Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 206
Just time to write a very quick editorial – it’s the baroque day on Saturday and the Greenwich exhibition the weekend after, so I’m rather short of time.
We haven’t got enough volunteers yet to help on the stand at the exhibition, particularly on the Sunday, so if you can help for even half an hour please get in touch with me (secretary @ tvemf.org). I will also make a timetable to go on the stand, with time slots, so that you can sign up on the day when you have a better idea of when you will be available. It’s just a question of being at the stand to chat to people and make sure they get the right leaflets, and to take cheques if they want to join. Come and talk to us there anyway. We’ll be on the left-hand side of the Painted Hall next to the sheet music tables.
I’ve had a lot of bookings for the Christmas workshop – it’s hard to believe that Philip Thorby thought ‘A German Christmas’ might not sound sufficiently attractive, but of course we all know that he will find something interesting in anything he may choose to conduct. I’m not closing the bookings yet, but please don’t wait too long to apply. I still particularly need tenors (surprise!) and sackbuts.
A lot of bookings have come in for the baroque chamber music day too, including quite a number of new people. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of our members over the next few weeks.
There will not be a Tamesis in January, so if you have any material for January or February please let me have it in good time for the December edition.
I recently had a particularly busy period when I had Forum events on four successive Saturdays. It started with the TVEMF Venetian Vespers, then there was a SWEMF workshop studying music from the time of the restoration of the monarchy with Peter Leech. He wanted to try music of such composers as Blow and Locke with cornetts and sackbuts as it might have been done when the inexperienced boys of the newly- reconstituted Chapel Royal were being supplemented by instruments. I suspect that the period from 1660 until Purcell came along is a period of musical history that is rather unfamiliar to most of us but clearly it is worth exploring. My next venture was to Bosham, near Chichester, to the SEMF workshop directed by A lan Lumsden, performing music by Schütz and Praetorius. We mustered a good group of singers and instruments and produced an excellent sound. Special thanks must go to Mary Reynor for her wonderful home-made cakes and to those who helped her with the tea - it's nice for me not to have to be charman as well as chairman!
The final event in the series was the TVEMF workshop with John Milsom. It was limited to 40 participants at his insistence which meant that the absence of four ladies who had been accepted was particularly unfortunate as it left us rather short of high voices. If you cannot attend a workshop then a phone call or email to the organiser may enable someone else to take your place (as in this case) or give time for the allocation of parts to be rearranged. For these reasons we will cash the cheques for those who simply do not show up. In spite of the slight imbalance in the voices this was a very successful day which significantly increased my understanding of the music of Willaert.
I'm looking forward to the Baroque Day and the Early Music Exhibition (always worth a visit) and of course the Christmas event with the inimitable Philip Thorby.
Willaert and friends
Once again, the United Reformed Church at Ickenham has been the venue for a TVEMF event of exceptional quality. It was, as always, a most rewarding experience to be directed by John Milsom, who led us through a programme of music which featured masterpieces by composers virtually unknown to the wider world of early music. Most of us had sung some Mouton (though John expressed astonishment that not one person admitted to having sung his Salva nos, Domine, with which the programme ended), and a fair number had sung some Willaert. However, Jacquet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton were new to us.
Whether or not due to over-indulgence in the consumption of chocolate biscuits which, we were firmly told, was fatal, it took some little time before we began to produce the required quality of sound and diction. However, the time spent in bringing us up to scratch began to pay dividends as we engaged with Willaert’s Christe redemptor omnium, an alternatim setting in which the polyphonic verses were, successively, in four, five and six parts, with the two cantus parts in canon in the five-part verse, and the canon buried in the inner parts (alto I and tenor I) in the six-part verse. We are, at early music workshops, accustomed to having our attention directed firmly towards the text, so it was a fascinating and novel experience to be taken on a guided tour of the musical architecture of the Willaert, to have diatonic and exact canons explained to us and to be told why and when one or the other was used in the composition.
The second half of the morning was taken up with exploring a hitherto unsung (at least, in modern times) masterpiece, Plorabant sacerdotes by Jacquet of Mantua. The Florentine humanist Cosimo Bartoli remarked on a certain stylistic affinity between the compositions of Willaert and of Jachet, and Allan W Atlas tells us, in his book Renaissance Music, (Norton, 1998) that in 1550, Antonio Gardano, the publisher of Willaert’s Musica nova, issued a volume of music whose long title begins with the words Di Adriano et di Jachet, Jachet being the French-born composer Jacques Colebault (1483-1559), who was a prolific composer of masses and motets and who spent over thirty years as the leading composer in Mantua. Renaissance cultural history suggests that such dynasts as the Gonzaga of Mantua, the Estensi of Ferrara and the Sforza of Milan bargained, sold, and poached first rank musicians in much the same way as owners of Premiership football clubs do nowadays with world-class players, and for amounts not dissimilar when translated into modern currency. Perhaps Jachet’s lengthy stay in Mantua reflects the status of his patron, the cardinal- bishop Ercole Gonzaga, as the Roman Abramovitch of the Renaissance musical scene, able to see off any competition for his star musician.
As with verse 4 of the Willaert, Plorabant sacerdotes has the canon in the two upper parts, with the three lower parts as an accompaniment. Although we spent a considerable amount of time on it, and acquitted ourselves tolerably well in the end, given the time available, it was clear that we had not penetrated very far into its many complexities.
Next on the programme was O beata infantia, by (I quote from Neil’s note about the workshop) “the elusive Loyset Pieton, a composer of truly magnificent music whose biography remains an almost total mystery”. Neither Atlas nor Leeman Perkins, in Music in the Age of the Renaissance, (Norton, 1999) has a word to say about him. In this six-part motet for Christmas, specifically for Matins, a richly textured picture is painted of the ordinary, sad and even sordid aspects of man’s daily life being transformed by the presence of the blessed infant; the series of metaphorical contrasts between divine and human attributes ends triumphantly with the splendid stable being found to contain not only hay for the animals, but the food of angels.
In the final session, as well as revisiting Plorabant sacerdotes, we performed Willaert’s In convertendo Dominus, for two four-part choirs singing antiphonally until the last eight bars, where the two choirs came together for “et in saecula saeculorum“. This seemed fairly straightforward after the complications of Christe redemptor omnium, and we did not attempt to explore it in any depth. It was with somewhat diminishing energies (notwithstanding the sustenance derived from consumption of Mary and Michael Reynor’s excellent teatime provisions) that we ended by singing twice through Mouton’s calm and peaceful Salva nos, Domine, which provided a fitting conclusion to a an arduous, but immensely satisfying day’s singing. We are all indebted to John for his patience, good humour and expertise in taking us through his well-chosen programme, and surely we would all agree that, if the selected works by Jacquet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton are in any way representative of their general quality, these are composers whose music deserves to be much more widely known. Warmest thanks are also due to Neil for organising the event and to Mary and Michael Reynor for their admirable catering.
TVEMF Baroque Dance and Orchestra Workshop
at West Byfleet Junior School 21st June
This was something of a nostalgia trip, venturing into TVEMF territory, as I was actually brought up in the (then) village of West Byfleet (between Woking and Weybridge). There were 24 participants either playing in the band or learning the steps of baroque dance, although many of us moved from one group to the other.
Julian Perkins took the orchestra, which could field 3 baroque oboes, 3 violins, 1-2 baroque flutes, 2 viols, recorder, keyboard, theorbo, bassanello etc. While the dancers did their warm-ups, the players grouped into a small band. Unfortunately, there were not always enough parts to go round, and I wondered if this was a ploy to get some of the instrumentalists on their feet. The dance tutor was Philippa Waite, resplendent in wig and costume, and accompanied in the demonstrations with her partner, Matthew. Philippa is running some summer dance courses in her native Cardiff.
Like music, the different dances are built up from smaller building blocks, such as ‘coupé’, ‘pas de bourrée’ etc. Practising these is the dancing equivalent of scales and arpeggios. The problem is to fit them in in time and to end up on the correct foot – there should be a 50-50 chance of getting the foot right, but experience shows that there is an 85% chance of getting it wrong! The band played dance movements from trio sonatas and suites by composers such as Quantz and Lully, which seemed to fit the dance steps well. It was a good discipline for keeping a steady tempo, and not speeding up or slowing down at cadences, which can ‘wrong-foot’ the dances. We also learned to carry the music over the bar-lines, as, for example, in minuets where the units are two three-four bars. The day started with a bourrée, and progressed to a gigue, via a sarabande and a minuet, the latter reprised in a circle.
The school is a convenient venue, within walking distance from West Byfleet station, and we rehearsed in a main room, which seemed to be a general purpose gym, theatre, large classroom etc. The dancers found that the floor could have done with a bit more polish to aid their smooth steps. Outside was a pool frequented by a couple of pied wagtails.
Many thanks to Judith Hughes for organizing a very jolly and instructive day.
This review originally appeared in t