Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 195
The November issue of Tamesis will be the last one before Christmas, so please make sure you send me your contributions and concert information in good time for the copy date of Monday 5th November.
TVEMF is again having a stand at the Greenwich exhibition from 9th-11th November. This is a very good place for us to pick up some new members, so we need volunteers to look after the stand and chat to visitors. There’s no need to stay very long, unless you want to. On the other hand, if you can offer a couple of hours (or more of course) in advance, we should be able to get you free entry to the exhibition, a saving of £7.50 on a full-price ticket. All offers of help to me please, preferably by email to secretary @ tvemf.org. Even if you don’t want to talk to visitors, do come and visit the stand anyway. Full details, including the concerts and other events, can be found at www.gifem.com.
You’ll see from the form that David Allinson doesn’t feel that strings are appropriate for the music for the Christmas workshop. I hope this doesn’t disappoint too many people – I know most of you sing or play other instruments as well, so should be able to come anyway. If it’s any compensation, there are two smaller scale events early next year, in February and March, which don’t involve wind players. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you at the baroque chamber music day on 3rd November. As usual, keyboard players with or without their own instruments will be particularly welcome. Don’t worry that you may be expected to play from figured bass – it isn’t necessary. I haven’t changed any of the information on the form from previous occasions, so if you’ve been before you don’t need to wade through all the small print!
Last month we had our first day devoted to the music of Jean Richafort, directed by John Milsom, now back in this country after a period abroad. I know only a few pieces by this composer, but all are good, so I was looking forward to the event. It did not disappoint, being just what I want from a workshop - excellent but unfamiliar music presented in a scholarly and entertaining way. Many thanks to Diana Porteus for organising this.
We have several events coming up before the end of the year. Firstly another in the regular and very successful series of Baroque Days, organised by our hard-working Secretary. Then the joint NEMA/TVEMF workshop of music by Praetorius with Philip Thorby, who will also give what promises to be an entertaining lecture in memory of Margo Leigh-Milner. Finally we have our Christmas event with David Allinson - an excellent finish to the year.
Richafort in Headington
On September 22nd some 40 singers gathered in the Headington Community Centre to work on a Missa pro Defunctis setting by a composer unknown to many of us, Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1547). John Milsom, who is a Josquin des Prez authority, led us through the six-part setting itself, as well as having us sing through the chants and chansons it was based on – some of these in original notation.
Organizer Diana Porteus made sure that the balance of singers was right for the lowish setting, with enough tenors to field two separate tenor sections, and not too many sopranos. John Milsom showed his mastery of the subject material by mixing in his scholarship with choral direction in just the right balance. Not too much talking, but just enough for us to be able to put some more understanding into what we were singing.
Just a sample of what went on: We were introduced to two of the chants that appeared in the mass setting. The first was the Requiem aeternam chant and the second was the less well-known Si ambulem in medio umbrae mortis, a chant of English origin. Richafort uses a canonical cantus firmus in the middle of the six voices, surrounded, as it were, by two upper voices and two lower voices. These two inner voices start out singing words that refer to their being surrounded by four other voices, and in entirely different Latin words from the requiem text. These are from Josquin’s “Nymphes circumdederunt me gemitus mortis”, leaving out the first word “Nymphes”, as not fitting for a requiem mass. Milsom explained that this requiem setting might have been in honour of Richafort’s teacher Josquin des Prez himself. But that wasn’t all. The parody aspect of this mass was not only in these two chansons. Richafort used some of Josquin’s themes from his secular chansons “Fault de d’argent, c’est douleur non pareille” (translation: Nothing worse than being broke) and makes reference to “Plusieurs regrets” a chanson in which, to complicate things, Josquin refers to his own chansons (nothing better than his regret-genre music, he says)! According to John, listeners of the time would have recognised a lot of this right off the bat, and been amazed by it. So were we, but it took some work on individual lines to bring it out for us. As if this wasn’t enough, Richafort moved through tonalities and modes, creating another level of excitement for the 16th century singers and trouble for us even in the modern notation!
The day demanded high levels of concentration and accuracy, which led to an emerging blend that kept the intensity going for entire passages – sometimes achieving the long lines that Milsom was trying to bring out. “This vast and excellent polyphony” he said at one point, “does not benefit from singing loudly for sustained lengths of time”. I even heard one incredible supported pianissimo passage before the lunch break (such pianissimo moments are one of my personal measures of excellence for any choral event). He worked on individual lines to get us all to appreciate what was going on in our other lines. One quote of his I picked up says it all: “As you begin to understand the music, you begin to start to produce what I am after.” Notice the emphasis on “begin to” and “start to.” Thanks to John and his genial but authoritative presentation, the end of the day left us with a healthy respect for Richafort, Josquin, and intimations of the profundity behind the music