Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 227
I’d been hoping to have news about the Greenwich exhibition and next year’s Waltham Abbey date by now, but as they haven’t appeared please keep an eye on the web site. I hope we’ll be able to send round an email update later.
Both event forms are to be sent to me this time, so please make sure that you write separate cheques for each one. It was too soon to include train information on the Christmas form. If there are any planned works on the line I’ll mention it and the alternative route in the November Tamesis. As usual I’d like to put in a plea for continuo players (keyboard, cello, gamba, bassoon etc) and oboes for the baroque day. If you’ve been before you’ll be familiar with the form, which I’ve hardly changed at all. If not, please read it carefully!
I don’t usually mention concerts in my editorial, but I was delighted to see that the Little Missenden Festival has three this year which could be of interest to TVEMF members. Trinity Baroque is a six-person one-to-a-part vocal ensemble which includes Jennie Cassidy, well-known to many of us not just as a professional singer but also from the Beauchamp House renaissance course and for her amazing cooking skills at the EEMF Epiphany party. They will be performing the Victoria Requiem, subject of the latest TVEMF workshop (reviewed twice in this issue) and motets, chants and songs by his contemporaries Guerrero, Morales, del Enzina and Penalosa, on Friday 14th October by candlelight. The following day there is a recorder consort Consortium5 at 11.30 in the morning. You can then have lunch in one of the two pubs in the village and explore this beautiful area before the concert by The Division Lobby in the Evening. Their programme of improvisation based on 17th century techniques promises to be really exciting and their director Paula Chateauneuf will explain and demonstrate their approach to improvising during the concert. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards. Little Missenden is about two miles from Great Missenden and three from Amersham so you’ll need to get a taxi from the station if you don’t come by car.
Having just been to Monteconero in May, I had a nasty moment, retrospectively, when I was renewing my annual travel insurance policy and checked that it covered music summer schools. I was told it didn’t! I subsequently wrote and explained that a music summer school is really an activity holiday, with singing or playing instead of walking or cooking, for example, and they changed their minds and said it was covered after all. Mine is with Saga, but it might be a good idea to check your own policy before you go if it’s with them or a different company.
Thanks to all the contributors to this issue. I was hoping for some summer school reviews, so perhaps next time?
The TVEMF AGM, which is usually quite a short one, will be held immediately after the Christmas workshop on Sunday 4th December at about 5.15pm. Please send your ideas or apologies for absence to me as secretary @ tvemf.org.
I don't imagine that Tomás Luis de Victoria would have expecting anyone to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death but it proved a very popular event. The Requiem is very beautiful and, like the rest of Victoria's music, very singable. David Allinson was on good form, so of course it was a hugely enjoyable day. Michael and Mary Reynor's organisation guaranteed smooth running, and Mary's home-made cake was a delicious bonus.
The fact that we have two events within a fortnight doesn't seem to have deterred people and I expect about 50 for the workshop with David Hatcher this weekend. I have accepted late entrants and cancellations but it would be nice if people could try to make up their minds at least a week before the event, preferably sooner. It's particularly important when music has to be hired but supplying music by whatever means requires time. I'm reluctant to impose extra charges for late applications but don't tempt me!
Lots of good events coming up so get those applications in early.
Victoria Requiem workshop with David Allinson
On August 27th, the TVEMF season got off to a fast start with an oversubscribed workshop at St Barnabas Church in Ealing. 65 singers worked on and reached reasonable command of the 6-part Officium Defunctorum, or requiem service by Tomas Luis de Victoria, advertised as “Requiem for Victoria”, but described in the literature as being for the deceased empress Maria, not for Victoria himself. The August 27th date is believed by many to have coincided with the date of Victoria’s, which made it appropriate enough for us.
Organiser Michael Reynor took pains to balance the forces, even to assuring that second sopranos, whose line contains the long notes of the chant most of the time, were switched with firsts for half of the sections. St. Barnabas is a big, high-arched space, which promised good acoustics, but it took some shifting around of the seating to get the best out of it. We tried it in the Nave, we tried it in rows, then in blocked sections, finally in the chancel in mixed-up formation. Opinions were divided as to which worked best- I liked the mixed formation. And after lunch there was an audible relaxation of acuity, which director Allinson was prepared for by making us stand up more often.
Director David Allinson delivered his usual energetic and athletic approach to working with the group, many of whom had been attracted by his presence. He had the good fortune of all sections being competent, and worked on each part of the music in detail three voices at a time, then standing, then mixed. This frequent and intense repetition is one of the hallmarks of Allinson’s technique, which assures familiarity with the notes, entrances and dynamics for all the parts. He restrained his academic explanations and revelations to a minimum, giving us just enough to show us how much more there is around and behind this music, which we were welcome to pursue on our own. Less talking meant more singing for us, which we appreciated.
I always listen for quality pianissimos as my measure of quality and excellence in a choral event, performance, or workshop. David Allinson managed to bring us down to a few of these. His one-liners (see below) kept us amused, as did his attention to pitch and the importance of pronunciation, two aspects often neglected in one-day workshops. Only one thing - those of us who looked at him a lot were disappointed with his habit of ending section “performances”, especially those ending quietly, by looking down at the score rather than encouragingly at the singers. A selection of Allinson one-liners:
“The Versa est in Luctum (the last part of the Office) is one of the great utterances of Renaissance motets.”
“Make that line come out like a long succulent bit of linguine, which is appropriate because Victoria was in Rome at the time.”
“The ending of that bit should leave an impression like a streak in the sky after the jet plane has passed.”
“You aren’t seeing enough of the horizon in that phrase” (possibly referring to his observation of all the noses buried in the scores, a scene directors always observe and try to talk us out of)
“You lower voices should make the music here sound like a swan swimming, with all the paddling going on below the water line.”
Obsequies in Ealing
Once upon a time, the parishioners of Ealing’s newly developed Brentham Garden Suburb worshipped in a corrugated iron hut in Pitshanger Lane. Now, the impressive St Barnabas Church, designed by Ernest Shearman, and consecrated in 1916, provides a place of worship with its roots in the liberal catholic tradition as it towers over the modest terraces of the suburb like a Spanish galleon among a crowd of fishing smacks,. The simile is not so fanciful as it might seem, since one of the most remarkable features of its design is the “Noah’s Ark” roof; and among the many other noteworthy features of its design and decoration is a picture of the Holy Trinity (attributed to Pedro Machuca), in which God the Father is depicted with a triangular halo; this, according to Gillean Craig, a former member of the clergy, is “an interesting way of confirming the theology of the Holy Trinity”. Altogether, an admirable setting for the music that was to be performed.
This event was possibly one of the most over-subscribed in the history of TVEMF (though your reviewer, a mere newcomer with but 14 years’ membership of TVEMF, stands to be corrected on this point). Sixty-six singers took part and at least another thirty applied unsuccessfully. Clearly the combination of Victoria’s beautiful Officium Defunctorum (composed for the obsequies of the Dowager Empress Maria, widow of the Emperor Maximilian II, and performed on April 22/23, 1603) and David Allinson’s inimitable and expert direction provided an opportunity not to be missed. Not only was the setting highly appropriate but, felicitously, the event took place on August 27th ,the date being, in David’s view of the available evidence, the exact 400th anniversary of Victoria’s death.
Much praise has been lavished on this work. Bruno Turner, in his introduction to the Mapa Mundi edition from which we sang, described it as glowing ”with an extraordinary fervour within a musical atmosphere of serenity and fitness for liturgical purpose”. Perhaps, as Allan Atlas surmises in Renaissance Music (Norton, 1998), that liturgical fitness was a manifestation of the effect of the Counter-Reformation and the decrees of the Council of Trent which “although they seemed on the surface to limit artistic expression, were intended to bring music and the faithful close to one another”; and he describes it,, together with two other masterpieces (Lassus’ Lagrime and Palestrina’s Song of Songs as “among some of the most beautiful and sensual music ever written”, with special praise for the poignancy of Versa est in luctum, the structure of which he perceives as progressing from “the hushed, almost mysterious paired imitation at the opening, through the agony at ‘nihil enim sunt dies mei’ to the sense of quiet acceptance at the end”.
More generally, in his own exposition of what makes Victoria’s music special, David drew our attention to the paraphrasing of chant, the breaking out of the modal structure and the way in which the music progresses not only horizontally along the line but vertically, in its harmonic structure.
The actual singing involved quite a lot of experimentation with the distribution of voices. The initial configuration with tenors and basses at the ends with the upper voices in the middle seemed to cause some difficulty in hearing all the parts, but the reshuffle after lunch with the lower voices in the middle was, perhaps, not a great improvement. There was a rather greater amount of scrambled singing than usual, and many, though not all of us found this more satisfactory as we were singing out into the body of the church and also, better able to hear the other parts around us. But whatever difficulties individuals may have encountered, there can be no doubt that this was a greatly rewarding, if challenging event, directed by David with all the erudition and good humour that we have come to expect. The warm-ups were less eccentric and the gastronomic and other similes perhaps more restrained then we have experienced in the past, though the reaction to the stolen cheesecake and the hissing of the angry librarian may come to take a permanent place in the warm-up repertoire.
Mention of cheesecake provides a neat segue into our thanks to Mary Reynor for yet another coruscating display of the cake-maker’s art, to Michael for organising the event, and to David for guiding us through one of the finest works of Renaissance liturgical music.
Letter from Leipzig (plus Anhang from Arnstadt!)
I've just spent a couple of days in Arnstadt where I visited the Schlossmuseum. Besides paintings by a local artist there is a sizeable "Bach in Arnstadt" exhibition, a Lapidary Museum (statues and monuments, not gemstones), a charming Fire Brigade Museum with leather buckets and pre-Amish fire-engines , over one thousand pieces of porcelain (both original Chinese/Japanese vases and local Meissen Chinoiserie - I presume everyone knows the story of the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger and the "invention" of Meissen ), Baroque drinking glasses, tapestries, some rather dark paintings by unfamiliar or anonymous artists and -the coup de theatre (almost literally), Princess Augusta Dorothea von Schwarzburg-Arnstadt (1666-1751)'s collection of eighty doll's houses, with over four hundred figures! The Princess's seamstresses must have worked overtime to clothe all the figures. One particular group- a timpanist and two horn-players who resemble Brian-The-Snail from The Magic Roundabout - are placed rather delightfully in among the serious exhibits in one of the Bach rooms. Renate and I spent several hours in the Schlossmuseum, only leaving because of hunger.
Consulting the Internet for the spelling of Böttger I found myself drawn to Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Galleries, where I looked at John Petties' chocolate box kitsch "Two Strings To Her Beau" - one of the beaux is Hamish "Land of the Mountain and the Flood" McCunn - I then saw details of a new book "The Kelvingrove Organ" (John Hunter). With accompanying CD it looks like a good Christmas present.
Back in Leipzig I enjoyed visiting the department store Karstadt where the basement fountain produces a "splosh-et-lumiere" effect every hour, sending a jet 27 metres high -alas, no Respighi, Szymanowski or Alyabyev (The Fountain of Bakhchisarai - a staple of the Marinsky Ballet - don’t pretend you didn’t know it), though if any TVEMF member were to submit a suitable theme...Karstadt appreciates music. (As the tills close they play Andrea Bocelli/Katherine Jenkins singing "Time to Say Goodbye"- a rare example of East German kitsch, and so much pleasanter than the Victoria Wood alternative!)
P.S. Good news for lovers of Bach/Handel - Ryanair plan to introduce Stansted-Halle flights in November this year.