Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 248
This is a really long edition this month, and I was delighted that the enjoyable workshop with Patrick Allies in January inspired two people to write about it, in quite different ways. If you were there you will know that there were problems with cars being boxed in in the car park. I don’t think any of this was our fault but on future occasions if you are in a venue car park please could you put a slip of paper with “TVEMF” on your dashboard.
I’d like to take this opportunity to raise the subject of who does what. First of all, the catering at workshops. David Fletcher keeps the urn and other equipment at home and usually brings the coffee, cakes, milk etc. It isn’t his job, though, to keep the urn filled with water, cut up the cake etc. Please take your turn if you see something that needs to be done. In general you are brilliant at this but I do get the impression that some people are a lot more helpful than others.
Then Tamesis. I’m the editor and I also write anything that isn’t attributed to someone else. David Fletcher deals with inserts and puts the listings on the website after I’ve put them into Tamesis. Please address your contributions to me (tamesis @ tvemf.org) and remember that if you want your event on the website you need to send it to me in time for the Tamesis copy date (first Monday of odd-numbered months). It takes me ages to do all the listings. This time I had to deal with PDFs with contact details hidden in diagonal text so that I couldn’t pick it up, and brightly coloured emails full of pictures and complicated formatting, all of which I had to remove. Please type out your info either in a simple email or in a Word document so that it won’t take quite so long next time.
Part of the reason it took so long was the sheer quantity of information I was sent, both for the main body of Tamesis and for the listings. Don’t get the impression that I’m not happy to receive it. It’s wonderful how much there is going on now. I remember when I first moved to London after I left university I tried to go to every single early music concert that there was – certainly not more than one a month!
We have some interesting events coming up. I believe that the John Milsom day is full but there is still time to book for the baroque chamber music playing day in Oxford. I always look forward to Peter Collier’s turn to run it when I can just relax and play what I’m told to play. You’ll be surprised to see that the joint event with EEMF is in Cambridge but Waltham Abbey wasn’t available on any date that Philip Thorby could manage. I’m told that the venue is very near Cambridge station so I hope a lot of you book for it. In my opinion it’s worth going quite a long way to do the Tallis and I certainly hope to be there.
I'm writing this the day after the Renaissance Day at Burnham, feeling relieved that it went off reasonably well but wondering how it could be improved. I should say that my feelings have changed from “never again” on Friday evening to “let's think about the next one” so I suppose that's good. I'm always impressed at how helpful TVEMF members are, and would like to thank all those who stayed behind to clear up, including re-arranging the desks. I would also like to thank the members of the American football team (!) who helped carry the 43 boxes of music into the school.
This year I chose to have more large groups of 7, 8 and even 10 parts which I think went quite well, and made scheduling a bit easier in that it is easier to accommodate disparate forces in a larger group. I would really like to hear from those who came (or indeed those who didn't) so as to know if this is a good policy. I have my own ideas as to what constitutes a viable group but other people may have different views and I would like to hear which combinations were liked and which were not. It was good that there were more singers at Burnham than in the past, and I would like to see even more in future – especially tenors!
I'm looking forward to the workshop on Byrd's Great Service with John Milsom, who is always thought-provoking. I imagine that being one of his students at Oxford must have been a challenging and inspiring experience.
Hieronymus Praetorius (1560 – 1629)
A splendid assembly of instrumental and vocal musicians gathered in the URC Church in Ickenham on 17th January 2015 to learn about the composer Hieronymus Praetorius (no relation to Michael Praetorius). Patrick Allies directed the day and informed us of Hieronymus’ life and work, spent mostly in Hamburg in the 16th and early 17th centuries.
This wonderful music was quite unknown to me, so diverse that I found it surprising that it was all written by the same composer.
The large forces we had were appropriate, given that the music was often in many parts. We played/sang:
O vos omnes (5 parts)
Wie lang, o Gott (5 parts)
Gaudete Omnes (6 parts)
Cantate Domino (8 parts)
Magnificat Quinti Toni (8 parts)
Tota pulchra es, amica mea (12 parts)
We sang/played from beautifully prepared scores, very helpful when the music was so complex. Much thanks are due to David King and David Fletcher for the production of the music. Unfortunately I had not taken advantage of the available opportunity to study the music in advance (it was sent out by email) and so found myself mostly fixed on my line to keep on track. It was only later, when I looked at other parts that I saw the rhythmic hurdles that other voices had jumped through. The tonality also often required nimble negotiation. At one point Patrick stopped the polyphony and asked us to play/sing a sequence of chords – F/D/G/C/A/D –to demonstrate the harmonic system behind the eight moving parts that we were pursuing.
Patrick Allies was an excellent director of such large forces. Clear in what he wanted from us, well informed about the composer and the music, and patient while we reconfigured ourselves into three choirs for Tota pulchra es.
I very much hope that this workshop can be repeated, perhaps with slightly less music to address. It is a rich and rewarding repertoire and exciting to perform.
The Hamburg experience
TVEMF’s New Year began with a transition from the pre-Christmas Netherlands-influenced Rome to the Venetian-inspired musical landscape of post-Reformation Hamburg. A large concourse of singers and players gathered together at the United Reformed Church, Ickenham on 17 January 2015 for an event directed by Patrick Allies, who we were delighted to have with us again following the very successful Lassus workshop at St Sepulchre’s, Holborn some eighteen months ago.
Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) came, as Patrick explained to us, from a musical family. His father Jacob was first organist at the Jacobkirche (with the associated chapel of St Gertrude) in Hamburg and provided Hieronymus’ initial tuition as an organist, though he also studied elsewhere in Hamburg, and then in Cologne. His first position was that of organist in Erfurt (1580-82) after which he returned to Hamburg, as assistant and then on his father’s death in 1586, first organist at the Jacobkirche, a post which he held for the remaining 35 years of his life. He had four sons, two of whom (Jacob, 1586-1661) and Johannes (ca 1596-1660), studied with Sweelinck and became organists in Hamburg, Jacob at St Petri and Johannes at the Nikolaikirche. His third son, Michael, was also a musician, though little is known about him.
His better-known contemporary, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) came from an entirely different family located in Thuringia, and much of his professional career was spent in Saxony. Praetorius is quite a common surname among German composers of that period; the New Grove refers, as well as the above, to five others, one of whom was the uncle of Michael. It appears that the actual family name of all these composers was Schultze or some variant of it; ‘Schultz’, of which Praetorius was the conventional Latinization, is a now obsolete word meaning ‘mayor’ or ‘sheriff’.
Though a prolific composer, he has remained relatively obscure; nevertheless, he is better known than most of his contemporaries who wrote in a similar vein; they include Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Andreas Raselius and Philippus Dulichius. His works include masses, Magnificat settings for organ and over one hundred motets, a handful of which are settings of German texts. Fifty of his motets are polychoral, for between eight and twenty voices divided into two, three or four choirs. Although his contemporary, Hans-5
Leo Hassler (1564-1612), is generally considered to be the greatest exponent of the German-Venetian style, displaying ‘ a grace and fluidity derived from the madrigalian dance songs and a fondness for polychoral structures’ (Gustav Reece, Music in the Renaissance, Dent & Sons, 1954, p.688), the New Grove comments that Praetorius’ polychoral motets express the text more vividly than those of Hassler because he introduced greater contrasts of texture, harmony and rhythm, and are less homophonic than those of other composers due to the extensive use of imitation and the breaking up of basically chordal structures by rhythmically and motivically active inner parts.
The programme chosen by Patrick illustrated all the above characteristics of Praetorius’ writing. We began with O vos omnes, set for a single choir (SATTB). The text is indeed vividly realised by the settings of ‘transitis’ with its smooth (mainly descending) scales and the chromatic melismata of ‘per viam’ depicting the difficulties of the road being travelled. This style gives way to a more homophonic and declamatory passage centred on the unique nature of the sorrow which it expresses. This was followed by another work for single choir, the Christmas motet Gaudete omnes (SSATTB). Its madrigalian style comes out clearly in the use of imitation and the different rhythms employed throughout the text. Patrick also drew our attention to the style of the Alleluia which he characterised as being different from that usually to be found in Easter motets. It is a serene and gently flowing setting which gradually becomes more intense and, in the soprano parts more florid as it reaches the final cadence. The last of the three works which we attempted in the morning session was the Magnificat Quinti Toni for double choir, (SSAT + ATTB). This is written alternatim and it may fairly be said that the singing of the plain chant sections by the tenors either en masse or in alternating sections was not one of the high points of our performance. It proceeds in a robust and largely homophonic manner with strong rhythmic contrasts which are by no means what one might always expect. Whereas the proud are scattered in a manner to which we are probably all well accustomed, the filling of the hungry with good things and the sending away of the rich, empty, is a very peremptory business compared with the treatment of the same idea in (say) the Bach Magnificat, but it is extremely effective none the less.
The post-prandial lethargy was rapidly dispelled when we tackled the next item, which was the motet Tota pulchra es for twelve voices (SATB x 3). This text, from the Song of Solomon iv, vv.7-8 and 10-11, appears to have been rather carefully selected so as to play down the praise of feminine attributes, no doubt too heady a brew for North German Protestants, which pervades many Marian motets based on texts from that source, for example his contemporary Victoria’s Quam pulchri sunt gressus (viii, v.1) and Palestrina’s Quam pulchra es (vii, vv. 6-8). The general structure is that each theme is stated by the three choirs in succession, not always in the same order, and then by all three together. Changes in rhythm illustrate the nature of the statements in the text; thus, ‘et macula non est in te’ is strong and rapidly moving, as befits an affirmation of the beloved’s flawless nature, whereas ‘favus distillans labia tua’ is slower and more graceful as it depicts the flowing down of the nectar from her lips.
We then returned to single choir mode with Wie lang, O Gott (SATTB). In the single verse which we sang, the petitioner, acknowledging that he seeks grace rather than justice, seeks divine pity, and consoles his heart with the thought that God’s help is at hand for all pious folk. The writing is intense throughout with constantly changing harmonies and the appeals to God with their pervasive repetition of the ascending minor sixth (G-E flat), paint a vivid picture of the man with nothing to hope for in this world-a truly realistic depiction of the lives which so many people must have led in a land scarred by long drawn out religious and social conflict.
However, optimism prevailed at the last with Cantate Domino, (SSAT + ATTB), which the New Grove ranks, along with Decantabat populus Israel (for four five-part choirs), and two of his eight settings of vernacular texts (Ein kindelein so liebelich and Herr Gott dich loben wir) as his finest polychoral motets. The style is brisk and hortatory throughout, with the more ornamental passages being sung by the higher voice choir, and the lower voice choir being mainly confined to reinforcing their statements.
The welcome tea break which came at the end of that demanding but thoroughly enjoyable afternoon session was followed by a sing through of the entire programme. We are all greatly indebted to Patrick for guiding us through an interesting and varied selection of the works of a composer who clearly deserves to be better known. Warm thanks are also due in particular to David Fletcher who took on the immense amount of work involved in preparing the scores and all the instrumental parts, and to David King for organising the event, allocating the singers to their varying roles, making the music available for those who wished to acquaint themselves with it in advance (a facility for which many of us, including your reviewer, were truly grateful), and arranging the printing of the music for those who did not.
‘Crown jewels’ of English lute music go online
Handwritten copies of scores by composers of English lute music have been digitised in a programme launched last month to make a precious legacy available to professional and amateur musicians around the world. Here is the amazingly long link: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/crown-jewels-of-english-lute-music-go-online?utm_medium=email&utm_source=alumnewsletter
The complete Bach organ works in Oxford
Two Oxford colleges are part way through recitals of the complete organ works of JS Bach. Daniel Hyde, the organist of Magdalen College, is playing them to celebrate the new Dobson organ at Merton College on Thursdays at 1.10pm during term time. Admission is free with a retiring collection. On Saturdays at 7.30pm they are being played at the Queen’s College to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the completion of the college’s world-famous Frobenius organ. Tickets and more information from www.ticketsoxford.com.
A Festive Clash
It’s unfortunate that two early music festivals in our area are on around the same weekend in May. The London Festival of Baroque Music is the new incarnation of the Lufthansa Festival and takes place at the same venue as before, St John’s Smith Square, with a final concert of the Monteverdi Vespers in Westminster Abbey. The Oxford Early Music Festival has been resurrected after a few years and takes place in a number of venues in the city, opening with the Monteverdi Vespers on Friday 15th May in the University Church. Details of both festivals are in the concert listings, plus a workshop for each in the Events list.
The Spitalfields Summer Festival runs from June 2nd to 16th and there are far too many early music concerts for me to list. Have a look at their website http://www.spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk/whats-on/summer-festival-2015/ for more information.
Early and not so early opera
Xerxes by Handel is the opera chosen by Hampstead Garden Opera for their new production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, in an English translation by Nicholas Hytner. Composed and first performed at the King’s Theatre, London, in 1738, Xerxes was one of his last operas, and very different to previous works. Anxious to provide a new style of entertainment, he discarded many of the rigid rules and long-winded nature of the Italian opera to create a more fluid and dramatic form ofentertainment. Though notionally about Xerxes, the Persian King who invaded Greece in 580 BE, it is not so much a historical work, but a love story and a comedy, focusing on the rivalry between Xerxes and his brother Arsamenes for the love of Romilda, daughter of the Persian Army Commander. Contact details are in the Concerts list and performances, too many to list there, are on the following dates:
Evenings – Apr 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, May 1 & 2 at 7.30 pm
Matinées at 4.00pm: Sundays Apr 26 & May 3
Matinée at 2.30pm: Saturday May 2nd
You may also be interested in an opera double bill by Operaview with several performances in the London area. The works are Bastien and Bastienne, a very early Mozart opera, composed when he was twelve, in an English translation by Gary Lurcher, and Savitri by Gustav Holst, original libretto in English. Performances are as follows:
15th, 16th and 17th March, Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham, 7.30pm
26th and 27th March, St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, 7.30pm
10th and 11th April, Tea House Theatre, Vauxhall, 7.30pm
More information from www.operaview.org
A choral folder is a lovesome thing, God wot!
My computer-dyslexia sometimes yields gold. Seeking the publisher of Heinrich Kaminski (Universal, since you ask) I googled SheetMusicPlus, who told me that people who bought Kaminski usually also bought a certain choral folder. Then followed an enchanting array. I felt spoiled for choice, but settled on the 7 dollar plain black, should I ever find myself singing Calvinist monophonic psalm settings, but opted also for the 20 dollar De Luxe folder for polychoral works. I wrote down details of the site, deciding to sleep on it (more specifically, to join Renate at the final concert of the Operetta Workshop at the Muko Musical Comedy Theatre in Leipzig). To our surprise the final concert was a competition for young conductors - they were so good I wanted them all to win. Having decided that if I am unsuccessful in any further choir auditions I will re-train as a conductor and vaguely remembering that removing the loop on the 20 dollar model converted it to a conductor`s folder I returned to Sheet MusicPlus where I was surprised to find a cookie from Manhasset Music offering a 26 dollar folder and displaying a slew of new and delightful folders in a variety of colours. For the next few days I WINDOWS-shopped (is that the correct term?) while putting the problem of workshop-clash on the back burner... but I now know how Imelda Marcos felt! It is SOOO restful comparing folders! Alas, SheetMusicPlus is online, so I can`t go into a warehouse and smell the leather and run my fingers down the spine...
Anticipation...the thrill of the chase...(Perhaps I ought to get out more?)
News of Members’ Activities
Many of you probably know that TVEMF member Cedric Lee publishes very user-friendly editions of unusual early vocal music and will have seen his distinctive green Green Man Press copies at exhibitions and in specialist music shops. His latest offerings include two volumes of songs for one or two sopranos with lute and viol by John Bartlet, first published in 1606, and a set of eight songs for bass and guitar, composed and arranged for Samuel Pepys by his domestic musician Cesare Morelli. Cedric’s really exciting news though is that five of the Italian cantatas he publishes have been included in a recording by Concentus VII entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego” – Italian Cantatas and Sonatas. More details are available on his website www.greenmanpress-music.co.uk.
Has anybody listened to Renaissance FM? I had an email from the Lute Society saying that it is an early music radio show that goes out live from 11 to 11.30 on Tuesday mornings. They sent a link https://m.mixcloud.com/Resonance/110000-renaissancefm-320kbps-4/ where you can hear one of the January shows, but I’ve been too busy to work out how to listen to it otherwise. It isn’t obvious, so if anybody has a better link I’ll print it in the next Tamesis.
They are looking for guests for the programme which is recorded in Borough High St, London. Guests usually take in an instrument and play live – though this is not compulsory – it’s a chance to talk about your projects and interests and take along half a dozen favourite tracks to play in the course of the show. Contact Chris Egerton on chris.egerton @ network.rca.ac.uk if you would like to be a guest.
The Bate Collection
I wonder how many of you have found the Bate Collection of musical instruments at the Oxford Faculty of Music in St Aldate’s. It has over 2000 instruments from the Western orchestral music traditions from the renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and up to modern times. More than a thousand instruments are on display, by all the most important makers and from pre-eminent collectors. Have a look at their website http://www.bate.ox.ac.uk/ where you can see the introduction to the collection on YouTube, download their illustrated gallery guide and listen to recordings of some of the instruments. The Collection has free admission and is open on Monday to Friday afternoons from 2 to 5pm throughout the year. There will be Saturday morning openings this month on the 7th and 14th March from 10 until 12.