Tamesis Issue 239
Apologies for the late appearance of this Tamesis, partly due to the fact that I’ve only just got back from having rather a good summer with a lot of sailing when I wasn’t at summer schools - Beauchamp Renaissance music with Philip Thorby, and the Ardingly (formerly Oxford) baroque week. These were both really good in their different ways, and I’ll be happy to give more information about them to anyone who might be interested in going. It also took forever to deal with all the excess formatting in the numerous events and concerts I was sent - more on that in the next issue! I’m pleased to say that Sidney Ross has managed to resurrect his Lassus workshop review and you’ll see that it was well worth waiting for. His review of the brilliant choral workshop we’ve just had in Oxford with David Allinson will appear in November. There are forms for three workshops in this edition, David Hatcher on Merulo on 27th October, my baroque chamber music day on 16th November (do contact me if you haven’t been before and would like more info) and our annual Christmas workshop on 8th December, this year with Philip Thorby. The Greenwich International Festival and Exhibition is upon us again. Please see my article about it below and think about offering to help on the forum stand.
The new venue for the Beauchamp Summer School, Longhope Primary School, proved very successful, apart from somewhat inadequate kitchen facilities. The cooks managed to provide food perfectly well but it was a struggle and next year I believe the plan is to rent a portable kitchen. David Hatcher proved to be an excellent replacement for Alan Lumsden who has now retired, and I'm looking forward to his TVEMF workshop in October. Philip Thorby of course is always a inspiring and under his direction we were able to enjoy some “new” large-scale pieces by Michael Praetorius as well as some that we did at Beauchamp a few years ago. The National Early Music Association, in conjunction with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, ran a very successful conference on mechanical musical instruments at the Guildhall in July, which attracted people from all over the world. We learnt how information about performance practice could be gleaned from carillons, clocks, barrel organs and musical boxes – fascinating. See www.earlymusic.info for more. Apologies to those whose copies of the July Tamesis were faulty – if you had such a copy and would like a replacement then let me know. We are trying a different printer this month and hoping for better results.
Michael and Mary Reynor have long been members of TVEMF and actually met through singing in their local church choir. While Michael has organised several events for TVEMF, Mary was well known for supplying a feast of home baked cakes for everybody’s meetings, as well as one of the several background people who helped to make things run smoothly on the day.
Mary had struggled with chronic leukaemia for a long time, and the frequent transfusions that were part of the therapy eventually precipitated an iron crisis around Christmas that was potentially lethal. But, against the predictions, Mary slowly rallied and we enjoyed a delightful lunch with them both, followed by coffee in her lovely garden only some ten days before the heat and the struggle became too much. She died peacefully at home on July 15, 2013.
In addition to TVEMF outings I have many fond memories of summers singing with the Reynors under Michael Procter, both in Venice and San Marco, and in Abbaye Mondaye near Bayeux: singing the liturgy in both places. She will be much missed, and our condolences go to Michael and his family.
to Mary Walduck whose excellent review of the Donald Greig medieval sacred and secular music workshop in the July Tamesis was accidentally attributed to Mary Bagley.
Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition
Thursday 7th - Saturday 9th November
I’m always surprised when I meet people who haven’t been to this. It’s a wonderful (and cheap) day out. The beautiful Painted Hall in the old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is filled with stalls selling music and instruments and there are more in the hall downstairs. All day there are free short concerts and instrument demonstrations as well as paying concerts in the afternoons and evenings in the famous chapel and a nearby church. And one of the best ways to get there is by boat down the Thames.
TVEMF regularly runs a stand to give publicity to our forum and the other ones around the country, and we need volunteers to look after it for an hour or two every day. If you can volunteer a good long stint I’ll put your name on the list I hand in at the door and it may be possible to get you in free. Usually this works but it can’t be guaranteed. Our stand is a great place to be, chatting to interesting people and friends who pass by.
If you could help with this, please email me at secretary @ tvemf.org
Campaign for bigger music printing
It’s wonderful that so much free music can be downloaded these days from sources like Petrucci and CPDL, but have you noticed how small a lot of the fonts are that people use for it? TVEMF often makes use of these resources and frequently it’s impossible to improve the fonts because the music is produced as PDFs. There may be a lot of spare space at the bottom of the page but the notes are still printed quite small, probably because that’s the default size of the programme used. The words of vocal music are often even worse, in tiny print with huge gaps between the syllables.
Yes, I know my eyesight isn’t brilliant, but if you compare these more recent productions with something printed by a music publisher you’ll immediately see the difference in size. TVEMF can’t be the only forum which has workshops in places with slightly inadequate lighting when the sun goes in. Let’s all ask for bigger fonts, and if you’re one of the noble people who supply us with all this free music - thanks very much for doing it but please make sure the results of all your hard work are easy to read.
Forty-three singers, seven instrumentalists and seven versatile souls prepared to participate in either capacity came to St Sepulchre, Holborn on Saturday June 15th for a day devoted to the works of Lassus under the direction of Patrick Allies, whom we were delighted to welcome for the first time. The programme was selected so as to give us a view of the range of Lassus’ compositions and to demonstrate his amazing versatility. In the course of introducing the programme, Patrick also remarked on the unpredictability which is a prominent feature of Lassus’ compositions, which gave rise to an observation from one of the singers that we would no doubt provide some unpredictability of our own; which in turn led your reviewer to ponder, along Rumsfeldian lines, whether we would be the source of predictable unpredictability while the music itself was unpredictably unpredictable, or would it be the other way round?
Lassus (1532-94) was born at Mons in Hainault, and soon became widely travelled; by the time he was 22 he had been to Mantua and then Milan, in the service of Ferrante de Gonzaga, to Naples and then to Rome, where he became maestro di cappella at St John Lateran. Following the death of his parents he spent a short time in Antwerp, where his first book of five and six part motets was published in 1556. In that year he was invited to join the court of Duke Albrect V of Bavaria in Munich, and although in later years he journeyed to Frankfurt, Venice, Vienna, Trent, Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna and Rome, he refused all invitations to leave Munich. Indeed he made something of a parade of what might be called his “provincialism”, reminding the Italians, in the dedication of his fourth book of five-part madrigals, that “good Italian music could be written even in far-off ’Germania’ ”.
Lassus, as well as being versatile, was incredibly prolific. His sacred music includes over fifty masses, 101 Magnificat settings, a large number of other liturgical works including four Passions, and several hundred motets. His secular works include almost 100 lieder, 150 chansons and an even larger number of madrigals. Unlike his great (but considerably less prolific) predecessor Josquin, there is relatively little controversy about attribution, due largely, no doubt, to the fact that the bulk of his work found its way into print relatively soon after it was composed. The New Grove lists over eighty compilations printed during his lifetime, and the posthumous compilations include the massive Magnum opus musicum in twelve volumes, containing 516 motets. Magnum opus musicum, which was published in Munich ten years after his death, was assembled by his two sons, both of whom held positions at the Bavarian court from the 1580s onwards.
The first item of the programme was the Kyrie (SATTB) from the Missa Entre vous filles. No doubt it was thought impolitic for the title to reproduce the entire first line of the chanson by Clemens non papa on which it was based (Entre vous filles de quinze ans), the text of which advises those fifteen year old girls not to come to the fountain lest their obvious attractions should cause the singer to lose control. The prevalence of sexual innuendo in the chansons on which parody masses were often based no doubt gave impetus to the determination of the Council of Trent to eliminate the secular element from liturgical music; the activities of clergy and other authority figures featured prominently in that genre. A striking example of this is the parody mass Susanne un jour, published in 1577 and based on Lassus’ own chanson published in 1560 which recounts the tale of Susanna and the Elders (sometimes described as the world’s first detective story) in which Daniel, through the discrepancies in the Elders’ evidence, unmasks their duplicity in accusing her of immoral conduct. This episode is recounted in chapter 13 of the book of Daniel, which appears in the Douai-Rheims bible but not the King James version.
Next came a Marian motet for SSATBarB, Regina coeli, which necessitated some rearrangement of forces, particularly as the baritone part lies considerably higher than the tenor, reaching F on several occasions, whereas the tenor only for one fleeting minim goes above C. In contrast to the mass just mentioned, Regina coeli contains a good deal of melismatic writing. This would no doubt have attracted the disapproval of the Council of Trent, which was also committed to greater intelligibility - indeed, Lassus’ contemporary, Vincenzo Ruffo, published a set of Masses in 1571 “according to Conciliar decree”, avoiding “everything of a profane and idle nature” and composed so that “the numbers of the syllables and the voices and tones together should be distinctly understood by the pious listeners”.
However, Duke Albrecht was no religious zealot and Lassus, according to the New Grove, is known to have been stubborn about changing things in Munich to conform with new ideas coming from Rome. Where Lassus resorted to a syllabic style, this was often dictated by court requirements for a brief Mass, and the third item on our programme was the Gloria from the shortest of them all, the four-part Missa Venatorum, for use on days when the court went hunting. It appears that the quarry would get about twelve minutes’ start. In the 43 bars of the Gloria there are only four where there is more than one note to a syllable.
Next came Omnes de saba venient, for 2 x SATB, the Gradual and Offertory from the Mass of the Epiphany. There is little melismatic writing in this piece, but after the declamatory opening announcing the arrival of the kings, it becomes quite light and playful as it depicts the offering of the gifts of the kings of Tharsis and of the isles, of Arabia and Saba (gold and incense, but, unlike the Magi, no myrrh) before swelling into the long climax of the 14-bar Alleluia with which it ends. This was followed by the other polychoral item in the programme, the Sanctus from the Missa Bell’ Amfitrite altera. The source on which this Mass, published in 1610, is not known, but it may be that the title alludes to Venetian maritime supremacy, since in early Greek mythology, Amphitrite was the wife of Poseidon, and later poets (for example, Ovid) used her name as a personification of the sea. As in Omnes de Saba, there is little syllabic writing but the texture is constantly changing as the two choirs coalesce and divide.
The sixth item was the only piece of secular music in the programme, the chanson Bonjour, mon coeur for SATB with text by Lassus’ contemporary Pierre Ronsard (1524-87), generally regarded as the chief of the group of French Renaissance poets known as La Pleiade which also included Joachim du Bellay. Leeman Perkins (Music in the Age of the Renaissance, Norton, 1999, at p.938) says of this piece that “with only minor deviations the work’s texture and declamation are consistently homophonic and both prosody and syntax are reflected in the clearly articulated structure of the music”. The poet’s greeting to his love is adoring and respectful (ma toute belle, ma mignardise…mes delices, mon amour) and devoid of any overt sexual connotation.
We then returned to the Ordinary of the Mass. Having sung a Kyrie, a Gloria and a Sanctus from Masses in three contrasting styles, we were introduced to the Agnus Dei from the five-part Missa Pro Defunctis, published in 1589. This mass is based on plainchant and has the curious feature that there are bass intonations of the words “Agnus Dei” after each section of the text - those words are not sung by the choir at all. It may be that it was composed for the funeral of Duke Albrecht V, who died in 1579, though there is another (four-part) Missa Pro Defunctis published in 1584.
This diverse and fascinating programme ended with one of Lassus’ most famous motets, the six-part (SAATTB) Timor et tremor, published in 1564. The word- painting, though economical, is expressive throughout, from the initial musical realisation of the fear and trembling that has come over the petitioner, to the final calling upon the Lord that he shall never be confounded - twelve bars of rhythmic contrasts to picture the confusion, then the texture broadens into a C major chord, followed by a crunch between the Cs and Ds in the two alto parts before the triumphant G major chord which brings an end to the confusion. All in all, an immensely enjoyable and rewarding day spent in exploring the work of a major Renaissance composer who has not, as far as your reviewer’s recollection goes, featured to any noticeable extent in recent TVEMF events. It was a great pleasure to be directed by Patrick for the first time, and our warmest thanks are due to him for guiding us with patience and good humour through a demanding programme, to David King for organising the event and to David Fletcher for organising the music. Thanks also to all the unnamed volunteers who checked us in, made name tags available, provided and dispensed refreshments, and cleared up.
Finally your reviewer tenders his apologies for any errors and omissions as well as the fact that the review is an issue late. This was due to a computer crash the day before the original review was due to be submitted, causing a total loss of the script, which was about 80% complete at the time. Fortunately, with the aid of the manuscript notes and the music itself, it has been possible to reconstruct the bulk of what had been lost without undue difficulty.
Philip Smith sent this to the Pseudonames section of Private Eye, but it seems to have been too recondite for them.
Dear Victoria We congratulate you on so tirelessly promoting Baroque instruments in your Newsletter. yours sincerely Theo Bowe Kit O'Roney Arch Loot Viola Dhagam-Barr Tim Parney
So - any more suggestions?
Dulcie Anne Player
Music on the Page
Literature seems to have lagged significantly behind film in the choice of music and musicians as subject matter. Whereas I can only think of a handful of mainstream novels that feature musicians, films are many and varied from the 1950s onwards and early music has been as prominent as the lives of composers such as Tchaikovsky and Beethoven: for example, that of Lully in Le Roi Danse, Saint Colombe and Marais in the glorious Tous Les Matins du Monde, and a veritable feast in Farinelli, ll Castrato.
Until recently, I could only think of Rose Tremain's Music and Silence. Published in 1999, this impressive and dense novel tells the story of an English lutenist, Peter Claire, who comes to join the subterranean orchestra of King Christian lV of Denmark. Successors to this novel have been a long time coming. Admittedly, my favoured reading tends to be historical detective fiction. In this genre, Susanna Gregory features the choir of a medieval Cambridge college in one of her series. In her other, set in Restoration London, her protagonist, Thomas Chaloner, enjoys playing the bass viol, but there is sparse detail on the music actually performed. Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts is interesting on the controversy re the merits, or otherwise, of use of instruments and polyphony - as against plainsong - in sacred music. Her heroine's value in her convent is as a singer of exceptional ability. However, the focus of the novel is more on her restricted choice as a woman than on the music itself.
Nevertheless, I believe that things are changing. In several of the works of Pat Mcintosh, set in 15th century Scotland, music plays a significant role. The Harper's Quine centres on the disappearance of a woman singer who is the companion of a distinguished traditional peripatetic harper, and there is quite a lot about performance in the tale. Perhaps even more significantly, the hero, when he meets his future wife, joins with her in tackling newly arrived - to a surprisingly civilised Glasgow society of 1494 - works by Binchois and Machaut. The effect of this is to indicate that music making is a normal and valued aspect of daily life, and makes it the more surprising how absent it has been in historical novels hitherto.
Pat Mclntosh's The Stolen Voice is even more marked in centralising music. The story concerns the reappearance, seemingly unchanged, of a young boy with an exceptional treble voice, who had vanished, apparently stolen by the fairies, some 20 odd years before. (This story resonated with me during David Starkey's Music and Monarchy series when the improvisatory role of the discantus treble was being discussed). Important to resolving this mystery is the context of the rivalry between European cathedrals to have the best choirs, not stopping short of luring, poaching and abducting gifted singers from their competitors - even the football transfer market of today stops short of abduction.
You might be forgiven for challenging me on the grounds that this new evidence of greater interest in music is based on little known books. However, some bigger literary guns now seem to be entering the field. Matt Rees, whose first book The Saladin Murders was highly acclaimed, has more recently taken a totally different path with Mozart's Last Aria, in which Mozart's sister comes to Vienna to try and resolve the mystery of his death. This book owes something to the conspiracy theorists and Dan Brown, but is a fascinating exploration, and looks for clues in the music, as well as the life of Mozart. Our tutor in Medieval music in May of this year, Donald Greig has written a novel, which alas l have not yet read, called Time Will Tell, wherein, apparently, a musicologist researching 15"‘ Century composers, (if I recall Don's synopsis correctly), finds a previously unknown score. Imagine my surprise to find a work by Donna Leon in 2013 - a writer normally known and acclaimed for her Venetian police procedural novels featuring Inspector Brunetti - also with a musicologist as the central character. Caterina is hired by a lawyer acting on behalf of two rival descendants of the composer, Agostino Steffani (1654-1718), to investigate the contents of two trunks left by the composer and recently returned to Venice from Rome. Apart from a few bars of music and one complete aria, the contents are mostly letters but lead Caterina to research Steffani's life in great detail. As far as I can tell, Donna Leon's own research is thorough and accurate, though l have not had a chance to check the musical references. Via her heroine, she comes up with a plausible theory for Agostino's translation to Germany from Italy at the age of 13 and the probable subsequent events. This novel, The Jewels of Paradise, is by no means a great book, but it is an interesting one, that, l suspect, will have more appeal to early music fans than to Donna Leon's usual readership. At times it seems ponderous and wears its scholarship rather clumsily. There is, however, a definite sense of Donna Leon becoming hooked by her subject and it prompted me to have another look at the only piece of music by Steffani I possess, a rather pleasing duet for two sopranos which I know as Come, Ye Children. Perhaps the most striking thing about the book is that it got written at all, and I see it as encouraging that a relatively obscure composer should feature in a novel by a well known crime writer. I am quite prepared to be shot down in flames by people pointing out to me all the novels that exist about musicians and early music that I have missed/failed to mention. Indeed, I would welcome it, as then what a treat would be in store for me, to track them down and read them. If that does not happen, I can only hope that I have spotted a trend correctly as that would also hold out a promise for future interesting reading, and also that I have introduced the TVEMF membership to some enjoyable books.
I’d like to add to Penny’s list the very entertaining “Dead, Mr Mozart” by Bernard Bastable.