Tamesis Issue 247
Happy New Year everyone! At the AGM in December we elected a new committee member, Linda Barlow, to replace Nick Pollock who has moved to Llantwit Major in South Wales. Welcome Linda! And many thanks to Nick for all he has done for TVEMF. We’ll miss him, but I’m glad to say that he has agreed to continue auditing our accounts. A couple of dates for your diaries. The baroque chamber music day has been moved from the Saturday to Sunday 26th April to avoid the problem of having to use the upstairs classrooms. And we have finally managed to find a date for the big joint workshop with EEMF conducted by Philip Thorby. It will be on Saturday 16th May and we hope it will be at Waltham Abbey. Ellen Sarewitz of EEMF is the organiser this year. Don’t forget to print your music (if you said you would) if you’re coming to the Patrick Allies workshop on 17th January. David King received an empty unsealed envelope in the post stamped ‘Portsmouth, Isle of Wight’. If you sent in a booking from that area and haven’t heard from David, please could you contact him using the details on the front cover.
I could blame my computer but it is much-maligned and serves me pretty well, so I shall have to accept responsibility for somehow contriving to send out a very old membership renewal form with last month's Tamesis. Unfortunately, although the rates went up for 2014 the form still had the old 2013 prices (£7 & 10) and although I very quickly sent out emails and letters to everyone, a significant number of people have paid at the old rate. Perhaps the emails were treated as spam, or you simply forgot or ignored them. I feel that as it is my fault it should not be the cause of significant inconvenience to others. If you are able to rectify the problem by transferring the extra (usually £2) to our bank account 00691902 sort code 30-94-28 then that would be appreciated, otherwise perhaps the deficit could be made good in cash at the next event you attend. Please accept my apologies. There is plenty to look forward to in 2015, starting with the workshop to study music by Hieronymus Praetorius, whose polychoral pieces seem to me to be of nearly as high standard as his namesake Michael Praetorius. Then comes my annual Renaissance Day where you can enjoy small-scale music in all manner of combinations of voices and instruments. For some reason I seem to get a preponderance of bass voices at these events, so others would be particularly welcome. In December I attended an informal meeting convened by David Lee who, with Kate and Laura Ashby organised the inaugural Oxford Early Music Festival in 2013. It is planned to have another Festival in 2015, from May 15th to 17th. The 2013 Festival just comprised four concerts but they plan something bigger and more varied for 2015. In particular they are interested in having workshops, and as Jeremy Summerly was there I took the opportunity to discuss workshop possibilities with him. His current interest is John Sheppard and as it is (arguably) the 500th anniversary of Sheppard's birth, 2015 is a good year for such an event. Unfortunately as our Philip Thorby event is the same weekend as the Festival it may have to be at another time but there is the possibility of some kind of workshop for playing or singing from Facsimile – perhaps the Dow partbooks. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who might be interested in this.
Review of the Baroque Chamber Music Day at Burnham
How better to cheer up a typical damp, dull November day than by playing baroque music? That's what around 30 TVEMF members thought when they sent in their booking forms for the Baroque Chamber Music Day on November 8th, and I think I can say that a good time was had by one and all. That's not least thanks to the enormous amount of preparation put in as usual by Victoria Helby, whose organising us into groups and provision of music always makes for an interesting and enjoyable day.
For those who haven't been to one of these days before, let me explain the format. The day is divided into four sessions of about 1 to 1½ hours each. Everyone is in a different group in each session, with the groups varying from 3 to 10 players. Victoria suggests repertoire for each group, but ultimately it’s up to the group as to whether they play pieces through, or repeat and rehearse them. There’s no performance to others to worry about. Any preferences given on the booking form are taken into account e.g. pitch of instruments, standard of sight-reading. I did say it was a mammoth organisational task!
As the groups can be very different, I can really only talk about my own experiences. This year I was in two groups of 4 and two groups of 5. Usually I play keyboard, and in addition this time Victoria fitted me in with my modern flute to an A=440 group for one session, where I really enjoyed playing through repertoire on the flute that I normally play on keyboard. Some years there have been bigger groups for works such as Brandenburg concertos, and Handel’s and Telemann’s water music. It’s easy to mention those works as they are well-known and memorable, but for me one of the pleasures of the day is the smaller trio sonata groups where I invariably come across new composers and new repertoire that I wouldn’t otherwise find. There’s a broad range of instruments as well – cello, gamba, bassoon, viola, violin, oboe, flute and recorder are regulars, and sometimes we have theorbos. There are probably a few others I’ve forgotten as well.
The baroque playing days widen my circle of friends in TVEMF, deepen my knowledge of repertoire and not least help improve my continuo sight-reading – there’s nothing like practice with a small friendly group! Do consider coming along if you haven’t been before. Each day has a few first-timers, and most people come back whenever they can. It’s a wonderful way to spend a day.
When in Rome….
As usual, the pre-Christmas TVEMF event at the Amersham Community Centre attracted a large number of participants, the singers outnumbering the instrumentalists by about two to one. It has always been a great pleasure to participate in an event directed by David Allinson, and this one was no exception. The programme, as is invariably the case with David’s programmes, was interesting and varied, spanning, as it did, the entire sixteenth century, with works by Morales (1500-53), Palestrina (1525-94), Victoria (1548-1611) and Viadana (1560-1627).
Once organised into the formation in which we remained throughout the six selected pieces (three of which were for double choir) we engaged in an unusually low-key warm- up, which omitted some of the more exotic bodily contortions and weird noises that have been required of us on other occasions, though the angry librarian made a brief but welcome reappearance, ‘Bella Signora’ mercifully (for your reviewer, at any rate) terminated after Act I, Scene 1, and the confusion engendered by chanting the alphabet in reverse order was, as usual, plainly audible. We began with Victoria’s antiphon Alma redemptoris Mater, for SATB x 2. The Marian antiphon formed an important category of Victoria’s works and Victoria based this and two other of his masses (Ave regina coelorum and Salve regina) on those antiphons. The New Grove tells us that the two masses Ave regina coelorum and Alma redemptoris Mater were so popular in Mexico City that in 1640 they had to be recopied by hand because the original part books were worn out and that copies were sent to such distant places as Graz, Urbino and Bogota. Despite their contemporary popularity in mainland Europe and Latin America, Victoria’s masses (apart from the Officium pro defunctorum) aroused little interest in England until relatively recent times.
While drawing this to our attention, David also told us about the change in attitude towards Palestrina which has resulted in the ‘vanilla’ image of Palestrina that prevailed in Victorian times being supplanted by a more recent perception of him as a darker and more complex composer. Allen W Atlas (Renaissance Music, Norton, 1998, p.587) traces this earlier image back to the seventeenth century, when Palestrina ‘was held up as the model of the so-called stile antico, the strict style of a cappella diatonic counterpoint that was still cultivated from time to time as a way of giving sacred music an aura of nostalgic religiosity…a tradition that would live on well into the nineteenth century’
Nineteenth century England, as the literary, musical and theological aspects of the time clearly show, would have been receptive to this perception of Palestrina. There and then, Dr Bowdler was busy sanitising Shakespeare (volume 1 of The Family Shakespeare was published in 1818), Coventry Patmore was celebrating domestic piety and tranquillity with The Angel in the House, the after-life loomed large in the consciousness of many - in particular, earnest young men from Oxford - and English sacred music rarely (as evidenced by Shaw’s entertaining criticisms in his London Music in 1888-89 as heard by Corno di Bassetto and the subsequent three volumes of Music in London) rose above the mawkishly sentimental or the reverentially turgid. There was no space in this cultural landscape for the sensuality of Victoria’s Marian music, particularly anthems with texts from the Song of Solomon such as Trahe me post te and Quam pulchri sunt, and the masses based on them, or for the brittle darkness (to use David’s phrase) of Palestrina’s O Magnum mysterium (SSATTB) which was the second item of the programme. This motet displays a great deal of syllabic homophony and, given that it was published in 1569, may have been written in this style as a gesture of conformity with the decrees of the Council of Trent, which, earlier in the decade, had been greatly exercised over the elimination of ‘every admixture of the secular’ (as Palestrina’s biographer, Baini, put it) from sacred music. The same may be said of the third item in the programme, Palestrina’s Hodie Christus natus est (SATB x 2), published in 1575.
After the convivial lunch which is a feature of these pre-Christmas Amersham events, we were aroused from the resulting torpor by having to cope with the rhythmic complexities of a motet by Viadana, perhaps the least well-known of the composers to whom the programme was devoted. Viadana, a friar, was a member of the Order of Minor Observants and held posts in Mantua, Cremona, Concordia and Fano, though he is known to have spent some time in Rome. The motet which we sang was his Hodie nobis caelorum, written for SATB x 2. After the opening statement has been made by all eight parts in succession, the motet proceeds at a measured pace, alternating antiphonal and full double choir sections until all eight voices embark on the three-time section gaudeamus omnes in Christo. Once the participants begin rejoicing (jubilantes cantabimus) the action becomes much faster, the full-choir rejoicing being intermingled with the statements by the upper parts in each choir of glory to God and peace not (as is usual) simply to men of goodwill but to men of goodwill and true faith (verae fidei). One may wonder whether that unusual inclusion in any way reflected the doctrinal conflicts of the Counter-Reformation period. According to the New Grove, Viadana’s latter years were troubled by differences with other members of his religious order and he died in a convent in 1627.
From the most recent, we moved to the earliest of our composers, Cristobal de Morales, a native of Seville who held appointments at Avila and Plasencia before moving to Italy and, in September 1535, becoming a member of the papal choir at Rome, from which he resigned in 1545. His two books of masses were published during his ten years at Rome. The five-part (SATBB) Missa Queramus cum pastoribus, which expands to six parts (and also contracts to four parts) in the Agnus Dei, which was the next item in our programme, is from the first book, dedicated to Cosimo de Medici, and is based on a similarly named four-part motet by Mouton. It provided a distinct stylistic contrast to the two pieces which preceded it, particularly in the opening five-part section which is full of melismatic writing in the upper parts. The motifs from the motet are more easily recognisable in the central four-part section, which is much less ornamental, and in the final six-part dona nobis pacem section where the setting of dona nobis is reminiscent of the Noe, noe refrain in the motet.
We ended with the longest of the chosen works, Palestrina’s Canite tuba, (SSATB). This, again, was a largely homophonic setting in which very few words are ornamented, the conspicuous exceptions being those related to salvation, and ‘tardare’, which takes up about two bars wherever it appears. It is in two parts, the second part, which contains a good deal of dialogue between groups of voices, being a setting of the Advent antiphon text Rorate caeli desuper. Thus, the programme ended, as it had begun, on a Marian note, the dew of heaven being an emblem of purity particularly associated with Mary.
We are all deeply indebted to David Allinson for an instructive, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable Christmas in Rome. Warmest thanks are also due to David Fletcher for producing the music, to Vicky Helby for her overall organisation of the event and to all those, too numerous to mention, who helped with the preparation and distribution of refreshments.
Conference on the Effects of Playing on Early and Modern Musical
Instruments. London, Royal College of Music 9-10 September 2015
Aside from a few exceptions, musical instruments are very efficient tools, designed and built with the aim of combining the best musical result with ergonomic and economic considerations. However, as with many tools, their durability is closely connected to high structural tension, the reaction of materials to wear, chemical and humidity changes, and many other technical issues. The situation is further complicated by cultural pressures to learn by touch which stems from a fascination towards historical objects as well as precious and unusual materials almost unparalleled in other fields of antique and old artifacts.
It is sometimes the case that some instruments, for example those of the violin family, are used almost continuously for three hundred years or more. Their cultural appeal goes far beyond consideration of their sound, eventually leading to the idea that use is vital for their long term conservation. On the other hand there exist instruments, particularly from the keyboard or woodwind family, which have been restored to playing condition after long periods of rest due to increasing interest towards early music that grew in the early 20th century. On the opposite, some others are considered too fragile to be used and are therefore preserved for their cultural and aesthetical value, sometimes being used as models for the creation of functional copies. In all these cases, issues arise in connection to the effects of use and the choices of makers, the taste of players, as well as conservation policies and techniques, changed through time: how is sound affected by continuous use, what effects does it produce in short and long term conservation of the materials, how does this affect decisions about the construction of modern replicas, how can preventive techniques help to minimise risks connected to use and improve musical performance, all without neglecting ontological and ethical issues in playing a historic instrument.
Issues related to the use of instruments are also a primary concern for modern makers – both historically and nowadays, who are continuously experimenting with new materials and practical techniques in order to improve the performance and resilience of newly constructed instruments. While there are several elements that guide the choice of materials and working techniques, the reaction of the instrument to performance under a variety of conditions is certainly one of the leading ones. How do traditional and innovative materials react to playing, how much are cultural choices led by issues related to performance, how does the choice of different materials affect the performer and the audience?
This conference aims to broadly address the implications of playing on early, reproduction and contemporary musical instruments, with particular attention to: Historical and contemporary approaches to the choice of materials in musical instrument construction, the reaction of the material to playing and implications for performance. Monitoring and predicting the short and long term reactions of instruments in connection to being played/not played. Analysis of acoustical behaviour of original instruments vs. replicas, with particular attention to the complexity of implications for the player and listener (both musical and psychological)
Persons interested in giving a paper are invited to submit an abstract of two pages related to the topics of the conference through the form to be found at http://woodmusick.org/events-2 .