Tamesis Issue 176
We have now booked the TVEMF stand at the Greenwich Early Music Exhibition which runs from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th November. I have listed the major concerts in the List, but for the others you need to look at the Festival programme. Our stand this year is in the Prince Philip anteroom (the room next to the bar) where you can also find Clifford Bartlett’s Kings Music and Lindum Records. Please come and visit the stand, and stay for a while to talk to the visitors. The more volunteers we have, the better. I expect that there will be a timed list for people to sign up for a short period on the stand, but I would be very happy to hear from anyone who can make a definite commitment now.
The London Bach Society Bachfest ’05 runs from 4 to 13 November. There are too many events to list, but for more information look at www.bachlive.co.uk.
Also to save time, I’ve printed the fascinating collection of lectures at the Oxford University Faculty of Music as a separate list, rather than incorporating it into the Events list. We hope to hold a joint event with them next year.
I’m sorry that Tamesis has been looking rather messy lately. This is because of incompatibility problems between my computer and David’s. We hope to sort it out soon, if not this month.
I’d also like to apologise to anyone who thinks I have been failing to answer emails and telephone messages. I’ve been on holiday for the last two weeks, including a week singing in Venice with Jeffrey Skidmore which I hope to review next month. Now, apart from normal work and Tamesis this week I’ve got a concert on Sunday and my Open University exam on Tuesday, so please don’t expect to hear from me until later next week!
With this newsletter you should find a booking form for Jeffrey Skidmore and my own baroque day, both next month. If you haven’t been to a baroque day before, but enjoy playing chamber music, you will be very welcome to come. All details are on the booking form (which, for the benefit of our regulars, doesn’t say anything new!)
David Allinson's day of Renaissance laments on the death of friends was a remarkably cheerful affair, given the subject matter. Together with some well-known pieces by Josquin, Byrd and Gombert we performed a piece which I have known for many years but never performed with voices: the seven-part Lamentatio Super Mortem Josquin de Prés by Hieronymous Vinders. I had spent quite some time in setting words to the three untexted parts and am very grateful to Don Gill for typesetting the result. I find it very satisfying with its bell-like tolling and combination of slow-moving parts and more elaborate ones. Thank you all for indulging me, especially the tenors, who spent much of the day singing various cantus firmus parts without (much) complaint. Thanks too of course to David who kept us entertained even during the warm-up with a stream of witty similes. I was amused to hear that David's dentist has recorded him as having a "strong gag reflex" - I think those who know him would all agree with that! Finally, special thanks to Neil Edington who had to cope with a change of date, and much dithering over whether the clash with other events was a problem, but who with his team of helpers on the day ran the event with great efficiency. Although there is nothing in our area this month, you might consider the Medieval event in Cirencester run by SWEMF - see Diary. Next month we have one of the ever-popular Baroque Days run by our admirable Secretary, and also a Latin American day with Jeffrey Skidmore. I went to a similar day of his run by MEMF and can thoroughly recommend that you sample this somewhat unusual fare.
Letter to editor
Dear Victoria, I agree with Chris Thorn that shawms seem to have got a bad name and that we are becoming a threatened minority. However, I doubt if he will agree with me that there are different ways of playing the shawm, just as there are different types of shawm. I think that I may have played my deutsche Schalmey once at the Bradbourne SEMF day, but it is a very late shawm and scarcely louder than an oboe. We usually allow some louder instruments in the final session in the Great Hall when we do a larger work with everyone taking part. SEMF used to do a loud wind day, and I started the subtil instrument day as a counterbalance, mainly because the rooms in Bradbourne house have excellent acoustics for quieter instruments. The next SEMF subtil instrument day is on Saturday 18th March, and it is held at Bradbourne House, East Malling, near Maidstone. This is a stately largely Queen Anne House set in parkland and orchards; the daffodils should be out and some years it is warm enough to picnic outside. Did I let Chris play his alto shawm at Bradbourne? I cannot remember it, but maybe I left those thoughts in my pensieve and have not retrieved them....
Laments for other Composers
David Allinson singing Day 17 September
A lamentable event? Not likely, on the bright blue-skied autumn morning when 50 singers gathered to enjoy a workshop with David Allinson on ‘Laments for Other Composers’ at the Dutch Church in the City of London. Merely to spend a few hours with David’s good humour and infectious enthusiasm is a celebration, and the delightful singing room with its pink and white décor, striped like a wedding cake, and excellent acoustic all posed a dilemma ….how were we ever to get into a mood for lamentation?
David began by referring to Josquin’s Lament for Ockegem ‘Nymphes des Bois’ as the seminal work in this genre which in turn inspired the next generation of composers to offer musical tributes to Josquin himself. We started straight in with Byrd’s ‘Come to me grief’, a lament for Sir Philip Sidney, and were treated to helpful pointers as to singing technique in David’s gently ironic vein (“Imagine you speak English every day and know which words to accentuate…”) and vivid imagery…”go for a lugubrious, spongy quality….smooth the long notes like butter”. Humming through the piece and then singing it softly to ‘ah’ helped to attune our ears to other voices in the ensemble. I would have liked a bit more preamble about the mood and purpose of lamenting, (other than a mere ‘classical encomium’ or formal tribute) as a felt experience - most of us are unaccustomed to singing at funerals even for friends, …and something about the circumstances in which the piece was written would have been interesting.
Next up was Gombert’s ‘Musae Iovis’ where the more complex part-writing involved switching some altos to Sextus Tenor and a second, diligent group of tenors singing the Cantus Firmus, as an essential but musically unchallenging task in this and other pieces during the day for which David apologised, although no rumblings of mutiny were heard. In this piece, as to some extent in the Byrd, problems were caused by the quality of the copies, a Herculean operation on this scale, but the handwritten underlay proved difficult to decipher and would have well repaid going through the words beforehand for meaning, phrasing and pronunciation. Certainly in my section, the Sextus Tenors, I could have sworn we were all singing a different text, so variously did we pronounce some of the words, and if it had been possible it would have helped to have the English translation (provided at the back) written under the Latin. We spent most of the morning, both before and after coffee, on this piece and unfortunately, try as I would, I could not engage with it. The ebb and flow of the parts had a grand architecture and I enjoyed the delicious warm melancholy of the basses, but……Gombert evidently intended his polyphony to make its effect as a ‘wall of sound’ and for me ( possibly I was a minority of one) the effect was relentless rather than uplifting. David admitted that it was a risky piece to bring to a workshop as Gombert was less interested in providing points of articulation, dynamic change or musical development, than in ‘stretching the expression in all directions’ but even within these parameters, I felt that I needed more help to enter into Gombert’s world.
The after-lunch session, which is often the least animated of the day, on this occasion sprang into new life with Byrd’s lament for Tallis, ‘Ye Sacred Muses’’ spurred on by David’s genius for conveying the stylistic effects he wants - - “It’s polyester cheap, what we need is satin” …” “Drench everything in legato juice!” It was a relief to get back to singing parts with individual cadences and the vividly personal sorrow of one composer mourning another, seeming so much more reflective and truthful in its simplicity.
Vinders’ relatively unknown ‘Lamentatio super mortem Josquin’ again provided delightful part-writing with a sense of the voices listening to one another, and wonderfully represented the donging bells of the requiem, even in a major key expressing a heartfelt feeling of lament. This was followed by J. Vaet’s ‘Continuo Lacrimae’, his lament for Clemens non Papae: more blocks of sound with the verses running above the cantus firmus. An illuminating note at the back of the sheet told us that “from Gombert, Vaet inherited a penchant for flowing polyphony unimpeded by expressive detail”. Clearly it is a matter of taste whether one finds ‘expressive detail’ an impediment or, as I feel it, an essential ingredient of music. Our ensemble effectiveness reached a peak when we ran through two of our pieces in the covered side-aisle of the church, with its splendidly intimate yet reverberating acoustic, with some visitors to the church on ‘Open House’ day as a surprised but appreciative audience.
The missed opportunity of the day was a superb offering by Mouton, ‘Quis dabit’ , a lament for Anne of Brittany which - now seriously pressed for time - we only read through once. A fantastic piece with sensitive word-setting and disturbing harmonies, and mighty frustrating not to have spent much longer on this one, though David consoled us by suggesting that a future Mouton workshop would be on the cards. We also looked quickly at Festa’s setting of the same text which seemed to have some pleasing elements - spaces and silences for absorbing the grand homophonic statements of the piece, always more effective than a continuous ear-blasting.
The workshop concluded with Josquin’s ‘Nymphes des Bois’ with its pedal-note chanting and lovely sad suspensions in the final sequence: a fitting conclusion to a splendid and much- appreciated day, with heartfelt thanks expressed to everyone involved in organising the music, venue and refreshments and not least to David himself.
New Early Dance Venue
Oxford Historical Dance Society is moving to a new meeting place this autumn. The new season of Saturday early dance workshops will be at Headington Community Centre, Gladstone Road, off London Road, in the Headington district of Oxford. The new venue (near the junction of the A40 with the Oxford Ring Road) is easily accessible by car, and is close to bus routes and the London to Oxford coach route.
As usual, specialist tutors will cover a range of topics, including 16th Century Court Dances (Madeleine Inglehearn, October 8), Baroque Dance (Philippa Waite, February 4) and 18th Century Court and Country Dances (Jackie Marshall-Ward, April 22). Typically, tutors will teach steps and dances which were recorded in words and diagrams by the dancing masters of that era, using the music which they supplied; and dances will be put into their social and historical context with information on clothes, social customs etc.
Newcomers are welcome at these workshops. You don’t need to bring partners, special clothes or previous experience, though if you’ve done any other sorts of dance it’s a help.
If you ever play renaissance, baroque or classical dance music, these day-courses are a good way to gain insight into the many subtleties of the music/dance relationship. (For instance, musicians know that a bar of minuet takes three beats; but dancers know that a minuet-step takes six beats, which alters the feel of the downbeat in alternate bars). You will also get some exercise, have some fun, immerse yourself in the culture of the period, taste various qualities of movement, practise the steps and patterns of several dances, meet some nice people, and improve your dance technique. Not a bad achievement for one day! Other workshops this year are Victorian, Ragtime and “Music for the Films”.
More information from or telephone 01865 373861.
Contact details for OHDS are to be found in the list at the top of Events, as are most of the courses, though I note that Diana hasn’t sent me the information for “Music for the Films”. Is this perhaps a new definition of where we draw the line under ‘early music’?
Many of us know Peter Berg, not just from his early music CD mail order business, Lindum Records, but also from the excellent but unfortunately rather infrequent early music courses which he and Kathleen run from their home in Lincoln. When Peter retired from his work as a GP in 1995 he set up Lindum Records, intending to run it for ten years. The ten years are now up, and Peter has decided he would like to give himself more time for his own musical and other pursuits (including some more courses I hope), so from December 1st Lindum Records will be run by Jeremy Burbidge. Jeremy already runs Recorder Music Mail, Jacks Pipes and Hammers, the Peacock Press and the Recorder Magazine, and publishes the Early Music Yearbook for NEMA, so he is obviously aiming for a monopoly! Contact details from December 1st: e-mail infolindumrecords.co.uk. You will still find Peter on the Lindum Records stand at the Greenwich Early Music Festival in November, in the Prince Philip Ante Room (otherwise known as the room next to the bar) where TVEMF is having its stand this time.