Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 267
Apologies for the late appearance of this edition. The copy date was very late in the month and after that the preparations for the Epping workshop, arranging new workshops and other committee matters (GDPR in particular) seemed to take up most of the time I would normally spend on Tamesis.
It seems a long time since Peter Collier’s Baroque day but it was enjoyable as always. I played in some very good groups and my only frustration was seeing old friends but not getting a chance to play with them. April was a good month for baroque as we also had the Charpentier day at Benslow. Benslow is a lovely venue but rather expensive. The hall has great acoustics and I really enjoyed playing the timpani along with Wayne and Caitlin, the two natural trumpeters. Julian Perkins was an excellent tutor for French baroque music. This workshop was a replacement for the Vauxhall Gardens event, which is now postponed until next year. Many thanks to our chairman David Fletcher for the huge amount of work he put into it.
Then we had Philip Thorby’s Victoria workshop at Epping Hall on 19th May, the day of the royal wedding. This was another new venue for us and I’m sure we’ll go there again. It was a really good day and inspired two reviewers to write about it. Thanks very much Chris and Roy. Thanks too to Sidney for another epic review, this time of the Charpentier workshop, and to David for his article about the Wycombe festival.
I thought at first I was going to have trouble persuading anybody to write a review of the Epping workshop. Do please think about doing it next time anybody asks for a volunteer. It doesn’t have to be anything erudite – think of it more as a letter to a friend if you like. Somebody said to me the other day that when she first joined the forum she wasn’t at all sure what events she would want to go to, and she read the reviews to get an idea of what sort of things she would enjoy.
The Regular Events list is still up on the website but it hasn’t been changed for a long time. Please have a look at it and let me know what alterations are needed. It might get back in Tamesis one day when there is space for it. Southern Early Music Forum has a section on its website for players and singers wanted and opportunities sought http://www.swemf.org.uk/players.html. I rather like the idea and would probably use it myself. We could as usual avoid spam by putting the email addresses in a form that cannot be clicked on and picked up.
The new secretary of Border Marches Early Music Forum, Margaid Nickalls, is wondering if forums might be interested in making a list of offers of accommodation for people who travel long distances to workshops. What do you think?
There is a new early music forum – Wales Early Music Forum Cymru. At the moment their first event, a Tudor music day with David Hatcher on October 6th, is listed on the BMEMF website.
Please read the Chairman’s Chat below about GDPR. I’m told a lot of people haven’t replied yet, and it would be a shame for you to miss out on anything by not opting in to receive the very infrequent but useful emails which we send out.
And finally - spaces are still available for altos, basses and especially tenors at the Hieronymus Praetorius Easter Mass workshop tutored by Patrick Allies on 10th June. Sopranos may still apply but only if they are willing be put on the waiting list.
Most of you will have received an email recently asking your permission to continue receiving the occasional emails that I send on what I hope are relevant topics such as updates on workshops. This is necessary because the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR - wrongly given in the email subject as GPDR) comes into effect on May 25th. Those of you who didn't get the email, perhaps because it was treated as spam, can opt in by sending an email to tvemf @ tvemf.org and will be included on my mailing list. I promise the number of emails will not be excessive and will be on early music topics. Future membership forms will have a check box for opting in to such emails. There is a link to our data Protection Policy from our "Join us" page which takes you to www.tvemf.org/TVEMF_data_protection_policy.pdf
I was pleased with the way the Charpentier workshop at Benslow went - there were a few problems, and TVEMF made quite a loss but people seemed to enjoy it. I didn't quite manage to get the full complement of instrumentalists as we lacked one of the oboes, but the natural trumpets and timps added greatly to the dramatic effect. Given that the parts for the Te Deum were available online you might think that it would be straightforward to give each person the requisite music but there were 50 files, some containing for example both flute and violin parts and for one movement the oboe parts were in a file marked "trumpets"!
The other joint event is with Philip Thorby when we will be once more be performing the mass and motet Laetatus Sum by Victoria. I very much enjoyed this when we did it under David Allinson in 2007and were joined by the edition's editor, Nancho Alvarez, who came here from Malaga for the occasion.
From Epping with Love
Arriving by tube on the Central Line at Epping I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine and clean air, another world from where I live in west London. The high street in Epping is very wide and the buildings I would say are almost all 18th century, not a high rise in sight or any awful office blocks. Epping Hall is a 1990s building, built to blend with the surrounding buildings. It’s not built at ground level but in a kind of hollow. The purpose of the day, thanks to a joint effort of TVEMF and EEMF, was to play and sing Victoria’s mass in twelve parts Laetatus sum. Checking with my music dictionary, Victoria was born about 1549 at Avila and died in Madrid in 1611 aged about sixty-two. He worked for about forty years in Rome and was a contemporary of Palestrina. My dictionary describes his music as charged with passionate mysticism and I agree with that.
Victoria’s mass is divided into three choirs, each choir having its own little band. Our instruments were cornetti, lizards, sackbuts, recorders, a violin, curtals and bass viols. I suppose you could say a band about the same size as the famous Joe Loss band from the 1950s.
The chairs put out and the music given out, we were ready to go. Philip Thorby, our tutor for the day, displays an infectious passion for renaissance music, the theory bit and the practical, and infinite patience. He is highly driven, producing excellent results from us all in a very short time. Philip’s funny quips and his jokes all helped the medicine go down very well.
I know all of us enjoyed our day with Philip and I do hope our committee will ask him to come back soon. Many thanks are due to TVEMF and EEMF for fixing such a lovely day and to all the little helpers who provided the refreshments.
A Glorious Day in Epping
It was a glorious day. Both the sky and its reflection from the tarmac on the M25 were equally brilliant, the shadows beneath the trees in that part of Epping Forest as unfathomably dark as those beneath the cars that passed by, and patches of sunlight that had broken through the forest's canopy as dazzling as those mirrored from the proliferation of chrome and paintwork on the motorway - indeed, driving to the venue had been as hazardous as navigating one's way through music on any of Philip's playing-days. Even approaching the entrance to Epping Hall was disquietingly as though crossing a drawbridge: yet the building itself is pleasantly modern and well equipped. Once inside - having passed several exhibits that reveal a thriving rather than a feudal community - one descended to the hall itself: white walled, a pale wooden floor, and a corrugated metal ceiling so high that one is not aware of the building's ubiquitously exposed structure, nor of the heating viaduct suspended there like a prop from The Third Encounter. Despite a large curtained-off stage at one end and some cleverly designed stacked staged-seating at the other, the room still appeared spacious, and a large window along one side behind us gave ample light for our gradually diminishing eyesight. It was, I over-heard Philip saying at the end, a great space.
The potential for danger however came upon us even sooner than I had expected, for the day began with Philip giving us an exposition on time-signatures - the significance of which meant that the second choir's opening of the motet was going to be frighteningly fast. His subsequent announcement that we were going to miss out these first half-a-dozen bars - at least for the time being - seemed if anything only to increase the tension and, as the first choir began and I was able to look around at the incongruously varied collection of instruments, the day, as it so often does, seemed straight away doomed to failure. Yet, as these days also so often do, the music gradually came into focus. A treble recorder in the first choir playing what I took to be an alto line one octave higher than written blending beautifully with a violin and creating a descant to the music, and the distinctive tone of a lizard in the second choir sounding the most vocal of all the voices, made just two of the unexpectedly delightful combinations. But I was glad that Philip's propensity for excursions into a rudderless triple time were few and far between - those that there were being approached with the gentleness of a summer's day.
At lunchtime while some of us sought the sunshine - picnicking in the grassy moat –others sought the shade, while still others (myself included) went into town seeking a Starbucks or a Costa coffee house. On the way I passed a fete outside the village church where various home produce and craftwork was on sale, and there was an art exhibition too being held inside the church building. Walking in I was surprised to see, suspended across the rood screen, a large television screen where several of the community had gathered to watch Prince Harry get married - no doubt there was a village pub too where other members of the community would have watched Wembley winning the F.A. cup final. But meanwhile, back at the hall, the committee members had prepared a picnic lunch for themselves and Philip. It was all rather jolly - as jolly as had seemed the setting of the first part of the mass that we had tackled before lunch. With the words Laetatus sum still fresh in our minds, there could be no doubt, as Philip opined, that mercy was coming.
Perhaps the most exquisite moments of the day were those when the 12-part scoring was reduced. The section where just the cantus parts from all three choirs sang the Christe eleison was one such example; and another was a trio of high voices from Choir 1 singing a section in the Gloria. Similarly for one short section in the Credo - and producing a stunningly shimmering effect - Philip chose to have the instrumentalists drop out until the last four bars. In fact it was the first choir that was most often worked the hardest. Another section (also from the credo) involving only them was particularly beautiful; but it cost them the cake that the rest of us scoffed at tea-time - Philip's demands upon us making everyone extraordinarily hungry!
None of his demands upon us though can be more exacting than those he puts upon himself. In the final play-through, when so much of what one wanted to do passed by so quickly, one remembered only in retrospect because one noticed that Philip himself had not forgotten - his concentration invariably exceeding what we are able to achieve ourselves. There have been many outstanding musicians with whom, over the years and overseas as well as in Great Britain, I have enjoyed such days; but there is not one from whom I have learned more, nor from whom I have got more inspiration, than I have from Philip. We all of us in TVEMF should count ourselves extremely - and untypically - fortunate.
Wycombe Arts Festival
Although I've lived in High Wycombe for 25 years I have not really taken much note of the Wycombe Arts Festival but it is a very enterprising affair with a programme extending from April into early June - see www.wycombeartsfestival.org for details. This time I went to the splendid church of St Lawrence on the hilltop in West Wycombe to a programme of Spanish music and flamenco dance by the multinational group Mi Luna. This comprises a dancer, percussionist, two guitarists (baroque and flamenco) and Layil Barr on recorder and bass viol. The latter is a real virtuoso, playing divisions by Ortiz and much more on various recorders at break-neck speed. She even performed impressively on a double recorder which I thought might be a modern reconstruction of the Greek double aulos, but Wikipedia tells me this would have been a reed instrument.
I recognised the tunes which formed the basis of about six of the pieces in the concert, but this is fusion music with much improvisation and not for the purist - I've never heard a glissando on a viol before and didn't know it was even possible. The members of the group spoke about their instruments entertainingly and their enjoyment in performing was clearly shared by the audience.
There is much more in the festival, and I plan to go to the same church on Sunday 20th May to hear Victoria's 12-part Magnificat and Palestrina's Stabat Mater.
Baroque at Benslow
“You wait for years for a baroque masterpiece, and then two come along at once”. Such might have been the reaction of those who, having participated in the workshop earlier this year when we studied Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, were among the sixty-six who came to Benslow on 15 April for a day devoted almost entirely to one of Charpentier’s settings of the Te Deum. Of the sixty-six participants, fifty-two were singers, but some of the other fourteen who enlivened the day with their performance on “all the instruments of joy” (so described in Purcell’s “Come, come, ye sons of art”), joined the singers when not required to play. The instrumental accompaniment merits more detailed mention than is generally the case, since it was both more substantial and more varied than is normal at a forum event. Perhaps the terms ‘consort’ and ‘parley’ as collective terms for combinations of instruments have been appropriated to specific types of ensemble, but it may suffice to recount that the assembled instrumental forces (whatever their correct collective designation) consisted of natural trumpets and timpani, baroque strings and wind, with continuo supplied by baroque
bassoon, bass viol and theorbo. In the absence of wedding guests, there was no occasion for breast-beating at the sound of the loud bassoon.
For this venture we were fortunate to be directed by Julian Perkins, whose light but firm touch guided us expertly through the complexities of this work. In a short but effective warm-up we were directed to energise our voice production in a manner new to your reviewer; instead of preceding vowels by hard consonants (ga-ge-gi-go-gu being a stock example), fricatives and hirrients (‘strongly trilled sounds like those of a cat purring’ is the official definition) were the order of the day. As a further aid to precise performance (most notably at the opening of “Aeterna fac”) we were introduced to the concept of it being “tummy tap time”. None of these devices, so far as your reviewer can recall, were included in the introduction to Building Strong Voices Twelve Different Ways which we encountered at the Scarlatti workshop.
The following account of the official function of the Te Deum in the reign (1643-1715) of the Sun King is taken from the introduction to the Bärenreiter Urtext edition of this work (Helga Schauerte-Maubouet, translated by Steve Taylor)
“The hymn of praise and thanksgiving, whose performance was regulated by a royal decree in France, developed, as it were, into a royal emblem under the reign of Louis XIV. Its obligatory performance at all official ceremonies (military victories, peace accords, royal birthdays or baptisms) turned it to an extent into the symbol of the Kingdom of France”
Charpentier was not one of the official musicians of the royal chapel, but that did not deter him from contributing to the required adulation of the Sun King by way of six settings of the Te Deum, four of which survive. This one, which is actually in D major, though the score (from the Archiv der kreuznacher-diakonie-kantorei) from which we performed was set a tone lower, is (to quote the Introduction again)
“…the most festive in its grand and impressive instrumentation with trumpets and timpani”
but there is no evidence to suggest that (as was the case at our performance) one of the trumpeters had made his own instrument.
Manuscript evidence enables the work to be dated to the period 1688-98 when Charpentier was musical director of the Jesuit Church of St Louis in Paris, and it is thought to have been composed to mark the victory celebrations following Marshal Luxembourg’s defeat of a continental alliance headed by William III at Steinkerk in August 1692. Although Louis’ general won that battle, the war ended in 1696 on the unfavourable terms for France imposed by the Peace of Ryswick, and, as for Steinkerk, it is now remembered, if at all, mainly because it gave its name to a loosely tied form of cravat much affected by dandies of the early eighteenth century. Charpentier was a prolific composer of sacred music; the New Grove lists 439 sacred works of his, which include 207 motets. He appears to have aroused strongly conflicting views among his contemporaries; the New Grove states that:-
“His rich harmonic style was specially remarked on by his contemporaries, some with admiration (‘Neuvièmes et tritons brillèrent sous sa main’), some with distaste (‘Quels tristes accords échorchent nos oreilles’)
Although one question was raised at the workshop about the harmony –in Te per orbem at bar 315 of our score the three voice parts had G, F, A, with F in the continuo (the Bärenreiter score has a similar clash), it did not appear to your reviewer that any ears were being grazed by sad harmonies. To the contrary, Julian drew our attention to the halo effect at tibi Cherubim et Seraphim and the intimate moment in Tu ad liberandum.
In the score from which we sang, the flamboyantly martial prelude was followed by ten movements into which the twenty-nine verses of the Te Deum were divided. This differs from the Bärenreiter score, where, as the introduction states, the text is performed ‘in one go’. Apparently Charpentier did not wish it to be performed in sections; the introduction notes that there are several places in the score where he directed that it be played ‘without intermission’, and only three short breaks are specified, these being at the conclusions of Te Deum laudamus, Aeterna fac, and Fiat mihi. Whether performed continuously or in sections, a feature of the work is the manner in which the vocal forces are deployed to illustrate the text. Thus, the cherubim and seraphim are represented by the upper voices, and the basses do not appear in this section until incessabili voce proclamant and the ornamented Sanctus which follows. The celebration of having overcome the sharpness of death, in which the whole choir joins, abruptly terminates with the stark announcement by the basses of the eventual Judgment. After the invocations of aeterna fac and the intercessory dignare and fiat mihi the original score provides for un peu de silence au dernier couplet, allowing the choir to gather its resources for the concluding large-scale fugue (91 bars) In te dominus, speravi, with its repeated urgent demand never to be confounded.
Julian guided us expertly through these many changes of vocal mood and the requirements of ornamentation and pronunciation, with the result that we were able to produce a creditable performance of the entire work in the period after tea. There being some time still available, we were able to take a quick run through two choruses (SSATB) from Charpentier’s chamber opera, Les Arts Florissants; these were Amour de ciel and O paix si longtemps désirée. The work is scored for seven soloists, representing Music, Poetry, Painting, Architecture, Peace, Discord and A Warrior, and two choruses, in the form of a Troop of Warriors and a Chorus of Singing Furies. Apparently Dancing Furies could be added, if desired. According to Wikipedia, Charpentier himself sang the role of La Peinture (counter-tenor) at the first performance in 1685.
We are all greatly indebted to Julian for a most interesting and enjoyable day’s music-making, and also to David Fletcher, not merely for organising the event but for the immense amount of time and labour which he devoted to printing and arranging the music and without which we could not have had such a successful and rewarding day. Thanks are also due to the staff at Benslow who ministered to our creature comforts.
News of members’ activities
The League of Harmony (TVEMF member Rosemary Edwards, baroque cello, and Mike Parker, single action harp) will be giving a programme of 18th century sonatas and duos at the lovely Ayot St. Lawrence church, AL6 9BZ, north of St. Albans, on Saturday 14th July at 7.30pm.
Tickets, available at the door, are £10, including a glass of wine or a soft drink. Parking will be available at National Trust Shaw’s Corner, AL6 9BX, 5 minutes’ walk away. Please bring a torch, as the lane is unlit.
Opportunities to make music
Were you inspired by David Blackadder’s beautiful natural trumpet playing as the bride walked up the aisle on the royal wedding day? You can make your own long trumpet on a five-day course in Cambridge. For more information see their web site http://cambridgewoodwindmakers.org/info/courses/trumpet-making+102.html or email info @ cambridgewoodwindmakers.org.
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James Reed is looking for two tenors and one bass for the Western Norway Church Music Festival 2018 to sing early music (Weelkes, Tallis, Gibbons, Walmisley, Arcadelt, Nanino and more) from Thursday Aug 23 - Monday Aug 27. It might be possible to accommodate a spouse as an alto or soprano if travelling as a couple. You must be a strong singer used to singing in chamber choirs, and ideally with some experience of singing sacred/church music in a liturgical environment. Contact James Reed - JNMR84094 @ gmail.com
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The Madrigal and Motet group which meets under the auspices of the Hampstead Music Club would welcome more singers. Informal monthly daytime meetings in North London. They don't have a fixed day though at present they meet on Monday or Wednesday afternoon to fit in with people's commitments. But that could change. They meet in houses - Kentish Town or West Hampstead at present. Contact Ruth at: rfoxman999 @ gmail.com.
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Jane Bliss has been telling me about a harp session and workshop which meets on the first Monday of the month in James Street Tavern, Oxford OX4 1EU from 8-10pm. The session costs nothing (just a drink in the pub) and you can park cheaply behind Tesco on the other side of Cowley Road. It doesn’t need to be a regular commitment. At the sessions you can try out the following:
Learn and teach tunes by ear; practise ensemble playing; wide repertoire of folk and other music; how to harmonize, accompany, decorate, improvise; welcome and guidance for beginners; other compatible and/or complementing instruments welcome too!
For more information google “stephwest session” or go to http://oxfordharpsession.wix.com/oxfordharpsession. You can also email jane.bliss @ lmh.oxon.org or jblissj @ gmail.com or steph.west.harp @ gmail.com.