Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 241
There are forms for two events enclosed with this Tamesis. We’ve booked James Weeks to conduct a workshop on some of Rosenmüller’s music for Vespers on Saturday 5th April. It’s ten years since TVEMF did this splendid work in a two-day workshop in Chesham so it’s time we looked at it again. This time we will be in our excellent new Oxford venue, the Wesley Memorial Church Hall, right in the centre of the city. We hope to attract a good number of cornetts, sackbuts, violins and other strings, continuo and singers.
The previous Sunday there will be another in our series of Burnham baroque chamber music days, this time organised by Peter Collier in conjunction with Friends of the Baroque Week. Peter has an enormous library of music so you can always expect to discover something new.
Waltham Abbey has a wedding on 10th May so EEMF have booked St Sepulchre’s in Holborn Viaduct for Philip Thorby’s workshop on the Padovano mass. I hope we’ll get back to Waltham Abbey next year when it will be TVEMF’s turn to run this joint event. Padovano was organist at St Mark’s before moving to the Hapsburg court in Graz so we can anticipate another magnificent polychoral work.
Irene Auerbach was lamenting the cutbacks to the Early Music Show in the November Tamesis, but while I was browsing through the BBC I-Player radio over the holidays I discovered that there are 123 editions available as podcasts. That should keep up us all going for some time, and in addition there are several hundred editions of Composer of the Week, including many earlier composers.
It looks as if I shall be continuing as Chairman for a while, but cutting back on some of my hands-on involvement with TVEMF events. It would be good if we could find some volunteers to help with catering at workshops and perhaps even have custody of the urn and cup-holders, at least some of the time.
I'm currently attempting to allocate groups for the Renaissance day. I suppose that my instincts as a scientist and computer programmer make me yearn to find the perfect solution, preferably using a computer program and minimal effort. Experience suggests however that there will always be intractable problems to which no perfect solution is possible, and this is clearly one of them. Fortunately people are pretty tolerant and also flexible enough to find solutions I hadn't even considered.
The Georgian workshop is proving to be popular, though I believe more people can be accommodated. I'm hoping that nobody turns up expecting music from Georgian England or indeed from Georgia USA. Please note that the closing date was wrong on the form and you can book until February 8th.
Don’t forget that subscriptions became due on the first of January. The new rates are: standard £9.00, family (any number of people at the same address, receiving only one Tamesis) £12.00 and full-time students £5.00. If you are paying by standing order and failed to change the amount then you owe £2 which can be paid by cheque, bank transfer (bank account number 00691902 sort code 30-94-28) or in cash at an event. Those who have not paid as of the 8th of January will see a £ sign at the top right of their address label. You can download a standing order form from the web site.
Letters to the Editor
Dear Tamesis, I notice a query about the identity of one Theophilus, in the review by Sidney Ross (issue 240). His legend was popular in the middle ages, and he was saved by the Virgin, hence his appearance in Mouton's Ave Maria. There are numerous Miracles of the Virgin floating around medieval literature; this particular one appears as a c13 play in Old French (and elsewhere, including ecclesiastical statuary). The story is related to the Faust legend, and probably predates it: the protagonist sells his soul to the Devil. This chap was sacked by his bishop and made a pact with the Devil in disgust. He duly gets his job and honours back but then, conscience- stricken, prays to Mary to save him ... which she does, by revoking the pact. Best wishes, Jane Bliss
Bounty at Burnham
A pleasant autumn day, sunshine and a day to participate in music making at Burnham organised by Vicky. Coffee and biscuits to start with and then we were ready to start playing.
My first group played music by Telemann and Boismortier for three flutes and continuo, an interesting combination. I know that Boismortier wrote some lovely music for my own instrument the gamba, loads of it thankfully, but I never knew he could write so beautifully for flutes, and in the hands of three gifted flutes this was an excellent start to my day.
The second session of the day our group, two recorders, treble viol and continuo, tackled music by Muffat, a composer I have never played before. These are suites written for a small band, airs, gavottes, gigues and so on, but really quite charming music.
Lunch time came and I went to Burnham village to buy a sandwich for lunch, but the amount of shops that were closed and shut I found a bit sad. Burnham is a very pretty village and deserves better, but I suppose this recession has hit all parts of our country badly. Things will get better I’m sure.
After lunch my next group started off with our great friend, Telemann, a piece for two flutes, violin, viola and continuo. My part had quite a few semiquavers, the first of the day, that crossed four strings and brought me out in a bit of a sweat. Can anyone tell me why composers always put semiquavers in fast movements?
The real find of the day for me was a piece for the same line-up by W F Bach. This was really superior music, profound, meaningful and in quite a different class to the much lighter music I’d been playing previously, a real gem.
Then tea break, cake and biscuits. I could say my last session went off with a bang, real fireworks! We played two concertos by Albinoni and Vivaldi for two oboes, two violins and continuo. TVEMF’s finest, Judy and Clare, played the oboe parts and two guys played the violins, a real roller-coaster ride I felt, brilliant! The day went too quickly and then it was time to go home. I would thank Vicky and her jolly band of helpers for making this day such a success. See you all in January!
The weather was foul in 1571/72, the year Michael Praetorius was born. Europe’s descent into the Little Ice Age was bringing storms and floods in its wake; the agricultural economy suffered, peasants starved and pundits murmured about witchcraft. Now fast-forward more than 400 years, to December 8th, 2013. The tables of Amersham’s Community Centre groan with food, and most of us have adjusted our views on the meteorological powers of witches, but history had not finished with us. A storm surge, the worst in 60 years, had hit the East coast the previous week, and disrupted the preparation of the day’s repertoire. It is a testament to the resourcefulness of conductor Philip Thorby, a Suffolk resident, that we had scores to play from; and it was with some relief that we set about celebrating Advent in style. Seventeenth century Saxony was untroubled by the EU Working Time Directive, and Praetorius’s output was prodigious. His collected compositions over the 50 years of his life - not to speak of his writings about instruments and performance practice - run to 21 volumes. So the three pieces we sang and played on the day did no more than dip a toe into his work. We started with two of his settings of standards of the period: two choirs echoed one another in the Lutheran chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, then the rafters rang to the exuberant 7-part Christmas hymn Singt, Ihr lieben Christen all. The tune, Resonet in Laudibus, goes back at least to the 14C, its rocking rhythm familiar as the cradle song Joseph lieber, Joseph mein.
The ratio of instrumentalists to singers was higher than average for these events, and if you screened out the reindeer jumpers and snowman earrings it was possible to imagine that Praetorius, whose woodcuts of contemporary instruments supplement his textbook Syntagma Musicum, might have recognised the scene - we had all sizes and shapes in wood and metal, from the double bass to the sopranino recorder, through all those evocative renaissance names: curtals, viols, sackbuts, theorbo, cornetts. and you could tell we were having a good time, because we didn’t know when to stop. how we struggled with rests - surely the most inappropriately named compositional components - as one interloper after another crashed the silence. Praetorius himself waspishly notes in Syntagma Musicum that ‘the primary faults of cantors and singers are that they do not enunciate the text clearly and dislike counting rests’, but was kind enough to note that sometimes it was not ‘forgetfulness or error’ but because ‘a performer … is studiously listening to and enjoying the other parts’. Given a bit of practice, though, we eventually blended into a reasonably harmonious sound, and surprised ourselves with the improvement. Philip was even able occasionally to stop conducting and let us romp our own way through the pages - he looked surprised too. Lunch at the Christmas workshop is always a Jacob’s join, and living proof that participants can make food as well as music. No ice age famine for us latter-day Lutheran burghers as we munched salads and sausages and pasties, and sank wine and chocolate cake and lemon meringue. The logical followup to such indulgence is digestive contemplation, but though we next moved metaphorically to Spain, it wasn’t for a siesta but to the Catalan composer Joan Cererols. He was born in 1618, a generation later than Michael Praetorius. He spent his working life as choirmaster in the mountaintop monastery of Monserrat, but his cloistered existence did not mean isolation from the cultural currents swirling through Iberia at the time. Spain had grown rich on treasure from its Central and South American colonies, and alongside goods imported from the New World came fresh ideas and possibilities in all kinds of subjects including music. Composers were influenced by the Church’s attempts to connect more closely with the everyday lives of the faithful, and began to give secular songs devotional lyrics and incorporate them into services, especially around Christmas. Thus Cererols, like Praetorius before him, used arrangements of popular songs in a religious setting and in vernacular languages. His villancico Serafín que con Dulce Harmonía, which we tackled next, is based on the tune of Marizápalos, probably another import from Latin America. Villancicos have a verse and refrain structure, and again the setting was for two choirs, with a small group of slightly bashful volunteers singing the verses. Finally, as the winter dusk fell we returned to Michael Praetorius. By the time his volume of chorale concertos, Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica, appeared in 1619, Praetorius had discovered the new music coming out of Venice. To his regret he never travelled to Italy, but these late compositions show what he could do in the Italian style. He invests sober Lutheran chorales with a lavish sumptuousness through multiple choirs, instrumental sinfonias and a for the first time, a basso continuo. His setting of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland uses three choirs, interleaved with instrumental sections. Our small group of players spiritedly took on the rapid passage work that twinkled between blocks of choral ritornelli, to heartfelt applause from everyone else.
The richness and complexity of this music illustrated for us the distance Lutheran choral music had travelled in Praetorius’s hands. With our twenty first century hindsight, we also seemed to hear echoes of the day when, a century after Praetorius’s birth and only 12km south of his birthplace, in the small town of Eisenach another baby would be born, and named Johann Sebastian, and would take the Lutheran choral tradition to its apotheosis.
I Fagiolini Gesualdo workshop
Described to us as a workshop for “looking at the music of Gesualdo”, the event on November 17th at Waltham Abbey for the Friends of I Fagiolini and others was an intense study of just four difficult madrigals from Gesualdo’s the 5th and 6th books. They were Asciugate I belli Occhi, Merce grido Piangendo, S’io non moro and Mille volte il di moro.
Robert Hollingworth, I Fagiolini’s indefatigable leader, gives a useful introduction to Gesualdo: “ It's time to lay to rest to the lazy ‘truth’ that Gesualdo killed his wife, then lamented this in tortured music. Murdering your wife as a punishment for adultery was acceptable behaviour in 16th-century Italy and Gesualdo’s music focusses less on guilt and more on betrayal. Rather, the avant-garde nature of his music developed from a prolonged stay at the home of Italy’s hothouse of musical modernism, the court of Ferrara. In that highly experimental ethos, and surrounded by a brilliant vocal ensemble, Gesualdo took the late madrigal to undreamt-of extremes. His final works sound closer to Brahms or even Wagner, though in the dying embers of the Renaissance; what he meant by this has been misunderstood.”
Weeks in advance of the one-day workshop the 24 participants had received complete preparation materials. We were provided with access to:
the full printed scores in those beautiful I Fagiolini editions, recordings of the Italian texts for pronunciation ,rehearsal sound files of the complete madrigal and rehearsal sound files of each separate part made prominent while the other four continued in the background
But it was evident that only some of the 24 or so singers had taken advantage of all these resources and actually worked on these difficult pieces in advance, since a lot of time was needed to get the notes in place, and the pronunciation the way Robert wanted it. That said, we were treated to much fine detail of musical and linguistic theory and practice, including the effect of individual vowels on the way a chord is tuned and actually sounds. A workshop with Robert Hollingworth is a lot more than singing and getting it right. It is a complete and fascinating lecture on all these aspects, as well as the history, background, and subsequent research into interpretation and performance. In this we were well-served, although there were some who would have liked to have sung more and listened a little less.
A week later, those of us in the London area could have gone to hear I Fagiolini themselves singing two of the ones we worked on at Islington’s Union Chapel. I find there is nothing quite as satisfying as hearing the experts singing something I know really well, and this opportunity to hear it a week later, before I had forgotten it (Why do I forget one-day workshop pieces so quickly?) was a treat indeed.
In this reviewer’s opinion, the principle of supplying study and rehearsal resources in advance of a singing workshop is an excellent principle, one that more of them should adopt, even if the extra work means higher cost for the singers.
Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Music
There are regular seminars in the Wharton Room of All Souls College Oxford on Thursdays from 5 to 7pm during term time. The speaker’s presentation is followed by an hour of discussion during which wine is served. I was particularly interested to note Davitt Moroney’s contribution on 27th February next year on reconstructing Stefano Rossetto’s 50-part motet Consolamini, consolamini popule meus, surely a candidate for a Waltham Abbey workshop. Seminars are listed on the university’s Faculty of Music web site www.music.ox.ac.uk.
Stephen Willis musical celebration
My stepfather Stephen Willis, who sadly passed away in September, was a passionate musician, in many guises. He sang countertenor, conducted choirs (my first memory of him is as choirmaster of the church in Cowden, Kent, where I sang aged 9 or so), played recorder, viol, hurdy-gurdy, and various loud wind instruments including the serpent.
I am organising a musical celebration of his life, which will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 27 April 2014, at St James’s Church, Hampton Hill – just outside London. I hope many of his musical friends and colleagues will come, and contribute too. We will provide tea afterwards in the church hall.
Please contact me if you would like to come, and if you would like to take part in the musical proceedings. Jill Davies (Jill Lockhart) Jilldavies23 @ btinternet.com 01684 850112