Tamesis Issue 223
Jim Wills has now retired from the office of TVEMF Treasurer and David King was elected at the AGM. Many thanks to Jim for all his hard work and efficiency. He will be a hard act to follow.
Thanks too to everyone who helped at the Christmas event. I didn’t have the opportunity to say anything at the time, but this sort of event doesn’t work without a lot of help from everyone there, and I thought it ran very smoothly as a result. The bring-and-share lunch was probably the best one we have ever had. I would be interested to know which hall people prefer - the larger one at Amersham Community Centre, so handy for the station, or the smaller one at Amersham Common where numbers have to be restricted but we can have the food in a separate room. We were so lucky with the weather that day, but even so a number of people had to cancel because of travel or health problems. Some people donated their fee for the course to TVEMF even though they could not come. As you know, we w ill always shred your cheque if you let us know you cannot come in reasonable time, and you should never feel that your ought to donate your fee, but on this occasion it certainly helped to balance the books, so many thanks for this.
Applications for Eamonn Dougan's workshop are still flooding in. The waiting list is now getting embarrassingly large so David King has asked me to say that unfortunately no more bookings for 29th Jan can be accepted. In fact the waiting list is so large that we are wondering whether we should simply run the course again at a later date.
There are a number of forms for our forum events with this mailing - David Fletcher’s renaissance playing (and singing) day in February, William Carslake’s workshop in March, the baroque playing day in April and the grand Striggio workshop at the end of that month.
We need a lot of players and singers for the Striggio workshop. This will be a great opportunity to do the magnificent 40-part mass (with 60-part Agnus) which has only recently become available for workshops. If you want to listen to the music in advance it has just been recorded by I Fagiolini and the recording will be released on 7th March.
The workshop for choir and orchestra with William Carslake on 6th March has only just been finalised and we are still investigating sources for the music. I can say however that it will mostly be by Rameau including some of his Grands Motets. If it turns out to be necessary to typeset some of the music on to computer for printing out, we would welcome offers of help with this. If you might be able to help please contact David Fletcher (david @ tvemf.org).
A happy and musical new year to you all!
The disruption from the snow left me feeling a bit short of music over the Christmas period but things seem to be back to normal for the time being. Eamonn Dougan's Victoria workshop this month is fully booked but we have more music by that wonderful composer later in the year for those who missed out.
The plethora of free music available for downloading from the Internet is not without accompanying problems. There are many different music typesetting programs, each with its own format for storing the result, and even though I have three such programs I am still often unable to extract parts or transpose pieces into more suitable keys. My Christmas task was to write a program to inter-convert several music formats but this proved even more difficult than I had envisaged. My immediate target was to be able to produce a transposed of Victoria's Missa Salve which we need for the workshop on the 29th of January based on the version published by Nancho Alvarez at which has comprehensive settings of the works of Victoria, Morales and Guerrero. Some of you will recall that Nancho came and sang with us when we used his setting of Missa Laetatus Sum for our Christmas event in 2007. He uses the LilyPond system for his pieces and my program can now comprehend enough of this rather arcane format to be able to read Missa Salve and translate it for NoteWorthy Composer. I hope to add the ability to read and write MusicXML and MIDI formats in the next few weeks but going beyond this will involve decoding some proprietary formats.
All the music typesetting programs I have encountered seem to have annoying restrictions or idiosyncrasies so it would be good to hear people's experience in using various programs - please do write to me if you use one so that we can perhaps publish a comparison of the various ones available.
There are lots of leaflets with this Tamesis, including two for the 19th February when unfortunately my Renaissance day clashes with David Allinson's Victoria workshop for SEMF. Apologies for this, though I don't think there is much of a conflict. Singers are welcome at my event as long as they can hold a part by themselves and it would be good to have a few more than last time, especially tenors (why does this sound familiar?).
Letters to the Editor
To the editor. The article by Thomas Green in the last issue of Tamesis (Unexpected Music: tips for beachcombers) will be greatly appreciated by your readers, and is a very useful piece of work. However it does illustrate the difficulty, in making fair comment, of ensuring that it is actually fair. He discovers on the Green Man Press website the Purcell ode Raise, raise the voice, but comments that it is” not such amazing value” as his previous item. But Hey! This title comprises no fewer than 4 scores, as well as all the instrument parts, total of 98 pages. At £7.90 it is, I submit, amazing value. He also comments that this piece is “not listed on the Purcell page”, and wonders what this means – I can tell him; it means that I haven’t managed to keep all the pages updated. Thanks for pointing it out Thomas. Yours Cedric Lee
Dear Editor, In response to Mr Cedric Lee - as one Green Man to another ................
Your courteous chiding is entirely correct. Your edition of Purcell's ode, a proper performing edition containing 98 pages, with 4 scores plus all the instrumental parts, certainly is excellent value, and I take my hat off to my namesake's press.
Of course, I meant no aspersion on your publications and if anyone formed that impression I apologise. I had simply misunderstood what I would be getting for the money. I hadn't meant to sound critical, merely not-quite-so-amazed as with the previous item I found in my search; but had I realised that it was a proper performing edition, I would have made no such remark. Your website does promise that on the front page but it's easily missed (perhaps you might make that promise a touch more stridently).
There's a moral in that: do one's research properly. I am delighted to be corrected. Folks, if you have the right forces for performing it, go buy it! This is a good moment to say that the dedication, commitment and generosity of all you creators of small-run imprints fills me with astonishment and gratitude. How much we all owe to you. Thank you.
Best wishes to the Green Man Press Thomas Green
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music:
1, The harpsichord
We all know what it’s like on TVEMF playing days when things are going well: the notes flow, and we just want to go on and on. It’s days like these that make it all worthwhile. When things are going well, we don’t think about the way we’re doing what we’re doing.
It’s only when things start to hurt or affect our playing that we notice. In this series of short essays, I will consider the principles of the Alexander Technique, and how they apply to playing Baroque instruments. Posture affects how long as well as how well you play. Excessive tension means working harder to no benefit. It’s like driving a car with the handbrake on. It’s also not in keeping with the aesthetics of the Baroque. In L’art de toucher le clavecin, Couperin said that ‘one should have an air of ease at one’s harpsichord.’ The goal, writers on performance practice agreed, was an elegant nonchalance when playing. Posture is central to making this possible.
Couperin also stated that the arms should be parallel to the ground, with the right foot extended. However, I think stability is key: so, for me, the most important thing is not the feet , but the sitting bones. I try to make sure, with feet flat on the ground, that I’m neither slumping (sitting behind the sitting bones) nor perching (sitting in front of the sitting bones).
Playing harpsichord differs from the piano: the plucked, not hammered, mechanism means the fingers need to move just enough to engage the action. Once the str ing has been plucked, any extra force is excessive and counterproductive. The supporting joint is the shoulder, while the elbow acts as a pivot, so the forearm (taking the wrist, hand and fingers with it) can move sideways to new positions.
In playing the piano, the forearm has an active role; on the harpsichord, it helps to think of the back supporting the shoulders which in turn support the arms. This allows the forearms to move freely, achieving the effortless elegance that Couperin sought. A common habit, even among professional musicians, is the upward creep of shoulders, which does nothing for technique or sound. Ideally, keeping the shoulders open and relaxed will give the support the arms and wrists need to let the fingers move freely.
Couperin also talks about the ideal position of the wrist as being in a straight line with the arm. My experience confirms this: if my wrists are too high, I lose contact with the keys. Trills in particular suffer. The other extreme is no better: wrists too low mean tensed and therefore shortened fingers. We tend to lock into comfortable, familiar playing positions, but experimenting at home can really pay off in the long term: are you sitting on the sitting bones? Are your wrists really parallel to the floor? What’s going on with the shoulders? Exactly how much pressure does it take to engage a key? Can you use less and get the same result?
One of the principles of the Alexander Technique is direction. Musicians talk about the ‘direction of the phrase’. It’s not something you try to micromanage. You think about where the phrase is going, and look for the arc. Then you let the music sing. In a similar way, in the Alexander Technique we talk about ‘our directions’. It’s not something that we ‘do’: it is a mental check to make sure that we are in dynamic balance, and especially that we’re not getting in our own way by tightening necks or shoulders, the knock-on effects of which include tensing arms and legs. One thought, even while playing: ‘is my head balanced on top of my spine’. This let the neck relax, which lets the shoulders release, and so on. You might find the effects filter all the way down through the shoulders, arms and wrists to the fingers.
In future columns, I plan to talk about: bowed instruments; the lute family; wind; and singing. Each of these family groups have their own challenges for performance. Getting caught up in the music is fabulous; but we shouldn’t forget that we need a body to create that music, and that what the body is doing has a huge and immediate impact on the way the music sounds.
NEMA's Early Music Yearbook & Performers' Directory, 2011
Once again, it's time for my brief review of the National Early Music Association's Yearbook. It's always an extremely useful publication, which must represent a very great deal of voluntary hard work on the part of those responsible for producing it.
As ever, the bit which changes most, year-on-year, and is always well worth reading in detail, is the Editorial section, starting with the coming year's 'anniversary composers'. Now I do know that some people find these anniversaries a bit tiresome, but (through exposure in concert, and on Radio 3) they serve to remind us – and in a lot more depth than usual – of some composers who get neglected as a general rule.
Peter Holman leads off by re-assessing the music of William Boyce (1711-1779). He points out that we're in the middle of a series of anniversaries of the major figures, born in the generation after Handel, who were active in the British music of the mid- 18th-century: Avison (b.1709); Arne (b.1710); Boyce (b.1711) and Stanley (b.1712). OK – I do know Boyce's attractive Eight Symphonies (1760), but what else do I know by him? Er, not sure ... do I, in fact, know anything? Seems there's lots of good stuff, but not much published. Scope for an EMF to organise a Boyce day, perhaps?
The other anniversary is a really important one – Tomás Luis de Victoria (d.1611), whose music is reviewed at some length and in some detail here by Peter Leech. I expect most of the EMFs will be holding a Victoria day next year – MEMF will be working on his superb Requiem with David Hill on 2nd April 2011.
What else? - an article about 'Voluntary Arts England' and an update on the National Centre for Early Music in York. Dick Pyper on The Society of Recorder Players (many readers will probably be SRP members) and Sharon Butler on Early Dance. Mary O'Neill writes about Birmingham Early Music Festival (the 2010 Festival just completed, as I write) and the redoubtable Andrew van der Beek contributes an article about Lacock Summer Schools. Southern EMF is in the spotlight this year, Mark Windisch writes about the historic musical instruments in Paris's Musée de la Musique and Jamie Savan surveys what he calls 'lip-reed' instrument makers in Britain (most of us ordinary mortals would probably say 'historical brass', or something like that).
All very recommendable, and if you're a NEMA member already (£22 a year), you'll have received it direct – NEMA's website is: or you could try e- mailing enq1610nema-uk.org .
Thanks to the author and to MEMF for permission to reproduce this article from their newsletter.
Orlando Chamber Choir concert review
On Friday 12th November, St James’ Piccadilly was host to an extravaganza in the form of a splendid concert by the Orlando Chamber Choir under their conductor James Weeks (one of our recent excellent new TVEMF workshop tutors) with the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble and members of the Monteverdi Str ing Band. The concert, entitled “Grand Vespers for Doge and Duke” consisted chiefly of music by Schütz and Monteverdi, the latter represented by some well known and loved items including his Dixit Dominus secondo which will be remembered by those TVEMF members who came to James’ workshop in September.
The Orlando choir gave an excellent and energetic performance of this tricky piece – certainly a considerable improvement on our efforts in Ealing. The choir sang Monteverdi’s “Adoramus te Christe” and “Christe, adoramus te” from memory – a brave and almost successful rendering. Interspersed with these were 6 short works by Schütz mainly from his Symphoniae sacrae, some for a cappella choir and some for solo voices and various players from the two instrumental groups. The vocal soloists were 2 excellent young sopranos, both former Oxbridge choral scholars, who among other items performed Monteverdi’s “Pulchra es” heart-rendingly, accompanied by Robert Howarth (organ) & Paula Chateauneuf (theorbo) and 2 excel lent young tenors, both in the choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge who sang Schütz’ Latin motet “Anima mea liquefacta est”, accompanied by the cornettists of the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, with some exquisite mute cornett playing. Between these vocal pieces we were treated to some delightful canzonas for varying numbers of instruments, by Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Picchi, Biagio Marini and Johann Vierdanck. The concert ended with a spirited performance of one Monteverdi’s settings of the “Magnificat” with all the performers taking part. It was interesting to note the strong influence of Giovanni Gabrieli and Monteverdi on the music of Schütz, both of whom were his teachers.