Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 224
You’ll find some new workshops announced on the cover this month. If you’re confident singing or playing one-to-a-part you’ll be interested in our 2nd July study day on Gesualdo led by Gerald Place, probably to be held at Burnham though we haven’t been able to confirm that yet. This is an opportunity for voices and viols to be coached on Gesualdo madrigals in small groups with all performers joining at the end of the day to tackle one of the Tenebrae motets. Music will be supplied before the event, but a good standard of reading is still essential. Gerald Place is director of the Gesualdo Consort and records for ASV and Naxos. He has made several BBC broadcasts about the composer and collaborated with Werner Herzog on his Gesualdo film "Death for Five Voices" which won the Italia Prize.
We have St Sepulchre’s in the City of London booked for 10th September but as yet no event because the tutor we had booked has just had to back out. If you have any ideas or would like to run a workshop there, please contact me.
Before that we have a workshop with David Allinson on Victoria’s 6-part Missa del Officium Defunctorum (Requiem). Michael Reynor has planned the event to be held on Saturday 27th August, the actual 400th anniversary of Victoria’s death. More details and the venue will appear in the next Tamesis in May.
This really is a bumper issue this month. Many thanks to all our contributors.
I'm always apprehensive about the Renaissance Chamber Music Days because I fear being unable to form compatible groups from the heterogeneous collection of instruments and voices at my disposal. I probably shouldn't worry, as people are very understanding and prepared to make the sometimes unusual groupings work. Mostly I rely on the designated music monitor being able to find appropriate pieces in my large collection of music but this time I spent a while looking out suitable music for some of the more tricky ensembles such as those with two bass voices. It was only after the event that I remembered having extracted these items into my briefcase, which explained why I had a problem finding anything on the day. Fortunately I did manage to come up with some suitable pieces but I must make better notes next time. Owing to a mix-up with diaries it clashed with David Allinson's Challock day for SEMF. I gather there was a record attendance so no great harm done but we'll be more careful next year.
It's a source of regret that we don't get as many singers or viols on these occasions as I would like. I suspect it is it because singers think it will be too hard, and viol players think it will involve other, coarser instruments. When you look at renaissance pictures which feature musicians they often seem to show a mix of instruments together with one or more voices - exactly the sort of ensemble that we often have at these Renaissance Days, so why such reluctance to experience these combinations?
The day of French Baroque music with William Carslake seemed to go very well - many thanks to Nick Pollock for his exceptionally thorough organisation. It was lovely to see so many instrumentalists and even though the production of suitable parts was a considerable problem it was well worth the effort. The Waltham Abbey event will be well attended, as always, and we have already easily exceeded the minimum number required for the 60-part Agnus Dei of Striggio's mass. I heard Robert Hollingworth discussing his recent recording of this work with Mark Lawson on Radio 4's Front Row on Wednesday 2nd March - you can hear it at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00fgdt9. Unfortunately Robert's group is twice referred to as I Fagiloni but the programme is worth listening to. I was amused that he described the five 8-part choirs as soft strings, voices, sophisticated wind - sackbuts & cornetts, another choir of voices and the fifth choir as "kitchen sink" double-reeds. We could do with a few more cornett and sackbut players at our event and even some (sophisticated) double reeds. Not mentioned is the fact that the music lay hidden for more than 400 years because it was catalogued as a 4-part mass. This puts into perspective the misfiling of some of my music following a Renaissance Day! Nevertheless, if anyone walked off with the alto part of the Robert Simpson pieces in the violet (!) cover then I'd like it back.
Renaissance Playing/Singing Day 19th February 2011
Another stimulating day of chamber music was planned/plotted by David Fletcher and enjoyed by 30 or so TVEMF members at Burnham Grammar School. The enthusiasm of the participants in getting back to work promptly after each break may have been partly due to curiosity about the combination of instruments, or voices, or both which they were about to encounter in each of the four sessions of the day.
As a bass singer who usually sinks to the bottom line of every piece, I was displaced several times by an extremely large wind instrument wielded by Victoria Helby. I quite enjoyed this new perspective from a line higher in the harmonic structure, with Vicky vibrating beneath me, as it were.
David divided people into groups with his usual skill. Variety was guaranteed, and sometimes produced novel challenges such as choosing music for my bass voice and three recorders sounding two and sometimes three octaves above me. Ein Feste Burg never sounded like this before but we made it work. It was a day for learning more than how to make music with surprising combinations of instruments. In one session Gerald Place led a vocal quintet in some Gesualdo madrigals. The easier ones he said, rather unconvincingly. Under Gerald's conducting they were simply ravishing. Not really for sight reading, they became more seductive the longer we worked on them. Not long enough. We learned that the Prince had a group of professional singers employed at his Court of Venosa which allowed him to write such chromatic surprises into his harmony. We also learned that those surprises often served to underline the drama of the words. This is music which would surely reward further study. Let's hope that TVEMF can provide an occasion for that study at a future date.
Just as people were eager to get back to playing after the breaks, so they were loath to leave at the end of the day. I stood outside a classroom door at 17.25 waiting to return a box of music and wishing I was part of the glorious sound coming to me through the door. I hope that David can find a reward for all his hard work in the pleasure that so many of us get from Renaissance Playing/Singing Days.
Victoria workshop, Saturday 29 January at Ickenham URC
This was Eamonn Dougan’s first workshop with TVEMF. His baritone voice is familiar from solo and ensemble work in concerts and recordings with some of today’s most celebrated early-music performers, and also from the opera stage. One of his choral directing appointments is as assistant conductor of the Sixteen.
The workshop took as its starting point the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria, in Madrid on 20 August 1611. Many years of his life were spent in Rome, where he would have known the somewhat older Palestrina. He held various offices there, including from 1575 that of maestro at the Collegio Germanico. After returning to Spain in the 1580s he served the Dowager Empress Maria at the convent of S. Clara in Madrid and then after her death in 1603 remained as organist at the convent for the remainder of his life. His output consisted exclusively of religious music; unusually for that period, all of it appeared in printed form during his lifetime.
For this workshop Eamonn had selected the ascension motet ‘Ascendens Christus in altum’ (1572) for SSATB, the motet ‘Gaude Maria Virgo’ (also 1572) for SSATB, and the Missa ‘Salve Regina’ (1585/1600) for SSAB/SATB. Good-quality editions suitable for our purposes were available from copyright-free internet sources, and David Fletcher had kindly arranged printing of the multiple copies required.
In the morning session Eamonn concentrated on vocal technique, with excellent results: first with exercises to illustrate and develop a selection of crucial techniques and then taking the first of the motets as the model for successful practical application. Comparatively simple changes such as keeping the soft palate high and ensuring that we all used a similar mouth shape to produce a given vowel - and at entries adopting the appropriate vowel shape during the preceding breath rather than only at the entry itself - led to a choral sound as good as I’ve ever heard from a TVEMF choir.
Once these basic skills were installed and working, the way was clear to consider the text of the motets and its relation to the music - and how all of that should influence performance. ‘Ascendens ..’ is rich in word painting and Eamonn guided us in making full use of this by careful placing of initial consonants - before the beat – and by doggedly resisting the infamous tyranny of the bar line. In this motet and throughout the remainder of the day we found that if – as he recommended – we made the effort to co-ordinate the timing of our breaths before each significant entry and - even better – if we timed our breath so that we could use it immediately rather than putting it into temporary storage, the entry suddenly seemed to become much more clear and convincing. All of this practical knowledge gained was then applied to good effect in the Missa, which is based on Victoria’s own 1572 antiphon.
The musical success of the workshop was complemented by David King’s meticulous preparation work as event organiser - and by the delicious home-made cakes generously provided by participants for our tea break.
Victoria & My Big Fat Gypsy Tarts - a workshop with David Allinson
Probably most people are familiar with Victoria from the Tenebrae Responses for Holy Week - certainly I was, from my Jesuit education - and the Requiem has become well- known in recent years. David concentrated however on shorter and more cheerful pieces, some of them Marian anthems for double choir and a setting Vadam et Circuibo Civitatem à 6, from the Song of Songs, a text not from the Catholic liturgy. Orthodox Judaism interprets the text as a metaphor for God's love for his people Israel but settings by Renaissance composers can pose a problem for the more straight-laced members of the clergy even in such centres of enlightenment as present-day Cambridge.
After the usual warm-ups (expect the unexpected!) we worked on a particularly singer- friendly Sancta Maria Succurre Miseris (SATB), appropriately, given the awful weather, "in festo Sanctae Mariae ad nivem" (Our Lady of the Snows). We were enjoined to "marinade notes in a garlic solution" and to "stretch them like pizza-dough". The piece has overtones of Josquin, but we are now on the cusp where the modal system breaks down into a newer tonal system, where the Humanist response to the text leads to Renaissance expressivity/emotion with an almost Romantic chromaticism, and where the music not merely sets the text but enacts it ("weeping").
In Ave Regina Coelorum, one of Victoria's four antiphons for double choir, we had to sing as if bathing in magnolias (or was it marmalade?). "Gaude" was expressively detached - you really need to bring a pencil to note down even half of David's directions - and basses were jealous of the occasional soprano high pedal-note. "It is hard to be precise and sensuous at the same time" - we had already experimented with shoulder-massage in the warm-up - we performed Ave Regina in bichoral (but mixed-up) voice parts with David in the centre. Was it not Oliver Rigby Hirsh (or Aksel Mathiesen) who said "The melodic and rhythmic individuality of each separate voice resists subordination to a measured common accent"? In order to avoid the stiffness resulting from a conventional beat, David had to shape the musical lines in his conducting - hang on a minute, I don't have Hirsh and Mathiesen on the list, did they in fact pay - Treasurer. No, Hirsh and Mathiesen were not actually present. These remarks come from the preface to Madrigalia in the Wilhelm Hansen series Concentus Musicus (Secular Music of the 16th Cent).
Moving now to Vadam...(etc), I remember the practical advice that descending scale patterns are piano, "transparent", with no vibrato and no colour. The erotic is kept symbolic, occasional word-repetition or dynamic emphasis being sufficient.
The well-known four-part Ave Maria (almost certainly not by Victoria) starts in common time, goes into 2/4 then 3/4 then back to common time. There is no slowing down as you go from 2/4 to 3/4 - we are leading towards that dance-note, not waiting till something else has finished. David then made some comments on Victoria's childhood (seventh of eleven children) and the fact that Guerrero was more highly regarded during Victoria's lifetime. Next a dash of hermeneutics (?) - away with your tired old Affekts, Meaning is contingent upon the audience/place/context... (Actually the Jesuits had a word for it quidquid recipitur, recipitur secundum modo recipientis, if I remember correctly.) In the Ave Maria a 8, the 3/4 section is calmer but the work calls for a lot of power towards the end - one can imagine cornets and sackbuts. There is a sophisticated use of dynamics exploiting the possibilities of the two choirs and with a swell on "Dominus tecum".
Alma Redemptoris mater a 8 is basically "noodling around on long chords with the tactus chasing its tail". However "he gets it just right - just glaze the opening phrase with butter and give it a grill".
Victoria's professional life lacked the drama of Byrd ("Not another hundred-pound fine, Your Grace!" - Norfolk always paid) or of Tallis (whom it is unfair to call The Vicar of Bray even if he did write for both sides). Interestingly non-English choirs seem to detect a "Spanish intensity" in Byrd the recusant.
David's obiter dicta gave me lots to think about. Because of the foul weather I had gone for steak and kidney pudding at the nearest hostelry and missed the promised big fat gypsy tarts at the farmers' market; however Challock definitely vaut le voyage.
New London Community Orchestra
There’s a nw band in town. The London Community Baroque Orchestra (LCBO) held its first rehearsal on 5 February 2011 at its home, the Foundling Museum. Zak Oszmo is the director, and there’s nothing quite like it in London at present. Zak also directs l’Avventura London, and says the LCBO is its educational arm. He sees a gap which hasn’t been met for adults who want to carry on learning to play early music in an informed way. His intention is that LCBO will have structured training in varied ensembles. So there will be coaching for large and small ensembles by Zak and members of l’Avventura, scheduled rehearsals and concerts, and workshops and lectures by musicians and musicologists. One of the pluses will be the variety of music: already the LCBO has played a menuet from the Covent Garden library that hasn’t seen the light of day for 300 years. There are also the resources of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, held at the Foundling Museum. I auditioned for Zak in January on Baroque flute, and have been attending the rehearsals since. For one thing, playing in the Picture Gallery of the Foundling isn’t an opportunity I would normally get as an amateur. The group is a mix of early instruments and a few modern ones, but the pitch is 415. So the strings tune down, and one diligent oboe player has been transposing the easier pieces at sight (in tune). She says it’s good practice! There might well be a Baroque oboe in her future. The first few sessions have really been about getting to know each other, and getting used to the rehearsal space. Part of the educational remit is that the Picture Gallery is open to the public during rehearsals, so people walk through as we are playing. A few stay to listen, some wander from painting to painting, some leave fairly quickly. But even the smallest children have responded positively to our efforts at playing unfamiliar music. The first concert will be on Friday, 8 April at 7.30 pm, tickets £5. We will perform a variety of orchestral, solo and small chamber pieces to accommodate the forces and skill levels that have been attained in this inaugural term. The pieces might (or might not) include Mille Regretz by Josquin des Près; a 17th century Italian Rant; a noël by Delalande; the Masquerade Menuet from Covent Garden; and a Marche from Rinaldo by Handel. There is also likely to be a flute solo by John Stanley and a cello piece, among others. I will keep Tamesis readers updated on concerts and any other interesting events with the LCBO that are open for them to attend. If the orchestra sounds interesting, spread the word, or get in touch yourself. We could use more members! The new term will begin in September. Rehearsals are on Saturday mornings from 10.30 to 1.30. There’s more information on the website: http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/MusicSpecial.php. Contact Zak Ozmo on zozmo @ lcbo.org.uk.
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music:
2, The winds
This article is about principles of the Alexander Techniqueand wind instruments. Early wind instruments have two mainfeatures in common: breathing is crucial, and most areplayed standing.
One principle of the Alexander Technique is that the positionof the head is crucial for balance. The head weighs between12 and 18 pounds (4-5 kilos), about the weight of a coupleof sacks of potatoes. If that weight is off balance, it willthrow everything below off as well, as the postural reflexestry to compensate. Wind players add an instrument held infront of the mouth, often for long periods of time, usually inunnatural positions.
In his Method for the Flute, Tulou (1786-1865) says, ‘Theposition of the body is very important. Posture can affectwhether breathing is easy or difficult.’ 1 He gives a detaileddescription of that posture: the flute player should ‘take careto place himself directly in front of his music stand, the headand body straight, the right shoulder drawn back a little, theleft foot turned slightly outward, the right foot a few inchesbehind forming a triangle with the left foot.’2
1 Jean-Louis Tulou, A Method for the Flute, tr. Janice Dockendorff Boland and Martha F. Cannon, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995) p. 6. 2 Ibid. The first part of the description applies to all wind players: stand directly in front of the music stand, head and body straight. It can be instructive to set up a mirror to watch while playing: we can start out well, but collapse when we reach a ‘tricky bit’. The one thing I would add is that I would have the intention of my weight going down through the arch and heel of the foot, rather than the front and toes, and the weight of the hips above the heels. It’s easy to get pulled forward and down when standing. The head tips forward, causing the knees to lock, the lower back to collapse and the shoulders to round forward. The end of the instrument droops, the player’s neck arching and twisting to keep contact. There is a knock-on effect on breathing: the general collapse down and forward contracts the space available for the lungs, exactly what you don’t want as a wind player! Flutes, bassoons, sackbuts, trombones, and trumpets have an added complication: the way the instrument is held when standing naturally takes the player off balance. To get an idea of what holding the instrument does to your balance try holding it in both hands in front of you, arms down. Keeping the arms straight, very slowly raise the instrument to shoulder height. If you do this too quickly, you’re likely to lose your balance, so it’s important to do it slowly and only go as far as is comfortable. This gives you a chance to observe what the weight of your arms plus the instrument does to your balance, and what your body does to compensate. You’re likely to go backward onto your heels, and try to catch yourself by stiffening the ankles, knees and hips. Let the instrument (and your arms!) down, relax, and try again. BUT this time, pay attention to four things: the ground supporting you, allowing the feet to spread and relax; the front of the ankles pliable and relaxed (not collapsed!), and the back of the knees soft and relaxed, so the knees aren’t braced backward. See if you notice whether the muscles at the back of the neck are tight and short, wedging the head in place, or longer and pliable, allowing your head to balance on top of the spine, and the shoulders to relax into place. You don’t need to DO any of these things, just have the thought in mind. The head is much more likely to stay in balance, so the cycle of pulling down and forward with all its limitations are less prone to occur. With practice, this way of holding the instrument becomes a habit. If you usually sit to play, you can try the same exercise. The shift in balance will be more subtle, but still observable. Flute, trumpet, sackbut and bassoon players can also use a bit of visualisation: imagine a balloon attached to the farthest end of your instrument. Let the balloon float up and slightly away from you. Violin and viola players can think of attaching a balloon to the scroll. This image helps keep the instrument light in my hands. Because I don’t end up clenching it, my shoulders can relax into a less stressed position, with the knock-on effect that the fingers are more relaxed and free. It gives more space for the breath as well. All this makes it easier for me to find the lightness and grace in the music that is the essence of Baroque performance practice. I’ll be talking about fingers and technique in the article on strings, and breathing in the one on voice.
with the dedication of a memorial plaque to Tobias Hume
This will take place at Charterhouse Chapel, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN on Saturday 16 April at 11.30 am. Music will be provided by the Thomas Sutton Singers, Graham Matthews, Organist of Charterhouse who will play 17th century voluntaries by Benjamin Cosyn (Organist of Charterhouse), and Christopher Gibbons (Scholar of Charterhouse), and Susanne Heinrich (viol) who will perform some of Tobias Hume's pieces. The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s, will dedicate a memorial plaque to Tobias Hume, Composer of music for the viol, Soldier and Brother of Charterhouse who died on 16th April 1645. There is limited seating so please reserve in advance. 020 7253 9503 manciple2 @ aol.com www.thecharterhouse.org