of hours' playing the tuning was excellent. After a light lunch kindly provided by Chris's wife, Janet, we played six-part crumhorn music until we ran out of suitable pieces. Very enjoyable - thank you Chris and Janet. Maybe the frequency of these events could be increased a little?
Sidney Ross has devised the following musical quiz for our Christmas competition this year. As usual the prize is a one year subscription to the Forum. Please send your entries to me at or by post to my address on the cover by Saturday 8th January.
There are 25 cryptic clues. Each answer from 2 onwards begins with the last letter of the previous answer. There is also a connection between the answers to clues 1 and 25. Each answer has a musical association.
1.Great German, little Welshman (4)
2.Carries a revolver without hesitation (5)
3.But he doesn't come round to repair your set ! (8)
4.Condition for unsuccessful butterfly hunt (5)
5.Composer of great stature, apparently (6)
6.Proverbially wise pianist (7)
7.Not a single chorister originally sang for him (5)
8.Reaction to the Threepenny Opera ? (7)
9.Innkeeper of note (8)
10.Hires pig, being wholly disorganised (8)
11.Venerated in Huntingdon and Cornwall (4)
12. Composer and decorator (7)
13.Farmland set aside for Tower guardians (11)
14.Harmonious gang ? (5)
15. Electrical direction to performers (1,1)
16.Two-thirds of him was absolutely heavenly (9)
17.Distance between members of 14 (8)
18.Unchanging composer ?(8)
19.Tragic heroine gets into scary situation...(5)
20....but does she help another one ?(4)
21.Colourless, approaching Ulster... (8)
22....with which he has no connexion (7)
23.Mode that is Wildly uninteresting (6)
24.See his new publication (7)
25.1 is frequently on the programme, so we hear (9)
Rosenmüller Vespers weekend with Philip Thorby
Brief references to this very enjoyable weekend were made in the last Tamesis, and I was one of those who Victoria had mentioned as noting down Thorbyisms. This highlighted a dilemma I was already facing in reviewing the event, and Jenny Gowing has helped me to find a way through. The problem is that Philip is brilliant at issuing witticisms which encapsulate common musical situations perfectly, so that they are both funny and transferable to other instances of the same problem. This means that any review of a 'Philip day' naturally includes a number of these or it mis-reports the event. However, to concentrate on them solely is to miss the point of his excellent scholarship, practically applied for our benefit. He is so natural and passionate in bringing across the historical and musical context, and encouraging us, no, almost bullying us, into getting it right, for the music's sake. And with the wonderful music he chooses it would be a crime not to try wholeheartedly.
So how has Jenny solved the problem? By giving us a superbly informative and entertaining account of the Beauchamp course and reporting the sayings separately at the end. I shall included Thorbyisms in the main text where relevant to a particular passage or point, and keep the general ones until the end.
Sixty musicians, then, gathered at the now familiar Whitehill Centre, Chesham, on a beautiful autumn morning with the prospect of a whole weekend of Johann Rosenmüller (c1620 - 1684). Over the course of the weekend we worked on four pieces - the two-choir Dixit Dominus, the 5-voice Magnificat, and the simpler and elegant pieces Laetatus sum and Laudate Pueri.
We began by setting up for the Dixit Dominus a 19 for which we were placed in two choirs. The singers of choir one were accompanied by a string band of violins and viols, while choir two were underpinned by brass. This should have been cornetts and sackbuts, but for the latter we had substituted cellos. This choir was thus at one point referred to by Philip as 'wind plus blown cellos', evoking for me thoughts of poor Martin Kaye and that immortal phrase 'fretted blasthorn'. (If the original article still exists and hasn't been reprinted recently, could we please do this for the benefit of more recent members?)** In terms of layout, Philip set up the instrument choirs opposite rather than adjacent to their respective vocal choirs, as recommended, we were told, by Schütz.
For most, if not all, of the weekend the instrumental parts also had words, and from the start we were all encouraged to attempt to following the phrasing and to communicate the mood suggested by these and by the various musical figures aimed at enhancing and complementing them. Some of you may know about the recent publication of Judy Tarling's book on rhetoric in music (Weapons of Rhetoric), and I confess that I already had it in mind that weekend. Geoff and I had been eagerly awaiting its publication following a talk by Judy during the Cambridge Baroque week last year, and I was planning to hear her again at the Viola da Gamba Society meeting in November. I make no apology for remarking on the many resonances between Philip's tuition and Judy's ideas, particularly as she once told me that she felt Philip was the most natural exponents of rhetoric in music that she had ever met. If you are unfamiliar with the notions above, for now I will just suggest the idea of music as a vehicle for conveying emotions and that in interpreting it we must always aim to define these and express them to the audience to the best of our ability. Despite his cajoling, Philip has a realistic sense of the limitations of amateurs, but cares greatly that we make the effort.
So in this opening piece, one obvious example of communicating mood was the wonderfully lively and tricky section 'inimicos tuos'. It wasn't difficult to make this exciting, as we were pretty frantic in counting it all out and getting the notes and syllables in. Philip said it would be great when the castanets came in, and they certainly wouldn't have felt out of place. It was particularly awkward as the two choirs were cutting across each other's phrases and interrupting each other. However, we were told to listen to the structure of the entire passage and 'feel' where we should come in, rather than trying to work out what was actually much more difficult on paper. In fact, he gave us no choice while practising it, by saying only roughly rather than exactly where one choir was starting and we had to guess where we should come in. By the time we had tried it a few times, we had some idea of how it should sound and it was much easier to do it by listening than by counting.
He told us to use our musicianship to hear our place, just as the audience does, and that would also give us a better sense of taking part with them. We all know his passion for ignoring barlines, to the point of conducting in three sometimes instead of four, and he pointed out that if it feels in 3 that's what the audience will hear: they don't know it's in four. We were not to go into 'count mode' as soon as we stopped having a 'noise to make'. We could count the first time, but should work out what to listen for, and as the music becomes more familiar, try to count further and further back in the brain, and only use that for checking. This reminded me of my oboe-playing days when I used to play classical symphonies, most of which were already familiar to me. You might have 92 bars rest in a Beethoven scherzo but at one-in-a-bar they went by quickly, and you would mark flutes at 37, horns at 45 etc and listen for the imitation to know how your part fitted in. The other resonance for me comes when I sing from facsimile, in a strange clef, with the text in clumps rather than under the notes, and no barlines. With so few reference points, instinct kicks in and you listen far harder than you sing, but amazingly it slowly gets easier and feels so much more rewarding, because you really are taking part in a team effort. You've all been forced to get your head out of the copy because it was merely a guide. We forget that modern editions are only a guide too. Sometimes there's so much technical detail on the page that we are restrained by it, but we have too few ways of notating emotion.
The typical mix for the weekend was being told what was wanted and how to achieve it, while all the time being shown why it would help to convey the required moods and contrasts of mood. We had the 'frisky violins' of choir one against the 'dozey brass' of choir two as we contrasted the lively feel of music that jumps around with the smoother effect of next door notes (one of Judy's examples). In one calmer moment we were encouraged to use 'susurrating sybillants' on the word sede and not glottles or hard attacks, as the music 'swooned in ecstasy'. The Tecum principium section was quiet and smooth - more 'gladly my cross I'd bear' and less 'come to the cookhouse door'. We were asked to bathe in the word semper - two bars of asses' milk, and asked whether we could do 'fervent translucence'. The Dominare … in medio inimicorum section was to be sinister, as we were in the midst of our enemies. I thought it was the altos (not the sopranos) who thought their enemies were those putting milk in their Earl Grey, and the sopranos were the ones coming in with a trayful of side dishes of diphthongs! Either way we obviously weren't sinister enough.
Several other examples from Judy's second talk appeared during this weekend. One is the overall structure of a speech or in our case piece of music - introduction of your subject, usually a calm unornamented statement, moving through various emotions and often embellishments, but finally settling and bringing things to a close. In two of the pieces this weekend, the phrase sicut erat in principio (as it was in the beginning) included a reference to the opening musical phrase, a very satisfying way of pulling everything together. I've since realised that the 'Sicut erat' of Bach's Magnificat does exactly the same thing, and for me that moment is always magical. Another idea is the use of repetition to build tension, not just exact repetitions, but also extending the repeated phrase and emphasising the new word or syllable. For example, the phrase, 'Sicut erat, sicut erat in principium' is very effective if sung as 'Sicut erat, sicut erat in principium', with the second sicut phrase pushing strongly forward to the ci of principium.
One 3-time section had a wandering bass with a very weak 2nd beat, which was typical of the time. However, on this occasion there were a few strong second beats sprinkled about, and the basses were encouraged to emphasis them to give an unsettling effect, which would have seemed ever stronger in a time when the second beat wasn't even conducted. More discussion of performing practice ensued when one player asked why Philip had chosen to have no string bass continuo. We had quite a few cellos available, but had only harp and theorbo on continuo. He explained that this would have been typical of music written around this time (1670). You would have two violins, two violas, curtal and brass, with sustaining basses used as the bottom of the ritornello group, but not with the continuo. Only harmony instruments would be used for continuo.
In the Magnificat the historical context was set again, and comparisons made to the Biber Requiem. The lower strings spent part of their time doubling the voice parts, and there would be a solo violin which never doubles a voice part, but you could fit words to everything it plays. You feel the instrument playing the words at you. Thus the instruments were again encouraged to hear the words of their part, even if there weren't actually any there. Again, the contrasting emotions of the various sections and phrases were highlighted for us, such as the confusion of battle during the very military-sounding Fecit section, the Quia respexit humilitatem, 'a nice Uriah Heep moment', and 'after the Pavarotti tendency, it all goes a bit Julie Andrews'.
For Day Two we assembled in the upstairs room to avoid being the subject of target practice for the regular archery group. The space was only 3 feet narrower, but somehow it was much more of a squeeze, and not just psychologically. I think this was because we lost our circulation space out front, forcing people to climb over each other or over Philip to get to their places.
We began with the 18 part, double-choir Laetatus sum ('I was glad'). We were obviously taking some time to wind ourselves up on a Sunday morning, as Philip tried hard to instil in us that this was Glad! Joyful! and then said 'Hmmm, I was glad - until I came here'. We were told off for making the 'Lae' too short and strong, resulting in the comment 'Ah! First rule of Early Music. The upbeat is short, however horrible'. The opening phrase of the piece was an even better example of the use of repetition to build tension, especially as it often starts with a short phrase and ends with a really extended one. Apparently, in speech, as here in music, it's more effective if, rather than starting really quiet, the first, short phrase is quite strong, before dipping down and starting to climb. We had all of this in the following: Laetatus (strong), laetatus sum (quieter), Laetatus sum in his (cresc), Laetatus sum in his que dicta mihi (climax on mi).
There were some lovely quiet sections both in this piece and the Laudate Pueri, which we also sang on Sunday. The beautiful Rogave section, scored for bass voice (Jim Wills), two violins and continuo earned the title of 'the one musical moment of the weekend', so well done all of you. This, the wonderfully simple Esurientes and other such moments caused Philip to remark that Rosenmüller had very few peers at that moment in writing such introspective gentle passages. It was unusual and bold to write quiet passages of such length and no-one else achieved such stillness and transparency of writing.
I knew what was coming in the 6/4 Dispersit section when Philip mentioned the 'Bernstein codex'. I heard him use this phrase on a facsimile course after a quite erudite explanation of the technicalities of perfect and imperfect time, where the term codex does come up in its proper context. However, the Bernstein one is his own concoction, but perfect for teaching hemiolas. To remember how to do 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2 there is nothing better than thinking of 'I like to be in A-me-ri-ca'.
We must have struggled a considerable amount throughout the weekend, as witnessed by some of the Thorbyisms gathered below, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We sang and played our best and learnt to aim for, and at least part of the time achieved, the expression of the emotions stored up in the words and the music. Thanks to Victoria for her organisation and hard work, and to all the others who helped out on both days.
And the rest of the Thorbyisms:
However much the singers slow down, they can always look behind them and there's a continuo chord coming.
(To a violin, to play more smoothly). If you can demean yourself, be a little more like a viol.
Principio. Isn't it nice to have a word where all syllables are equal.
You seem a bit annoyed with Gloria, whoever she is.
The holy spirit clog-dances his way through that bar. He's not as corporeal as you give him credit for.
The long-drawn-out agony that is bar 547.
The natural sign before the E raises the note by a very specific amount. Not just a little bit higher.
(Requiem eternam) Basses, make every semibreve egg-shaped, not brick-shaped.
Some of you flirted with the C sharp. Make a conscious decision to do it.
Strike while the iron's luke-warm.
We'll hold that chord until the sops have caught up.
All human life is here … and yours too.
It's 4 in a bar and I'm going to beat 4 in a bar. Make the most of it!
The Fretted Blasthorn Revisited (from Tamesis, April 1996)
The puzzling lack of any iconographic evidence for the existence of the fretted blasthorn has stimulated much debate but a recent discovery in the library of the University of Bratislava has provided an insight into the true nature of the instrument. It clearly derives in part from the tromba marina, a stringed instrument with a strident sound produced by a bridge which balances on one foot (1) whilst the other rattles against the body of the instrument. Its other ancestor is obviously some kind of trumpet or horn which provides the unique possibility for a single player to perform brass and string music simultaneously.
Henricus Glareanus, a Swiss monk, devoted much time to the study of the tromba marina. In his treatise the "Dodecachordon" of 1547 he makes the interesting observation that the instrument produces a more nearly agreeable tone at a distance than it does close at hand (2). The fretted blasthorn, or tromba supermarina, as it is sometimes called, rarely deserves such a charitable assessment, owing to the difficulty of tuning the natural harmonics of the horn or "tromba" to the strings. It was in an effort to overcome this problem that the frets were added, resulting in the instrument that is depicted in the recently discovered drawing. The frets of course enhance the attack of the bowed notes to more nearly match the aggressive sound of the tromba but do nothing for the basic tuning. There had been wild speculation as to the range of the fretted blasthorn, but modern calculations have resulted in an estimate of a little over two miles in still air. Still air is unfortunately a necessity, since any change in temperature affects the strings and the tromba in opposite directions, thus exacerbating the tuning difficulties. All things considered, it seems unlikely that the instrument will enjoy a modern revival unless the Building Regulations are made significantly more demanding in respect of sound-proofing.
D Arrowsmith 1/4/96
1) Poor linguistic ability on the part of one enthusiast resulted in a fruitless search for competent one-legged string players in the misguided quest for authenticity.
2) See David Munrow "Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance" OUP 1976 ISBN 0 19 321321 4
Opportunities to make music
Singers of London, a well-established chamber choir which rehearses on Mondays at St Olave's Church near Tower Hill, is seeking new recruits - altos and tenors in particular but basses and sopranos are also welcome. This small, experienced choir is used to working to a high standard and promotes three concerts a year, mostly in London, but often an 'out of town' concert in summer. London venues have included Southwark Cathedral and St Pancras Church. Singers of London concerts have regularly featured Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. Our newly-appointed conductor is Tom Seligman and our next concert, which will take place at St Paul's, Knightsbridge on 27.11.04, will include the Victoria Mass and Motet 'O quam gloriosum'.
If you are interested in joining us, or would like more information, please contact:
Fiona Weir on 020 7272 8599 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and/or
Tom Seligman on 07812 06375 or email email@example.com
Christmas music at Christmas...!
Not such a revolutionary idea - or is it? When is your Christmas concert?
Michael Procter makes a plea for better concert planning - and offers his own solution.
Do you sing Easter music in Lent? Of course not. Everyone knows that 'Eastertide' begins on Easter Day, and the period before Easter, Lent, is a time for penitence, for the Bach Passions, for Lamentations and Tenebrae Responsories.
Quite right. But what about Advent and Christmas? Advent is exactly the same sort of time of preparation for Christmas as Lent is for Easter. Indeed, the mediaeval church called Advent 'St. Martin's Lent'. Christmas, a well-defined season, begins with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and lasts until January 1st, i.e. the Octave day. And that is the Christmas season. It neither starts in September, when the shops put up their Christmas trees, nor in Advent. But church musicians and others have for years put on their 'Christmas' concerts during Advent, which seems to me regrettable for two reasons:
1. because it contributes to the watering-down of Christmas itself,
2. because it conflicts with any idea of observing Advent.
There is plenty of fine music for Advent. Programmes can be built around such themes as
- Veni Redemptor gentium (Come thou Redeemer of the earth);
- Rorate coeli;
- The Great 'O' Antiphons etc.
I know it is too late to change the way Society misuses the Festival of Christmas, but we can help to keep the idea of Advent alive by our programming. And the bravest of us could insist on having our Christmas Carol service in Christmas time! The Church previously had a Feast on each day of the Christmas Octave - St Stephen on Dec. 26, St John Evangelist on Dec. 27, Holy Innocents (the English Childermas) on Dec. 28, Thomas à Becket on Dec. 29, the Holy Family on Dec. 30 and St. Silvester on Dec. 31. January 1 was the Feast of the Circumcision, now replaced by Mary Mother of God. Most of these celebrations have fallen into oblivion because church musicians are always exhausted by the time they reach Boxing Day - pity the poor choirmaster at a church of St Stephen!
My own 'Modest Solution' has been to keep strictly to Advent repertoire for concerts in that season, and to put all my Christmas music into the Octave of Christmas. For four years now I have directed a festive course at Mont Ste Odile, an ex-monastery and 'pilgrim hotel' south of Strasbourg in Alsace. We gather on December 28 - most people have had enough both of family and of television by then - and spent the first day and a half rehearsing, and on three days, Dec. 30/31 and Jan. 1st, we provide music for the Mass, always packed by pilgrims and visitors. We concentrate on renaissance music (and I see no sign of running out of repertoire in my lifetime!), but with carol arrangements and what passes nowadays for liturgical music. On New Year's Eve there is a great feast (Alsatian cuisine!) and our own party, with champagne at Midnight- And we leave after breakfast on January 2nd. In the first year we had eleven tenors - let me say that again - e l e v e n tenors! - and lots of instrumentalists, and enjoyed some polychoral music. Sometimes we have an organist, last year two splendid violinists...
More information in the leaflet enclosed or on the web at www.Michael-Procter.com