Tamesis Issue 240
Many thanks to all our contributors this month. There are three excellent reviews and I was particularly pleased to see so many letters to the editor and hope you’ll go on being inspired to write.
It’s a lot of work putting in all the concerts and events, so here are a few pointers. If you send a Word file, make sure it ends with .doc or I’ll only be able to read it on my phone. Please complete each entry individually - don’t send a long list and say “all concerts are on Mondays at the Tower of London and the contact for all of them is fatherchristmas @ northpole.co.uk” because I’ll need to add all that info to each item myself. Try not to use a lot of formatting, italics, bold, capital letters etc, which I’ll need to remove. Have a look at a typical entry and note the order - town followed by address, time, performers, music, contact info. I don’t put in conductors and only mention prices if it’s free, or if tickets are only available at the door. And please don’t refer me to your web site - cutting and pasting from web sites can cause chaos with my formatting which is sometimes quite hard to remove. We’ve got several new dates for your diary including a workshop on Georgian sacred song which promises to be quite different from anything we’ve ever done before. The Christmas workshop isn’t full yet but don’t wait too long to book. Some more sackbuts and, of course, tenors would be particularly welcome. And if I don’t see you there, may I wish you a rather early Happy Christmas!
Sunday 8th December 2013 at 5.15 approx.
(after the Christmas workshop in Amersham)
1. Apologies for absence
2. Approval of the minutes of last meeting
3. Chairman's report
4. Secretary's report
5. Treasurer's report
6. Election of officers and committee
7. Any other business
The TVEMF subscription has been £7 for as long as I can remember, thanks partly to a reduction in the number of issues of the magazine from 10 to 6 and partly to low-cost printing at my office. The toner for the elderly printer that I have been using is no longer being produced and the elderly person doing the printing, collating and posting 350 copies has had enough, so the job has been given to Clifford and Elaine Bartlett, who also print the EEMF magazine. This means that the cost per issue is now around £1.50 and, since the subscription needs to cover this, it will have to rise to £9. The family rate will be £12 and students in full-time education will pay £5. It makes the life of the Membership Secretary (me at the moment) easier if people pay by standing order so I’d be most grateful if you could fill in the standing order form you receive in January when your subscription is due for renewal. I was very sorry to hear of the death of Stephen Willis. He and his wife Doris were members of TVEMF for many years even after moving to Cyprus, thus stretching the concept of the Thames valley beyond plausible bounds. Stephen had been a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, and as well as being a singer and a choral conductor was an enthusiastic viol player and occasional performer on the serpent. He will be greatly missed. His step-daughter Jill Davies, a former TVEMF member, is organising a commemoration of his life, probably next summer. You can contact her at jilldavies23 @ btinternet.com.
It is now 25 years since TVEMF was founded and during that time its scope has broadened and the membership expanded very gratifyingly. We started with a group of 24 people who were almost all instrumentalists but now many of our members are primarily or solely singers, and most people are prepared to sing. This makes it much easier to run events where the instrumental requirements vary from piece to piece and of course fits in with the renaissance idea of the primacy of the voice in music. There have been a number of musical groups formed by members of TVEMF and at least two marriages between couples who met at one of our events, so it has been successful on more than one level. My own musical experience has been very much enriched and I have made many friends - you are a wonderful bunch of people! Having been on the TVEMF committee since 1988, I feel that it may be time to hand over to someone younger, so please give a thought to who might like to take over as Chairman before too long.
Letters to the Editor
Campaign for bigger music printing
Vicky, Hooray! Someone other than me feels strongly about readable music. I recently had to leave a choir in Cambridge owing to the enormously variable typefaces used in the sheet music editions I was confronted with and the harsh lighting at rehearsals.
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Dear Vicky, I quite agree about small dots - David brought us a lovely something to play the other day and none of us could read it. it often happens, so I join my voice to yours. I can't protest directly, because I'm not the one who finds stuff on the interweb and prints it out, but I protest (as well as being grateful) indirectly. I’m glad you brought it up!
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The Early Music Show
I’ve just (27th September) opened the Radio Times for Saturday. In the left margin, under the heading "Radio 3 Live in Concert" I found: "Sadly, the Radio 3 autumn schedule brings with it the first casualties of the budget cuts, including the demise of World Routes and the Early Music Show reduced by one programme." It's the Saturday edition that's bitten the dust, and the Sunday time has shifted: it's now 14.00 (which actually suits me better, but that's not the point). Poor Lucy Duran - booted out completely ... Was the Early Music Show expensive to produce? I can't imagine it - a fraction of the cost of those silly costumes for Strictly Come Dancing!
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Music on the page
Two recommendations for the same book. Dear Victoria, I read Penny's article with interest and would like to draw her attention to An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. It is about an English string quartet, the Maggiore, and I quickly realised the author had a deep understanding of music and musicians. And I quote "It is a tour de force of poetic, impassioned writing, conjuring brilliantly the worlds of Beethoven and Bach, of Vienna, Venice and London, of individual heartache and the familial bonds that tie a quartet". I strongly recommend it, although it could set you back $29.95.
Michael J. Sharman
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Dear Editor I found Penny Vinson's article in September Tamesis, "Music on the Page", very interesting. May I add one of my favourite novels about music and musicians? It is An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, first published in 1999. The leading character is a violinist in a string quartet, and the book is about his love for a pianist and the parallel with his love for his violin. While it's not strictly early music (no harpsichords!), there's a lot of Bach in it and a key scene in Vivaldi's Venice. There's wonderful stuff as well about the dynamics of a chamber group. Highly recommended.
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Philip Smith’s Pseudonames in September also prompted a couple of responses. Great minds once again ... I was listening to a radio 4 program about an African trip where I though for some time the guide's name was Sackbut but was disappointed to realise after a while that it was actually Sackbad. This could of course be a verb... Musing on the topic later I realised that Philip had missed out the following: Rick Order Kurt All Liz Ard
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A few suggestions to Dulcie Anne Player's list. This time of wind instruments: Rick Order Con Etto Liz Arden Curt Awl Al Toshaum
Tim Samuelson (aka Dulcie Anne Player II)
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A Methodist Renaissance
TVEMF’s autumn programme began with a singing day in Oxford on 7th September, under the inimitable direction of David Allinson. The Wesleyan Methodist Church Hall (next to St Peter’s College, where David studied as an undergraduate) is perhaps not a venue which one would immediately perceive as being imbued with the spirit of the Marian motet, but this cultural disjunct (if such it be) did not in any way detract from our enjoyment of the programme which he had selected.
The composers represented, in order of birth, were Josquin (ca 1450-1521), Mouton (ca 1459-1522) and Gombert (ca 1495-1556/61). This, as David told us, was a period during which, especially in the output of composers who had spent considerable time in Italian establishments (as did Josquin) or the French royal court (as did Mouton) the motet displaced the Mass as the primary form of liturgical music; see Leeman Perkins, Music in the Age of the Renaissance, (Norton, 1999) at p.508, who remarks, rather disparagingly, that such composers “apparently gave greater attention (if not greater care) to motet composition”. The sacred music of all three of these composers is dominated by the motet. The list of works compiled by Peter Urquhart for the Josquin Companion contains 95 motets and 20 masses; over 160 motets, about a quarter of which are Marian, are attributed to Gombert, whereas only ten of his masses survive in complete form, and Mouton, almost equally prolific, is credited by the New Grove with about 100 motets and 20 masses.
Out of this wealth of material David selected Gabriel nuntiavit by Gombert; Ave Maria…virgo serena by Mouton and three motets by Josquin, praeter rerum seriem, stabat Mater dolorosa and inviolata, integra et casta. The authenticity of works attributed to Josquin continues to be the subject of lively debate, but all three of these are in the central group of fifteen motets which John Milsom describes, in his study of Josquin’s motets for five or more voices (Josquin Companion, pp.282-320) as “pieces that might serve as touchstones against which all others can be mentioned”. In the course of identifying the misattributions and opera dubia he recounts at p.308 the remark of Georg Forster made in 1540 that [he remembers] “a certain eminent man saying that, now Josquin is dead, he is putting out more works than when he was still alive”. This posthumous activity appears to have been, at least in part, the work of German publishers peddling compositions of doubtful provenance or actual forgeries under his name so that they would sell more readily.
We began with the Gombert piece, in David’s own edition, scored for SSATB. David gave us a brief sketch of his life. He may have been a pupil of Josquin, on whose death (says the New Grove) he composed a deploration. He was a singer in the court chapel of the Emperor Charles V, became maître des enfants in 1529 and was appointed a canon of Tournai cathedral in 1530. Around 1540, he disappears from the record for a while. The source of the story that he was condemned to the galleys for violating a boy who was in the emperor’s service is a book entitled Theonostos by the physician Girolamo Cardano (Jerome Cardan); however, his “swan-songs” (not identified with certainty) induced Charles to rehabilitate him and award him a benefice. Cardano, a Renaissance polymath of considerable stature, had musical interests; among his many published works, which embraced mathematics (he was one of the founders of probability theory and supplemented his earnings as a physician by gambling), astronomy and medicine, was a treatise entitled De Musica which was published posthumously. Cardano’s own career mirrors Gombert’s in a curious way; late in life he was accused of heresy for having cast the horoscope of Jesus and for having written a book in praise of the Emperor Nero; he was briefly imprisoned, but eventually rehabilitated and granted a pension by Pope Gregory XIII.
A contemporary, Hermann Finck, said of Gombert in Poetica Musica (1556) :-
“he shows all musicians the path, nay more, the exact way to refinement, and the requisite imitative style. He composes music altogether different from what went before; for he avoids pauses, and his work is rich with imitative counterpoint”
One can see this in Gabriel nuntiavit; while the cantus firmus on the usual Ave Maria, gratia plena text is being carried by Cantus II, the other four voices display the imitative counterpoint in pairs, tenor imitating bass and Cantus I imitating altus, though the motifs are varied sufficiently to avoid exact imitation. The writing is fairly syllabic with short melismatic passages. Muriel Hall has kindly provided the following translation of the text:-
Gabriel proclaimed to Mary, faithfully delivering his message, ‘Hail, exalted one, full of salvation, the grace of the Most High will be sent from heaven into your inmost parts, in the presence of a throng of angels.’ The overshadowing of the Spirit operates unseen; the Mother, the childbearing Virgin, recognises the birth in the mystic dew. Fairest Virgin, bring us help, Lady of the faithful, direct all things, o wisest one.
Dew (noverat nasci rore mystico) is a well-known aspect of Marian symbolism, familiar to us (as Muriel reminds me) from the text Rorate caeli desuper, which is used as the introit for votive masses to Mary during Advent, and the mediaeval carol I sing of a maiden that is makeless (entitled “As dew in Aprille” in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols). Some of us may also remember studying Josquin’s motet Ut Phoebi radiis with John Milsom in March 2013; there, the reference to the dew on Gideon’s fleece (Judges vi, vv. 36-40) has been seen as a prefiguration of Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Ghost (William Elders, Symbolism in the Sacred Music, in the Josquin Companion, p.548) and has also been associated with the Annunciation, the feast for which Gabriel nuntiavit was composed.
Gustave Reese has said of Josquin that “Splendid as are Josquin’s chansons and Masses, it is in his motets that his art is seen at its greatest” (Music in the Renaissance, Dent, 1954). Following the very substantial Gombert opening number, we moved on to one of Josquin’s finest motets, praeter rerum seriem (SATTBB) which fully exemplifies Reese’s comment; remarkably, we had a sufficient number of tenors and basses to divide both voices. It may be that TVEMF is following the recently reported trend (Times, September 26) of large mammal species with low voices (the European bison, grey wolf and brown bear were mentioned) towards coming back from the brink of extinction.
Praeter rerum seriem is sometimes assigned to the Annunciation, alternatively to the Assumption or to Christmas, but the text focuses on the mystery, rather than the announcement, of the virgin birth. Its structure demonstrates Reese’s observation that “in Josquin’s motets, replacing of the old cantus firmus techniques by the device of pervading imitation, that is, by a series of fugue-like expositions, gets well under way”; the cantus firmus in the first part (praeter rerum seriem, parit Deum hominem) is in the soprano and tenor II parts, but by bar 15 the writing has become contrapuntal with the voices dividing into three upper and three lower for nec vir tangit virginem, nec prolis originem before recombining to end the first part with novit pater. Towards the end of the secunda pars, the writing becomes chordal with constantly changing combinations of three voices answering each other for Dei providentia, quam disponit omnia…tua puerperia, transfer in mysteria before uniting for the final salutation, mater ave.
Those two motets took up the pre-lunch session, and we resumed with the second of the Josquin pieces, stabat mater dolorosa (SA[T]TB), in which the middle part is the tenor of Gilles de Binchois’ chanson Comme femme decomfortee, evoking the image of Mary at the foot of the Cross. The editorial note referring to it in the Josquin Anthology edited by Ross W Duffin states that “the part is so sustained that it has been left without text; singers should vocalise on a neutral vowel”. The first tenors were spared the experience of 91 bars of neutral vocalisation, the part being played instead by Richard Whitehouse and Janice Waight. The Mouton Ave Maria…virgo serena (SATTB) is a very substantial work (at 189 bars, the longest item in the programme by some distance). It portrays Mary in an aspect quite different from that of the preceding three pieces, all of which were to do with events in her life; the Mouton motet, with its tracts of pastoral imagery, celebrates her attributes-her supreme sweetness, piety, and gentleness, her accessibility and her role as intercessor. As David said, the music is not word-painting, but an enactment of those attributes. One would, however, like to know the identity of that Theophilus who, in bars 118-132, was brought to grace out of the depths of filth and misery. We returned to Mouton after the tea-beak, but by the time we had rendered it to David’s satisfaction, only 20 minutes or so remained, during which we had a quick run through the remaining item, the five-part (SATTB) inviolata, integra et casta es. John Milsom (Josquin Companion, p.300) compares this to the stabat mater-which, he says “relies upon simple declamation, [while] the other (inviolata) spends most of its time in dazzling roulades of melisma, as if to clothe the Virgin in the musical equivalent of the flowing robes so favoured by the painters and sculptors of that day”. Time did not permit an in-depth exploration of the canonic ingenuity to which John refers elsewhere in that passage, but we did get a taste of its exuberance.
What more can one say, except to congratulate the guiding spirits of TVEMF on having induced David to direct this event, and David himself for having assembled a programme of such varied magnificence and steering us through it with all the erudition and good humour which we have come to expect. In the latter regard, the relatively new gastronomic simile of the hot sausage breath is a welcome addition to the predominantly confectionery-based menu which has evolved in the past. Warm thanks are also due to Nicola Wilson-Smith for having organised the event, and to all those unidentified volunteers who performed the essential ancillary tasks of the day.
Sunday 27th November; a day for singers and instrumentalists working on Claudio Merulo's Sacrorum Concentuum under the direction of David Hatcher in Amersham.
Merulo (1533-1604) was unknown to me, and probably most other participants, before signing up for the day, partly because he was more famous for his instrumental works. He was organist at Brescia Cathedral and then in 1557 beat Andrea Gabrieli in the competition for organist at St Marks Venice, about the most prestigious position in Italy. In 1584 he left and took up a position in Parma, where he remained until he died. His keyboard writing was innovative, influencing Frescobaldi and Sweelinck, but he also published books of madrigals for 3,4 and 5 singers as well as the motets for multiple choirs published in 1594, out of which four items were selected for us to work on.
We were a group of about 40, with at any particular time up to 15 instrumentalists and 25 or more singing, which usually meant at least two singers to a part. The band contained recorders, cornetts, viols, sackbuts, a cello and sometimes a bass curtal. David Hatcher had carefully worked out beforehand how parts were to be distributed, allowing for some people to combine singing and playing, but was very quick to make last-minute adjustments. Given the complications, getting us all lined up for each work was achieved with impressive efficiency. We started with two pieces for double choir, “Ave Gratia Plena” and “O Rosa Incorruptibilis” followed by the 8-part “In Tribulatione mea”, which took up most of the morning. One of the difficulties of the combined singing and instrumental type of approach is that the singers (even those who are also players) need more rehearsal time than the players to give even a halfway respectable account of an unfamiliar work. The director doesn’t want the singers sidelined by a reasonably competent band, but you also can’t have the band sitting around getting bored all day. David made improvements to voice production, pronunciation, attack and dynamics in an interesting way which engaged the whole room in exercises such as making vowels without any exaggerated facial movements, or starting with a vowel without an additional glottal stop. Of course, to give the right balance the choir would have had to be either the BBC Singers or twice as many amateurs as there were, but the singing was much more confident by the end of the day, especially when it came to counting bars. (We were, of course, fortunate in working from David Hatcher’s own edition in which the music was barred.) While to start with our director worked largely on the choir, those instrumentalists less accustomed to playing up an octave got a chance to study their parts.
By lunchtime we had also made a promising start on a Sanctus for four uneven choirs, and by the end of the day had made it through the longest work, a Magnificat. These Merulo works made full use of dramatic contrasts, especially those offered by choirs of different ranges, so we got a taste of the authentic in-the-round Venetian style, especially in the 4-choir Sanctus. As the day went on, the players got more attention – a couple of minutes on how to use fingering to correct pitch on the recorder and allow a much wider range of dynamics, which gave a glimpse of a whole unexplored world of technique – advice on bowing for the viols – and then towards the end of the day an introduction to decorative “divisions”, an essential aspect of performance, how they were taught during the Renaissance, and how, provided you have a basic understanding of harmonic progression, to tackle them now. David has an authoritative understanding of singing and instrumental (both wind and strings) technique and uses just the right mix of praise and friendly criticism to encourage people to experiment. I couldn’t hear what the singers might have been up to, but he did get at least one cornett and one recorder to have a go. I don’t know how many people could hear me, but I was very pleased with my effort! I can’t wait for another chance to spend an enjoyable day with this gifted conductor.
Cambridge Liturgical Weekend
Although this event, which took place this year on 13-15 September is not, strictly speaking, a TVEMF event, the majority of the singers who took part this year were, as in previous years, members of TVEMF, so it was thought appropriate to review it for Tamesis. The group consisted of 30 singers (six to each part) and, as has been the case in the past, the home contingent was reinforced by singers from Denmark, Finland and Holland. In 2012, Edward Wickham took over the direction of the event which Michael Procter had arranged at Gonville & Caius, and we are very grateful to him for keeping the event in being, the venue being his own college, St Catharine’s.
When choosing music from an era very much dominated by the twin peaks of Josquin and Lassus, and with the availability of a great deal of the work of scarcely less well- known composers such as Gombert, Mouton, Isaac, Clemens non Papa and Pierre de la Rue, it is only in recent times that the music of relatively unnoticed composers of the period has begun to feature in TVEMF workshops (particularly those directed by John Milsom, who has introduced some of us to Jachet of Mantua, Loiset Pieton, Richafort and Loyset Compere) and in events such as this.
Edward’s choice this year was the Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu nos faille by Pierre de Manchicourt, a parody mass based on the chanson by Richafort which opens with that line. Richafort, possibly a native of Hainault, lived from ca 1480-ca 1547, and was, like many of his Franco-Flemish contemporaries, a versatile composer, producing three masses, about a dozen Magnificat settings, thirty motets for four, five or six voices and twenty chansons for three, four, five and six voices. The text of Cuidez vous que Dieu nos faille, which was published in 1540, is curiously insouciant when one considers that western and central Europe was then riven by religious conflicts in which the Lutherans faced opposition from more extreme Protestant factions as well as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and damnation was freely prophesied by and against all parties. Your reviewer has found the following translation on the internet:-
“Do you think that God blames us for spending lavishly ? There is so much more to worry about than that for which he takes us to task Until the day of judgement; Friends, let it not matter to you-the goal is well worth the cost”.
In keeping with the text, the chanson (for SSATB) bounces along quite briskly, very much one note per syllable, with the final strophe (le terme vaut bien l’argent) defiantly repeated three times as if to emphasise the message that we should live enjoyably in the present and not worry about the Day of Judgement. Any sentiments less compatible with the wave of Calvinism that swept across the religious battleground are hard to imagine.
Pierre de Manchicourt (ca 1510-1564) was born in Bethune, in the Pas de Calais, and held various positions in Tours, Tournai, and Arras, but he spent the last five years of his life as master of Philip II’s Flemish chapel in Madrid, where he died. Manchicourt is credited with 19 masses by the New Grove, 12 of which are parody masses on chansons or motets. The article in the New Grove states, baldly that “His masses are typical of the period”. Allen W Atlas, in Renaissance Music (Norton, 1998) seems to be even more dismissive; in discussing what he describes as “the courtly tradition”, he notes that de la Rue “has been credited with influencing such composers as Jean Richafort and Pierre de Manchicourt, solid if unexciting members of what we will only half-jokingly call ‘a no-name’ generation”. However, his commentary on The Catholic Church and its Music at chapter 26 of that work puts that observation in a different context; he says:-
“For whom, then, does this generation consist of no names ? For us. It is we who have tended to neglect them, especially their sacred music, which may be the most forgotten repertory in the 200 years that interest us. Yet no music of the period 1520-50 displays a greater continuity with the past than the sacred music composed for the Catholic church…The parody Mass became the overwhelming favourite; and in both Mass and motet the driving force was pervading imitation”
Thus, Edward Wickham, like John Milsom and David Allinson (with whom we encountered Philip van Wilder), is playing an important part in rescuing that repertory from desuetude. Of the Mass itself there is not a great deal to say. The motifs of the chanson persist throughout, with the opening motif particularly prominent, and the feature which your reviewer found most novel occurred in the Credo (which we explored on the Saturday but did not sing in the Mass), where the Crucifixus section was sung by tenors and basses and then Superius, Contra and Tenor (voices 1, 3 and 4) took over at “et iterum venturus est” until all parts united at “et in spiritum sanctum”. The period of unemployment for Quintus (voice 2) ended at the Benedictus, which is scored for the three upper voices, who also had to reorganise for Agnus Dei III where, as is often the case, an extra part (in this case Sextus, or alto II) is introduced. The other item of Renaissance music to be included in the service was Guerrero’s five- part (SSATB) motet, Ave virgo sanctissima which preceded the Sanctus and Benedictus. Francisco Guerrero (1528-99), chapel master of the cathedral of Seville, and a great employer of instruments such as shawms, cornetts, flutes and bassoons to embellish and alternate with vocal lines, is said by Atlas to “have enjoyed a tremendous wave of posthumous success in Spain’s American colonies”, and his works were copied extensively for cathedral use in the New World. Of the motet, the New Grove says that:-
“…it became so popular that he was regarded as the quintessential composer of the perfect Marian motet. It was the more remarkable in that its intense emotion was generated within the confines of a canonic structure…the voices move so smoothly and effortlessly, and the harmonic impulse remains so clear throughout, that its technical complexities may pass the listener by”
On those complexities your reviewer will not attempt to dilate, but sign off with the words so frequently employed by mediaeval recounters of miracles, Quid plura ?
Even the persistent Fenland rain failed to dampen our spirits; it was a most enjoyable weekend, and it is very good news that Edward has agreed to direct a similar event in September 2014. Very warm thanks are due to Sarah Young and Neil Edington for organising the event, and special thanks to Neil for producing the music, not only for the service but an additional booklet containing the Credo, something of a blockbuster at 264 bars. The front covers of the booklets were fetchingly embellished with a photograph of the main gate of St Catharine’s, bringing to mind Wordsworth’s well known lines “Shades of the prison house begin To close upon the growing boy” but in fact we were pleasantly accommodated and well fed, and look forward to returning to St Catharine’s next year.