Tamesis Issue 253
Sorry this issue is rather late. I was away for two weeks over Christmas and it’s taken me all this time to catch up with the enormous backlog of emails.
There is a lot about the Sadler partbooks this month. Penny Aspden has been helping to restore them for some time and has written us an article about it. My husband Alan and I went for some training on how to do it before Christmas, but a combination of Baroque Day, Greenwich, Christmas event, tax returns and problems with builders has meant that we haven’t had time to do any work on them yet. This may be a good thing because a month or two ago it struck me that there should be an easier way to do it and I encouraged our computer wizard Chairman, David, to see what he could do. He’s come up with something which looks to me as if it will be very useful so I think I’ll wait to start now until I see what he can do when he’s finished the programme. If you want to volunteer for something less time consuming, you’ll find a letter on page 10 asking for help with updating and improving Wikipedia entries on Tudor music.
On a lighter note, so many of us enjoyed Roy Marks’s bread at the Christmas workshop that I asked him for the recipe. There is plenty of room this month so I haven’t edited his entertaining instructions at all. I just feel a bit guilty that he was persuaded to make four loaves for us! Read it and you’ll see why.
There are three booking forms with this mailing. At the end of next month there will be one of David Fletcher’s annual renaissance playing days. He’s always happy to see new people there and if you want to play your crumhorn or renaissance flute, sing madrigals or polyphony, have a medieval session or play in a viol consort, or indeed play or sing anything pre-baroque, he will do his best to arrange it for you. Baroque players are catered for in the next two events, the Purcell workshop with Peter Holman and the baroque playing day in April. Most people play at A=415 at the baroque days though 440 players are not excluded (and I notice there are some 415 recorders in the For Sale section), so you may be surprised that the Purcell day will be at A=440. This is because the range will be better for the singers and the Chapel Royal was at high pitch in Purcell’s day.
It's renewal time, and I'm glad to say that most of you have been very prompt. I sent reminders to the remainder but if you have no email and still have the renewal form that came with your November Tamesis you might consult you bank statement to see if you paid. I have to say this because there have been a few cases of double payment and we aren't in need of such charity! If you’ve got a £ sign on your address label it means that you definitely haven’t paid. Don’t forget that a standing order makes less work for the treasurer and membership secretary, and you in future years, and you can download one from the forum web site.
Last month I mentioned that I do a certain amount of recreational computer programming, and my latest project is an attempt to help with the cleaning up of the Sadler partbooks, which are an excellent source of renaissance pieces. In common with many manuscripts of the period, the ink has partly eaten its way through the paper, so that the reverse side shows through to a significant extent. I'm working on a program which takes the image of the reverse side, reflects it, aligns it with the front side and subtracts off a proportion of the reverse image. This is showing some promise and certainly produces a more readable page but I have more work to do. At the end of the month we have a workshop to compare and contrast the music of William Byrd and Thomas Tomkins, directed by Stephen Jones. Stephen has not directed an event for TVEMF before but comes highly recommended and I'm looking forward to the event. By the time you read this bookings will have closed but you may still be able to pick up a cancellation, particularly if you are a tenor.
TVEMF member Vic Godrich died in November, four months after he had been diagnosed with cancer. He played the violin with so many of us and he’ll be sadly missed. I invited a couple of his friends to write a paragraph about him:
I have fond memories of Vic Godrich who was an able and highly versatile player with an engaging personality. He was always friendly and welcoming in the various musical situations in which I found myself and where he was a fellow player. I played with him in a number of baroque groups, including those organised through TVEMF, but my most regular and frequent meetings with him were not in the classical music environment but in the weekly folk band at Cecil Sharp House in NW London that he conducted from the violin. We had many fun evenings learning new folk tunes and playing for dances and Christmas concerts at this well known folk venue, and he was not fazed by two of us turning up to play our treble viols in amongst the accordions, melodians, guitars, recorders and sundry other instruments making up this somewhat quirky and eclectic ensemble. He was a keen participant and good organiser, producing music that he had adapted to suit our instrumentation and our purpose. Even dressing up for the part was not ruled out by this seemingly rather shy person. I was pleased and privileged to have played with him. (Sara Churchfield)
Vic Goodrich was someone that I played early music with at varying frequent and rare intervals over the years. As a violinist he was a better player than me and I admired him for his playing and his very restrained attitude to leading an early music string group. He never attempted to exploit his abilities.
Apart from early music, he had an equal interest in folk music; I particularly remember him skipping the post- performance party after a music study week at Cambridge to drive straight north to play in a folk festival in the Orkneys. He was also a keen beekeeper; whenever we met I (as having a keen interest in botany if not zoology) would ask after the health of his bees. he said that they were always in good or very fair health, according to the season.
The last time I played with him he was obviously not well, and when I last contacted him about playing in a future concert with our opera group he said that he had been diagnosed with cancer but was optimistic about his outcome. He will be sadly missed by the early string playing community in London and elsewhere. (Chris Hobson)
I was also very sorry to receive an email from her husband Ted saying that Meg Forgan, the MEMF diary editor, had a heart attack out of the blue and died in December. There was a celebration of Meg's life before Christmas, and among many tributes it included two beautiful pieces of early recorder music played by ten of her friends.
TVEMF Christmas Workshop Sunday 6th December 2015
at Amersham with Philip Thorby
Some 70 enthusiastic musicians gathered for TVEMF’s annual Christmas workshop on Sunday 6th December at Amersham’s Community Centre. These are always popular events and people had come from all over, some as far away as Cornwall and the Channel Islands, to take part. Philip Thorby was the tutor and the title was “Music for the Christmas Season with a pastoral theme”, not a great deal of information as to what to expect except perhaps some shepherds. However, such is Philip’s reputation that it was enough to tempt people to sign up. And we were not disappointed. We were treated to an interesting selection of pieces in contrasting styles from varied musical traditions. Yes there were shepherds but also some angels to cheer things along, all seasoned with Philip’s pungent wit and fascinating insights.
We started with two related pieces, an eight part setting of Quaeramus cum pastoribus by Croce, preceded by the four part setting by Mouton on which it is based. The Mouton is a delightful piece which deserves a place in the Christmas repertoire of any reasonably ambitious church choir. It is a gentle dialogue in which we travel with the shepherds and ask them what they see and hear at the stable. Then in the second part we question the Christ Child. The setting of these questions and answers is key to understanding the nature of the piece. The subtle rhythms, which point the phrases with unexpected rests and flowing triple rhythms against the duple meter, make this a fascinating piece. It is Philip’s skill that he brings these things out not didactically but by his own questions and answers which ensure that nobody can doze off complacently and just play or sing a row of notes – you are compelled to pay attention. Croce’s elaboration of this setting in double choir format allows for a more explicit question and answer approach but, in my opinion, loses some of the subtlety and simplicity of the Mouton. It is, however, very interesting to see how a composer writing almost a hundred years later in Italy picks up and reworks the material and the piece has its own beauty which, I think, we managed to convey.
Next we moved on to two setting of Angelus ad pastores ait, a very familiar Christmas text. We were not treated to Gabrieli’s version however but to two from the Germanic tradition by Hassler and Scheidt. We started with the Hassler, a splendid nine part setting with a four part higher choir and a five part lower choir. These were not actually angels and shepherds but simply contrasting textures which Hassler deploys very effectively. Once again Philip uncovered the details of the word setting, the gradual expansion of the phrases, according to the principles of rhetoric, and the rhythmic complexity used to emphasise the text. The earlier setting by Scheidt, in two four part choirs, is in a notably different style, rather more prosaic but effective none the less. It has a beautiful duet for the two soprano lines, dramatic tutti sections and rapid call and answer passages between the two choirs. It took a while to achieve the snappy timing these require but we got there in the end.
The final piece of the day was Ehr sei Gott in der Höh’ allein by Schein. Here at last we have a choir of (high) angels singing to a choir of (low) shepherds. The four part angels soar up to top A’s singing the praise of God while the six part shepherds plunge down to a bottom E in their comments on the angels’ message, quite a challenge at the end of a long day’s singing and playing. But it’s a great piece and another contrast in style, tradition and now language, which inspired us all to rise to its demands. Yet again, the magic is in the setting of the words, the juxtaposition of the two choirs’ entries and the striking rhythmic patterns used to emphasise the meaning. This was a typically enjoyable TVEMF Christmas feast, both musically and with the traditional ‘bring and share’ lunch. Many thanks to Vicky and her team of helpers for providing a smoothly run day and especially to Philip for producing yet another combination of erudition, wit and enjoyable music.
Goodbye to Finchcocks
In December my husband Alan and I had the good fortune to go to the very last open day at Finchcocks. We watched a couple of demonstrations of some of the early pianos by Richard Burnett himself and a visiting pianist friend but then we spent the rest of our time there trying to look at and commit to memory (and camera) the wonderful collection of pictures, pianos, harpsichords and organs and the exhibition of music printing tools before they are all dispersed.
About twelve instruments will be kept by the Finchcocks Charity for concerts, courses, recordings and research, often in collaboration with museums, music colleges and other musical organisations, but everything else including the pictures and furniture will be auctioned by Dreweatts and Bloomsbury in Donnington Priory on 11th May. There will be a viewing weekend at the house over the early May bank holiday when you can go and choose a memento of the collection to bid for, or even a keyboard instrument, and have a last look round the house.
I was amazed how calmly Richard and Katrina seemed to be taking the enormous undertaking of selling off most of their collection and moving house after 45 years. I felt quite upset myself and I’ve only been there for a few visits and a couple of residential weekends (camping in the kitchen garden) in the early days of my baroque flute playing. I’m also baffled that the National Trust have no interest in taking over this beautiful house, with or without its unique collection. It’s so much nicer than some of the places they’ve spent money on recently and comes complete with visitors’ facilities including a restaurant.
The early music community has so many reasons to be grateful to the Burnetts for the wonderful job they have done restoring and maintaining their collection and making it available to be played, studied and enjoyed. I hope it all works out well for them.
Reconstructing the Tudors
Elizabethan shakers and movers were busy in the years around 1575-80. The navigator Martin Frobisher was in Canada searching for the northwest passage and Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in the Golden Hind. Thomas Weelkes was born and the ballad Greensleeves made its first registered appearance.
The more sedentary were not idle either. In Northamptonshire, the retired clergyman and first head of Oundle school, John Sadler, took time off from his hobby of translating Roman war manuals to compile a set of music partbooks (collections in which each book contains music for a single voice). He copied works by household names of the English Renaissance - such as Taverner, Morley, Byrd and Tallis - and by lesser-known composers whose music would otherwise be unknown to us. The set survives and is now in the Bodleian library; however, the paper has been badly corroded by the acids in the ink he used, so the manuscript is now fragile and in parts illegible.
Eighty miles away in Windsor, John Baldwin, a professional chorister at St George’s Chapel, was even more diligent in assembling the sixteenth century equivalent of a massive CD collection. Later generations have cause to be grateful - we owe the keyboard collection My Lady Nevell’s Book to him, for example. His compendium of six partbooks is written in a beautiful legible hand, but over the centuries the tenor part has gone missing. While some pieces can be recovered because they appear in other manuscripts, about sixty appear nowhere else.
Consequently, scholars and performers face a reconstruction task - of the manuscript itself or of the missing music - before they can bring these collections back to life. Research groups at the universities of Newcastle and Oxford are the main partners in an Arts and Humanities Research Council project to produce digitised working copies of the partbooks, so that they can be sung and played again. And it’s already possible to hear some results; the vocal group Stile Antico performed music from John Sadler’s partbooks at the Oundle Festival in July 2015.
There is scope for using volunteers to help with the reconstruction process, and the next paragraphs describe firstly my own experience with John Sadler’s partbooks, then a recent North East Early Music Forum (NEEMF) workshop on John Baldwin’s partbooks.
I’m a volunteer, one of thirty or so, on the digital restoration of John Sadler’s partbooks. The Oxford group makes a high-resolution digital colour photograph (around 320Mb) of each page, then uses the image editing program Photoshop to ‘clean up’ the manuscript, taking out the shadowy notes that have bled through from the other side of the page and rebuilding small areas where the ink has eaten completely through the paper.
Volunteers bring a variety of past experience to the process; in my case next to no practice in reading facsimile manuscripts, some playing experience of Tudor music and a fair track record of using Photoshop to improve photographs (mostly my holiday snaps!). So the first thing the new volunteer needs to do is fill in some skills gaps. In my case that would include recognising the musical symbols Tudor copyists used and what they mean. Wikipedia has some useful material, but I haven’t yet found a comprehensive guide to handwritten signs - perhaps there isn’t one.
Armed with their rapidly-acquired knowhow, volunteers then embark on cleaning up a real page. The first illustration is of a typical page (the original has brown, probably originally black, notes written on a soft creamy-sandy coloured paper). On this page, most notes are pretty clear, but there is a lot of confusion on the lowest line.
The second illustration shows, in close-up, part of a stave on a different page, demonstrating how the notes, as well as the illuminated
letter I on the reverse, bleed through the paper (the segment below shows the same part of the reverse page, cleaned up and of course back to front. It also demonstrates John Sadler’s taste for quirky illustration).
The restorer’s dilemma is how far to take the cleaning process. Photoshop is a wonderfully powerful tool, so it’s easy to get carried away and go for a scrubbed minimalist look, forgetting that the aim is to produce legible music, not to expunge 400 years of history. Knowing when to stop is a familiar problem for painters, and beginners slowly learn to do less as our taste matures.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect is getting the notes right. Sometimes, where the ink has completely eaten away the paper (as in the ligature halfway through illustration 2) , it’s impossible to be sure about even the most basic points - should this be a black note or a white note? Does this blob signify a dotted note or is it a bleed-through from the other side of the page, or just a random splodge on the paper? I’ve found that playing the music clears up some of the more obvious ambiguities, but some of my judgements must be wrong. The Oxford group has recently changed its definition
of what we do from ‘restoration’ to ‘reconstruction’ to reflect the degree of intervention that’s sometimes needed.
Reconstructing the missing tenor part in John Baldwin’s partbooks makes quite different demands, mainly on volunteers’ grasp of Elizabethan music theory. Those who attended September’s NEEMF workshop in Newcastle thus did less singing or playing than usual, though they did get chance at the end to try out their reconstructions.
The workshop was run by the project’s principal investigator, Dr Magnus Williamson of Newcastle University, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One contributor wrote: ‘The problem having been explained, we were given a Byrd 6-part Fantasia to work on. There was a missing part which we had to reconstruct using our (in my case fairly sketchy) knowledge of harmony and counterpoint … We set about, in two groups, trying to fill in the missing part. We soon learned to look out for ‘holes’, ‘dog-legs’ and consecutive fifths and octaves - absolutely forbidden! We also had to remember that what we wrote must be singable and not too complicated. Throughout this process Magnus was on hand to guide us through all the technical terms and encourage us when our resolve faltered. ‘Is that chord clean?’, ‘Is that note just a passing note or is it an integral part of the chord?’, ‘Have I checked for hidden consecutives?’ These questions had to be discussed and resolved in this fascinating session …
The day ended with a sing-through of some of the reconstruction we had attempted, accompanied by instrumentalists. We went away with lots to think about and the feeling that we had peeped through some doors to find intriguing things inside!
I shall never again sing an anthem by one of the Tudor composers without wondering how much scholarship has gone into what I see on the printed page.’
Another participant summed up the day: ‘This was a fascinating but very demanding workshop … It was very satisfying to come up with a workable solution. It was also very enlightening to gain some insight into how Byrd worked … So what was achieved? I don’t think I made a major contribution to research in the field! But I did learn something of the process and of the project, and also something about the writing of Tudor music. I came away feeling it had been a day well spent’.
Words such as ‘challenging’ and ‘demanding’ figure in many volunteers’ descriptions of the project, but ‘fascinating’, ‘profitable’ and ‘absorbing’ aren’t far behind. Most people widen their perspective on how composers work, and better appreciate the headaches scholars face in bringing to us the early music we sing, play or hear. We all also enjoy the opportunity to be involved in something we would not otherwise have encountered. So far, anyway ...
More on the AHRC project at www.tudorpartbooks.ac.uk
Want to learn how early music was written? Free course on ‘From Ink to Sound’ on www.futurelearn.com (in the creative arts and media category)
Dr Katherine Butler, Postdoctoral Researcher for the AHRC-funded Tudor Partbooks Project at the Oxford University Faculty of Music writes:
Would you be interested in helping us to create, update and improve Wikipedia entries related to Tudor music? We're holding an edit-a-thon from 2-5pm on Friday 5th February. You can join us in person at IT Services on Banbury Road, Oxford, or participate virtually online from wherever is convenient for you. No Wiki editing experience is necessary (though experienced editors are very welcome!) as tutorials will be provided for Wikipedia newcomers by the Bodleian Library's Wikimedian-in-Residence, Martin Poulter. If you'd like to reserve a space at the Oxford session or if you'd like to join us remotely, please email katherine.butler @ music.ox.ac.uk to register your interest and to let us know what entry you'd like to work on. Potential articles might include composers, manuscripts, copyists, terminology, etc. We've posted some ideas on our edit-a-thon page, but other suggestions are most welcome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/Bodleian/Tudor_Music_Editathon.
Roy’s recipe for the delicious bread we enjoyed at the Christmas workshop
A table knife.
A bread tin.
A mixing bowl.
A plastic spatula.
One hour seventeen and a half minutes
1. Bread flour. The flour I currently use is marketed as Strong Bread Flour––or even Very Strong Bread Flour. The important word however is 'bread'––'strong' or 'very strong' denoting only the level of maturing agents used to strengthen gluten development and thereby speed up the rising process. Both brown flour (marketed as wholemeal) and white flour (bleached flour but marketed as white) make perfectly acceptable loaves; but white flour contains more strengthening additives. I am currently using about two thirds brown and one third white.
2. Yeast. The yeast I have been using for the last twenty-five years is in granulated form. It requires almost no effort to use and works more efficiently than the fresh yeast I used for several years before that. A longer rising time gives bread a stronger flavour that I do not particularly enjoy. For at least ten years manufacturers have marketed the product under such names as Fast Action Dried Yeast or Instant Dried Yeast.
3. Salt. Salt should be used according to taste. For me it enhances the general flavour of the loaf without producing the yeasty flavour one gets from prolonging the rising process. I currently use enough to form a small mountain in the centre of the palm of my hand.
4. Additives. These are also a matter of personal taste. I have always added sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and am currently adding walnut pieces too.
5. Water. This needs to be warm to speed up the rising process; but not so hot that it kills the yeast.
6. Butter. Although this is only to grease the tin, the butter should be the best butter on the market – and fresh. Why spoil a loaf by giving it a rancid crust?
Take a knob of butter from the fridge and place it to warm in a bread tin.
Put the flour and yeast and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well with a plastic spatula. I have used a few such implements for mixing – a wooden spoon for many years and more lately the silicone bladed ones – but have found a firm but soft-edged plastic one best. The important thing it should be strong enough to mix the dough, but soft-edged for getting the dough out of the mixing bowl, for one should never touch the flour with one's hand – especially when it has become dough.
Add seeds and nuts to taste, and stir in.
Add warm water. The quantity should be such that one can mix the flour into a dough without using one's hands – strong wrists are an asset. It is not crucial: the final loaf will only be rather moist if the dough is too sloppy, and rather dry if too stiff. There may also be pockets of flour left if the dough is too stiff. The whole process should be done as quickly as possible, and stopped the moment all of the flour has been made into a dough.
Generously grease the bread tin, and tip (or pour, or slide) in the dough. There should be enough room in the tin for the dough to rise slightly above the top of the tin after having almost doubled in size. There is no need to form the dough into a loaf shape, smooth it out, or even to even it up – it will rise into a very nice shape all on its own.
Place the tin of dough somewhere out of a draft and preferably somewhere slightly warm – I use a shelf that is underneath a cupboard with under-cupboard lighting – and leave to rise for about half an hour.
When the dough has nicely risen slightly above the top of the tin, gently place it in a pre-heated oven for at least another half an hour. I use the word 'gently' to dissuade sudden movement or abrupt change of temperature that may cause the dough to collapse. This is particularly so if the dough is slightly sloppy. On my current oven, baking takes approximately thirty-seven and a half minutes at one hundred and sixty-two and a half degrees.
Turn out onto a cooling rack.
Tips and myths
Making bread is tedious. That is why most people do not do it. Besides not enjoying the brewery-like taste of bread that has taken too long to make, I have efficiency in mind at every stage of the process.
Do not touch the flour – and more especially the dough. Flour – and more especially dough – sticks to one's hands and gets everywhere.
Do not grease the tin until the dough is mixed: butter fingers make gripping a spatula difficult.
Using fresh yeast is messy and time consuming, and the stuff that one can buy today no longer makes a nice loaf.
There is no need to knead the dough: nothing happens to it that will not happen if left alone.
Only make more than one loaf under protest. Flour and water do not mix easily, and you will find that the struggle to turn flour into dough increases considerably should one attempt to make more than a single loaf.
Knocking back for a double rising is ill-advised: besides being time-consuming, it merely prolongs the rising time. Anything that lengthens the baking process will tend to give the bread an unpleasantly strong yeasty flavour.
Wash the mixing bowl, knife, and spatula immediately, using only your fingers; and throw the washing-up water away straight away afterwards. Although dough is initially unpleasantly sticky, it soon dries so hard that washing-up takes much longer.
There is no need to not wash the bread tin. A generous greasing should prevent the bread sticking to the tin. If not, buy a new tin that is the most expensive one you can find.
Use a timer, but turn the oven on immediately having put the dough to rise anyway. Having made the effort to make a loaf, it is frustrating to find the oven cold when the dough has nicely risen.
Should one find oneself in that position, do not wait for the oven to heat up for more than a few minutes. Dough that has risen too far usually collapses, gets everywhere, and tastes yeasty.
Indeed, if one is in a hurry, one can almost dispense with the rising process altogether. The warmth of an oven heating up will rapidly accelerate the process, and it will take some time before the heat is sufficient to kill the yeast – especially for it to penetrate to the centre of the dough. Such a loaf – where the outside stops rising before the inside – produces the so-called split tin loaf.
Eating bread when it is still hot from the oven does not give one indigestion.