Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 243
Thanks very much to all our contributors this month. What a variety of different topics! Luckily I don’t need space to write anything myself this time.
The Rosenmüller Vespers workshop seemed to go pretty well, though it gave me some anxious moments in sourcing the music. Clifford Bartlett's edition would have been fine if only we had been able to field three violas to go with the two violins playing the obbligato parts. I'm not sure quite why we don't get many strings at these events, but it has been suggested that it is because the players like to know that they have 'proper' string parts, rather than just doubling the singers. Of course TVEMF can usually come up with a decent number of brass instruments so in this instance there were three sackbuts trying to discover their inner viola tendency. Not all entirely managed this but the result was entertaining, if not quite what the composer had in mind. Anyway, to return to my original point, there was the little matter of sackbut players not wanting to play from tenor clef. The sources of many of Clifford's excellent editions are still languishing on an Acorn Archimedes computer dating from 1988, so producing parts in alternative clefs was not straightforward. Modern technology did allow me to scan the parts, convert to Capella format and change the clefs, though not without a good deal of hand correction of the result.
The joint workshop with EEMF next Saturday poses a challenge of a different nature, in that we tackle the Padovano mass in 24 parts under Philip Thorby. With over 70 participants the sound is sure to be sumptuous and I am looking forward to it. I shall try to avoid the top cornett part, as I recall playing it at Beauchamp one year and discovering that most of the entries are on top A and it doesn't descend very far during subsequent bars.
I ventured deep into SEMF territory last week to Challock and David Allinson's 12th workshop at that location. David was on good form, and somewhat to his surprise we managed to get through all six pieces, including a trio of settings of O Sacrum Convivium. I believe the initial event was the first fully-tutored workshop for SEMF but its success has ensured a change of policy subsequently.
As well as the Padovano event I am looking forward to Peter Syrus's workshop in June where we will sample some church music by Johann Hermann Schein, known to me only for a number of suites and canzonas.
Anne Harrow 1959-2014
Anne was a teacher of the horn, recorder and voice and had been a member of TVEMF for some ten years as well as being a historical re-enactor and member of the Lumina singing group. About six years ago she got in touch with me to ask what early instrument she ought to play apart from the recorder. Knowing that she was a horn player, I suggested the sackbut because it has a similar size of mouthpiece and would be a good match as regards embouchure and not too challenging. However she also asked the opinion of a sackbut player, Edward James, who immediately said that she should play the cornett. That is not an instrument to be taken up lightly but clearly he knew Anne better than I did, because before very long she had reached a very acceptable standard on it. Indeed, last year she was able to play the third cornett part in two public performances of the Monteverdi Vespers in spite of suffering severe symptoms of the cancer that would eventually cause her death.
Anne was a dedicated musician who set high standards for herself but was a joy to play with as she had enormous enthusiasm for music and a very positive attitude to life. She was delighted to discover the musical treasures of the renaissance that became available as her skill on the cornett increased. The world of music has lost a much-loved teacher and performer and I have lost a dear friend.
Anne used to play with me (Victoria) in the Crosswinds wind quintet, and another of member of the group, the composer Liz Sharma, has written “Calling”, a horn quartet dedicated to Anne. There are four movements, ‘Calling’, ‘Meditation’, ‘In Perpetual Motion’ and ‘Banter’. It was written for four horns but she has created two more versions - brass quartet (2 trumpets, horn, trombone) and wind quartet (oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon). Perhaps she might be persuaded to produce a cornett and sackbut version as well. The deal is that anyone who wants a copy needs to give a donation of a minimum of £5 to Cancer Relief, Cancer Research or Macmillan nurses. You can have it as a Sibelius file or PDF. Contact me secretary @ tvemf.org if you’re interested and I’ll pass the message on.
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I was very sorry also to learn of the recent death of Edwin Griggs, the chairman of Midlands Early Music Forum. A lot of us knew him because he came to some of our TVEMF events, helped on the Greenwich stand and regularly attended the Beauchamp renaissance music summer school. From the MEMF obituary written by Mike Ashley I learned that Edwin was born and brought up in Hong Kong. In his mid-teens he joined the choir of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong and began his lifelong interest in early ecclesiastical music. He came to England in 1968 and began to listen to and enjoy traditional jazz and English folk music. He joined the Blackheath Morris Dancers, playing the accordion and fiddle for them, as well as dancing.
After Edwin moved to the Midlands he attended an inspiring course on Renaissance dance in Birmingham and went on to join an active early dance group. He took violin and singing lessons and joined MEMF in 1986. He later joined the Committee, was unanimously elected as Chairman in 2010, and was busy in this position until ill health caught up with him.
Lost music stand
Did you accidentally take home the wrong music stand after the baroque day? Kate Gordon put hers on the table in the corridor at the end of the day and when she came back to pick it up it had disappeared. It’s black, light-weight, without wings, and her name and address are under the ledge the music rests on.
Baroque in the Methodist ambience
Following the highly successful singing day at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall on 7 September last with David Allinson, TVEMF returned to the venue on 5 April, under the direction of another conductor with local connections, James Weeks. Many of the 59 participants had had the pleasure of working with James on previous occasions, whereas it appeared that relatively few were acquainted with the delights of Rosenmüller.
It is something of an oddity that a meeting-place whose name carries associations of temperance and rectitude should be the venue, on successive occasions, for the study of composers whose lives might be described, euphemistically, as “controversial”. In “A Methodist Renaissance” your reviewer commented on the episode in the life of Gombert which led to his falling out of favour with Charles V, though he was rehabilitated and may have died in the odour of sanctity. Rosenmüller, who matriculated in the theological faculty at Leipzig in 1640, worked his way up the Saxon musical hierarchy, obtaining appointments to the Nikolaikirche, the Thomaskirche (prospectively) and the court at Altenburg, but in 1655 his career in Germany terminated abruptly; Manfred Bukofzer, (Music in the Baroque Era, Norton, 1947) describes him as “a composer of unquestionable genius [who] wrecked his promising career by questionable morals, which made it necessary for him to flee Leipzig and live in Venice”, where he next surfaces in musical history as a trombonist at San Marco in 1658. He remained in Venice as organist, teacher and composer, until at least July 1682, when his term as composer to the Ospedale della Pieta came to an end. He returned to Germany at some time during the last two years of his life, becoming Kapellmeister at the court of Wolfenbüttel, which was at that time the seat of the dukes of Brunswick, and was buried there on 12 September 1684, where his epitaph declared him to be “the Amphion of his age”. The mythological Amphion, however, played the lyre, not the organ or the trombone. In order to prepare us for our encounter with Rosenmüller, James directed some warm-ups which were unremarkable until we reached the “Bella Signora” stage. The simple arpeggio which your reviewer recalls from singing the Monteverdi Vespers with James at Dartington in 2006 has now developed into a baroque operetta involving encounter, attempted seduction, passion (not entirely requited), the imprisonment of the ardent lover, his attempt to rebuild the relationship on his release, and crushing final rejection and despair. From this simple story of ordinary folk we moved on to the first of the three psalms for Vespers which constituted the programme.
Rosenmüller was a prolific composer of vocal sacred music and his output includes over 50 psalm settings. Most of them, says the New Grove, share a clear overall structure articulated by instrumental ritornellos. All three which we sang are scored for SATB, five instrumental parts (played, on the day, by violins, double-bass, theorbo, cornetti, sackbuts and curtal) and continuo.
Laudate pueri dominum (psalm 102) opens with the cantus firmus in the soprano part and the servants being firmly exhorted to praise the Lord. Sit nomen domini benedictus is both more rapidly moving and more rhythmically complex, and this alternation of style continues throughout the text, the cantus firmus moving down to the alto at a solis ortus usque ad occasum and to the tenor at quis sicut Dominus Deus noster; then follows some very expressive word painting at the point where the poor are raised out of the dust and the needy from the dunghill. The basses take over the cantus firmus for the last two verses of the psalm until, in the thirteen bars leading up the Gloria, the barren woman becomes a joyful mother of children. The Gloria is scored for soprano and tenor for the 43 bars up to the final spiritui sancto, when it goes back into four parts in a structure which initially mimics the opening section of the psalm, with an Amen rhythmically similar to the excelsus section. Having mastered this piece to James’ expressed satisfaction, we were dismissed for an early lunch; it was decided that in the afternoon, we would work on each of the other psalms in similar detail and not have a sing through at the end.
Lauda Jerusalem, which is a setting of psalm 147 from v 12 to the end, provided a very distinct contrast to laudate pueri dominum; there is a great sense of urgency from the outset, and even when we are being filled with the finest of the wheat (the King James translation of adipe frumenti) the music does not suggest a leisurely banquet. From then on it is all rapid action; his word runs with extreme swiftness and the various meteorological phenomena are very vividly painted. It was our rendering of nebulam sicut cinerem spargit which led James to refer to “fluffy tenors” (an epithet new to your reviewer in that context) and, at a slightly later stage, he remarked of the basses that they had reached heights (or possibly plumbed depths) of subtlety not usually achieved. The Gloria is scored for four voices throughout, with the three-time section, as before, ending with spiritui sancto, but the concluding section does not, as in laudate pueri dominum, mimic the opening.
James had, at an earlier point, referred to the Italian influence on the German traditions in which Rosenmüller had grown up, mentioning on the one hand Pachelbel and Buxtehude, on the other, Monteverdi and Gabrieli. Nisi Dominus (psalm 126) he found reminiscent of Monteverdi’s Dixit Dominus, and one point of resemblance (though it may well not be what he had in mind) is that both works have quite substantial sections for one or two voices. Thus, at bar 43 of Nisi dominus, it is the altos who inform us that it is vain to rise before dawn, and the basses who call upon us to arise, before the message is taken up by the choir as a whole, while from bar 153, sicut sagittae has passages for alto and bass interspersed with some declamation by the full choir. Similarly in the six-part Monteverdi Dixit dominus there is a passage beginning at virgam virtutis tuae initially for soprano I who is joined by soprano II and bass before the full choir returns to the action quasi parlando, and a similar sequence of events later on, at juravit Dominus, where the solo parts are for tenor I and II and bass. It was at bar 155 of the sicut sagittae passage that the basses were exhorted to be worthy of their top D. It is not altogether clear to your reviewer why that D is so noteworthy, though the late Victorian literary figure, J.K.Stephen, presumed, in his “sincere flattery of Walt Whitman” that the fundamental note of the last trump was D natural. The setting of the last verse of the psalm text decisively affirms that the blessed man with his quiver full of arrows shall not be ashamed, and this is followed by a sixty-bar Gloria which alternates between highly ornamental settings of the single word “Gloria” in 4-time and a more broadly rhythmical setting of Gloria filio et spiritui sancto in the usual 3-time. Unlike the corresponding section of lauda Jerusalem which was sung by sopranos and tenors en masse, this was sung as a solo by Amélie Saintonge, who gave us a most admirable rendition before we came together for the rousing finale.
TVEMF has done its members proud in recent years by unearthing hidden treasures from the Renaissance mines - Richafort and Phillip van Wilder, Josquin’s Phoebe radiis, Jaquet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton, and this foray into the luxuriant Baroque woodlands was equally enjoyable. We are greatly indebted to James for directing the event, and if chance has had it that he has become the evangelist, so to speak, for Rosenmüller, it is to our good fortune. Warm thanks are due to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event and to all the unidentified toilers in the vineyard who arranged sustenance for the labourers.
Accompanying Polyphonic Music on the Theorbo
In the March issue of Tamesis David Griffiths raises the interesting question of how to find appropriate chords on the theorbo to accompany Renaissance polyphony, given that we had some highly unusual combinations of voices and instruments in one or two of our sessions at the January Renaissance playing day (e.g. recorders, transverse flute, theorbo, curtal and voice!).
In reality, such a conundrum probably never occurred during the Renaissance period, at least in England, since the theorbo was not widely used until the reign of James I, and even then in a distinctive English adaptation of the lute rather than in the form of the true Italian theorbo (one of which was supposedly impounded as a suspect Popish weapon of regicide). However, the lute was certainly used to accompany vocal and instrumental polyphony, and presumably the same principles also apply to accompanying a vocal score on other chordal instruments such as the virginals.
Essentially, the theorbo can be used to play a moving bass line and/or an improvised chordal accompaniment. Ideally, a figured bass line is required in order to indicate the correct chord, but this would be anachronistic in Renaissance music. The “rule of the octave*” can therefore be used to predict which chords should be played in root position and which in first inversion, with frequent upward glances for accidentals in the vocal lines – not a perfect solution, but one that can be used to provide a reasonably useful accompaniment.
*The "rule of the octave" provides a formula which allows the continuo player (lute, keyboard, or even modern guitar) to predict the chord that will be required in order to accompany each bass note, according to its position on an ascending or descending scale, and can be useful when only an unfigured, or partially figured, bass line is available.
Victoria in Avila
‘Run by Singers’ has been organising choral singing holidays in Europe for over 10 years and ‘Victoria in Avila’, 30th March to 6th April with an optional stay in Madrid the day before was the second such holiday I have attended. My first had been in Assisi in August 2011 with David Allinson directing and I had enjoyed it immensely. It was made clear that booking, once open, would be swift for the Avila course and indeed within a day or two there were already waiting lists.
The day in Madrid was organised primarily for an outing to a Flamenco Club that was highly recommended. I decided to participate in this experience but alas I arrived feeling rather unsettled as I was mugged in the Metro on the way to our hotel. Fortunately only cash was stolen. The Flamenco session certainly lifted my spirits however as the quality of the singers, dancers and guitarists were outstanding. From a musical point of view there is an extraordinary contrast between the guitar music that is purely diatonic as determined by the frets and the singing that is full of microtones and portamento. It was frustrating to have no idea the meaning of the texts although the steps and facial expressions of the dancers gave general indications of mood.
The following morning, those of us who had been staying overnight in Madrid travelled by coach to Avila, about 70 miles west of Madrid. Avila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a walled city with an impressive cathedral, an abundance of storks and a chilly climate as it is about 3700 feet above sea level. Having left a delightfully mild London the cold wind and rain were unwelcome guests but it did mean that throughout the week we all focussed our energies on music making and were not tempted to play truant.
Although the rehearsal schedule was fairly intensive there was time in the afternoon to look round Avila and visit places of interest such as the cathedral and the church where Victoria was baptised. There was also time to socialise during the morning coffee break, lunch and at the organised dinners at various hotels. The food was very variable, sometimes excellent but, especially in the evenings, very unbalanced without a trace of any vegetable except the ubiquitous potato. Clearly Spain does not subscribe to the ‘five a day’ philosophy. By the end of the week I was suffering from considerable withdrawal symptoms and longed for a plate of broccoli. On the Thursday rehearsals finished at lunchtime and most of the group went by coach to Segovia and visited the cathedral, a castle that was a source of inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle and encountered yet more stalks.
There were around 60 singers including quite a few TVEMF members in the group. Women outnumbered men by 2 to 1 although the overall balance of parts was not at all bad. From the very start it was apparent that the group’s standard was extremely respectable. It must have helped that the music had been provided several weeks in advance so that those who were not were not confident readers had plenty of time to learn the notes. The blend of voices and overall tone quality were very pleasing and David was most complimentary about the singing. The one constant problem however was that pitch kept on dropping.
As well as being a top class music director, David Allinson can be relied upon to choose wonderful repertoire and every work we studied was a gem. There were four works by Victoria, (Missa Gaudeamus, Lamentations for Holy Saturday, Versa est in luctum and a magnificent setting in 8 parts for double choir of Salve regina). In addition we studied works by Morales (O sacrum convivium, Emendemus in melius, Circumdederunt me), Guerrero (O Domine Jesu Christe), Vivanco (Versa est in luctum) and, the only non-Spanish composer, Gombert (Lugebat David Absalon).
On the last night we gave a concert in a church outside the city walls. We had a large and enthusiastic audience, possibly as a result of press coverage during the week. We rose to the challenge and even kept pitch far better than at the rehearsals. David certainly demonstrated his confidence in the group by requesting that most of the pieces were to be performed with the singers scrambled. We had indeed scrambled frequently during the week so this caused little if any consternation at the concert. The audience cheered as well as applauded and the Salve Regina was especially popular and made a good ending. There was further press coverage on the day after the concert and clearly we had left our mark on this otherwise somewhat sleepy though very attractive city.
The World of Bagpipes
Mention bagpipes in the UK, and what springs to most people's minds is a picture of fluttering tartans and the Edinburgh Festival tattoo. But the Scots do not have a monopoly of this instrument, or its music, and while many early music enthusiasts will be aware of the fact that there are many different forms of bagpipe in every country in Europe and beyond, the variety covered in the Second International Bagpipe Conference (at London University's Senate House), which clearly only represented the tip of the iceberg, was quite an eye-opener. The instrument in its different forms dates back to mediaeval times and probably further, and many types survive virtually unchanged. The organisers (the International Bagpipe Organisation) managed to squeeze in 11 papers (less than half the number submitted), which ranged, geographically, over Belarus, Greece, Mallorca, France, Hungary, Scotland, and the USA (this last represents a more recent tradition, of course), and also dealt with composing for the pipes, and with people's attitude to them. In several countries there has been a revival of interest in recent years, so that a tradition which appeared to be dying out is being saved in the nick of time and passed on to a younger generation.
To describe the day in detail would take up a good deal of space, so a very brief abstract of the papers must suffice. Eugen Baryshnikau, leaving aside the "mediaeval bagpipe" which was found all over Europe, told us about the Belarussian dudá, also found in adjacent areas of Latvia, Lithuania and Russia, an instrument with one, two or three drones (most of the instruments surviving in museum collections are single- drone, the two-drone one is known only from drawings, and there is just one example of the three-drone one, which apparently could have up to six), distinguished by large carved wooden horns on the chanter and the bass drone (except for the 3+-drone dudá-maciánka, which does not have horns). The memory of the instruments and the traditions associated with them had survived in some of the villages, and out of this has grown the Dudarski Klub of enthusiasts, now numbering some hundred pipers, plus makers, a festival, bands, dance parties, and more. George-Pericles Schinas covered the history of one of the two types of bagpipes played in Greece, the tsamboúna, which basically has a 6-note double chanter and no drone, but varies slightly from island to island in sound, capabilities, technique and repertoire. It mostly acted as the centre for improvised occasions in which everyone, not just the musicians, took part, in small local communities, and this remains an important part of its nature today, though since the revival there have been innovations, meaning that the old means of expression can be applied to new situations. The role of the bagpiper as the leader of an occasion also applied In Mallorca, as we discovered from the paper given by Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (who also organised the whole conference) about the xeremier, a term applied both to the piper and the player of the flabiol and tambor (similar to pipe and tabor) who worked together as a duo. There is a certain mystique attached to the xeremier, who was originally a shepherd, though nowadays can come from any background (some of the flabiol and tambor players are women, working with male pipers - the pipers are still all men, though the speaker, who is herself a piper, was accepted as a player while she was conducting her research). They lead many official ceremonies besides playing for dancing, and nowadays perform in other contexts as well. Like other wind players one could name, they have a reputation for heavy drinking!
We crossed the pond to hear from Martha Moore Davis about the University of Iowa Scottish Highlanders, set up in 1936 and originally all-male, which became an all- female band during WWII when the men were called up - this paper was more a sociological gender study than anything relating to the instruments or the music. When the men came back from the war they formed a marching band to which women were not admitted until the outlawing of discrimination in this context, after which some men joined the Highlanders and a few women joined the marching band, but world events and the changes in university life led to the disbanding of the Highlanders in 2008. Will Connor from Hawaii told us about making pipes, specifically for the "Neo-Mediaevalist goth and metal communities", following the reintroduction of bagpipes into popular music, while the use of the musette in French opera from Lully to Rameau was investigated in some detail by Jean-Christophe Maillard, whose paper was beautifully illustrated with many contemporary drawings and paintings as well as several illuminating sound clips (tantalisingly short, as each speaker only had 20 minutes) - I had not realised that the drone on a musette was constructed along the lines of a rackett, with a long convoluted airway wound round inside a short fat cylinder. He gave us a brief live performance on one of his instruments at the end of his talk (several of the speakers did this, or used live illustration), which really gave a flavour of the musette, hearing it on its own rather than in the operatic context. From France we went to Hungary, to learn from Ron Atar about the influence of the peasant bagpipe performing style on some of Bartok's piano music - we heard one of Bartok's recordings of peasant music from his collecting trips - it was in a terrible state (as are some of the ones I have heard from Vaughan Williams' collections which were discovered in Cecil Sharpe House fairly recently), but one could just catch the character of the music sufficiently to hear the echo of it in the piano examples which were also played. Rohan Kriwaczek gave us a rather philosophical discourse on the nature of music, using the bagpipe (a Swedish single-drone instrument) as illustration, and firing off a lot of provocative remarks which we unfortunately lacked the time to go into when it came to questions, but which left us with food for thought. Eric Montbel gave us a fascinating account of the chabretas (cornemuses à miroirs du Limousin), which were played at the court of Louis XIII as the Cornemuses et hautbois de Poitou, eventually making their way to the Limousin - they relate to 16th-century Italian bagpipes, the phagotus and the sourdeline, and have a religious significance (the mirror-inlaid decoration usually bears a cross). The final two papers did concern Scotland - Vivien Estelle Williams spoke on the Romantic legacy of the bagpipe in Scotland, tracing the path from the disregard in which the instrument, along with other icons of Scottishness, was held following the failure of the Jacobite risings (though many writers regarded it as a symbol of masculinity, even machismo), to the view of it as a Romantic instrument, influenced by Scott and the Ossianic fragments along the way; and finally Hugh Cheape surveyed the concept of the bagpipe as the national instrument of Scotland, pointing out various contradictions, such as the Scottish involvement with Baroque music, Scottish fiddle music, pipes other than the great Highland bagpipe (such as union pipes, and pastoral pipes), and the rise of Scottish song.
A tremendous amount was packed into the day, of which I can only give this sketchy account, and as a bonus we had a concert the night before, featuring 1) Goran Farkaš from Croatia, who gave us Istrian music on what looked like a whole pigskin with a double chanter, which held enough air for him to be able to abandon the blowstick and sing now and again, 2) Habelas Hainas, a very lively group of 4 girls from Galicia, one played pipes/accordion/a flat square double-sided drum for which I don't know the name, another played pipes/the flat square drum, a third played a small side- drum hung round her middle or held between her knees when sitting (brilliant) and the fourth played a smallish bass drum slung at an angle so that she could beat it with a padded stick from above and her hand from below, also tambourine - and they all sang, and two of them danced, using Celtic-looking steps, a very varied programme, and 3)Andy May playing small pipes with a fiddler, an accordionist and a guitar player gave us traditional tunes and some they had composed themselves. All very enjoyable - but the Galicians stole the show! They came and did an impromptu performance before the afternoon session of the conference, and we had an impromptu piece of xerimie music in the morning from a couple of Mallorcans who were attending it. There was also a dance after the conference, to which I could not go - not that I can dance any more, but it would have been interesting to listen to the music and watch the dancing - the music was to be cornemuse and melodeon, and there was to be an dance instruction session at the beginning, so presumably one did not have to be an expert in Baroque dance to participate. There was also a small philatelic exhibition, stamps featuring bagpipes from various countries, more than one would have perhaps expected, and not many used the same illustrations.
It was sometimes a little difficult to follow the speakers when they had wonky English or heavy accents, but in my, admittedly limited, experience of international conferences this is par for the course - one cannot expect all the speakers to have perfect English, and supplying an interpreting setup makes everything impossibly expensive.
I went along out of an interest in old instruments and past participation in Scottish country dancing, and it was altogether a most interesting and enjoyable event which definitely broadened my horizons - and there is to be another one in February 2016 in Glasgow, over a day and a half (so things should be a bit less rushed, and more papers may be fitted in). Also there may possibly be a "Bagpipe day" in Oxford next spring, as there was last year (the first conference was the year before). I would recommend it to anyone who is at all interested - one doesn't have to be a piper!
More Music on the Page
some reflections by Brian O’Hagan
following Penny Vinson’s article in the September Tamesis
My favourite opera-related read is Robert Barnard`s "Death and The Chaste Apprentice", set in Buxton/Wexford. However many operatic whodunits are more gruesome than the operas themselves. Aficionados of Historically Informed Performance Practice who have strong stomachs will enjoy "The Last Castrato" (John Spencer Hill) in which a Ph.D. candidate researching the Camerata - we are in Florence - flirts with the dishy detective and dines in a number of restaurants. I found myself re-visiting Grout and Palisca with a deeper understanding. If you’re in Florence, The Cantoria (opposite the Duomo itself, and quite pricey) rivals Sir John Soanes’ Museum (gone mad!) Buy a few postcards.
There’s a choral society whodunit with a title like "Who is killing all the second sopranos?" It was published by Victor Gollancz about twenty years ago. I used Google to try to find the author/title but gave up after 2,000 hits on James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano)!
Interested in Mantua/Salomone Rossi/Vivaldi...? "False Relations" (Micheline Wandor) is a multi-layered collection of interlinked novelle with no "caveat lector". In total contrast, Jilly Cooper’s "Score!" (about a conductor) and "Appassionata" (about a violinist) are bonk-busters. It’s so long since I read Donna Leon’s "Death at La Fenice" that I remember nothing about it. Be aware if you buy Donna Leon that you are supporting her work with Alan Curtis and revivals of Vivaldi operas which is a GOOD THING! In Dona Leon’s "The Jewels of Paradise" the detective is a Venetian female musicologist who uncovers enough Steffaniana to make an article for Clifford Bartlett's Early Music Review. In complete contrast "Murder Duet " (Batya Gur) has Israeli mores, Bach, Brahms, Wagner, kvetching, art thefts, murders and a lost Vivaldi Requiem.
"The Tanglewood Murder" (Lucille Kamen aka C.B.Greenfield) captures the genius loci perfectly. (The background is symphonic music, not one-to-a-part madrigals.) The description of the romantic hideaway is seriously misleading - the hotel exists, but room-prices are astronomical, and it turns out to have a private landing strip! Meanwhile in Restoration London Susanna Gregory’s viol-playing spy enjoys the music of Louis Grabu. (In Gregory’s "A Murder on London Bridge", The Green Man is not a distinguished publisher of early music, but is instead Master of The Royal Fireworks, who in Papageno-garb lights the blue touch-paper and retires.)
Next ("If music be the food of love..") a post-structuralist leap takes us , via Derrida, "Back to Bologna" (my favourite - inter pares - Michael Dibden .) It’s delicious! (nb If you find yourself in Bologna don’t miss the UT ORPHEUS bookshop, the museum of the Conservatoire and the semi-private musical instrument collection.) Still in Italy, but further south, in the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, a distinguished but unpopular tenor is murdered in "I Will Have Vengeance" (Maurizio de Giovanni). Meanwhile, in the Big Easy, "To Die Upon a Kiss" (Barbara Hambly) involves a Creole repetiteur and rival American opera companies, while in Vichy France a deranged archbishop seeks to restore the Papacy to Avignon while directing Madrigali Amorosi in "poses plastiques". ("Madrigal"- Robert Janes.)
Under the pseudonym "Bernard Bastable" Robert Barnard has written not one, but two, Mozart mysteries ("Dead, Mr. Mozart" and "Too many notes, Mr. Mozart"). I am happy with the idea of Aristotle/Dr. Johnson/Daniel Mendoza... as detective, but I find the conceit of a longer-lived Mozart irritating (sorry, Vicky!) However I love "The Bee- keeper’s Apprentice" and "O Jerusalem" (Laurie R. King) where an impossibly long- lived Holmes acquires a young female Talmudic-scholar assistant. Reader, she marries him! Maybe that’s why he seems no longer to play the violin.
In "Dargason" by the late Colin Cooper, audiences are impelled to act out the emotions expressed in the music. Despite the occasional ATTACCA SUBITO! no sopranos are injured in the course of this work. (A Dargason is a Sir Roger de Coverley.) While on the subject of synaesthesia, Dennis Severs’ House (18 Folgate St, Spitalfields) vaut le voyage, especially for "The Sounds and Smells of Christmas", as does the little Renaissance organ in Montepulciano, whose cedar(?)/sandalwood(?) pipes emit puffs of scented blue smoke with every note - Skryabin would have been delighted! (For descriptions of a DIVA erupting, watch out for Zeinab’s appearances in Iain Pears’ "Mamur Zapt" series. My favourite is "The Mamur Zapt and the Mingrelian Conspiracy.")
Rose Tremain’s "Music and Silence" features an English lutenist at the C17 Danish court - I found it heavy going. (By the way, what is the name of the book where Thomas Coryate fails to impress the Khan with his Dowland, while the oudh-player delights with improvisations on a time-related maqam?) Set in Northern Italy against a background of the Grand Tour, "The Devil in Music" (Kate Ross) features a fully- functioning heterosexual male soprano, voice coaches and a convoluted plot. Meanwhile in C20 Paris, Olympia Press published "Pauline the Prima Donna", a translation of the (bogus) autobiography of Wilhelmina Schroeder-Devrient (friend of Beethoven and Goethe, and probably not as sexually voracious as Pauline.) I have a copy of the German original in my collection of Esoterica.
In my twilight years I find that I prefer Brigid Jones to Long Day’s Journey into Night- unfortunately it’s a Celtic twilight tinged with sadness. Was it Yeats who said "For all his wars were merry, But all his songs were sad"? Is it diet/the weather/religion/genes which predisposes the Irish to melancholy? James Joyce’s short story "The Dead" (from "Dubliners") involves Victorian/Edwardian drawing-room ballads and Irish folk- song references. The final paragraph is unparalleled word-music. In the John Huston film, the music is Jeremy Sparks’ "Irish Folk-Song Suite" for Guitar Quartet.