Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 217
hope you won’t get this Tamesis too late in the month, but as I write I’m marooned at home by snow and David in High Wycombe is likely to have even more trouble getting to his office to do the printing. Apologies if this means that anyone’s listing arrives rather nearer to their event than they had hoped. I had a lot of difficulty at the Latin American Christmas event persuading anyone to write a review for Tamesis, but in the end I got four – three enthusiastic ones and one from someone who obviously had rather a bad day. Sorry about that, Ken and Patsy, and I hope that next year’s Christmas in Rome with Philip Thorby may suit you better. Personally I thought Jeffrey coped amazingly with such a large number of mixed instruments and singers. Being a bit of a linguist I haven’t sung in a totally unfamiliar language since I sang in Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass at college, so I found all the Latin American languages a bit of a challenge, but Jeffrey’s explanation of black notation left me thinking, possibly wrongly, that I finally understood the idea. The food at lunchtime was wonderful, as usual, and I’m very grateful to everyone who brought it. I discovered one or two really interesting South American delicacies that I’d never tried before. Thanks as well to everyone who helped with setting up, tidying up the hall at the end, making tea and coffee, pouring drinks and, that thankless task, the washing up. There are forms for two events enclosed. The Sennfl day was planned after I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Lincoln conducted by Philip Thorby and organised by Kathleen Berg who has written the definitive work on the composer. If you’re used to later 16th Century counterpoint you will find the style interestingly idiosyncratic, and don’t be put off by the mention of plainsong on the form – it just means that plainsong melodies can be found in some of the music. There is also a form for the baroque chamber music playing day in Oxford organised as usual by Peter Collier, the director of the Oxford Baroque Week summer school. It’s always a good day and Peter usually manages to find some newly published and unfamiliar music. Don’t forget about David’s renaissance chamber music day next month. The form for that was sent with the November Tamesis, but you can still download one from the web site or contact David directly. Diana Porteus has asked me to mention that all the music will be for sale at the end of the John Milsom day. Some people might even want to buy multiple copies for groups they sing in elsewhere. It’s a pity that so many people had to be put on the waiting list for this event, but it does give you an opportunity to go to EEMF’s postponed epiphany party workshop at Beccles or one of the two events in the SEMF area including a Byzantine chant day (see Events for contact details). Apologies to those of you who have had your articles or reviews cut. I’ve had to leave out two reviews altogether (by me, so it doesn’t matter). There is a lot of material this month, including three pages of advertising and a lot of forms and leaflets, and a limit to how small I can make the font, so there is no more available space. David has put 42 more back numbers of Tamesis (without people’s personal information) on the web site www.tvemf.org. Finally, you might find it useful to know that the London branch of the Early Music Shop has moved to the first floor at 11 Denmark Street, WC2H 8TD, just off Charing Cross Road, near Tottenham Court Road tube station.
As I write this, Hazel Fenton, our former long-serving Treasurer, is preparing to move into her new home in Bath. I gather she will try to come to some TVEMF events but we will certainly miss her - I hope there is plenty of music for her in and around Bath.
If you find a subscription reminder with this copy of Tamesis it is because I haven't yet received your subscription for 2010 or you have set up a standing order but didn't notify me and it hasn't appeared on our bank statement yet. In this latter case take no action and I will confirm receipt of any such standing orders when our next statement arrives.
I was in the lovely city of Prague for a few days over Christmas and attended a couple of concerts in rather splendid venues. The first one, booked by some friends, was of 'early' music but included such items as Pachelbel's canon and Vivaldi's Four Seasons so was rather less enjoyable for me than the one given by the Bohemian Saxophone Quartet. They played Rossini, Bernstein and Gershwin with such verve and precision as to make one believe the music was written for just that combination. We early musicians sometime feel a bit apologetic about playing arrangements of vocal music or pieces written for different instruments but if it works musically then it's fine (and perfectly 'authentic' - it has always been done).
I believe there is no room for more singers at this month's John Milsom workshop, though if you are a bass or tenor you might be lucky. There is however plenty of room for voices and instruments at the Renaissance Day in Burnham on the 6th February, so come and enjoy a varied musical diet - I'll be bringing about 50 boxes of music as usual.
Letters to the Editor
I very much appreciated the beautiful facsimile card with all the various messages which eventually reached me, having gone from Hillingdon Hospital to Mount Vernon Hospital and eventually to me at home! I am improving and getting around quite well on one crutch but could do without all this snow!!
best wishes Nicola (Wilson-Smith)
In the context of Alistair Dixon's Ealing workshop which, as Sidney Ross says in his erudite review, provided us with a varied and interesting programme, I should like to respond to the remarks in the November Tamesis Chairman's Chat.
Given the very limited time at our disposal on these occasions and the vast range of works potentially available for study, together with the fact that we are not aiming to present a public performance, my own feeling is that a fair selection of pieces rehearsed to a moderate standard at best is preferable to a more restricted repertoire being subjected to meticulous refinement.
Sincerely, Pat Field
A friend has just spotted an error in the information sheet for Renaissance Requiems: in typing out the information supplied by John Milsom, I twice managed to convert his " Missa pro Defunctis" to "Missa de Profunctis". Apologies to one and all for any confusion this may have caused.
To-day was inspirational for me. A chance to sing under the direction of Jeffrey Skidmore - Baroque Latin-American choral works, part in Spanish and with a selection of wonderful instruments; all within a short journey of my home.
The food contribution system worked wonderfully well and next time I can help more with clearing away.
Having travelled to Peru and Bolivia many years ago, I was very interested in the scenes on the laptop too.
Thank you for organising the event and the wine and drinks.
Best wishes Andrea Hudson
TVEMF Christmas Workshop
On a very wet Sunday in early December some 80 or so singers and instrumentalists made their way to The Drake hall Amersham, for a workshop with Jeffrey Skidmore. We were promised a Latin-American Christmas and we were not disappointed. We were urged by Jeffrey to sing in Spanish, but not the Spanish some of us knew, but many dialects. We knew that we were really getting into the idiom, when first Jeffrey’s “hairy” drum appeared, followed by an extraordinary collection of instruments, some of which had been collected in South America. We struggled to get our minds around black notation, when note values all seemed different from normal This was the Christmas Gathering, and at the end of the morning session a wonderful spread of food appeared, we had all contributed something. The lunch was washed down with sparkling white wine, or orange juice.
After lunch we sang more of the music that Jeffrey had brought and then after tea had a “run through” of the pieces that we had learnt during the day, and so ended a very interesting and enjoyable workshop.
The AGM followed at the end of the afternoon
A Latin-American Christmas
Brian O´Hagan writes from Leipzig. After my first Jeffrey Skidmore Workshop I rushed off to buy the CD with Dulce Jesus Mio. When I played it to my Head of RE (who hated the straightjacket of the National Curriculum) she went off to buy ten copies as prizes/presents, remarking that DJM could be used in so many ways, to teach Colonialism, Spanish language, multilingualism, Drama, RE, for assemblies, etc. Although it is a haunting postlude, Jeffrey used it as a warm-up before tackling the percussive Hanacpachap Cuissicuinin (no Spanish here!).
Now follows a bit of Theory. I have taken Shape-Note Workshops and am fami liar with tailed minims from Charpentier, but just when I thought I could read music, along came “black-note’’ notation as used in Latin-American Baroque! In triple time, black semibreves or black minims indicate hemiola or more complex types of syncopation. Confused? You will be when you learn that a crotchet is a tailed quaver, while what looks like a crotchet is a minim!
The orchestra included a contra-bass recorder, perhaps more apt for a Breughel Kermesse than a Brazilian Carnival - but Jeffrey’s easy familiarity extended to encouraging players to sing/dance to the Music, in accordance with Latin-American performance practice. (As Glaeranus once put it, “Nihil non significat, si illud trapezum non habet! *) Jeffrey even learned who was who! “Well done, Frederick! (Not his real name- names have been changed to protect the instrumentalists!) You’ve finally mastered “black-note” notation!”. Eschewing the Gruppen solution (more than one conductor) or Polykinetics (I’ve just made that one up - it means the LH beats 3, and the RH beats 2 while the feet dance the Cachucha!), Jeffrey opted for the modified Rite of Spring method (occasional rebarring).
Next, some exotic material (with a Nahuatl setting by Francisco Hernandez), then music to banish bunions (juanetes) or overcome chilblains (zabanyones) in “Ay! Andar!” by the meddlesome priest (and occasional jailbird) Juan de Araujo. Another piece by Araujo “Los Coflades de la Estleya”, this time in a Spanish-based Krio, provoked a subjective reaction in me. Perhaps inappropriately (I struggled with the language) I thought of The Three Kings and imagined Araujo embracing Liberation Theology and empathising with the African slaves. At any rate I bought another slew of CDs at the end of the workshop!
P.S. For connoisseurs of the exotic who have got the comp lete Ex Cathedra collection, there is a French series “Les Chemins du Baroque” and a couple of Jesuit-at-the- court-of-Peking Baroque mass settings. P.P.S. For anyone teaching historical themes through music, can I recommend the anonymous Ladino “Bendigamos” or the choral setting of the Hannah Szenes Poem “Eli, Eli”.
*Translation by DGF "It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing"
A Latin-American Christmas
In 2007 I went to the Anvil, Basingstoke, to hear (and see!) a performance by "Ex Cathedra", directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. Both musically and visually, this was as striking and enjoyable a performance as I can remember. Consequently, I attended the TVEMF event of Sunday 6 December with high hopes; unfortunately, rather few of these were realised. Two expectations were fulfilled, one organisational, the other musical. The event was slickly run, in the usual TVEMF style; the food and wine were very enjoyable and the seating and the distribution of parts took no longer than one might expect with so many attending. The musical plus was the opportunity to experience, from inside, the music that I had enjoyed at the Anvil. The mixture of three cultures, Spanish, native American and African, was most obvious in the curious texts around which we tried to get our tongues, but also showed itself in the syncopated rhythms that I could well believe were ancestral to modern Latin American music. The harmonic structure of all the pieces was straightforward, with rather little counterpoint, and of some of them very naive, with consecutive fifths and octaves between the parts, but this mattered little in the context of the feeling of rejoicing and good cheer engendered by the exciting rhythms in Jeffrey's brisk tempi. None of the pieces was in more than five parts, and this is where my problems began. In previous large events with mixed instruments and voices, cornetts and sackbuts have been distributed among several choirs, so that I have usually been the only "brass" player on a part, supporting singers and sometimes assisted by a viol or a woodwind instrument. On this occasion, I was in a large brass choir, playing in unison with other cornetts or lizards, and this greatly increases the difficulty of finding the right pitch within the range (of up to three semitones, depending on register) that can be produced with a particular fingering on a mute cornett, since one's own sound is easily confused with that of the other instruments. I spent much of the day suspecting that I was playing mostly flat, but ended it in total doubt.
A more general difficulty was the nature of the parts from which we were working. The mix of white and black notation, initially rather forbidding, turned out to be the least of our problems. The main ones were parts with very small staves and poor layout, the need to use scores with impossible turns (overcome by two players sharing two parts), and the use of inferior modern notation for multiple rests. The most unexpected problem was the mix of early and modern notation that occurred in "Los Conflades". In this, some instrumentalists had parts, with bar indications above and below the stave every three minims; singers and other instrumentalists had scores with six minims to a bar; the minim was the same (short) duration in each. My part started with a 17 over a modern multiple-rest beam. In normal orchestral circumstances, one would interpret this as an instruction to count 17 down beats and play in the indicated relationship to the 18th. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work, as Jeffrey was conducting every hemiola (of which there were several) with semibreve beats. Eventually, of course, one learns the music as a whole sufficiently well that the other parts provide a cue, but while this is highly desirable when preparing over several days for a performance, it results in too many failed attempts in a day in which we were trying to obtain satisfying performances of several pieces in an unfamiliar idiom.
As one would expect with such a large and varied group, Jeffrey spent a considerable fraction of the day rehearsing individual choirs. He kindly invited instrumentalists to join the tutti singing, and at first I accepted the challenge, despite not having sung seriously for over ten years. However, before the end of the day my voice was exhausted and I had forgotten most of the pronunciations (it seemed like a different one for each piece) of the various South American languages and dialects of Spanish that we had learnt during the day, so I decided that my time would be better spent on mentally rehearsing the notes that I was shortly to play.
This was not the least enjoyable TVEMF event I have attended; it was, however, the most disappointing one, because of my great admiration for Jeffrey's work with "Ex Cathedra".
September Singing Day at Perivale
David Allinson’s way with words
collected by Kathy Edmonds
Tallis is profoundly English, like walking through scrunching leaves.
Sing this Gloria to GA like a musical baby.
Sing fancy semi-quavers like fairy lights around a lamp post.
Thomas Tomkins is a bit like a pogo stick (with sudden jumps).
(Pitch) You were sliding like a penguin on an ice floe.
Moving apart like a delta.
The altos are minnows swimming just below the surface.
The rug is constantly being pulled from under your feet as the time changes.
Keep the tone up, not like Cheshire cat with only a grin.
(Cornish) Try to keep smooth, not speed bumps when you leave the ground for a second.
NEMA's Early Music Yearbook & Performers' Directory, 2010
(with thanks to the MEMF newsletter for this)
The Yearbook has always been the most obviously useful product of the National Early Music Association, and, over the years, those responsible for its production have built it up in several ways – most obviously by taking over some of the previous work of the Early Music Network, since its demise a couple of years ago. The 2010 edition actually has some 20 pages fewer than its immediate forebear, but the use of slightly better-quality paper has resulted in its looking and feeling somewhat more substantial. All the usual features are there, of course, but the bit which changes year-on-year, and is always well worth reading, is the Editorial section.
As is customary, 'anniversary composers' are celebrated in the opening articles – in this case, one whose date of birth we know (Thomas Augustine Arne, b. 12 March 1710) and one (Johannes Ockeghem) whose date of birth we definitely do not know, though the books tend to suggest 'c.1410'. Both articles, though fairly short, are revelatory and important, and one would expect no less from their eminent authors.
Peter Holman writes about Arne, making one feel just how little one knows about him, and how very little of his interesting music one knows, too. I suppose one should not be too surprised at the failure of a 1745 comic opera entitled The Temple of Dullness (!) but it would be hard not to share Holman's enthusiastic hopes for a recording of Judith (1761), of which a Musica Britannica edition is evidently in preparation. 'With its lyrical airs and surprisingly un-Handelian, forward-looking choruses, it is arguably the finest oratorio by an Englishman before The Dream of Gerontius.'
Edward Wickham knows as much about Ockeghem as anyone alive, having recorded all his extant sacred music; he suggests firstly that a more probable date of birth for the composer is likely to be 'c.1425' (!) and secondly that the composer's first name was probably 'Jean'. He does his best to encourage his readers not to be too put off by the alarmingly erudite nature of Ockeghem's musical mind, and he encourages us to sing (or at least listen to) his music: 'because of the intellectual baggage that Ockeghem has accumulated, we sometimes fail to recognise his instinct for unfettered, melodic composition.'
There are articles here about organisations: Robert Johnson on Eastern Early Music Forum; Delma Tomlin on the work of the National Centre for Early Music in York, and Lindsay Kemp on the closely-related York Early Music International Young Artists' Competition, held last July; Susanne Heinrich on the work of The Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain; Peter Collier on the old-established Oxford Baroque Week Summer School.
Other matters covered include an upcoming Symposium dealing with 17th-century Ballet; the Wigmore Hall's current Early Music and Baroque Series; the RNCM's collection of Historic Musical Instruments in Manchester (many originating from the celebrated Dr. Henry Watson); and Sophie Yates' Survey of British Harpsichord Making.
All very recommendable – NEMA's website is: www.nema-uk.org or you could try e- mailing enq1610 @ nema-uk.org .