Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 259
If I don’t write anything here I can just squeeze this edition into sixteen pages, so Happy New Year! And if you made the carrot salad for the Christmas lunch and left your nice serving spoon behind, David Fletcher has got it.
Sara Clymo, Membership Secretary of MEMF, kindly pointed out that our list of workshop venues was sadly out of date. Pendrell Hall, Wedgewood Memorial College, The Hill and Alston Hall have all been sold, due to Local Authority cut-backs, and turned into wedding venues, and the Farncombe Estate has been turned into boutique hotels. This is a depressing list for those of us with happy memories of past courses, and I can add two more: Springfield Court and Belstead House.
2016 was an eventful year politically but I suppose the early music community can take the long view of such matters. Events in the Middle East have been compared to the devastation of the 30 Years War in 17th century Germany which resulted in some eight million casualties from combat, famine and disease, but let us hope for a speedier resolution. I sometimes perform Da Pacem by Heinrich Schütz, one of those rare 9-part pieces that am always looking for. It was written for Electoral Assembly in Mühlhausen in 1627 attended by the main protagonists: Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand and rulers from Bavaria, Saxony, Brandenburg and elsewhere. There is a section where the words are “vivat Ferdinandus, Caesar invictissimus, vivat Moguntinus, vivat Bavarus, vivat Brandenburgicus, vivat Saxo, vivat Coloniensis, vivat Trevirensis”, presumably sung by the different factions. Unfortunately, like many peace conferences, it ended in failure, and the war continued until 1648. CPDL.org lists pieces with title “Da pacem...” by about twenty different composers, so peace has been sought by many - we all wish that 2017 bring us more of it.
Minutes of the TVEMF AGM
held on Sunday 11th December 2016 at Amersham
1. Apologies for absence were received from Pat Fryd, Gabrielle Seth-Smith and Fiona Weir.
2. Approval of the minutes of last meeting.
Nicola Wilson-Smith asked for her apologies for absence for the 2015 AGM to be added to the minutes, which were then signed as correct by the Chairman.
3. Chairman's report.
The Chairman (David Fletcher) reported that we have 346 members, virtually unchanged from last year, but only 125 are paying by standing order in spite of exhortations to do so. Kate Gordon is gradually taking over the duties of Membership Secretary made more tricky by David’s use of bespoke software that he has had to convert to run on a Mac.
He listed the events held in 2016:
Vocal music by Thomas Tomkins & William Byrd,(Stephen Jones)
Renaissance playing/singing day (David Fletcher)
Music by Henry Purcell for voices & instruments, (Peter Holman)
Baroque chamber music day (Peter Collier)
Music for a Bavarian Wedding (Philip Thorby)
Portuguese Choral music (David Allinson)
In Illo Tempore by Monteverdi/Gombert for voices and instruments (Patrick Allies) 1535 - a year in the life of Pierre Attaingnant, for voices and instruments (Peter Syrus)
Le Jeu de Robin - medieval workshop (Sara Stowe)
Baroque chamber music day (Victoria Helby)
Music for a Spanish Christmas for instruments and voices (James Weeks)
The Chairman thanked all the committee and others who not only organised the events but often stayed behind to sweep up and tidy the rooms. As usual our Treasurer and Secretary fulfilled their duties very efficiently and of course Vicky also edited the magazine, a very time-consuming job. It was marvellous to have such a good committee - we are very fortunate.
4. Secretary's report.
The Secretary (Victoria Helby) said that there were a number of events in the pipeline. She apologised for the fact that the joint event with EEMF on 13th May clashes with both the London Festival of Baroque Music and the Oxford Early Music Festival, but the tutor (Philip Thorby) could only offer that date. In 2017 the event would not be held in Waltham Abbey because the Abbey staff had been unhappy about the number of demands put upon them by people attending the 2016 workshop. Members need to remember that they should go through the course organiser if they have concerns about heating, catering, toilets etc and always treat staff at venues sensitively. It was EEMF’s decision not to go to Waltham Abbey in 2017 and there was no reason to suppose that we cannot go back there again in future years.
5. Treasurer's report.
David King distributed the Summary Accounts 2015, which Nick Pollock had kindly examined, and drew attention to the salient figures. Over the year there had been a surplus of £217 on administrative costs as compared with a surplus of £716 in 2014. On participative events there was a deficit of £739 as compared with a deficit of £784 in 2014. At the end of 2015 the total assets amounted to £10481, which was £523 lower than at the end of 2014.
From January 2014 subscriptions had been raised and this resulted in increased income of around £680. However Income from subscriptions in 2015 dropped around £650 from the 2014 level due partially to a small drop in membership.
Despite keeping the fee for participative events at £12 for members for a further year the overall deficit for these events in 2015 was modest. However with all but one event in 2016 accounted for, the overall deficit in 2016 was likely to be around £1400. It had therefore been decided to raise the price of workshops by £2 and of Renaissance and Baroque music days by £1 from the beginning of 2017.
Up to now our accounting period had been 1st January to 31st December but this meant the Treasurer’s report presented at the AGM was very out-of-date and also provided misleading information about membership levels because most renewals occur between November and January. Therefore in 2017 the accounting period would be 1st January to 30th September and thereafter it would be 1st October to 30th September. This change complied with the guidelines of the Charities Commission.
6. Election of officers and committee.
The Chairman pointed out that it was not necessary to be on the committee in order to organise an event. There were no new volunteers for the committee so the existing officers and committee (listed on the cover of Tamesis) were re-elected, proposed by Michael Reynor, seconded by Giles Andrews.
7. Any other business.
David Butler raised the question of venues, and alternatives to Ickenham which we use frequently. Michael Bloom said that he liked Ickenham because it was convenient for the Oxford coach stop, and there was general agreement that it was liked as a venue.
Michael Bloom said that it was good that we have online payment. The Secretary said that there could be a problem if people’s booking emails were treated as spam. The Chairman said that the most innocuous things may go into the spam box. Michael Reynor pointed out that people could ask for an acknowledgement. Michael Reynor said that people without email might feel that email booking gave people an advantage, but the Chairman said that only about ten people don’t have email. Penny Vinson, who is one of them, said that she did not feel at a disadvantage.
As there was no other business the Chairman declared the meeting closed.
Letters to the Editor
I'm moved to enter at my peril the dreaded vibrato debate, not by Diana's original letter but by that of Irene Auerbach who declares "you mustn't sing choral music of any period with vibrato" and would like workshop leaders to "squash this practice".
I suspect they're rather too busy focusing on more basic issues than voice production.
Of the various musical problems I have encountered at TVEMF events, I would rate excessive vibrato as a lowly fourth in musical concerns, the top 3 being: knowing the music (for those of us who don't have first class sight-reading); singing in time; singing in tune.
It seems a bit mean to pick on singers with vibrato, especially if they are otherwise competent singers.
Either TVEMF is a come-one, come-all organisation united by a love of early music and a desire to make music together or it isn't - if we eliminated all those whose singing is not up to scratch in some or all of these departments I do not doubt it would be more musically enjoyable, but there would be a lot fewer people there enjoying a detailed encounter with the music we all love.
* * *
In case the correspondence on vibrato isn’t quite closed, may I add one or two remarks:
Vocal vibrato in choral music in almost every period seems to be an absolute no-no, even though the soloists in Baroque music will certainly be using it. The chorus members, probably all amateur, won’t have been trained when or how, even if it’s appropriate at all. I am extremely aware that in comparison to instrumental vibrato, which I was taught 60 years ago, I simply don’t have the vocal technique – or for trills, mordents etc etc.
As regards instrumental vibrato, it never seems to provoke the same distaste. Leopold Mozart in his widely respected “Treatise on the fundamental principles of violin playing” of 1756 says that the tremolo (he does mean vibrato, although nowadays tremolo is a bow technique) shouldn’t be switched on all the time “as if the player had the palsy” but should decorate specific important longer notes. Modern players do mostly know this, but unless they are very much into the authentic period movement, out of sheer habit will tend in e.g. a Mozart symphony to use a comparatively light vibrato most of the time, and make it wider on the significant notes. By the time you get to the twentieth century, “non-vib” instructions start to appear on the music, with the assumption that it is always switched on (although subtly) unless it is switched off. I think the huge vibrato of the pre-war greats such as Kreisler now seems rather over the top to us. So there are changes in fashion, though my main point is that nobody in an orchestra ever complains about somebody else’s vibrato. Maybe the effect of all the different timbres of wind and brass often going at the same time make it less noticeable.
I think (referring to Moray’s letter) that it’s massive and intentional vibrato which people find such a trial. I once sang in a choral society (not for long) where there was one alto whose voice was so prominent that the other thirty of us really might as well not have been there. And sitting on the receiving end of a really strong flute vibrato can be quite a trial too. Ed.
Spanish Christmas in Amersham
The TVEMF Christmas workshop for singers and instrumentalists took place, as usual, at the Community Centre in Amersham, and once again we had the great pleasure of being directed by James Weeks. In our most recent previous encounter, at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall in Oxford, James had appeared in the role of evangelist for the relatively unknown Johann Rosenmüller (1610-84), a Saxon baroque composer who left Leipzig under a cloud in 1655 and spent nearly all of his subsequent musical career in Venice. For this occasion we moved backwards in time and westwards in space, exploring a programme of music by Victoria (1548-1611) and Francisco Guerrero (1528-99) in which Mary and the Nativity featured prominently.
We began with Victoria’s motet Quem vidistis pastores for six voices (SSATTB) in which the rustic shepherds are exhorted to say what they have seen, rather gently in the first part of the motet and much more urgently in the second part, when they respond with a sense of mounting excitement (James cautioning us at this stage not to convey the impression of mounting panic instead, as we segued into the final rapidly-moving and highly ornamental Alleluia). The second item of the programme, Guerrero’s Pastores loquebantur (SSATBB) recounted the Nativity from a different perspective. Instead of the shepherds being asked what they had seen, they recount what had been shown to them, their rapid journey to Bethlehem, vividly painted in the passage et venerunt festinantes, followed by the contrasting expression of their wonderment on viewing the Nativity scene. James drew our attention to the contrast between the styles of the two composers, observing that Guerrero’s was less rhetorical than Victoria’s, and reminiscent of Morales, with more polyphonic flow. The contrast is particularly well demonstrated by the slower-moving and more reflective Alleluia which concludes the second part of Guerrero’s motet depicting Mary’s meditation on the words which she had kept and gathered together in her heart.
We then moved on to a different genre, which James introduced to us as ‘polyphonic pop’, less colloquially referred to under the title Canciones y villanescas esprituales. The villanesca appears to have become popular in Naples in the 1540s and the genre soon spread to Venice, Padua and other cities of the Veneto. It is said that these compositions expressed a certain rustic naiveté by the employment-presumably intentional-of parallel fifths between the outer parts (Leeman Perkins, Music in the Age of the Renaissance, p.699). Guerrero’s collection, containing 61 such works, was published in Venice in 1589. Like most of his Spanish contemporaries (so the New Grove informs us) ‘he saw nothing inappropriate in fitting songs originally composed to sacred texts with alternative sacred texts; the collection demonstrates this, as it includes 18 contrafacta. We performed two of these, in which the infant Jesus is the principal figure (Niño Dios d’amor herido, SATB) and later in the programme, A un niño llorando al hielo, SSATB). Your reviewer’s admittedly cursory search has not uncovered a significant number of parallel fifths in the two works mentioned, and indeed it seems improbable that Guerrero was ever guilty of rustic naiveté, even in this popular mode of composition. Closer examination of works featuring shepherds may throw more light on the question.
The next substantial work was Guerrero’s eight-part Ave Maria (SSAATTBB). James referred to the bass parts as being truly melodic ‘and not a kind of proto-basso-continuo’ and it seems that Guerrero liked to make use of the resultant richness of texture since in the Agnus Dei of a number of his masses, e.g., Ecce sacerdos, In te Domine speravi and Simile est regnum caelorum, as well as Sancta et immaculata virginitas, that being the next piece which we sang, it is the bass, not the tenor, that is divided. Your reviewer (and anyone else who took part in the choral liturgy weekend at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in September 2016) had the enjoyable experience of singing this Mass under the direction of David Allinson, who described it as a beautiful achievement and said of it that the composer ‘was sufficiently proud of it to place it at the head of his first book of Masses . A tribute to his esteemed teacher and predecessor, Morales, it expands and elaborates Morales’ four part motet into a shimmering five-voiced rhapsody’. Only the Agnus Dei is in six parts.
The most substantial and complex work was the final item of the programme and made no concessions to any post-prandial lethargy engendered by the hearty and convivial bring-and share lunch which is a feature of this annual event. Victoria composed Magnificats in all eight tones, but only two are polychoral, the Magnificat primi toni for two choirs and the Magnificat sexti toni, which was our final item, for three choirs (1, SATB; 2, SSAT and 3, SATB). It has sections employing all three choirs, each choir individually and various combinations of two choirs. We performed the work with singers taking all the choir 2 parts as well as S1, T1, S3 and, in one passage A3, with the remaining parts played by the instrumentalists. This and the other polychoral Magnificat, which were published in his 1600 collection, show differences from his earlier settings (published in 1576 and 1581); according to the New Grove they are more concise, include more triple time (Quia fecit, for choir 2, and fecit potentiam for choirs 1 and 2 are instances of this, as is the opening of the Gloria) and (an irresistible quotation) ‘display a new aversion to canon; there is only one and that is optional’.
Leaving readers to ponder the fascinating concepts of the optional canon and its aversion, it remains only to accord warmest thanks to James for selecting and directing such an enjoyable programme, Vicky Helby for shouldering the demanding burden of organising the event, David Fletcher for producing the immense volume of music and all the army of volunteers who ministered to our creature comforts.
Ground and Ayre
On 6th November 2016 I went to Burgh House in Hampstead, London to hear Musicke in the Ayre. I saw the concert listed in Tamesis and thought that the promise of 17c song in the setting of the early 18c Burgh House music room was an attractive one.
And so it was. A good number of people gathered to hear Jane Hunt and Melissa Scott sing, and Din Ghani play a programme of songs, duets, operatic excerpts and solo performances with different lutes. The music was by a dozen composers who lived between 1551 and 1717, including Caccini, Dowland, Purcell (Henry and Daniel), Monteverdi and Barbara Strozzi. To my ears both of the singers brought a clear, expressive tone to the music. Together they blended beautifully, and the balance between voices and lute was excellent in the wood panelled room.
Both singers gave explanatory comments between groups of songs. Din Ghani explained in some detail the relationship between the earlier polyphonic madrigals and the later English lute ayre. The change in fashion from one to the other being facilitated by the lute’s ability to play several parts at once; illustrated in the programme by John Bennet’s madrigal “Weep, O mine eyes”, when the soprano and alto parts were sung and the tenor and bass parts played on the lute. Din also pointed out the popularity of the ground bass with composers at this time, Purcell using the device in many of his compositions. I suspect that I was not the only member of the audience resisting the urge to hum along with that famous bass line as Jane Hunt sang Dido’s Lament.
Since its beginning in 2011 Musicke in the Ayre has given over 65 recitals of this repertoire around the country and abroad. From my experience of them I can recommend buying a ticket should they come your way.
Melissa and Din are both TVEMF members. Ed
Musical Instrument Resources Network
If you’re interested in instruments it’s worth looking at the new website of the Musical Instruments Resource Network (MIRN) https://mirn.org.uk/. Quoting from the website: “MIRN promotes the understanding of issues surrounding the care and display of musical instruments and collections within the United Kingdom. It disseminates information in accord with current best practice and advocates for the wide accessibility of public collections. It is for musical instrument collectors and collections in the UK and offers workshops, seminars and advice surgeries on topics that have an impact on the care, maintenance, display and use of musical instruments, especially those with a heritage interest.” There is a discussion forum and some useful links.
Opportunities to make music
On Saturday 6th May David Shaw is organising a renaissance flute workshop for the Southern Early Music Forum. The venue is Upland Primary School in Bexleyheath. It will be directed by historical flautist Clare Beesley (www.clarebeesley.info/) who holds a particular specialism in Renaissance flute playing. At this event, she offers a day of Renaissance flute consort playing (probably in small groups), advice on technique, and help in playing from original notation within a relaxed and encouraging setting. The pitch will be A=440. Further details and application form will be in the next SEMF newsletter (February) and on the SEMF web site at the same time (www.semf.org.uk). David’s email address is treasurer @ semf.org.uk.
Cambridge Woodwind Makers
Perhaps you would like to make your own instrument? Cambridge Woodwind Makers run courses on both early and modern instruments. On one of this year’s courses you could make a baroque oboe, a wooden flute, a recorder, a cornetto, a long trumpet or even a clavichord. I know people who have made natural trumpets there and their results seem very successful. For more information see their web site www.cambridgewoodwindmakers.org or email
information @ cambridgewoodwindmakers.org
News of Members’ Activities
I’m very lucky to belong to a group which meets at Elaine Mordaunt’s house in Hurley primarily to play Telemann’s Paris Quartets. We’re all TVEMF members – Barbara Moir, Lorna Watson, Simon Hill, Elaine and me (Victoria Helby). Recently we’ve also been working on Bach’s Brandenburg concerto no. 5 (the one with the harpsichord solo) and Telemann’s concerto for gamba and recorder and we will be playing these two pieces, plus three movements from Handel’s Keyboard Suite No. 7 HWV432, in a short concert in Hurley Parish Church on Sunday 12th March between 4 and 5pm. Irene Butcher is joining us to play violin and viola. Tickets are £5 at the door to include tea and cake afterwards. The concert is in aid of Hurley Parish and Headway Thames Valley, the brain injury charity which supported Barbara and her husband so much last year when he sustained a head injury after a fall from his bicycle (wearing a helmet).