Exploring the limes

May 2008

On Saturday 26th April, TVEMF met in the United Reform Church, Ickenham, a part of that liminal area which is neither suburban London nor rural Home Counties, to explore the work of some composers who inhabit the liminal area between Josquin and Willaert. For this conceit I am indebted to David Allinson, whom we were all delighted to welcome once again.

After a short session of the contortions, gestures and strange noises without which no David Allinson workshop is complete, we embarked on Richafort’s Christus resurgens. As those of us who have been to John Milsom’s recent workshops are aware, Richafort has been somewhat cavalierly dismissed by historians of Renaissance music: for instance, A.W.Atlas in Renaissance Music describes him and de Manchicourt (another Milsom favourite), as “solid if unexciting members of what we will only half-jokingly call a ‘no-name’ generation”. After being led by David, with his customary mixture of illuminating analysis and vivid and wide-ranging metaphor, through Christus resurgens, I think that “solid” and unexciting” are among the last epithets we would apply to Richafort.

The pair of settings of Amy souffrez que je vous aime which followed included another hidden treasure. Gombert is a fairly familiar figure in our repertoire, and his 5-part setting was one of the less exacting items in the programme. The more intricate 7- part setting by Philip van Wilder was a charming piece by a composer who seems to have slipped in below the musicological radar; neither Atlas nor Leeman Perkins (Music in the Age of the Renaissance) mentions him, and Gustav Reese (Music in the Renaissance) merely records that there are numerous references to him in the account books of Henry VIII, to whom he was lutenist, composer and keeper of the instruments. Of his musical achievement, nothing is said.

The sufferings of unrequited love having been fairly briskly disposed of, we moved on to an altogether grander expression of pain and grief, of a very different order; Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon. This, I suspect, for most of us, was the high point of the programme and, whether or not post-prandial lethargy was a factor, the Mouton Ave Maria virgo serena did not, perhaps, arouse the same level of engagement.

The limitanei of the Thames Valley regiment were then suddenly elevated from the status of garrison infantry to the exalted ranks of comites and duces, in which capacities they engaged in a brief and inconclusive skirmish with Mouton’s Nesciens mater, fortunately without incurring any casualties. The day ended with a performance of the two star pieces, Christus resurgens and Lugebat David Absalon. The combination of David’s admirable direction and the number and balance of the voices produced one of those synergies which are often spoken about but rarely realised, and I do not think it would be unduly self-congratulatory for us to feel highly satisfied with our day’s work. However, for all the musical achievement, the day could not have been such a resounding success without all the time and effort which Jenny Robinson, aided (as she gratefully acknowledges) by support and advice from Vicky Helby and David Fletcher, put into organising the event; and warm thanks are also due to Mary and Michael Reynor and Jenny Gowing for providing and organising essential rations for the troops.

Sidney Ross

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