Tamesis Issue 220
Thanks very much for the very varied contributions which have given us a lot to read this month. I’m going to the Beauchamp renaissance music week and the Oxford baroque chamber music week as usual. How about you? I wouldn’t want to change my weeks because I enjoy them so much, but other people might find it really helpful to know what other courses are like, so please think about writing something, no matter how short.
There is a lovely article on the web called Das Vuvuzela in Geschichte und Gegenwart. It made me laugh a lot, so do have a look at it. Thanks very much to the people who put it on Facebook.
Have a good summer.
There have been three TVEMF events since our last Tamesis though I only managed to attend the first and last. David Allinson never fails to be entertaining as well as informative and his workshop 'Gaude Virgo' in May did not disappoint. In spite of his arriving in haste there were no signs of stress as we did the customary warm-ups and tackled the rather ambitious programme with considerable success. This was the first event that Sarah Young had organised for TVEMF and thanks to her attention to detail it went very smoothly. St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill proved to be an excellent venue and will no doubt be used again.
The annual mass in St. Augustine's Church in Kilburn with Michael Procter has been running now for many years but the number of participants has been declining in recent years. We perform a good deal of sacred music at TVEMF workshops and it seems right that we should have the chance to perform some of it in a liturgical context. The mass of course is central to Christian worship and has been the focus of our attention but perhaps we should also consider services such as evensong which could be done in a single day. Neil Edington has organised the St. Augustine's event in recent years but very reasonably feels he has done his stint, for which we thank him wholeheartedly. We therefore need to find someone else to run the event next year, if it is to continue, or to devise something to take its place - suggestions and offers of help will be welcomed.
The most recent event gave us another look at music from the Eton Choirbook under the direction of Peter Syrus. Although the United Reformed Church at Ickenham cannot compare in architectural or historical terms with our previous venue, Eton College Chapel, its acoustics served us rather better. Peter is always extremely well prepared for his workshops and we are supplied with background notes as well as beautifully presented music, usually in his own editions. He was also able to inform us how many workshops he has now done for TVEMF and that several people had attended all of them. I believe I am amongst them, as is Jeff Gill who has organised them all with exemplary efficiency. Being less well organised than either Jeff or Peter, I failed to note the exact numbers quoted, but it was some seven or eight in each case. The music proved to be as challenging as I expected, in up to nine parts but with extensive sections for reduced voices. However, thanks to perseverance on the part of the director and the presence of some excellent singers, we managed a passable performance of these complex works.
A break now, when many of us will go to summer schools, so please do consider writing a review or just mentioning a few highlights in a letter to Tamesis. Having inadvertently had several successive workshops for unaccompanied singers, we rectify the situation with two events in the autumn featuring tutors who are new to TVEMF. James Weeks and Julian Perkins are both highly regarded directors so I am very much looking forward to their workshops.
Thomas Tallis: Gaude Gloriosa
A workshop for singers tutored by Philip Thorby
Church of Holy Cross and St Lawrence,
Waltham Abbey, Essex, 24 April 2010
On a warm and sunny spring day, singers from TVEMF and EEMF converged in large numbers from all over the Thames Valley area and from East Anglia to this joint workshop on Thomas Tallis’s votive anthem Gaude Gloriosa. The setting was the magnificent 12th century architecture of Waltham Abbey which Tallis must have known well as he was organist there. On this occasion, Philip Thorby (tutor) and Clifford Bartlett (continuo) stood in for Tallis.
The participants faced no easy task. There was a warning in the flyer that Gaude is a huge and complex a cappella Marian antiphon, possibly written in honour both of St Mary and of the Catholic queen of that name. It is divided into sections for six-part choir interspersed with solos, duets and trios, with differing metres in its two approximately equal parts. To undertake a performance of the work in a day was the sort of challenge that only people of the calibre of Philip Thorby can contemplate. Fortunately there he was, energetic and assertive as ever, having recovered the voice he lost the previous weekend as a result of leading a workshop on Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 for MEMF. To ease our introduction to the main task we started the day by singing a Sancte Deus a4 by Tallis. The relatively straightforward polyphony of this piece was dealt with without too much hassle. But if we thought it was typical of the rest of the day’s work we were mistaken, and the famous Thorby witticisms came thick and fast. First there was the ever-present problem of coping with an unusual triple metre. “There are two beats in a bar,” announced Philip, “one twice as long as the other.” So his Pencil of Truth moved in lop-sided fashion, and one had to follow it closely; it was no use looking for a conventional 3/2 type of beat. Another issue was that most sections end with a rit, but woe betide those who kept their eyes glued to the copy while trying to second-guess Philip’s beat. “There is only one rit, and I shall issue it,” he glowered. Anyone looking up too late could only expect a black look!
Despite these vicissitudes a decent performance was given at the end, once we had worked out where to stand so that all were in contact with the tutor and each other. Though the acoustics were fine, the fixed furniture made sightlines a little awkward. But we all enjoyed it, and we thank Philip again, and Ellen Sarewitz for her organization.
Thanks to Robert and the EEMF newsletter for this review.
Thoughts after Kilburn
The group of twenty-seven singers which gathered at St Augustine’s Kilburn on Saturday June 12th had a more cosmopolitan flavour than usual, including as it did one Danish soprano and two Norwegian altos, who contributed significantly to the quality of our performance. The main work which Michael had selected was one of Victoria’s 15 parody masses, the Missa Gaudeamus, one of the four which were not based on his own compositions. The other composers on whose works he based parody masses were Palestrina, Guerrero, Jannequin and Morales, and it was Morales’ Jubilate Deo on which the Missa Gaudeamus was based.
The introduction to the special edition of the music (the Mass and the motet) which Michael had once again helpfully produced tells us that the motet was composed to celebrate the peace brokered in 1538 by Pope Paul III between the Emperor Charles V and François I of France. A brief survey of the confused and inflamed political and religious landscape of Europe during the 1530s shows us what a stunning feat of diplomacy the former Alessandro Farnese, Dean of the Sacred College at the time of his election to the papacy, had achieved. The Spanish Hapsburg Charles V of Spain, (Emperor 1519-58), and the Valois king François I (1515-47) had engaged in a lengthy struggle (1521-29) for domination in the Papal states, in the course of which François was defeated and captured by Charles at Pavia in 1525. Although both were opposed to evangelical Protestantism, with Charles outlawing Luther and Calvin fleeing from the French regime under François, the enmity between the two potentates was bitter enough for François to ally himself with the Schmalkadic League under the Lutheran Philip of Hesse. Into this melee stepped the conciliarist Paul III, whose first attempt to call a general council at Mantua had failed partly because of that enmity and partly because the Duke of Mantua refused to guarantee its orderly progress; but having convoked a council at Vicenza on 1st May 1538, he succeeded in bringing about a ten-year truce between the hitherto implacable opponents, which was proclaimed by the treaty signed at Nizza (Nice) on 18th June. In addition to the Mass and the motet, Michael had provided two other works for us to perform, Monteverdi’s six-part motets (SSATTB) Adoramus te, Christe and Cantate Domino. Under Michael’s guidance in his inimitable style, which, as always, blended instruction with amusement, we made such satisfactory progress on the Saturday with the Mass and Adoramus te Christe, which were to be performed at the service, that we were able to spend some time on the Jubilate Deo and Cantate Domino, which were not. In the course of his exposition Michael regaled us with some vignettes of the Renaissance musical world which are, perhaps not widely known. Reminding us in general terms that “the text is the senior partner” Michael told us of a letter by Monteverdi (in the role, it would seem, of a Renaissance Simon Cowell) which recounted auditions ending in the rejection of young lady singers “with very nice voices which were only big enough for opera, but not for singing in church”. We were also treated to a representation of Luther expounding Isaiah 50:9 “Lo, they shall all wax old as a garment: the moth shall eat them up” as “they shall die - just like that !” - with a snap of the fingers; and an anecdote which ought to be true even if it is apocryphal, of Lassus and Palestrina meeting in a Roman drinking establishment and attempting to cajole each other into disclosing their latest innovations. Michael was of the view that Victoria, although he spent a long time in Rome, probably did not participate.
There were also some remarkable similes to illustrate the required vocal effects. Thus, although the opening of the Gloria is gentle rather than (as is often the case) exultant. we were exhorted not to be too Anglican or to resemble angels pussyfooting about. The liquid quality which he wished the female voices to exhibit brought forth a reference to “honey trickling down Aaron’s beard”. Your reviewer has tracked this down to Ps 133:2 in which the dwelling together of brethren in unity (obviously desirable in a vocal ensemble, and no doubt applicable to sisters also) is likened to “the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments”. The King James Bible follows the Vulgate, which has “unguentum”, not “mel”; so one is led to wonder whether Michael has a copy of the so-called “Treacle Bible” where Jeremiah 8:22 is translated “is there no tryacle in Gilead ?” rather than the more familiar “balm” (“resina” in the Vulgate).
During the Sunday morning warm-up, which went well, an interesting point emerged regarding the difficulty of singing a descending major third accurately. Michael explained that this is because a descending minor third is a much more natural interval to sing, as exemplified by the way in which we call to children or pets. He illustrated this by calling an imaginary and pedantic dog (Fido, who spells his name faedus). Your reviewer was intrigued by this and, as the owner of three cats with disyllabic names, tested the theory on returning home and found it to be correct. His cat call is E flat to C. The cats tend to reply with portamento yowls of varying ranges.
Michael appeared to be well satisfied with our performance at the service-certainly there were no obvious glitches, and Canon Yates was extremely complimentary. Unfortunately, his impending retirement casts doubt over the future of the event, though he expressed cautious optimism about the possibility of its survival. We, of course, would greatly regret its disappearance from the TVEMF calendar.
Having earned our extended lunch break, the majority retired to the Queen’s Head, the eighteen singers who returned for the final session having been considerably fortified. Although the lower voices were considerably depleted, we managed to get through the Morales Jubilate Deo with two to each of T1, T2 and B, our forces being redeployed so that Margaret Jackson-Roberts sang bass with Michael Reynor. We also had a run through the Credo of the Missa Gaudeamus and the two Monteverdi anthems, finishing with Adoramus te, Christe, scrambled. All in all, a very satisfactory musical week-end for which we are, as ever, much indebted to Michael for his choice of music and his expert guidance through its complexities.
Warmest thanks also go to Neil for organising the event, to Penny Vinson and Jenny Robinson for making the necessary arrangements with the church, and to both of them and to Mary Reynor for the admirable refreshments which added another international dimension to the event; Danish and Norwegian singers, Dutch apple cake and Greek carrot cake. Thanks, also, to all those who helped with making tea, clearing up, and so forth. Finally, it is most appropriate, after all the years in which Jenny has participated in this event as singer, organiser and cake-maker, for us to offer our best wishes to her and Stuart as they prepare to leave Harrow for Skipton later this year. We hope that the move goes smoothly, that they will be very happy there and that they will stay in touch with us.
Oxford in July
Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I’ve always loved watching on TV the Inspector Morse and now Lewis murder mysteries, but surely the real star of these television shows is the beautiful city itself, Oxford.
So it was at Oxford the Viola da Gamba Society’s annual bash for beginners on the viol was held at the Bate Collection of ancient instruments in St Aldate’s. This is an exquisite building, large, roomy, comfortable with immaculate lawns to the front, ideal spot I thought for a bouncy castle. It was really lovely sunny weather, blue skies and warm sunshine.
The weekend was jointly sponsored by the Gamba Society, the Bate Collection and the Early Music Shop. The Early Music Shop had an exhibition of viols which were for sale, and were reasonably priced. There was also a selection of CDs, lots of music, strings, two mouth-watering exhibitions of bows by Merion Attwood and Roger Rose and lots more other goodies. The Bate Collection also provided instruments for use by the beginners, which as you would expect were quite posh.
Three gifted tutors, Alison Kinder, Jacqui Robertson-Wade and Ibi Aziz, all well-known players, were the tutors and the weekend worked like this - the Gamba Society wants to encourage people who have never played the viol, the Early Music Shop and the Bate Collection provide the instruments. All the beginners spent the weekend with the tutors in the recital room covering all the basics on the viol, and amazing results were achieved from people who were complete beginners in such a short space of time. For more advanced players like me, we were formed into groups so that we were able to make up a consort, on-to-a-part, and guided by our tutors we played music by Byrd, Mico, Praetorius and songs from Shakespeare’s plays.
The tutors’ recital on the Saturday afternoon was a real treat. Alison, Jacqui and Ibi performed a selection of 17th century consort music for three treble viols and then a French piece for three bass viols, and then my favourite, Winter from the Seasons by Christopher Simpson.
And for our last session on Sunday a giant consort was formed from everybody on the course. Now what is a giant consort? you way well ask. Well, if you think of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, you’ve got it. Actually large groups of viols make an exquisite sound, soft and cuddly and also has historic precedent.
It was a lovely weekend and it was so nice to see so many TVEMF members present. Last but not least, many thanks to Susanne Heinrich for the refreshments and for the smooth running of the weekend. See you next year!