Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 251
I hope you all had a lovely musical summer, as I did. I went to the Beauchamp renaissance week (reviewed by Robert Johnson below) and the Ardingly baroque week, and really enjoyed them both. I hope there will be a review of Ardingly in the next issue.
Hugh Rosenbaum tells me that Emma Murphy’s Venetian workshop in October is full. If you have managed to get a place I’d recommend taking a small torch in case you find yourself in a dark corner as I did last time I was there for a workshop, but with luck they will have replaced the missing bulbs by now. Nicola Wilson-Smith still has room for another tenor and a couple of altos and high sopranos at the Sheppard workshop. If you’re going to this one, please check that you paid the correct amount as we’re having to charge slightly more for it.
There are forms for the November 8th baroque chamber music day and the Christmas event in this mailing. They both come to me but please be sure to use two separate cheques. The baroque day has been moved to Sunday to avoid sharing the building with the children’s Saturday school. It was great to have so many singers at Ardingly this year and more would be welcome at the baroque day too as instrumentalists love to play obbligato parts with singers (though you must be able to hold a part on your own and be a good sight-reader). I hope the day doesn’t clash with any orchestra concerts so that we can have a good number of strings and do some Brandenburg concertos and other larger works. I’ve recently acquired the orchestral parts for Handel’s Messiah which some people might like to dip into. Singers please bring a score if that appeals to you.
And finally, many congratulations to David Butler and Vivien Price who got married in August.
The National Early Music Association has been digitising back-numbers of its Early Music Performer journal and they are now available for download at www.earlymusic.info/Performer.php. Because they are mostly scans they are quite bulky and some have been split into sections to keep file size down. Optical character recognition has been used to capture the text and although pretty good, there are some errors – for example Anthony Rowland-Jones has come out as Rouiland-Fones in one place. There are some excellent articles and I particularly recommend an article on viol sizes in issue 16 by the late John Catch, a TVEMF member for many years.
On the subject of Internet resources I should mention that there are a number of Facebook groups relevant to early music. Firstly of course there is the TVEMF group www.facebook.com/groups/167039029092/ but there is the Early Music group
www.facebook.com/groups/2204637648/, the Early Music Events group
www.facebook.com/groups/early.music.events.uk/ and my favourite, the Cornetto - Zink - Cornet à bouquin group www.facebook.com/groups/711332708925479/, which has links to some fine music, not just for cornett.
I'm not really a Facebook enthusiast and getting notification of pictures and videos posted by my friend Wayne, who is playing and singing with Philip Thorby in Venice as I write this, is an exquisite form of torture. Still we can all enjoy the sounds of Venice on October 10th at the TVEMF workshop with Emma Murphy and on September 26th we can sample the very different sound world of John Sheppard, born some 500 years ago.
Letter to the Editor
Dear Ms. Helby,
Might I suggest there may be a good number of our fellow early music enthusiasts who would enjoy listening to the Early Music (Oude Muziek) stream on the internet, from the website www.concertzender.nl. The site furnishes early music 24-hours-per-day, without any advertisements, featuring consistently excellent performances, in their entirety, often of obscure and intriguing compositions and composers.
The website offers 7 broad categories of music. “Early Music” is subdivided (somewhat confusingly) into “Early Music” (generally, 1400-1780 or so), “Gregorian Chant”, and “Bach Ad Infinitum.” I expect many listeners will be as surprised as I am at the number of outstanding recordings with cornetto! The brilliant chief programmer, though not I believe ever a presenter, is Irene Stolp.
It is a mystery to me how broadcasts of this excellence can survive with no visible means of support. We should enjoy it while we can.
TVEMF Member, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Sunday 6th December 2015 at 5.15 approx.
(after the Christmas workshop in Amersham)
1. Apologies for absence
2. Approval of the minutes of last meeting
3. Chairman's report
4. Secretary's report
5. Treasurer's report
6. Election of officers and committee
7. Any other business
Spanish Vespers, Peter Syrus
Around 40 of us gathered on 11 July at Ickenham United Reformed Church to sing and play music by Victoria, Velasco, Guerrero and Vivanco. At the start of the day, Peter gave participants a helpful handout he had prepared beforehand which provided some background on the works we were about to sing and play.
We were promised a musical feast for the day of double-choir psalm settings by Guerrero and Velasco, simple hymns by Victoria, a Magnificat by Vivanco, instrumental processionals and plainchant antiphons – a ‘Salve Regina’ by Padilla. A lot to cover in a single day and as it turned out we ran out of time to cover everything.
We divided into two choirs, each comprising singers and an assortment of instruments, including cornets, sackbuts and recorders and, for one piece, shawms. I was apprehensive about the latter as I consider them strictly outdoor instruments, but I needn't have been, as on this occasion they were unobtrusive, or quiet even.
Achieving a balance between voices and instruments and the two choirs proved trickier than usual, largely because of a shortage of sopranos (a first for TVEMF?!) and the relatively high tessitura of some of the pieces.
In practice, there was no time to sing more than one Victoria hymn, which was far from simple, but very beautiful, as I think Victoria's music generally is, and I would have liked to have sung another.
The highlight of the day for me was Vivanco's Magnificat. I sang this with my choir in June and so was very much looking forward to singing it again as the piece contains unusual but sumptuous harmonies which makes it harder to sing than it appears to be but worth the effort.
I like Peter's approach of explaining the pieces we are singing, the context in which they were composed and performed, and how to approach them. However, as well as a better balance of instruments and players, the day would have benefited from some singers paying more attention to our conductor.
Thanks to Peter and Jeff for the opportunity to sing and play this magnificent repertoire which I hope we can revisit again soon.
Selene Webb (Mills) memorial service in Cambridge
On Sunday July 19 I was privileged, with other members of TVEMF, to take part in the concert in memory of Selene Mills, who died a year ago. It was organised by her husband Nick Webb, and all the profits went to Cambridge Early Music, the foundation of which was her great achievement.
The Fairhaven Singers performed music by the contemporary composer Carl Rütti, one piece being a specially commissioned work in Selene's memory: Lighten our Darkness. Also taking part were members of the Intrepid Academy and Philomel, who played music by Frescobaldi and Caccini. The Parley of Instruments chose two "short but intense expressions of grief" by composers who were among Selene's favourites - Monteverdi and Bach, ending with the moving Sinfonia from Cantata 12 - "Weinen, Klagen, Zorgen, Zagen".
It was a great honour that the former members of the Hilliard Ensemble came together to remember Selene. They sang three 12th century hymns of St Godric, and then, superbly and very movingly, the first part of Tallis' Lamentations.
Trinity College Chapel was perhaps half filled with performers, but it seemed that the audience took up the entire remaining space, spilling over into the antechapel too.
The second half of the concert was taken up with a performance of Handel's Dixit Dominus, one of Selene's favourite works. Philip Thorby was the inspiring conductor - we had rehearsed with him all the afternoon, and caught some of his fervour. The orchestra, composed of professional players, was of the highest calibre, and the young soloists were brilliant.
These words by Selene were printed in Tamesis after her death, but are equally relevant to this wonderful concert in her memory -
"There is no more precious gift than making music together, and I have based my life's work on this principle."
John Playford Weekend
Benslow Music, Hitchin, August, 2015
I had forgotten how scary it can be to go on a new course where you don`t know anyone. Scary but good, good to meet new people and try out new disciplines. I’ve always liked the Playford tunes, we often play them at community events – between scenes in Shakespeare productions or as background music for local arts exhibitions. The idea of playing them for 2 and a half days at Benslow Music was rather daunting, I thought I’d be bored. How wrong I was.
Tutors were Paul Hutchinson and Karen Wimhurst, both well known in the folk world, courses at Halsway Manor, Cecil Sharp House and in many folk festivals in the UK and abroad.
There were nine of us on the course, playing a multitude and a variety of instruments – from racket to saxophone with recorder, flute, violin, clarinet, Northumberland pipes, melodeon, accordion in between.
We started by playing the basic tunes, then how to make them more danceable by using articulation, phrasing, dynamics. We moved on to using the tune as a template on which to improvise. We could use the root of the chord sustained, play the root and change the rhythm, play through the triad, use two notes of the chord but where in the bar. Add to this the different textures created by the instruments and you could see how not boring it was when we moved into small groups to make arrangements.
Val Campion, TVEMF member, Trustee of Benslow and local resident, arranged for local dancers to come in on Sunday so that we could play for them, both tutti and in small groups. A great time was had by all.
Greenwich Early Music Festival and Exhibition
12th to 14th November
Another year has gone round and it’s time to recruit volunteers to help on the forum stand at Greenwich. The Early Music Shop are still going to give us free passes for you but they need to have the names for them by mid-October, so please could you decide as soon as possible if you will be able to help. They don’t need to know who is helping on which day, but although I won’t be drawing up a rota until much nearer the event it would still be helpful for me to know when you’re available as soon as you know yourself. The major concerts are listed in Tamesis and there is more information on their web site www.earlymusicfestival.com. We shall need a lot of volunteers to cover the three days but it’s always an enjoyable occasion, with a chance to go to lots of concerts, demonstrations and masterclasses, try out instruments and meet your friends. Please email me (Victoria) at secretary @ tvemf.org with a range of times when you can help.
Beauchamp Early Music Week 2015
26 July – 1 August
For the second year running, the course formerly known as ‘Beauchamp’ met at Dene Magna School in Mitcheldean under the auspices of Gloucester Academy of Music who had taken it over some time ago before Alan Lumsden’s retirement. About forty participants assembled for another residential week of polychoral music-making, among them many of the usual suspects including a visitor from the United States and one from the Netherlands. As always, there were several tents and camper vans dotted about, taking advantage of the pretty Forest of Dean surroundings and the blissful tranquillity of the rural site, although the weather was less than summery. Jo and her staff were on hand in the kitchen to provide us with three delicious meals a day throughout the week in the school hall, the classrooms in the mathematics block were available for smaller groups, and we had access to the comfortable armchairs in the staff room for those who, like me, felt the need for an afternoon rest. Even the noises of a tree and a wall being removed and new asphalt being laid outside the building didn’t disturb our rehearsal arrangements. The first piece of news we heard was that two of our friends Vivien and David had become engaged as a result of meeting on the course previously and their marriage was to take place shortly!
This year the course title was ‘The Three Marys’: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the wife of Clopas, who stood at the foot of the Cross. This theme has inspired countless masterpieces from 16th and 17th century composers, and Philip Thorby and David Hatcher had selected some large-scale works by composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Merulo, Naldi, Padovano, Senfl, Lassus and Bassano, who was perhaps the ‘find’ of the week with his settings of Ave regina caelorum and Sancta et immaculata virginitas. In addition to the massed forces required for these works, unaccompanied choral pieces such as the extended Maria Magdalene by Andrea Gabrieli and a few instrumental pieces by such as Uccellini, Schütz and Willaert were prepared. The relevant parts of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 also featured.
As before, a flipchart appeared several times a day with the name of the next pieces to be studied and a list of who plays (or sings) which part. The efficiency of this process was evident, and it wasn’t long before I spotted my name put down to sing a part doubled by an instrument in one of the choirs, which involves counting through long rests, coping with sudden changes of metre and finding the next pitch from the context. It is challenging to hold one’s own against the solidarity of the sackbuts, the comradeship of the cornetts and the community of the curtals. One could only marvel at the ability of the tutors to progress a rehearsal even though the standard of the singers was not always equal to that of the seasoned instrumentalists. Some firmer tone from the sopranos and a few additional men’s voices would have been desirable. Students are welcome to join the course, and can take advantages of the bursaries offered.
Once again it had been decided that there would be no concert at the end of the course. At various points the groups came together in the hall to present to the assembled company the music they had just been rehearsing. This avoids the need to pack up instruments and stands and transport them elsewhere, as well as saving time and maintaining the continuity of the week.
We stand in awe of Philip and David for their provision of a constant stream of highly enjoyable and interesting music to play and sing, and their hard-driven rehearsal technique which ensures that each person present feels drawn deeply into this gorgeous sound-world. Philip in particular spent much time in explaining on a bar-by-bar basis why he thinks these works are so fine and why he admires their composers so much.
We also thank organiser Anne Ingram from GAM and her new assistant Jane who attended all week, nor must we forget Steve Hornung who provided the informal bar. Next year’s course dates are 24th to 30th July, with substantial discount for booking before the end of January, so start getting your sight-reading up to scratch now!
This article first appeared in the EEMF newsletter which Robert edits.