Tamesis Issue 254
Although the closing date for the workshop on orchestral anthems by Purcell and Blow with Peter Holman on Saturday 19th March has officially passed, as I write there are still a few places left. If you’re interested please contact the organiser immediately by phone or email.
The form for the baroque chamber music day on Baroque day on Sunday 24th April went out in January so I hope you haven’t all forgotten about it by now. It’s organised by Peter Collier who fixes the groups at the Baroque Week summer school, so you’re sure of a good day. He comes all the way from Manchester to do it for us with a caravan full of harpsichords and music and his wife Pam who looks after us all on the day. Don’t forget that solo singers as well as instrumentalists will be welcome if they have music with obbligato instrumental parts. For everyone else, Peter provides all the music and but you’re welcome to suggest what you would like to do if you want to take something special with you.
In October we’ll be having a medieval workshop with Sara Stowe, based on the Robin Hood and Marion story. There will be chansons, motets, English rounds, a play with monophonic songs by Adam de la Halle called “Le Jeu de Robin et Marion” and plenty of opportunity to play medieval instruments. We’ll put the date and venue on the web site as soon as we know them.
Before that at the beginning of September there will be Medieval Music in the Dales, a full weekend at Bolton Castle in Wensleydale (camp or stay in local b&bs) with concerts, workshops, instrument makers and music going on all day. Contact details are in the Events list. Advance tickets are from Crowdfunder but they’ve reached their initial target so it’s definitely going ahead. It looks really attractive and I’m planning to go.
I was looking for information about the celebrated Bavarian royal wedding of 1568 to go on the form for the Waltham Abbey event and found a bookseller’s advertisement for a rare copy of the magnificent festival book commissioned to record the event. I’m sorry the link is so long and you’ll have to type it in, but it’s worth looking at for the three superb coloured illustrations, the last of which shows the court festivities complete with musicians. We won’t quite be able to emulate such magnificence, except for the venue, but I’m sure it will be a great day nonetheless. The combination of Waltham Abbey, Philip Thorby, cornetts, sackbuts and other instruments and festive music by Lassus and Padovano should be irresistible. Here is the link:
The Renaissance Day seemed to go off all right in spite of there being a couple of missing participants which meant that significant reorganisation was required. I like to think that these days take people away from their normal repertoire and perhaps somewhat away from their comfort zone. Many of the participants come year after year, so it must work for them. My cold meant that my singing voice was bad enough not even to qualify as a croak acceptable to the average frog, so I was forced to play the bass recorder in a mixed ensemble, but that turned out rather well. The highlight for me was playing the cornett with voices and instruments in two settings of Regina
Caeli, one by Manchicourt and one by Lassus. I would like to thank all those who helped carry quantities of music to and from my car, and cleared up so well.
I have a significant quantity or music to dispose of, mostly for recorder consort, but including concerti, orchestral suits, trio sonatas and a number of tutors. There is most of the LPM early Music Library and some keyboard music: the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and my Lady Nevel's Book plus some Bach, Scarlatti and more. It belonged to my late wife Jackie, and the main requirement is that it go to a good home where it will be used. Modest contributions to the Marie Curie cancer charity would be welcome. If anyone would like to view the music then ring me on 01494 532195 but I will be bringing some to the Purcell workshop and the Baroque Day. There is also a very beautifully made John Storrs bent-side spinet in walnut - ring if you might be interested.
Letters to the editor
Dear all, particularly those to whom Michael Procter gave so much pleasure: his name is being inscribed in the Book of Remembrance this year in the Musicians’ Chapel at St. Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn Viaduct. It is to be commemorated at the next annual Service of Thanksgiving on 26th April 2016 at 6pm. You will be welcome.
(Note by Victoria Helby)
I had a look at the web site of the Musicians’ Chapel and found some information about it.
The purpose of the Musicians’ Chapel is to uphold the memory of British musicians and to maintain the Book of Remembrance. New names are inscribed each year into the Book of Remembrance and an annual Service, open to the public, is held when the new names are read out aloud.
The Service of Thanksgiving on Tuesday 26th April at 6 pm will be sung by the Chorus of the London College of Music directed by Paul Ayres with Michael Waldron (organ). The preacher is The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor of St Paul’s. The setting is Dyson in D and the anthem is ‘And I saw a new Heaven’ by Edgar Bainton.
* * *
I have found an article in the London Magazine (October/November 2012, pp. 108-115):
Paul Williamson, `Richard Taruskin: Music, Words and the Idea of History'.
Briefly, it's about Monteverdi and might interest members.
I can't reproduce it, even if copyright allowed me to. If difficult to find via libraries, the article might be traceable via www.thelondonmagazine.org.
(Another note by VCH) I tried to find it online but it’s only available to subscribers.
The renaissance playing and singing day organised by David Fletcher
Days such as this are special and such a valuable addition to the usually larger groups we enjoy.
At Burnham we had just five singers (so usually covering most lines) and nineteen instrumentalists with a good range of recorders, cornets, sackbuts, curtals, shawms and violin and cello. These and the amazing range of music from David's treasure trove, and you have a day of "Infinite variety" although even then you sometimes have to adapt. So for me the occasional high tenor g instead of the usual bass line. but it does do one's sight singing a huge amount of good. Oh, don't we know it, the embarrassment of getting lost! But everyone is so understanding, you can ask to start again and one gains so much.
David did his usual mind blowing mixing and matching, so instrumentalists had their own groups before joining the singers. All agreed how good it was to enjoy music in groups as small as six and to make music at these close quarters with an instrumentalist/singer. Back to those pictures of Tudor musician groups now illustrating the covers of Tudor music books? Although we did have bar lines. Perhaps the next stage?
And, of course, socially a marvellous chance to get to know those better you usually tend just to have a few words en passant in the lunch and tea breaks. Thank you hugely, David.
Tomkins-the end of the line
The workshop on the Byrd-Tomkins relationship which was held at the United reformed Church, Ickenham, on Saturday, January 30th 2016 was a hugely popular event and an excellent start to TVEMF’s musical activities for 2016. One of the attractive features of TVEMF’s programmes is the range of skills displayed by the various directors of the workshops. The versatility of our director for this occasion, Stephen Jones, has already been recounted in the flyer for the event, and in directing it he emphasised his interest in exploring the teacher-pupil relationships that created the tradition of which Tomkins was the final exponent.
The programme, consisting of seven items, was lengthy and ambitious, and it was obvious that we would not be able to do full justice to all of them. Five of the items were by Tomkins and two by Byrd. To some extent for purposes of exposition of the relationship, we spent quite a long time on the first item, Tomkins’ Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom. Peter Phillips says of this, in his notes to the Gimell recording which also includes four movements from the Great Service, that ‘although it retains a polyphonic idiom, its daring comes from the underlying harmonic structure, which foreshadows the compositional method of Henry Purcell’. Among the harmonic features which Stephen drew to our attention were Tomkins’ fondness for parallel thirds and sixths and his characteristic use of major-minor shifts, as in the section setting the text ‘vouchsafe to give us for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord’. Returning to the recording notes, Phillips goes on to speculate that, had it not been for the suppression of the Anglican Church and its musicians during the Commonwealth, Tomkins might have fathered a new generation of composers; in which case the title of this review would have been radically different.
We then moved on to the Te Deum of the so-called Great Service (the epithet ‘so-called
is used because Stephen expressed the view that the term ‘Great Service’ is a
twentieth-century construct). As published in Musica deo sacra, the 1668 compilation whose edition was overseen by Tomkins’ son Nathaniel, it is the third of Tomkins’ five services, consisting of the morning canticles Te Deum and Jubilate, both of which were included in our programme, and the evening Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, which were not. The Great Service and Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom are particularly mentioned by Phillips as examples of his status as the composer who most obviously continued Byrd’s achievement. The forward-looking nature of his music which Phillips also mentioned was addressed in an interesting discussion with Stephen when he asked if we could detect resemblances with any more modern composer, eliciting the answer ‘Brahms’. Stephen accepted this as a possibility but the composer whom he had in mind turned out to be Stanford. This caused your reviewer to wonder whether his ears were not deceiving him, since his own early experiences (ca 1943-50) of English Church music included frequent and increasingly unwelcome exposure to Stanford’s 1923 composition, the service in D major for unison choir and (with that admittedly circumscribed experience of Stanford) it would never have occurred to him to see that composer as an inheritor of the tradition to which the workshop was devoted.
Curiously, the Stanford-Brahms similarity (if such there be) was the subject of an extremely disobliging critical comment by George Bernard Shaw in his capacity of music critic of The World under the pen-name Corno di Bassetto. Shaw’s attitude to both these composers was extremely changeable - he eventually came to see merit in Brahms, whom he had once described as ‘the Leviathan Maunderer’ - and he was an admirer of some of Stanford’s works (oratorios being strictly excluded from the sphere of admiration) one of which was his quartet in A minor. In volume III of ‘Music in London 1890-94’ he said of it at page 156 ‘It is a genuine piece of absolute music, alive with feeling from beginning to end, and free from those Stanfordian aberrations into pure cleverness which remind one so of Brahms’ aberrations into pure stupidity’.
To return to the workshop itself after that digression, we concentrated for a fairly long time on the opening section of the Te Deum (the first twenty-one pages) and, after lunch, made a less detailed excursion into the remainder (pp.22-52) a particularly individual feature of which was the AAAATTBB passage setting the text ‘when thou took’st upon thee’. Byrd, too, had employed unusual vocal scoring in his Great Service, an example being the AAAT passage ‘And thou child shall be called the prophet of the highest’ from the Benedictus.
We then moved on to two contrasting settings of ‘O God, the proud are risen against thee’, the first by Byrd (SSAATB) and the second by Tomkins (SSAATTBB). The texts differ slightly - Byrd’s closing section reads ‘great in kindness and truth’ while the Tomkins text has ‘goodness’ rather than ‘kindness’ but the important feature is the way in which Tomkins, with his larger grouping of voices, outdoes his master in effect, for instance in his depiction of ‘the assembly of violent men’ in comparison with whom Byrd’s violent men might seem something of a vicarage tea-party. The richer effect of Tomkins’ augmented forces is also very well realised in the concluding ‘great in goodness and truth’ section.
With the passage of time, the remaining three items received relatively little attention. We read through Byrd’s ‘five-part ‘Domine, secundum multitudinem’ which exemplified Byrd’s debt to Tallis, and then went on to Tomkins’ five-part ‘Domine, tu eruisti’. This came supplemented with an English text which might be regarded as a contrafactum, since the text ‘Why art thou so full of heaviness’ is not, and does not purport to be, a translation of the Latin. In fact the Latin text is slightly adapted from Isaiah xxxviii, v.17, by the substitution of ‘Domine’ for ‘Tu autem’, while the English text is taken from the version of Psalm 42, vv. 6 and 7, in the English Church Prayer Book of 1662. Psalm 42 is perhaps more familiar to us in the Latin as the source of the text of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus. (The Vulgate has ‘quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum’).
So as to leave adequate time for tea and a concluding sing through, we had room for only the most cursory glance at the Jubilate from the Great Service, but that did not detract from what your reviewer would (without casting doubt on the excellence of many previous workshops) rate as one of the most interesting, informative and enjoyable TVEMF singing events for some considerable time. Congratulations are due to the TVEMF management for arranging it and in particular for getting Stephen Jones to direct it. His calm and purposeful approach to this challenging music was exactly what was required and added greatly to the experience.
Very warm thanks are also due to Michael Bloom for organising the event and taking on the herculean task of producing seventy copies of everything, and once again we are all grateful to the volunteers who ensured that bodily sustenance was made available to complement the uplift derived from the musical experience.
Polyphony Down the Pub
‘Polyphony Down the Pub’ (PDtP) started in October 2014 but I was not aware of it until the beginning of this year. Having visited the website and listened to a Radio 3 extract about PDtP, I decided to sign up for the session on 8th February entitled ‘The Italian Job’.
A word or two first about how PDtP works. The sessions, which are free, are held monthly in an upstairs room in The Horse and Stables, a pub just a stone’s throw from Lambeth North Station, Bakerloo Line. The rules given on the website state ‘1. Arrive when you want to. 2. Leave when you want to. 3. Sing or don’t sing. 4. Drink. 5. Avoid parallel fifths and octaves’. To ensure there is space for all in the pub and also a reasonable balance of parts you have to book in advance and state which part you will sing. Having applied and been accepted I then accessed the so-called ‘Calendar’ on my computer to fill in the engagement. To my delight I discovered all the details were already there. The music is sent electronically a few days before each session and it is up to participants either to print it out or download it to their tablet. I decided it would be interesting to see how well I got on singing directly from my iPad and I experimented with downloading the music from a previous session to ensure everything worked. It took a few minutes to get used to but after that there were no problems. I would certainly recommend this rather than printing as it is cheaper, quicker and kinder to trees. Furthermore if any of the text is very small, it can be instantly enlarged.
The music for ‘The Italian Job’ consisted of around 13 pieces, mainly in 4 or 5 parts, sacred and secular, by a variety of composers including Monteverdi, Palestrina, Gesualdo and Marenzio. I arrived at the pub around 15 minutes after the official starting time after braving Storm Imogen and was a bit surprised to find the place already packed but there was just about enough space. There were around 60 participants in all including several other TVEMF members and several other people I knew so I immediately felt at home.
The conductor and organiser is Kevin O’Neill and he ran the session extremely well. We sang through nearly all the pieces at least twice. Everyone seemed to be a fluent sight-singer or at least gave that impression and despite singing a capella we kept excellent pitch every time. The idea was to enjoy singing to a reasonable standard and not to worry too much about refinement. However the quality of the singing was extremely respectable and there was a very friendly atmosphere. One might be tempted to think that the booze contributed significantly toward this but although most people did have a drink or two, I felt the euphoria was mainly induced by the music itself. Looking back at the ‘rules’ at the end of the event it seemed to me most people came at the beginning and stayed to the end and nearly all sang though there one or two listeners who loudly applauded. There was a modest amount of drinking and two short intervals to allow people to get refills. There was only one occasion when a series of parallel fifths reared its ugly head and was swiftly annihilated by the conductor.
I have already signed up for the 7th March session entitled ‘Make mine a double’ – music for double choir. For those who find Monday evenings difficult there are occasional sessions held on other nights and other pubs under the name ‘Counterpint’. There is also the possibility that franchises will be offered for venues outside London. It occurs to me that there could be a good take up if Oxford were offered as a venue.
Editing Tudor Music Articles on Wikipedia
Last month I mentioned that there was going to be the first ever 'Tudor Music Wikipedia Edit-athon' on February 5th. I wonder if any of you took part. If you didn’t you may be interested to know that the event was a success. For three hours people gathered in Oxford as well as connecting via the web to participants across the UK and the US. They included students, academics, alumni and music-lovers all ages, most of whom were learning to edit Wikipedia for the first time with the help of Martin Poulter, the Bodleian Library's Wikimedian-in-Residence. The aim was to create and improve as many Wikipedia articles relating to Tudor Music as possible within the space of just three hours. Together they created four new Wikipedia articles and made improvements to another seven. Enthusiastic participants are still working onfurther articles. On the day, articles were created on the Peterhouse partbooks, the Forrest-Heyther partbooks, Thomas Causton and Edward Paston. A number of other articles were improved, including those on Thomas Morley, Osbert Parsley, Thomas Weelkes and John Sheppard.
If you fancy having a go yourself you can find a list of suggested articles on the edit-a-thon page: