Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 237
David King has asked me to say that bookings for the Lassus Workshop have gone very well. He has 65 to date and won’t be accepting any more sopranos, altos or recorders. He can probably accept another bass or two and possibly another instrument depending on what is offered, and he would like a few more tenors. The music to be studied was listed in the March Tamesis. Most of it is available on the CPDL website but David wants to assure you that you will be provided with all the music on the day so there is no need to print out copies unless you want to. Thanks very much to everyone who sponsored my group Background Baroque’s Red Nose Day mini-marathon in aid of Comic Relief. March 13th was a really cold day - 4 degrees C with snow flurries - and the church only had a loosely fitting glass door. We put on the heating but it was so noisy that the electric tuner for the spinet picked up its note and we couldn’t hear each other playing so we had to turn it off again. By the end of two hours we were almost frozen stiff but even so we managed to play 21 trio sonatas (without repeats). So far we’ve raised £1621 so it was well worth doing. If you meant to sponsor us but never got around to it you can still do so with a credit or debit card on our giving page on the Red Nose Day website http://my.rednoseday.com/sponsor/backgroundbaroque. Apologies if you sent me anything for Tamesis which hasn’t got in. My computer managed to delete all my April emails (I won’t bore you with the annoying details!) but I did search my service provider’s web site and hope I’ve found everything.
I enjoyed the Waltham Abbey event - Philip Thorby is always stimulating, and where else would you go to perform a 28-part Magnificat? Although most of the parts were conjectural I thought the piece worked well. It was good to see Hugh Keyte there to sing his reconstructed work for the first time (and finding it quite tricky). The 24-part piece by Leonard Lechner was also interesting and I can't help speculating as to why a composer who I only knew for some four-part lieder would tackle something quite so grand. Perhaps he was inspired to write it in response to one of the other giant works that pop up from time to time, such as the 24-part mass by Padovano which we might tackle another year. I shall miss the medieval day with Donald Greig owing to a prior engagement but I hope it goes well enough to inspire more workshops from the period, which I confess TVEMF has rather neglected.
Hexachords in Headington
Forty-four singers gathered at the Headington Community Centre on March 9, 2013, for another fascinating trip into the unknown with John Milsom. The two works to be explored were Palestrina’s hexachord mass, ut re mi fa sol la, scored, in Michael Procter’s 2005 edition, for SSAATB, and a motet for SATB by Josquin entitled Ut Phoebi radiis, with (as is discussed later in this review) a deeply mysterious text. The dank mist which shrouded the building and absorbed any rays which Phoebus might have been emitting was an appropriate symbol of the complexities which we were to encounter. In the intervals of warming-up, John imparted some information about hexachords. (Readers who know all this can skip the next paragraph).
Rather like a box of assorted chocolates, the hard hexachord Bs are square (and were formerly called B quadratus or, as in Thomas Morley’s Socratic dialogue, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597), B quarre) while the soft ones (B molle) are round. This analogy breaks down with the natural hexachord, which does not contain a B. Everything that the young man wishing to be a social success needs to know about hexachords is set out in very considerable detail in Morley’s work in which Philomathes, the would-be singer, is confronted at the outset with a fearsome table (the Scale of Music), which we term the Gam, says his teacher, Master Gnorimus, since the G which is the lowest note of the hard hexachord and is therefore called ut was conventionally represented by G (gamma) - hence the word “gamut”. John briefly mentioned the role of Guido d’Arezzo in devising a solmization system. The so-called “Guidonian Hand” was a mnemonic device used by teachers of sight singing. Twenty locations on the Hand correspond to the twenty notes of the gamut which range, in modern notation, from the bottom G of the bass clef to the E which is two octaves and a sixth above. Philomathes eventually plucks up sufficient courage to ask Master Gnorimus why the scale was devised of twenty notes and no more, to which Gnorimus replies that “under Gam ut the voice seemed as a kind of humming and above E la a kind of constrained shrieking”. It seems that Gnorimus would have had little time for sopranos, had they appeared on the Elizabethan social music scene.
The hexachord mass is constructed, as Jon Dixon observes in the introduction to his edition, on the basically simple device of the constant repetition, up and down, in various rhythmic presentations, of the hard hexachord, the cantus firmus lying in the Cantus II part. We spent a considerable amount of time working on the Kyrie with the primary aim of getting the six parts, in various combinations (and including various alternations of parts between the first and second sopranos), to keep in time with each other and with John himself. We made sufficient progress with this to be allowed to tackle some of the later movements during the morning, before our encounter with Ut Pheobe radiis.
In this composition, each line of the first verse has one more solmization syllable than the previous line; the text is sung by the upper parts, leaving the lower parts with only the solmization syllables, the basses singing the C and the tenors, the F hexachord. The second verse mirrors this structure-the singers, having worked their way up to the top of the hill, get marched down again from la to ut. A great deal of effort has been expended on attempts to explain the symbolism involved. The essay by Willem Elders entitled “Symbolism in the Sacred Music of Josquin” at pp.531-68 of the Josquin Companion contains a substantial section on the symbolism of the Holy Virgin including both number symbolism and the attribute called the scala regni caelestis (which makes its first biblical appearance as Jacob’s ladder) and which, as John told us, was a Marian symbol in Western art. Elders suggests that Ut Phoebi radiis is the first composition in which the hexachord pattern symbolises Mary as the scala caelestis.
Elders also detects a second level of significance relating to the Order of the Golden Fleece (founded by Philip le Bon, Duke of Burgundy in 1430, with the motto Pretium Laborum Non Vile-no mean reward for labour) in the textual references to Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece and the signs of the fleece for which Gideon prays in Judges vi. 36-39. Huizinga, in The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919, tr. Hopman, 1924) tells us that the rules of the Order “are conceived in a truly ecclesiastical spirit; masses and obsequies occupy a large place in them”. However, French propaganda about the rapacity of the Burgundian nobility induced the bishop of Chalons, as chancellor of the Order, to identify the Fleece with “Gideon’s fleece, which received the dew of heaven” (and which, says Huizinga, was one of the most striking symbols of the Annunciation) so as to associate the title of the Order with a more reputable origin than the exploits of Jason, which involved larceny and perjury, according to the French poet and political writer Alain Chartier in his Ballade de Fougeres.
After lunch we returned to our study of the Palestrina mass. We did a good deal of work on the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, the second part of which expands into seven parts, the additional part being Altus III, which has the cantus firmus in canon with Cantus II. John drew our attention to the direct quotation from the Richafort Missa pro defunctis which many of us had previously studied with him and which itself quotes from Josquin’s six-voice chanson Nymphes, nappes and, more briefly, from his five-voice chanson Faulte d’argent. The Palestrina hexachord mass could thus be seen as a homage to Josquin, whose own Masses la sol fa mi re and Hercule dux Ferrarie were the first of the solmization genre, a device which seems to have been particularly popular among Spanish composers (Boluda, Capillas, Esquivel and Morales); there is also a la sol fa mi re Mass by Robert le Fevin. John was not, initially, inclined to spend very much time on the Credo of the Palestrina mass, but after we had worked on it for a short time he found it to be rather more interesting than he had thought it would be, and so it received some extra attention.
Amply refreshed after tea, we sang through most of the Palestrina but did not revisit Ut Phoebi radiis. John was very complimentary about our pitch, which had held up well throughout, and that no doubt reflected the level of interest and attention which his direction of these events always generates. We are all grateful to him for another rewarding day’s singing. Warm thanks are also due to Nicola Wilson-Smith, Wendy Davies and Diana Porteous for their work in organising the event.
The Art of being a 21st century Medieval Singer
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London is rapidly becoming a firm favourite for music workshops and this was the venue for a very successful event on 29th April run by The Renaissance Singers with Belinda Sykes as the tutor. Belinda is professor of medieval music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and is also director of Joglaresa. I had attended an EEMF workshop with her a year or two ago and the chance of a second session was not to be missed. A good number of TVEMF members were present in the group of singers numbering over 40 and including quite a few ‘Rennies’.
After a physical warm up we warmed up our vocal chords and Belinda asked us to sing in a medieval style in which principles of bel canto and of blending are to be ignored and instead replaced by more folky type singing including yodeling and belting. I suspect I was not the only one to find this difficult but I enjoyed trying. We were then introduced to an anonymous English piece ‘Magno gaudens gaudio’ which was computer type set, used modern note values, octave treble clef, a key signature and a metronome mark. This felt somewhat fraudulent but was nevertheless a sensible way of proceeding if we were to sight read the notes without any time wasting. We firstly sang the song ‘straight’ in unison (with added yodels) and then we were shown how to prepare it for performance as 21st century singers. This involved adding drones, occasional countermelodies and appropriate ornaments. The two forbidden acts were to add thirds to cadences and to use late baroque ornamentation. As if we would!
Belinda explained that medieval music uses Dorian and Mixolydian modes (if you find such terms scary then think of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ respectively), and this first piece was Dorian. In contrast the second piece entitled ‘Quen bona dona’ was Mixolydian. We all sang the chorus and took it in turns to improvise the verse using the words provided. There seemed to be parallels with modal jazz and I felt that Miles Davis would have really gone to town if he had been let loose with this music. After exploring ‘Ave, donna santissima’ another piece in one part that we then ‘arranged’, we were introduced multi-part music. Firstly we sang ‘Flos in monte cernitur’, a three part conductus in which the music is fairly homophonic. We concluded with a four part motet ‘Plus bele/Quant revient/L’autier’ in relatively complicated polyphony in which each line had a different text and three of the lines are in French and the fourth in Latin. I guess that makes it macaronic.
Throughout the evening Belinda accompanied our singing with either an instrumental drone or a drum and she also sang along with us demonstrating the types of vocal technique we should employ. I n addition to the music listed above we were given more music and we were urged to take the scores home with us and set up medieval bands. The workshop was educational and great fun.
Music for the civil war?
On the 23rd June from 2 to 5 pm there will be a commemoration at Pankridge Farm, Bledlow Ridge, of the civil war battle at nearby Chinnor in 1643 which ended in victory for the Royalists. I have been asked to publicise this and to encourage any groups or indeed individuals who would like to perform there, not necessarily in appropriate costume, though that would be appreciated. There will be a marquee and lots of things going on around but I gather some appropriate music would be welcomed. No fee is offered, though it is conceivable that expenses might be forthcoming. If you are interested then get in touch with Susanne Smith on 01494 481770, 07815 295665 or holmessmith.@.talk21.com.
Conference on Mechanical Musical Instruments
and Historical Performance
The National Early Music Association and Guildhall ResearchWorks will present a conference on Mechanical Musical Instruments and Historical Performance to take place at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (London) on Sunday 7th & Monday 8th July 2013. The conference is supported by the Handel Institute and the Institute of Musical Research.
From water organs to player pianos, the production and reproduction of music by mechanical means has been a source fascination to many cultures. Contributions will focus on what can be learnt from musical clocks, mechanical organs and other historical mechanical or automatic instruments with respect to the practice of historical performance.
There will be keynote addresses from Peter Holman and Arthur Orde-Hume, and contributions from representatives of Anglia Ruskin, Cornell University, Deutsches Museum-Munich, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, LUCA School of Arts, Sydney Conservatorium, University of Evry and University of Helsinki. The event will consist of a range of papers, presentations, lecture recitals and a performance by students and professionals in historical performance. Visit NEMA’s home page at http://www.earlymusic.info, click the details link for information on the conference, and click book and pay to reserve your place and pay the conference fee by PayPal. The normal fee is £40, although concessions are available to NEMA members and for bookings made before the Early Bird date of 17th May 2013. For further information on the conference please contact Emily Baines on Emily.Baines @ stu.gsmd.ac.uk.
Byzantine Chant Symposium
Tuesday 14 May, 5pm - Great Hall, Hellenic Centre18 Paddington St London W1U 5AS Leading scholars discuss The Musical Form of the Divine Liturgy in a short series of papers and a panel discussion aimed to reach a broad spectrum of the public, from early music enthusiasts, to liturgy scholars and enthusiasts, to students and practitioners of Byzantine chant. Musical examples led by Cappella Romana and the Choir of the School of Byzantine Music, Archdiocese of Thyateira. This will be followed by a Byzantine Chant recital at 7.30 by Cappella Romana and the Choir of the School of Byzantine Music, Archdiocese of Thyateira. Free entry but please confirm attendance on 020 7563 9835 or press @ helleniccentre.org
News of Members’ Activities
Our President, Jeremy Montagu, has just perpetrated a frivolity, publishing an entertaining book: Wendy, The Lives and Loves of a Dragon. She’s for e-readers only, now up on Amazon for Kindle, where you can already read most of the first chapter for free as a sample, and up on Kobo for epub. Lots of jokes, some musical, puns, etc. Not suitable reading for committed vegetarians as she’s a bit omnivorous. She travels the world to visit old friends, deep below the Drachenfels, hiding from Wanderers with spears and Heroes with swords, in Loch Ness, in Qumran, and elsewhere, and to renew affections, and to get her children settled in life and loves. Light reading for travels and between bouts of work if you, like him, carry an e-reader for bus and plane journeys.
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Marjory Bisset and her daughter Louisa appeared on the BBC quiz show Pointless in March and won! It was a really impressive performance. Oddly enough I saw Pointless being recorded when my husband Alan took me on a visit to Television Centre (where he works) round about that time. I wonder if it was the very same show. We were in a viewing gallery and couldn’t see the performers very well, but it looked a most intimidating environment.
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For those in London in the first half of August and interested in Handel's life and work, Helen Dymond will be running a one-day course in the City Lit Summer School sometime between August 5 - 16 entitled Handel and Susannah, uncovering Handel's extraordinary relationship with Susannah Cibber, a captivating actress with a scandalous reputation, and listening to the music he composed especially for her. Date and details to be announced in City Lit Summer School schedule.