Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 229
At the AGM in December two new committee members were needed to replace long- standing members Don Gill and Neil Edington. Nick Pollock was elected on the day and Wendy Davies was co-opted soon afterwards. A warm welcome to them both, and another to all the new forum members who have just joined us. “The Glory of the Muses" workshop with Sally Dunkley and Philip Cave on January 21st in Oxford is fully booked for S A and B; any tenors still wanting to apply should ring or email Diana Porteus first. If you've booked and unexpectedly find yourself unable to come, PLEASE let Diana know as soon as possible as there are waiting lists. If planning to use the Thornhill Park-&-Ride, live travel signs on the A40 will warn you if by any chance the car park is full (in which case, head for a different Park-&- Ride). Our other January event, the renaissance day, still has room if you contact David Fletcher. I’m looking forward to going to it, and am hoping for a renaissance loud wind session and a medieval one, which will give me an opportunity to play my under- used medieval recorders and harp. The Waltham Abbey event, organised by EEMF this year, is accepting instrumentalists by invitation only but I’m planning to organise a workshop specifically for recorders with Philip Thorby during the year. There is information about a projected event involving viols on page 5, and someone has kindly offered to organise a separate viol playing day. If either of these would interest you, please let me know. We’re also thinking about a medieval workshop at some point. There is still no date for the Oxford baroque playing day so keep an eye on the TVEMF web site for news of this.
Finally, very many thanks to everyone who helped with our Christmas event.
In recognition of their long service in support of TVEMF two former committee members, Hazel Fenton (former Treasurer) and Chris Thorn (former Chairman) were made honorary life members some while ago. The Committee has now decided to give the same status to two other deserving members. Don Gill was on the Committee from the origin of TVEMF in 1988 until 2011 and was active in the early years, but had to care for his wife for a long while which precluded his attending our events. Although now in his 80s he has continued to handle all the business connected with the Charity Commissioners until now. Our President, Jeremy Montagu, was extremely helpful when TVEMF was starting up as at that time he was curator at the Bate Collection in Oxford and was able to get us free use of the hall at the Faculty of Music. He was most supportive, and as a former member of David Munrow's Early Music Consort his name as President carries a certain weight. He has only been to one event in the last 20 or so years, since tympanists are not often required in our music, but has paid his subscription regularly in spite of retiring from the Bate many years ago. I felt guilty every time I sent out a renewal notice to these two so I am very happy that they have been made honorary members. Our two pending events in January are proving popular. The workshop in Oxford is pretty full but there is just time to sign up for the Renaissance day in Burnham on the 29th. Our workshops with John Milsom and with Julian Perkins have been a great success in the past so I expect a good attendance at the forthcoming ones.
Proposed future event (no date yet)
Following the success of last year’s Gesualdo Workshop, Gerald Place is proposing another entitled: “I can’t believe it’s not Gesualdo” This will explore music by Gesualdo’s teacher Pomponio Nenna, fellow-Neapolitan Giovanni Trabaci and his rivals Alfonso Fontanelli and Luzzasco Luzzaschi. He also aims to include one of the recently-completed six-part Sacrae Cantiones by Gesualdo himself, as well as a couple of doubtful attributions. To involve more participants this time, he would like to have a chamber group of singers with viols.
There were many appreciative comments after the last event and we would like to make sure that this one doesn’t clash with anything, so it would be helpful if potential participants could send me a list of dates to avoid in 2012 (secretary @ tvemf.org). A madrigal by Nenna and one by Gesualdo can be heard and downloaded in Gerald’s own performances on www.englandshelicon.podbean.com.
The Art of Harmony
Many of us were very concerned when the V & A museum removed their musical instrument collection from display. Until March next year you can see an exhibition at the Horniman Museum. 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ, which brings together western musical instruments and archival material from the V & A and Horniman collections. See their web site www.horniman.ac.uk for more information.
I’ve never knowingly read a blog before, and I don’t think this one is typical! www.semibrevity.com is the Early Music Pioneers Archive and contains a lot of material - documents, photos, recordings etc - about the pioneers of the early music revival. It’s well worth a look.
Learn to sing online
I was looking for something on the BBC website the other day and found a whole area devoted to singing technique. You can find the BBC Learn to Sing step by step guides by typing in http://www.bbc.co.uk/sing/learning/
British Early Flute mailing list/group
This is a list for British based players of historical (pre-Boehm) flutes: renaissance, baroque, classical or romantic instruments. If you want to find playing opportunities or advertise a concert or course which might be of interest to other players in the British Isles, please post accordingly. If you would like to provide reviews of courses or concerts you've attended or provide links to useful early flute resources, feel free to do so. All levels of ability are welcome, from beginners to professionals.
This list is not intended to compete with the excellent "earlyflute" Yahoo group which is international in scope.
Access to message archives etc will be restricted to members only. If you are applying to join our group, let us know a little about the nature of your interest and background in early flutes. To keep out bots and spammers, generic membership requests, eg. 'I'd like to join your group', are rejected. Please type in the following link: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/british_early_flute/join
Robert Hillier (Group Owner and Moderator)
Hassler in Amersham
Under the inimitable direction of Michael Procter, 66 singers, 19 instrumentalists and eight versatile individuals who participated in both roles assembled in the Amersham Community Centre for a programme of polychoral music by Hans Leo Hassler. The Hassler family (Isaac and his three sons, Hans Leo, Kasper and Jakob) hailed from Nuremberg and were all musicians, though Hans Leo has by far the greatest reputation. After spending time in Venice, where he was a pupil of Andrea Gabrieli (whose nephew Giovanni was his fellow student) he moved to Augsburg as chamber organist to Octavian Fugger, a post he filled from 1586 to 1601. He returned to Nuremberg in 1602 as chief Kapellmeister of the town, where he was hailed as “Musicus inter Germanos sua aetate summus” (among the Germans, the most complete composer of his age). This adulation did not prevent him from renouncing his connections with Nuremberg and moving to Ulm, where he married into the mercantile bourgeoisie. Gustav Reese (Music in the Renaissance, Dent, 1954) says of him that he was probably the only Germanic composer of the period, other than Senfl, who could be ranked with the great Franco-Netherlanders of the 16th century.
Michael selected six items of widely differing nature for the programme; they varied from 10 to 18 parts and involved, variously, two, three and four choirs with different combinations of instruments. The instruments were of a number and variety far outweighing the somewhat mimsy collection to be found in King Jesus’ Garden or the more imposing array at the sound of which those present in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar were commanded to fall down and worship the golden image (Daniel iii, 7). They included cornets, sackbuts, viols, recorders, an “amazement” of curtals (I am indebted to Margaret Jackson-Roberts for this newly-minted collective noun), cello, organ, and a lizard. I collect from the Mediaeval Life and Times website that this instrument gets its name from its shallow S-shape which gives it the appearance of a legless lizard and that it was used by (among others) troubadours. The idea of expressing courtly love to one’s unattainable lady with the aid of a lizard is not one which your reviewer finds easy to accommodate.
Michael began by drawing attention to the fact that the so-called Christmas TVEMF event was actually taking place in Advent, for which he was liturgically garbed in a tie of the appropriate colour. However, with the exception of Congratulamini, which is liturgically for Eastertide, the programme was one of music for Christmas or for general use. We began with Cantate Domino a 13 and (it being late in the day owing to the complexity of the task of getting everyone into the right place, admirably organised though that was by David Fletcher and the music monitors with their dauntingly complex spreadsheets), the singers were spared the usual warm-ups, and Michael allowed the instrumentalists to proceed on the basis (attributed to Anthony Rooley) that “the tuning was good enough for early music”.
The next item was Coeli enarrant, another 13-part work. It is known that Hassler and Giovanni Gabrieli collaborated in the composition of a wedding motet for Georg Gruber, a wealthy Nuremberg merchant, in 1600. It was included in Gruber’s collection of motets in memory of the two composers, published in 1615 under the title Reliquiae sacrorum concentuum, and Michael surmised from the text, the last section of which reads “et ipse tamquam sponsus procedens de thalamo suo” (which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, Ps xix, 5), that Coeli enarrant might have been the motet in question. The pre-lunch session ended with Jubilate Deo a 15, another three-choir work which is a spectacular 117-bar setting of the well-known psalm text. In this piece Michael drew our attention to the individualistic nature of the sheep, as portrayed by the setting of the words “nos autem populus eius et oves pascuae” (for we are his people and the sheep of his pasture). Having appropriately entered into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise, we emerged exhilarated and ready for the bodily refreshment which had been admirably organised by Victoria Helby and contributed to on the usual basis.
Following the lengthy and convivial lunch-break, we returned to the fray with the 4-a 18. It was at this stage that Michael explained something that had been baffling many of us; if the four choirs were arranged from high to low, with choir 4 as the lowes , why was that choir called “Primus” ? The answer is that it sings first - simple when ou know how. Congatulamini is a piece which, apart from giving rise to what Michae described as “the curious incident of the sharp in the night” displays considerab rhythmic complexity as well as requiring the mind of a cryptographer to un erstand its structure, exemplified by the make-up of choir 4 (Primus) consisting from top to bottom) of A, 17, 18, 7 and B. It was something of a relief to return to th comparative simplicity of the three movements from the Missa sine nomine which f llowed and which, according to the description in the Edition Michael Procter, is, most unusually, in vocal clefs throughout”.
After some debate i was decided to attempt the last piece, Hodie Christus natus est, for two five-part ch rs (but very suitable for instrumental participation), before tea. With hindsight it mi ht have been better to have ended there, because the reprise of Congratulamini whi we attempted afterwards was not a great success. However, that minor blemish hould not be allowed to detract from the general satisfaction engendered by our exploration of the works of a master of polychoral writing. We are all indebted to Michael for yet another rewarding musical experience and no doubt many of us are looking forward to another feast of polychorality under his direction in June 2012, when the composer will be Giovanni Gabrieli. Warmest thanks must also go to David Fletcher and Victoria Helby for all that they did to make the day a success, and to the volunteers, too numerous to record, who helped with the various tasks, particularly the distribution of the music.
Handel: Alexander’s Feast
On November 24th in St James’s, Piccadilly, the Orlando Chamber Choir gave a spirited performance of Handel’s oratorio “Alexander’s Feast”, with their conductor, James Weeks (known to many of us as an excellent workshop tutor). This was James’ final concert with the choir as he is now based in Newcastle and it was an excellent and well-deserved send off. For the benefit of those (like myself) not familiar with the work, Alexander’s Feast was written in 1736 to a libretto adapted from an ode by Dryden. It describes a banquet held by Alexander and his mistress, Thais, in the captured city of Persepolis. During the feast the musician Timotheus sings and plays his lyre, unfortunately arousing such passion in Alexander that he goes off and burns down the city in revenge for his dead Greek soldiers.
Rather incongruously the tale then brings in Saint Cecilia and her (erroneously credited) invention of the organ. So all ends happily with the final chorus singing: “And may this evening ever prove sacred to harmony and love”. The words, as often with Handel’s oratorios, are somewhat banal and reminiscent of pantomime (OK, maybe that’s a bit strong, but try this: “War, he sung, is toil and trouble, Honour but an empty bubble”) but the superb quality of the performance outweighed this slight defect. The choir were on very good form and were supported by the Brook Street Band augmented by trumpet and theorbo (representing the lyre) and three brilliant soloists: soprano Elizabeth Weisberg, tenor Nicholas Mulroy and bass Jimmy Holliday.
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music: 5
Many of the plucked instruments are most easily played sitting, so that’s where I’ll begin. Lute is popular with early music performers, so that is the instrument I’ll refer to, but there are also guitars, citterns, theorbos and mandolins etc. All share the same challenges: holding the instrument well and comfortably in a way which allows the arms, fingers and hands the freedom to move on the instrument while still supporting it securely.
The first thing is to be sure that you are sitting squarely on your sitting bones. If you’re not sure, trying sticking your hands under your buttocks. The sitting bones are shaped like the rockers of a rocking chair. If you’re still not sure, try rocking back and forth. Sit close enough to the front edge that there is no pressure on your thighs, and of course the thighs should be parallel to the floor to support the instrument. Your feet should be flat on the floor. If you use a foot rest, watch what it does to your balance by noticing whether the pressure on the sitting bones stays the same or if there’s a shift, probably onto the right sitting bone, if you are right-handed. While we’re meant to move in and out of balance, holding one position where some muscles are tense and others are slack leads to a habitually fixed position: even though the problem is with balance and the sitting bones, holding the posture affects the shoulders, and that affects arms, hands and Î most important Î fingers.
When you hold the instrument, you may notice a slight natural rotation to the left. If you think of this as the shoulders rotating, it can lead to the same limitations as I was talking about above, for the same reasons: the imbalance of the weight on the sitting bones. Think instead of the rotation coming from further down, from the sitting bones themselves.
As with wind and string instruments, you want to support the lute, not hold it. If it seems that it is going to slip from your lap, why not try a small piece of the plastic non-skid you can get to go under carpets? Much better than tensing and holding. When I asked Jacob for his comments on the article, he said, “With the renaissance lute, the big problem is getting the instrument high enough. If we sit in a normal- height chair with the thighs parallel to the floor, the lute is simply too low. Either we raise one or both legs (effectively raising the lap), sit on a very low chair or stool, or (better) use a strap to bring the lute up off the lap. If we do the latter, then it suddenly becomes possible to play standing up, as we no longer depend on the lap to support the instrument at all. I do all my recitals standing up these days. I certainly recommend a non-slip piece of rubber or leather behind the lute in this case.”
One way that performers keep the lute from slipping away, it seems to me, is by wrapping themselves around it. This has a number of effects, including hampering breathing, but also it means that the shoulders slump forward, as does the head. The result: neck ache and upper back pain. The one right between the shoulder blades. The arms are part of the back. Once you’ve found your sitting bones, it becomes possible to think of letting the shoulders widen. Lifting the left shoulder to raise the neck of the instrument only creates unnecessary effort. Try thinking of the support for lifting the instrument as coming from the lower back, the top of the pelvis, since this is in fact where the large lifting muscles originate. What I said in the strings article applies here as well: think of the arms creating a big circle from the shoulder sockets. As I also suggested for cellists, swing the arms lightly in an arc (carefully, so the instrument doesn’t get displaced), allowing the hand to fall naturally onto the strings at the top of the arc. This should help with the problem of tense fingers: the ideal is to use the optimal finger position and pressure to get a beautiful sound; anything more is wasted effort.
Jacob Heringman is a lutenist who also studied as an Alexander Technique teacher. Having watched him perform, I can attest to the fact that he moves as he needs to and no more, the music flowing from under his fingers. This facility and appropriate effort is crucial to the performance of Early Music ornamentation. The ornaments, especially in French music, need to be nonchalantly elegant and graceful. That can only be achieved if the performer is in balance him or herself, as well as being in balance with the instrument.
This is the final article in the series on Alexander Technique and playing early instruments. It’s led me to think about my own playing, and about the variety of postural issues, especially as amateurs, of playing all the instrument families. There are some elements we all share, no matter what instrument we play, including singers: being in balance means that we don’t waste effort in unnecessary tension holding ourselves in position; the position of the head and neck are central to finding this balance whether we’re standing or sitting, and you can find the balance not by working harder, but by releasing and working less.
I hope you enjoy all the TVEMF workshops as much as I do, and that they give you the chance to put some of my suggestions to the test.
NEMA's Early Music Yearbook & Performers' Directory, 2012
The National Early Music Association's 2012 Yearbook arrived in November. As ever, it's very well put together Î the Editorial Team does a splendid job, year on year; and (again, as ever) most of the publication is devoted to the 'Directory' section, which covers a wide range of information and contacts, plus an Instrument Buyers' Guide and a Register of Early Music Î invaluable, if you want to contact fellow-players of the fretted blasthorn (remember that one?) But the bit which changes every year is the Editorial Section, and this year's selection offers us plenty of variety.
As is customary, it leads off with an article or two about composers who have special anniversaries in 2012. In recent years, Peter Holman has been guiding us through the so-called 'generation of 1710', dealing, in successive years, with Avison, Arne and Boyce. In 2012, it's John Stanley (1712-1786), the blind organist and composer. There's a very useful listing of practical and scholarly editions, mostly of Stanley's excellent instrumental music; it's clear, though, that there are a number of vocal works still awaiting good modern editions.
A number of important Renaissance composers have anniversaries in the coming year (Hans Leo Hassler, De Sermisy and Sweelinck among them), but the 'biggie' is, of course, Giovanni Gabrieli, and we get excellent articles about him from Clifford Bartlett (a general survey of the available editions) and Martin Morell (a review of Gabrieli's madrigals Î the part of his output least known to most of us).
Julia Craig-McFeely is an expert in the archive-quality imaging of documents, and she writes about DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music). This important resource, linked to the University of Oxford, makes available to viewers a huge number of important manuscripts from across Europe Î go to www.diamm.co.uk for all the details.
John Irving writes about The Institute of Musical Research in the University of London. Sounds a bit dry? Î not, actually, if you're into 18c performance practice Î lots of information here about the new research centre called DeNOTE, which aims to bring performers and academics in this field together.
Lindsay Kemp is a highly experienced contributor, reviewing the performances at this year's York Early Music International Young Artists' Competition. Rather a lot of 'damning with faint praise', I thought, though he clearly enjoyed the ultimate winners, 'Profeta della Quinta' Î an all-male five-part ensemble who sang madrigals by Cipriano de Rore and Hebrew items by Salamone Rossi. Watch out for them!
Helen Wallace writes about music at Kings Place Î London's newest concert venue Î and keyboard players will enjoy Pamela Nash on the British Harpsichord Society. Anyone involved in running an Early Music Festival needs to read Clare Norburn on the remarkably successful example at Brighton. Many 'EMF' members go to the annual Summer Courses at Beauchamp House, near Gloucester Î they will certainly enjoy Alan Lumsden's detailed report.
MEMF's Chairman, Edwin Griggs, was invited to write a report for this issue on the Forum's history and work, and he's done an excellent job Î no 'puffs' there, but an objective appraisal of 'where we're at' now. He makes no secret of the fact that Î for as long as any of us can remember Î a large majority of our membership seems to take no active part in the Forum's activities. One can only assume that these folk feel that the stuff they receive from MEMF by post justifies the cost of their subscription. The Midland area features in the final article, too Î Mark Windisch describing some instrument collections, majoring on the important one held by Birmingham Conservatoire Î excellently looked after by Martin Perkins.
All very recommendable, and if you're a NEMA member already you'll have received it direct Î NEMA's website is: www.nema-uk.org or you could try e-mailing enq1610 @ nema-uk.org.
Thanks to Beresford and the MEMF newsletter for permission to reproduce this article.
Handel's Amanuensis John Christopher Smith (1712-1795)
Julian Perkins, our tutor in March, is looking for subscribers to his recording of Six Suites of Lessons for the Harpsichord (London, 1755) which will be released on the Avie label this year. For more information visit www.julianperkins.com.