Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 219
I forgot to mention in the last Tamesis what a good time I had at the Renaissance day at Burnham which David organised in February. The baroque chamber music day at Oxford organised by Peter Collier was also very good and I’m planning to run one myself in November. The Sennfl day with Philip Thorby was excellent, and although I haven’t yet received the promised review I did get a number of thank you letters and emails which I very much appreciated. I’m not going to be at the next three forum events to remind you about it but I hope some of you will be inspired to write reviews.
All the committee members, and particularly the Chairman/Membership Secretary (David), Treasurer (Jim) and Secretary (me) are very happy to spend t ime running the forum and organising events, but there are a few things you could do to reduce the time (and occasionally money) we spend on it. Please consider paying your subscription by standing order so that the Treasurer doesn’t have to pay in hundreds of cheques. This will also save you from finding your membership has lapsed, as happens to quite a lot of people each year. Don’t ask us to phone you on a mob ile phone if you have a land line. And please print your own map using the postcode and web site supplied on the booking forms, unless you haven’t got a computer and can’t easily do it at your local library.
Clifford Bartlett has at last managed to get hold of the music for Striggio’s 40-part mass so we shall be able to do it at the Waltham Abbey workshop on 30th April next year. This is the first May bank holiday weekend but it’s the only date when both Philip Thorby and the abbey are available, so please put it in your diary now. We shall need at least sixty players and singers because the agnus is in sixty parts. You may have heard its first performance at the Proms a couple of years ago, and with Philip’s magic touch we should be able to do it even better.
As we are approaching the holiday season, the July and September newsletters may come out a bit early, or late, to fit in with my availability to write them and David’s to print and post them. So please make sure you send reviews or other contributions in good time, and any information about concerts and events in early September in time for the July issue.
This year's joint event with EEMF in Waltham Abbey was a bit different from the previous ones in that there were never more than six parts, a noticeable contrast with the 12- or 40-part pieces we have done previously. This did not mean, however, that it was any less of a challenge, as Tallis's Gaude Gloriosa is extremely demanding. It is somewhat in the style of the Eton Choirbook as there are long melismas with few syllables and the parts often leap about in unpredictable ways. Philip Thorby was at his most genial, and his patient good humour ensured that by the time we came to the run-through we managed a passable performance. A few days after the event I noticed that the Renaissance Singers under their new conductor David Allinson were performing the piece in their concert on the 1st of May. Sadly, a prior engagement prevented me from attending but I did send emails to those TVEMF members who were at Waltham Abbey telling them about the concert, so it would be good to have a brief report from anyone who went. You may like to know that next year we are reverting to our original model for the EEMF/TVEMF event in that we plan to tackle Striggio's 40-part mass with its 60-part Agnus Dei. My mention of the Eton Choirbook reminds me of the superb concert given by the Cantores Chamber Choir in Eton College Chapel on the 25th of April. David Allinson manages somehow to gather together his choir, formerly from Exeter University but now scattered widely, for one or two concerts a year and they are always well worth hearing. You will have seen the flyer in last month's Tamesis and there were more than a dozen TVEMF members present in the appreciative audience to hear the haunting Missa Mille Regretz by Morales amongst other items which included Lambe's Nesciens Mater from the Choirbook. David is directing a workshop for TVEMF on 15th May which of course I'm looking forward to very much. I believe it's pretty full, though tenors might have a chance of a late application being accepted.
Robin Michael Woodbridge 1934-2010
Those of you who knew Robin will be sad to learn that he died in March. Robin was a knowledgeable enthusiast of renaissance and baroque music. He particularly enjoyed playing viols, baroque flute and recorders. He built up a large collection of instruments, all of excellent quality, and had a superb and meticulously ordered collection of music.
Robin and his wife Anne moved to St Albans in 1958 and Robin joined the BBC where he had a distinguished career for 35 years rising to Personnel Manager of Central Services, the Corporation’s largest department. Family was always very important to Robin throughout his life, but as his two sons grew up he was also able to devote an increasing amount of time to music. After retiring from the BBC he worked part-time at his local Police Station and joined Probus. Sadly, Anne died in late 2002, but Robin remarried and enjoyed sharing the last six years of his life with Margaret.
As well as attending many music courses including TVEMF events, Robin organised coached viol consort days over a period of many years and very generously offered the use of his home for these sessions. He also frequently hosted music sessions just for fun and many amateur musicians have enjoyed playing early music at his home. Robin was a kind, thoughtful man always ready to offer advice when asked, and although he took life seriously he also had a keen sense of humour and enjoyed a glass of good wine. His interests and knowledge were very wide and he was a great conversationalist.
The huge gathering at Robin’s funeral was testimony to the number of people whose lives he had touched. Members of the Rose Consort of Viols played at the Service. This was a fitting tribute to a man who had done so much for amateur musicians. He was always pleased to offer help and encouragement to other players including beginners. He was a much loved man who will be greatly missed by all his family and his many friends.
David Allinson Renaissance Singing Day at Challock 20th Feb 2010
David’s warm-up exercises are always a hoot, from singing a-e-i-o-u in a chewy sort of way as if you were masticating gum, to downhill ski-ing exercises and swaying one’s hips. For those of us no longer in our first flush of youth the chance to sashay and rumba a bit is quite delightful.
The theme to be tackled by our 68 singers was Missa ad Imitationem; this is where composers used multi-voice material (as opposed to a single line) from madrigals or motets when composing masses, presumably to reduce the time and effort involved in composing new material from scratch. Often identical or very similar material occurs in each movement of the mass. This helps unify it and also makes us realise just what an enormous and lengthy task church composers were faced with when setting a Mass. Does anyone know just how many words comprise a mass?
The formal term used by musicologists for imitative masses is “parody mass,” but the word parody is used without the usual meaning of caricature or making fun of something. Sensibly, David realised most of us have limited technical knowledge and that we principally want to spend as much time as possible singing the music. The madrigal Ultimi miei sospiri (My final sighs) by Philippe Verdelot (1485-1552) wallowed in exquisitely beautiful grief and torment and was set in a heavy, low- pitched motet style. Next generation Fleming Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) used this work in his Missa Ultimi Miei Sospiri (published Northern Italy late 1550’s). De Monte grew up in the musical world of Ghent, Cambrai and Mechelin and as a young man he went to Northern Italy where he soon made a name for h imself as a singer, teacher and composer. He worked for the Medicis and Cardinal Orsini. He came with Philip II of Spain to England during the reign of Queen Mary but as the only Spaniard amongst the Court musicians he felt an outsider.
He was such a good musician that his employers would not allow him to retire and he had no choice but to work on into old age. Despite being post Council of Trent he shows no concern for the rules they introduced about brevity and textual clarity. When Lassus wrote imitative masses, he would transpose entire blocks of music from the source piece, whereas de Monte would develop the music, introducing about 50% new material.
Orlando di Lasso ‘s madrigal Mon coeur se recommande a vous (Look favourably on my heart) is used in Eckhart’s “transfer mass” where blocks of music are lifted wholesale from the original. Modern copyright laws would prevent such practices nowadays without written permission (on parchment) from the composer or EMI (Early Masses Inc?). Then, it enabled second rate composers to gain financially from the work of their superiors rather like mass-produced (forgive the pun) Gucci handbags in an Essex street-market.
After lunch we relaxed into the familiar strains of Josquin’s (c. 1450-1521) simple yet divine Mille Regretz which Morales turned into an equally heart-rending mass. Perhaps it was a happy change of pub but we didn’t suffer the usual post-prandial slump where the hapless conductor is faced with a sea of flushed faces, helplessly glazing eyes and the occasional nodding head.
The Agnus Dei of Victoria’s Missa Trahe Me Post Te (Make me follow You) pulls off the difficult trick of being both dignified and sensual and also combines two separate canons at the unison which is a technical feat in itself. It is based on the motet of the same name. Palestrina is regarded as the master of the imitative mass and his Missa O Rex Gloriae is based on the motet of the same name.
We were also treated to a commentary on how David’s singing workshops are received abroad. Whereas in England we might ask the conductor to help us with a problematic part when we really mean that our neighbour is getting it wrong, in Holland they will simply say out loud “he’s getting it wrong!” Such is ‘Dutch blunt’. Early in the day we did have a tendency to keep going flat. “Keep it bright” David said cheerily, then deftly turned it around by explaining that this was the polite non-musical way of saying “keep in tune”.
As always Challock’s village hall was well-lit, warm and welcoming and the spacious kitchen did a brisk trade in teas, biscuits and coffees on that bitingly cold February Saturday.
Letter from Leipzig from Brian O’Hagan
I've recently visited the newly opened Bach Museum in Leipzig next to the Thomaskirche, in what was in Bach's time the home of the wealthy Bose family. Bose was godfather to several Bach children, and there are touching details of the friendship between the two families. I'm a Luddite when it comes to IT, but the 2m by 1m interactive table-top was great fun - I could have played for hours, and it would turn any child into a budding musicologist. Entry is free on the first Tuesday of the month. There is a shop and small cafe. Items on display include the console of the (Johann Scheibe 1743) organ from St John's in Leipzig. (The original bench has ben whittled away, and the keys which Bach actually touched have been replaced or stolen.) A chest (originally from Meissen Cathedral, but now with the Bach seal) is known to have belonged to the Bach family.
The account of the discovery of the aria ''Alles mit Gott und Nichts ohn' Ihn'' (BWV 1127) after the 2004 fire in the Anna Amelia Library (Weimar) is exciting and one can then listen to the performance by Carolyn Sampson with the Masaaka Suzuki Bach Society of Japan. I loved the film snippets, and the Court Musicians in the Doll's House of Princess Auguste-Dorothea of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. (Oddly, I saw no mention of the beautiful little church of Dornheim, two miles east of Arnstadt, where Bach's marriage to Maria Barbara took place ,and I find myself missing the wonderful second-hand music shop - now in a warehouse in Zschochersche Strasse.) An impressive statue of Mendelssohn went up two years ago in front of the Thomaskirche, and ''Motetten'' (choir concerts) by the Thomanerchor take place on Fridays (6pm) and Saturdays (3pm). The Mendelssohn-Haus itself vaut le voyage - there are regular concerts, and I love the travelling-case with the painting of The George Inn, Southwark. Did the multi-talented Felix execute this himself? The Schumann-Haus also has occasional concerts. I won't talk about the Opera House, but the Gewandhaus has an impressive Schuke organ. The Nicolaikirche - the largest church in Leipzig - is important for organists, and the interior is beautiful. I've seen several Lehar operettas in the Muko (Musical Comedy Theatre). Leipzig town centre can provide surprises - a Cossack choir with contrabass balalaika - it needed a cello-style end-pin - or a brass ensemble playing The Internationale followed by Jesu meine Freude. The Meissen Porcelain shop has a CD of an organ with porcelain pipes - I resisted - but when I came across a bilingual Finnegans Wehg for under 8 euros I snapped it up. Last year I heard a wonderful harp concert in the Oberlandes Gericht (Law Courts), and went to a great party at Syhre's (brass instrument makers - their products include Scandinavian Lurs in both left-hand and right-hand versions, and they provided trumpets for Ludwig Guttler.) One can have a reasonable meal in the Rathaus (Town Hall) but lovers of literature will gravitate to Auerbachs Keller, where Faust and the students first meet Mephistopheles. For 15 euros there is a 30 minute tour (starts 11 am) followed by the Plat du Jour and an outsize chocolate ''Mephisto Dollar'', or at 3pm you can have a Mephisto Kaffee-Klatsch (coffee and a portion of Mephisto Torte, with a Mephisto Dollar to go) for just 10 euros. Now that ''The V & A has lost its charm'' (ie its historic instrument collection), why not visit Leipzig's Grassi Museum - Orientalia, Ethnography and Musical Instruments! Free entry on the first Wednesday of the month, and a modestly-priced restaurant if you stay more than 4 hours (easily done!) There are keyboard instruments in abundance, nests of serpents, rarities like an arpeggione (less attractive than a baryton), an ivory oliphant, various glass brass instruments, assorted pieces of pipe work, a 9-foot high contrabass saxophone, a piano-roll mouth organ; AND a piano-roll accordeon. Then there is the dancing-master's pochette with integral fan(!) , a combination clarinet-cum-walking-stick (who needs such an instrument, unless perhaps The Shepherd on the Rock?) Alas, the Silbermann Cembalo d'Amore exists only as a diagram from the 1723 book - someone must have put a damper on the actual construction. I was enchanted by a kitsch ''Polyphon'' musical box, while tuning fanatics will drool over the many bakelite (?) keys of the Orthotonophonium (built by the Konigliche Sachsische Akademie fur Wissenschaft in 1914). Based on the physicist Arthur von Oettingen's division of the octave into 72 microtones, it produces pure thirds/ fourths/ fifths...Who could ask for anything more? There is a second Orthotonophonium upstairs in the child-friendly Klanglabor (Sound Laboratory), but I wasn't allowed to play it. I became extremely irritated at one multi-media display which insisted on pronouncing timbre as ''timber''. (Am I a pedant, or just a Grumpy Old Man?) Harmony was restored however (and I was taken back like Marcel Proust to the Meccano of my childhood and the Galt's Early Learning Centre wooden structures of the early 60's) when I got to play the chamber organ with its clear plastic case - the Zymbelstern was magical, as was the Vogelstimme (water-cistern) and the ratchet-mechanism Kukkuk. You just can't follow that. I got lost trying to find my way out, but my wanderings led me serendipitously past the Harp-Ship and the Crocodile-Zither in the Thailand Gallery. Regards, Brian and Renate