Reviews by Sidney Ross

In Tamesis, the magazine of
The Thames Valley Early Music Forum

Prince Henry motets

May 2017

The TVEMF event at the United Reformed Church, Ickenham on Saturday, March 11, attracted a large body of singers eager to explore the musical consequences of what may have been a major turning-point in English history. For that journey we were indeed fortunate to have, as our guide, philosopher and friend, the versatile and widely travelled Patrick Craig, who not only led us expertly through a demanding programme but enlivened the occasion with information about the chequered careers of some of the composers represented, Jacobean court life, Henry’s upbringing and achievements, and public and private reactions to his death.

There has been little to say about warm-ups in recent reviews, but Patrick’s are noteworthy in that one of their stated objectives was to exercise, by means of various combinations of bodily movement and vocalisation, both halves of the brain. The warm-up which preceded the afternoon session involved singing the familiar nursery rhyme about hot cross buns while engaging in contrary motion. For those who wish to improve their technique in that respect, your reviewer has the good news that googling “hot cross buns song actions” will yield over five million results, many of which are on YouTube.

Henry, had he lived, would undoubtedly have been a patron of literature and music as well as of architecture and garden design, in which he had already shown a great interest. That clearly appears from the two books which Patrick brought to the event, the biography by Roy Strong (Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance, 1986) and the book of the exhibition of 2012 commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of his death, entitled The Lost Prince: the life and death of Henry Stuart, edited by Catherine Macleod and produced by the National Portrait Gallery. Among the contributors to the flood of elegiac literature were well-known poets (Donne, Herbert, Campion and Chapman) and playwrights (Tourneur, Webster and Heywood). Classical allusions permeated the titles of these works. The otherwise almost unknown Josuah Sylvester, who would probably have been Henry’s court author, produced Lachrimae Lachrimarum or the Distillation of teares shede for the untimely end of the incomparable Prince Panaretus, (“all-virtuous”), while William Drummond of Hawthornden contributed Tears on the death of Moeliades, which he then turned to commercial advantage by having his 1616 collection of verse sold under the title Poems Amorous, Funerall, Diuine, Pastoral in Sonnets, Songs, Sextains and Madrigalls, by W.D., the author of the Teares of Moeliades. The appellation Moeliades apparently derives from a chivalric event which took place on the occasion of Henry’s “official entry into this romanticized and ritualized martial world [which] came on 31 December 1609, when under the guise of Moeliades, Lord of the Isles, Henry issued a challenge to all the knights of ‘greate Brittayne’ ”. (Catriona Murray, The Pacific King and the Militant Prince? Representation and Collaboration in the Letters Patent of James I, creating his son, Henry, Prince of Wales, eBLJ 2012, Article 8)

The nine items of the selected programme included the works of five composers. Weelkes, Wilbye, Tomkins and Orlando Gibbons are no doubt very well known to singers of the music of this period, being represented in all the standard anthologies. Ramsey is much less well known, though two volumes of the Early English Church Music series (one of English and one of Latin sacred music) are devoted to him, and among his other works is a set of consort songs entitled Dialogues of Sorrow upon the Death of the Late Prince Henrie, published in 1615. In English Sacred Music 1549-1649, (Gimell, Oxford, 1991) Phillips gives pride of place among those five composers to Gibbons and Weelkes (one chapter between them), Tomkins (a chapter to himself) and divides the rest into professionals and amateurs, Ramsey appearing in the latter category among the “amateurs influenced by the Italian monodic idiom”. He was of Scottish origin, born in the 1590s, but spent most of his life in Cambridge, graduating B. Mus in 1616 and becoming organist of Trinity College in 1628. Phillips says of him that he “unmistakably showed more daring in his English anthems than was common among professionals, though he achieved no fame for them at all during his lifetime”. Phillips also refers to a number of contemporary compilations to which he was not invited to contribute and works of reference in which he was not mentioned, and surmises that that was because he was regarded as eccentric compared with his more orthodox colleagues at Cambridge. In more recent years Sleep, fleshly birth (one of his eight madrigals) has been included in the Oxford Book of English Madrigals and his anthem How are the mighty fallen, which was one of the items in our programme, is his sole contribution to the collection of Tudor Anthems edited by Lionel Pike (Novello, 2010). That collection also includes two other items in our programme, Wilbye’s O God, the rock of my whole strength (one of his very few incursions into the field of sacred music) and Tomkins’ Then David mourned.

David Butler’s excellently produced booklet containing eight of the nine items in the programme was headed “Music inspired by the death of Prince Henry in 1612”. That reflects what Alan Clark would have called the “actualité”, since very little seems to have been written specifically for the obsequies. The only such anthem identified by Phillips is Tomkins’ Know ye not (SSAATBB) which sets texts from Ezekiel, Lamentations, Amos, Zechariah and Psalms as well as the familiar texts from II Samuel. This was not included in our programme, which, however, began with one of Tomkins’ better known anthems, When David heard (SAATB), with text from II Samuel xviii, 33. This is a tragedy in two acts; the narrative which builds up to the repeated “and wept” and is linked to the lament which takes up the second part by “and thus he said”; the tenor entry on top G initiates the successive waves of grief which eventually die down, in the final 3:2 section, to a more reflective conclusion. Next, we attempted a less well-known work by Tomkins, When David mourned (SSATB), from his Musica Deo sacra, with a different text, from II Samuel i, v.17. It is interesting that composers of this era set texts which portray the relationship between David and Saul in affectionate terms. Move forward to 1738 and we have the libretto which Charles Jennens wrote for Handel’s oratorio, Saul, drawing on the later chapters of I Samuel in which Saul’s original admiration for David’s prowess turns to envy and hatred, vividly portrayed in Part II, scene IV (beginning with Saul, recit., “The time at length has come when I shall take My full revenge on Jesse’s son…”, and ending by ordering Jonathan to kill him.)

Phillips (p.187) says of When David mourned that it “relies for its effect on very unstable tonality, based not on modulation but on the rather unfocused use of only vaguely connected chords and chromatic notes”. Having emerged from this unfocused chromaticity, we set out on our exploration of the three items by Ramsey, When David heard (SSATBB), How are the mighty fallen (SMATBarB) and the first secular item of the programme, Wilt thou unkind leave me weeping (SSAATB). By comparison with both Tomkins’ and Weelkes’ settings of the same text and his own How are the mighty fallen, Ramsey’s When David heard is a relatively small-scale and inexpressive composition. His How are the mighty fallen, which followed, was undoubtedly the centre-piece of our programme. The text is from II Samuel i, vv.25-27, and the structure reflects that fact that the title phrase occurs at the beginning of both v.25 and v.27. Its rapid repetition in all voices in the opening section conveys the impression of the mighty falling individually, with “in the midst of the battle” depicting the culmination of their destruction. The change of theme from carnage to mourning is smoothly managed and the treatment becomes broader and more reflective as the text moves on from the slaying of Jonathan, through the expression of woe, to the eulogy on the quality of the love between them, while the reprise of the opening words in the final section seems almost to exult in the fall of the mighty and the destruction of the weapons of war. In the last of three Ramsey compositions, a madrigal, we passed from shared to unrequited love, with the disdained lover traversing a familiar gamut of emotions, ending with a rather charming sequence of defiance in which he first invites the loved one, almost with a battle-cry, to enjoy his deadly pangs and then, in supplicatory mode, to re-invigorate him so that he can revel in further torments.

The short composition by Orlando Gibbons, O Lord, how do my woes increase, is a setting of a poem by Sir William Leighton. Leighton, a Gentleman Pensioner of James I, had plenty to complain about and plenty of time in which to express his dissatisfaction with his fate, since he was imprisoned for debt in 1609 and passed the time by versifying. The collection contains fifty-three pieces and, apart from Leighton himself, Byrd (with seven) was the most prolific contributor; Tomkins is the only major composer of the period who did not contribute (see Phillipps, pp.86-89). Gibbons’ brief depiction of the incessant and increasing woes is most easily seen in the Cantus line with its interrupted upward movement. From the least to the most madrigalian composer of the programme-Gibbons to Wilbye-was our next step; O God, the rock of my whole strength is another piece from the Leighton collection.. Wilbye spent much of his life as household musician to the Kitsons of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, who do not seem to have required him to set any sacred texts. In this madrigalian anthem Wilbye gives full expression to Leighton’s text.

The final items in the programme were two anthems by Weelkes. The text of the first, O Jonathan, woe is me, (SSAATB) is from II Samuel i., 26, that is, the same text as the central section of How are the mighty fallen. Although Weelkes stands much higher than Ramsey in the general estimation of composers of this period, your reviewer would venture to suggest that in a comparison of those two settings, Ramsey emerges as the clear winner. “Very kind hast thou been to me” seems almost perfunctory and “thy love to me was wonderful”, disposed of in only four bars, even more so. On the other hand, When David heard (SSAATB) gives the text full value although in shorter bursts of grief compared with Tomkins’ more sustained expressions of it; a clear example of this is the treatment of the words “O my son Absalon” in the two settings.

After a generous and nourishing tea-break we returned for a final session which was mainly devoted to polishing up our performance of How are the mighty fallen. Whether this will kindle a more general desire for further exploration of Ramsey is in the lap of the gods (as represented by the management of TVEMF) but for your reviewer, that one item alone was worth the journey.

Finally, our warmest thanks are due to Patrick for his expert and entertaining direction of the event, to David Butler for organising it and producing the music, to Vivian Butler for a stellar display of the cake-maker’s art, and to all those who helped in less noticeable ways to make the occasion such a success.

Sidney Ross



Gigantic polyphony

March 2017

Some forty singers gathered together in the Friends’ Meeting House, Oxford on 21 January 2017 for another excursion into largely uncharted territory under the erudite guidance of John Milsom. The two works which occupied our day were the nine-part Salve Regina by Robert Wylkynson, (Eton Choir Book and Cantus Firmus spelling), Wilkinson (New Grove) or the hybrid Wylkinson (John’s own version), and the Gloria from the mass Et ecce terrae motus (the Earthquake Mass) by his near contemporary, Antoine Brumel (ca 1460-1512/13). The New Grove gives W’s dates as ca 1450-1515 or later, the Cantus Firmus edition as ca 1475-1515 or later. There is some plausibility to this later dating, since the Newcastle University Eton Choirbook Research Project suggests that he may have been a King’s Scholar in 1494 (so he would have been nineteen or less in that year) before becoming, successively, parish clerk, lay clerk and instructor, and then leaving, in unknown circumstances, in 1515. Although the Salve Regina will be discussed in more detail later on in this review, your reviewer would like to draw attention to the following entry in the New Oxford Companion to Music (general editor, Denis Arnold, 1st edition, 1983). It is the very last entry in volume 2, at p.1995, and it reads:-


    Wylkinson, Robert (fl. late 15th, early 16th centuries). English composer. He
    worked at Eton College, first as parish clerk and then as Master of the
    Choristers from 1496 to 1515. His music survives in the Eton Choirbook and
    includes a monumental nine-part Salve Regina and a curious setting of the
    Apostles’ Creed in the form of a 13-part canon.
    JOHN MILSOM
   
Wylkynson composed two settings of the Salve Regina, the other being set for five voices. The New Grove states that his style appeared to be not fully developed in the five-part setting, but appears to perfection in the nine-part setting, one of the glories of the collection (that is, the Eton Choirbook). The nine parts represent the nine orders of angels; the starring roles go to the sopranos (Seraphim and Cherubim) and basses (Archangels and Angels). The altos, being Thrones, presumably sit around looking decorative; the baritones (designated in the Musica Britannica edition published by Stainer & Bell as the ‘inferior countertenors’) have to live up to their billing as Virtues, and the tenors (the ‘superior countertenors’ being the Dominations, and Principalities, while the Powers are allocated to the part designated ‘tenor’) no doubt are charged with ensuring that the angelic mechanism ticks over regularly and doesn’t fall apart. John’s explanation of the harmonic structure seemed to reflect this, in that (as your reviewer understood it) it is largely determined by the setting of the relevant outer parts, and the rest of the harmony is written into that structure, rather like the cream and jam inserted between the layers of an enormous millefeuille pastry. This can be seen in the small section (bars 63-74 of the Cantus Firmus edition from which we sang) devoted to the single word ‘ostende’, although it was twenty minutes before we progressed to singing the word itself rather than vocalising the notes to the syllable ‘doo’. We were exhorted, in the course of this ‘dooing and froing’, to be ‘nifty’, the particular type of niftiness being that of an eager spaniel pulling on its leash-not, perhaps, the first image that might come to mind in the context of performing a composition from the Eton Choirbook.

As John pointed out to us, the composition (which he dated to around 1505) is based on a tenor cantus firmus, Assumpta est Maria in caelum. The very strong associations of Eton College with the Virgin Mary which he drew to our attention are exemplified by the special papal indulgence granted (presumably by Eugene IV on his restoration, following the expulsion of the antipope Amadeus of Savoy) in 1443 to all penitents visiting the collegiate church of Eton on the feast of the Assumption (each penitent being expected to make a contribution towards the maintenance of the college) and the armorial bearings granted in January 1447/8 which included three white lily flowers (without leaves and stalks) denoting ‘the service of God and the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God’; see Lionel Cust, History of Eton College, (Duckworth, London 1899), pp.13 and 17. The 93 compositions which have survived to be included in the present-day edition of the Eton Choirbook include fifteen settings of Salve Regina, as well as many other Marian texts.

The setting begins with a short nine-voice section in which the tenor (T3 in the Cantus Firmus edition) renders the Assumpta est Maria cantus firmus, on the word ‘Salve’. It is periodically re-stated throughout, by the tenor, and also by soprano 1 (quadruplex) in the last of the three tropes, beginning on Et pro nobis flagellato, and the composition is brought to a symmetrical conclusion by the tenor’s final, slightly ornamented restatement, to the words O dulcis Maria, salve. The Cantus Firmus edition prints four of the six verse tropes associated with Salve Regina, though the Wylkynson setting does not utilise the Dele corpus miserorum verse which precedes O dulcis Maria, salve. Throughout, the full nine-voice sections alternate with contrapuntal or polyphonic passages. John explained to us that, technically, ‘counterpoint’ is a term which refers to settings for two voices; three or more constitute ‘polyphony’. There is but one short section at the beginning of the first trope, Virgo mater ecclesie, which is truly contrapuntal, as it is sung by S2 and B2, the Cherubim and the angels, before the tenor joins them for the second half of the verse, esto nobis refugium.

To sing through the entire piece, as we did at the end of the day, was a remarkable experience; as one tenor said at the end, ‘The final Salve Regina was worth the trip’. Indeed, John’s suggestion that the stresses of everyday living might be alleviated by obtaining a copy of the Eton Choirbook and singing along with the Sixteen or the Tallis Scholars might with advantage be communicated to Jeremy Hunt; one volume of the Musica Britannica edition at approximately £70 from Stainer & Bell has to be a lot cheaper than a course of anti-depressants, though of course, it is not so readily portable as a small pack of (say) Celexa or Prozac.

In between working up the Salve Regina to something like end-of-the-day performance level (though, unaccountably, the O clemens section and part of its trope more or less escaped any rehearsal) we were taken through the Gloria of the Brumel Earthquake Mass. Brumel was a fairly prolific composer who appears to have led a restless life, beginning as a singer at Notre Dame in Chartres, ending as maestro di cappella at the ducal court of Ferrara and holding other positions in France and Switzerland in the interval, though in a career apparently dogged by controversy and frosty relations with employers, he held none of them for more than six years. The New Grove credits him with fifteen Masses, thirty-one motets, three Magnificat settings and a few secular works with popular texts such as le moy de may and tous les regrets. The New Grove says of the Earthquake Mass, which it places in the middle period of his compositions, that ‘a work of such proportions must have been a distinct novelty at the time’ and criticises his technique, remarking that ‘the rather close grouping of the lower voices sometimes produces a thick, heavy texture, perhaps reflecting the composer’s inexperience with large forces’; and indeed, apart from three motets, two for five voices and one for eight, no other composition of his written for more than four voices is extant. The article is less disobliging about the cantus firmus, acknowledging that the Easter antiphon which serves in that role is ‘often skilfully moulded into a three-part canon’. One example is the laudamus te section with T1, T2 and B3 entering at three-bar intervals, a fifth apart.

We sang from an edition prepared by Sally Dunkley. This provoked a short debate about reduced note values which turned out to be about as inconclusive as the Brexit referendum. The setting is for twelve voices, three each of sopranos, countertenors, tenors and basses. There are no passages written specifically for smaller numbers of voices and the treatment of the text is in many places unexpected; for instance, some of the most highly ornamented and rapidly moving writing is devoted to the words ‘…miserere nobis Qui tollis peccata mundi’. It is perhaps less unexpected that this style continues into ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram patris’ but then, instead of moving on to ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’, there is a passage of a dozen bars in which the words ‘miserere nobis’ are interpolated into the text. ‘Tu solus Dominus’ proved to be somewhat disconcerting as those words are set in ways which produce different stress patterns in the various parts, thereby creating what one might call a foundation of chaos, on which was superimposed a layer of uncertainty as those of us previously unacquainted with this work picked our way through it for the first time. It was something of a relief to reach the relatively uncomplicated final section, and the tea-break before singing through the Gloria and then the Salve Regina was particularly welcome.

We are all deeply indebted to John for another fascinating musical experience and we hope (notwithstanding his announced intention of devoting himself henceforth to directing events where the singing is from facsimile) that he can yet be persuaded to direct a TVEMF event occasionally. No-one else (at least, in this reviewer’s experience) has led us down so many previously unknown and ultimately rewarding pathways. Warm thanks are also due to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event, to David Fletcher who reformatted and printed the Brumel Earthquake Mass, and to the providers of tea, coffee, cake and biscuits.

Sidney Ross

Spanish Christmas in Amersham

January 2017

The TVEMF Christmas workshop for singers and instrumentalists took place, as usual, at the Community Centre in Amersham, and once again we had the great pleasure of being directed by James Weeks. In our most recent previous encounter, at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall in Oxford, James had appeared in the role of evangelist for the relatively unknown Johann Rosenmüller (1610-84), a Saxon baroque composer who left Leipzig under a cloud in 1655 and spent nearly all of his subsequent musical career in Venice. For this occasion we moved backwards in time and westwards in space, exploring a programme of music by Victoria (1548-1611) and Francisco Guerrero (1528-99) in which Mary and the Nativity featured prominently.

We began with Victoria’s motet Quem vidistis pastores for six voices (SSATTB) in which the rustic shepherds are exhorted to say what they have seen, rather gently in the first part of the motet and much more urgently in the second part, when they respond with a sense of mounting excitement (James cautioning us at this stage not to convey the impression of mounting panic instead, as we segued into the final rapidly-moving and highly ornamental Alleluia). The second item of the programme, Guerrero’s Pastores loquebantur (SSATBB) recounted the Nativity from a different perspective. Instead of the shepherds being asked what they had seen, they recount what had been shown to them, their rapid journey to Bethlehem, vividly painted in the passage et venerunt festinantes, followed by the contrasting expression of their wonderment on viewing the Nativity scene. James drew our attention to the contrast between the styles of the two composers, observing that Guerrero’s was less rhetorical than Victoria’s, and reminiscent of Morales, with more polyphonic flow. The contrast is particularly well demonstrated by the slower-moving and more reflective Alleluia which concludes the second part of Guerrero’s motet depicting Mary’s meditation on the words which she had kept and gathered together in her heart.

We then moved on to a different genre, which James introduced to us as ‘polyphonic pop’, less colloquially referred to under the title Canciones y villanescas esprituales. The villanesca appears to have become popular in Naples in the 1540s and the genre soon spread to Venice, Padua and other cities of the Veneto. It is said that these compositions expressed a certain rustic naiveté by the employment-presumably intentional-of parallel fifths between the outer parts (Leeman Perkins, Music in the Age of the Renaissance, p.699). Guerrero’s collection, containing 61 such works, was published in Venice in 1589. Like most of his Spanish contemporaries (so the New Grove informs us) ‘he saw nothing inappropriate in fitting songs originally composed to sacred texts with alternative sacred texts; the collection demonstrates this, as it includes 18 contrafacta. We performed two of these, in which the infant Jesus is the principal figure (Niño Dios d’amor herido, SATB) and later in the programme, A un niño llorando al hielo, SSATB). Your reviewer’s admittedly cursory search has not uncovered a significant number of parallel fifths in the two works mentioned, and indeed it seems improbable that Guerrero was ever guilty of rustic naiveté, even in this popular mode of composition. Closer examination of works featuring shepherds may throw more light on the question.

The next substantial work was Guerrero’s eight-part Ave Maria (SSAATTBB). James referred to the bass parts as being truly melodic ‘and not a kind of proto-basso-continuo’
    and it seems that Guerrero liked to make use of the resultant richness of
texture since in the Agnus Dei of a number of his masses, e.g., Ecce sacerdos, In te Domine speravi and Simile est regnum caelorum, as well as Sancta et immaculata virginitas, that being the next piece which we sang, it is the bass, not the tenor, that is divided. Your reviewer (and anyone else who took part in the choral liturgy weekend at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in September 2016) had the enjoyable experience of singing this Mass under the direction of David Allinson, who described it as a beautiful achievement and said of it that the composer ‘was sufficiently proud of it to place it at the head of his first book of Masses [1566]. A tribute to his esteemed teacher and predecessor, Morales, it expands and elaborates Morales’ four part motet into a shimmering five-voiced rhapsody’. Only the Agnus Dei is in six parts.

The most substantial and complex work was the final item of the programme and made no concessions to any post-prandial lethargy engendered by the hearty and convivial bring-and share lunch which is a feature of this annual event. Victoria composed Magnificats in all eight tones, but only two are polychoral, the Magnificat primi toni for two choirs and the Magnificat sexti toni, which was our final item, for three choirs (1, SATB; 2, SSAT and 3, SATB). It has sections employing all three choirs, each choir individually and various combinations of two choirs. We performed the work with singers taking all the choir 2 parts as well as S1, T1, S3 and, in one passage A3, with the remaining parts played by the instrumentalists. This and the other polychoral Magnificat, which were published in his 1600 collection, show differences from his earlier settings (published in 1576 and 1581); according to the New Grove they are more concise, include more triple time (Quia fecit, for choir 2, and fecit potentiam for choirs 1 and 2 are instances of this, as is the opening of the Gloria) and (an irresistible quotation) ‘display a new aversion to canon; there is only one and that is optional’.

Leaving readers to ponder the fascinating concepts of the optional canon and its aversion, it remains only to accord warmest thanks to James for selecting and directing such an enjoyable programme, Vicky Helby for shouldering the demanding burden of organising the event, David Fletcher for producing the immense volume of music and all the army of volunteers who ministered to our creature comforts.

Sidney Ross



Music at St Giles

September 2016

The sun shone brightly on Saturday, 16 July, marking the occasion of the first visit of TVEMF to the Friends’ Meeting House in St Giles, Oxford, and its attractive and well-kept
    garden. Once again, we were delighted to welcome Patrick Allies, with whom we
had previously explored the unpredictability of Lassus and the unknown reaches of Hieronymus Praetorius. The event, in which both singers and instrumentalists took part, was devoted to the study of the six-part motet (SAATBB) in illo tempore by Gombert, the text being taken from Luke xi, vv-27-28, and the parody mass based on it (SSATTB, with an additional alto part in Agnus Dei II), by Monteverdi.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) began his musical career in Cremona, and joined the group of musicians maintained by Vincenzo I, duke of Mantua, at some time between the publication of his second and third books of madrigals (1590-92). Notwithstanding the firmly established reputation as a composer that he had achieved by 1600, he was heavily criticised by the musical theorist and canon of San Salvador, Bologna, G.M. Artusi, in the second part of his discourse ‘On the Imperfections of Modern Music’. This consists of a Socratic dialogue between two gentlemen, Luca and Vario, in which Luca tells of the recital of madrigals which he attended the previous evening, and Vario expatiates on the iniquity of breaking the good old rules handed down by so many theorists and excellent musicians, as displayed by the passages to which Luca refers. He prophesies that this mode of writing will not endure, and the dialogue terminates, leaving Luca perplexed. Both Monteverdi, in his fifth book of madrigals (1605), and his brother Giulio Cesare replied vigorously to Artusi’s criticism, generating even more publicity for Monteverdi’s music. It is also thought that Monteverdi’s later compositions were intended, in some degree, as a riposte to criticisms such as those of Artusi.

After the death of his wife in 1607, Monteverdi’s relationship with the ducal court at Mantua took a turn for the worse, and it is known that he no longer wished to keep on producing entertainment music and was looking for a new position. The year 1610 saw the publication, in Venice, of his collection of sacred music Sanctissimae virgine missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac Vespere pluribus decantandae, which included the Vespers, and which he dedicated to Pope Paul V and delivered to him in person. If he hoped thereby to persuade the Pope that he was worthy of employment as a serious church musician, he was unsuccessful. Michael Bloom was able to provide us with some information on the visit to Rome; unfortunately the BBC programme1 which is its source is no longer available in full. It appears that the duke wished to retain Monteverdi in his service despite the composer’s dissatisfaction, and would not permit him to leave Mantua, so he left without permission. However, the 1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02kqxmc.
Pope was forewarned of the intending visit, and in the result the journey proved fruitless. Monteverdi returned to Mantua but in July 1612, duke Vincenzo’s successor, Francesco, abruptly dismissed him and a number of others. Following the death in 1613 of Martinengo, the then maestro di cappella of St Mark’s, Venice, he was invited to Venice where, according to the New Grove, he performed some of his church music before the procurators as a test. He was then appointed to the post, which he held for the rest of his life.

The Missa in illo tempore, which is included in the 1610 collection, is the subject of a letter from his assistant at Mantua, Don Bassano Cassola, to Cardinal Fernando Gonzaga; a translation is reproduced in the booklet by John Whenham accompanying the Hyperion recording, by the King’s Consort, of the 1610 Vespers and the mass. In part it reads ‘Monteverdi is having printed an a cappella Mass for six voices…building up more and more the eight points of imitation [actually ten]2 which are in Gombert’s motet ‘in illo tempore’.

Patrick explained to us that the Mass, composed in the stile antico, which involved very little homophonic writing, was an unusual type of parody mass, since it did not replicate the entire structure of the motet on which it was based, but extended and reworked the points of imitation. There was a perhaps jocular suggestion that a competition should be held later in the day to see who could identify the most points, but no more was heard of it. Gustave Reece, in Music of the Renaissance (1954), p.500, instances the reworking, in Kyrie II and in Deum de Deo in the Credo, of the motif applied by Gombert to the words ‘loquente Jesu ad turbas’ and a sequential figure in Kyrie II and elsewhere, derived from the opening notes of that motif. Because the Mass is structured in that way, we explored several movements of it before turning our attention to the motet.

Gombert (ca. 1495-1560) was one of the most prolific composers of motets; various works of reference credit him with between 160 and 180. Reece (pp.344-45) comments that he did not always follow Josquin’s practice of working out a motif in imitation only once, but rather might rework it several times, with different numbers of entries in the various parts, and quotes the loquente Jesu section of in illo tempore as an example of this. The motet vividly depicts the dialogue in which the woman in the crowd extolls and blesses the attributes of Jesus’ mother, with a particularly florid rendition of et ubera quae suxisti, (which would no doubt have attracted the severe disapproval of the Council of Trent when they finally got down to business in 1557) and Jesus magisterially replies that, rather, the man is blessed who hears the word of the Lord and keeps his commandments. By the time we had worked through the whole of the Mass, including the Credo, which at 288 bars is by far the longest movement, the tea break, in the shade of the garden, was particularly welcome. The day concluded with a sing-through of the motet and the Kyrie, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei I and II of the Mass.

Once again we are most grateful to Patrick for calmly and patiently directing us through the intricacies of the music. The TVEMF management is to be congratulated on having found such a charming venue, and warmest thanks are also due to David King for his meticulous organisation of the event and production of the music, and to all those who helped in providing and distributing refreshments. Even at thirty-three degrees in the shade, a cup of tea in a traditional English garden is a boon.

Sidney Ross



Peripheral penitence

July 2016

Trawling through my archive, I came across the first review that I wrote for Tamesis about an event at the United Reformed Church, Ickenham. It took place on 26 April 2008, was directed by David Allinson, and explored the work of some composers whom he described as inhabiting the liminal area between Josquin and Willaert. On 25 June 2016, we went on another expedition with David, this time to a geographically peripheral, rather than a compositionally liminal area.

Portugal, from its days of maritime power, colonial expansion and monopoly of the spice trade enjoyed (says the New Grove) a considerable musical interchange with Spain and Italy, and that same source tells us that Portuguese composers favoured the parody mass, often using Palestrina as their model. John III of Portugal (reigned 1521-57) was a patron of music and schools of composition existed at Coimbra and Evora. However, the great flowering of Portuguese sacred music took place not in the days of its power and prosperity, but in the century which included sixty years of subjection to Spain following its defeat at the battle of Alcantara in 1580 and saw its economic decline. Nevertheless, nourished by the teaching of Manuel Mendez (1547-1605),
    a leading figure at Evora, and the patronage of the duke of Braganza (later
John IV of Portugal, who reigned from 1640-56, and was himself a composer), a galaxy of composers, three of whom, all remarkably long-lived, were represented in David’s programme, produced a substantial body of sacred music.

However, just as he did eight years ago with the almost unknown Philip van Wilder, David produced another rabbit out of the hat with the even more obscure Aires Fernandez, who is mentioned in the New Grove in a list of ‘other leading sixteenth-century
    composers…none of [whom] cultivated a style that was distinctly national’.
According to the website Requiemsurvey.org, nothing is known about him except that he lived at the end of the sixteenth/beginning of the seventeenth century and that such of his few works as survive have been preserved as manuscripts from the Royal Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, now in the University library there.

We began the programme with his six-part motet (SSAATB) circumdederunt me dolores mortis; the text is from psalm xviii, vv. 4-5. The idea of being compassed about by the pains of death is conveyed by the voices in succession singing the opening motif until, by bar 6, all six parts are engaged, shortly after which the pains of death become the pains of hell, expressed in a short homophonic passage with major/minor shifts. The pains of death then continue their encompassment in a more rapidly moving section, after which the second theme of the text is introduced with the laying hold on the unfortunate victim (praeocuperaverunt me) by the snares of death (laquei mortis) which are pictured in a sequence of descending figures, quietly but relentlessly entrapping the victim and dragging him to his inevitable death, the second altos playing a particularly conspicuous role in the final stages of that process. On the Hyperion recording released in 1994 the work takes 2 minutes 45 seconds to perform, and your reviewer would lay a small wager that there is no other work extant which has packed so much human despair, with such consummate workmanship, into less than three minutes. As David said, it is a little masterpiece-though
    perhaps not to be recommended to persons of a nervous disposition.
   
Project Fear continued with unabated vigour in the second item of the programme, Felipe de Magalhães’ six-part (again, SSAATB) Commissa mea pavesco in which the sinner is awaiting judgment with no doubt justified trepidation. Felipe de Magalhães was born near Evora in or about 1571 and died in Lisbon in 1652. His brief biography in the New Grove portrays a life of unbroken success, from being Mendez’ favourite pupil at Evora to his retirement in 1641 from the post of mestre of the royal chapel, on his full annual salary of 80,000 reis and five motos of wheat. His works include Cantum ecclesiasticum for 3-5 voices, an eight-part mass, and six motets for five or six voices.

The motet begins with a firm statement of the transgressions (commissa) followed by increasingly melismatic passages illustrating the onset of fear (pavesco). David drew our attention to the mirror shapes which pervade the piece, an interval in one voice being followed by its mirror image. This happens in the very first bar where the interval E-C in A1 on the syllables com-mis is overlapped by E-G in S1 and the figure is then promptly repeated in reverse order by S2 and A2.. The volume is turned up in a mainly homophonic section depicting the sinner before the judgment seat, beginning to blush at the memory of his transgressions. So far, all is fear and trembling, but his final plea for leniency (noli me condemnare) is infused with defiance-as David said, when encouraging us to produce the appropriate stridently nasal vowel in condemnare, it is meant to be a snarl, not a cup of tea with the vicar.

After lunch, we turned our attention to Manuel Cardoso. The date of his baptism is recorded as 11 December 1566 and he died in Lisbon in 1650. He was enrolled in the choir school at Evora and, like de Magalhães, was taught by Manuel Mendez. He secured the patronage of the future John IV, dedicating his first book of masses (published in 1625) and a collection of motets to him. The parody masses in his first book are all based on motets by Palestrina, but those in the second book (published 1636) are based on motets by John himself. We first sang the Agnus Dei I (SATB) and II (SSATB) from his Missa Veni Domine, which David (from whose edition we sang) described as ‘dark and wintry’. The additional voice in Agnus Dei II (S2) sings the text veni Domine et noli tardare throughout, while the remaining four voices develop the usual dona nobis pacem theme. We then had a fairly brief encounter with the Kyrie from Cardoso’s Requiem (SSAATB, but with the Christe in four parts, SSAT) and with the chant in the upper parts.

The last composer represented in the programme was Duarte Lobo (ca. 1565-1646). Another of Mendez’ pupils, he became maestro di capilla at Evora before taking up a series of posts in Lisbon. The New Grove says of him that he was ‘one of the leading Portuguese exponents of the polyphonic style, notable in particular for the ease with which he combined mastery of learned counterpoint with refined and expressive interpretation of the texts’. The motet pater peccavi (SSATB), with its text from the parable of the prodigal son, is a short and powerful expression of the prodigal’s self-abasement,
    beginning quite slowly and broadly to set the scene, but gathering pace
after et coram te, peccavi, with more rapidly moving and ascending phrases in the lower three voices as he finally confesses his unworthiness to be called his father’s son.

Penitence was presented in a different context by the final item of the programme, an extract from Cardoso’s Lamentations for Maundy Thursday, the text being Lamentations i., vv.6-7. Here it is the impoverishment and desolation of Jerusalem which is being expressed, though there is a brief touch, almost of levity, in the depiction of her princes becoming like rams, but the funereal atmosphere is soon restored as they are unable to find pasture and flee without strength. The setting of v.7 conveys a profound sense of loss and isolation as the enemies of Jerusalem mock her in her weakness. The day concluded with a reprise of the three motets, circumdederunt me, commissa mea and pater peccavi.

This was another of the highly successful events which have taken place at Ickenham and, once again, we are deeply indebted to David for a fascinating and informative tour through a very much neglected tract of the musical landscape. Warmest thanks are also due to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event, David Fletcher for producing the music, and the providers of refreshments.

Sidney Ross



Tomkins-the end of the line

March 2016

The workshop on the Byrd-Tomkins relationship which was held at the United reformed Church, Ickenham, on Saturday, January 30th 2016 was a hugely popular event and an excellent start to TVEMF’s musical activities for 2016. One of the attractive features of TVEMF’s programmes is the range of skills displayed by the various directors of the workshops. The versatility of our director for this occasion, Stephen Jones, has already been recounted in the flyer for the event, and in directing it he emphasised his interest in exploring the teacher-pupil relationships that created the tradition of which Tomkins was the final exponent.

The programme, consisting of seven items, was lengthy and ambitious, and it was obvious that we would not be able to do full justice to all of them. Five of the items were by Tomkins and two by Byrd. To some extent for purposes of exposition of the relationship, we spent quite a long time on the first item, Tomkins’ Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom. Peter Phillips says of this, in his notes to the Gimell recording which also includes four movements from the Great Service, that ‘although it retains a polyphonic idiom, its daring comes from the underlying harmonic structure, which foreshadows the compositional method of Henry Purcell’. Among the harmonic features which Stephen drew to our attention were Tomkins’ fondness for parallel thirds and sixths and his characteristic use of major-minor shifts, as in the section setting the text ‘vouchsafe to give us for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord’. Returning to the recording notes, Phillips goes on to speculate that, had it not been for the suppression of the Anglican Church and its musicians during the Commonwealth, Tomkins might have fathered a new generation of composers; in which case the title of this review would have been radically different.

We then moved on to the Te Deum of the so-called Great Service (the epithet ‘so-called
    is used because Stephen expressed the view that the term ‘Great Service’ is a
twentieth-century construct). As published in Musica deo sacra, the 1668 compilation whose edition was overseen by Tomkins’ son Nathaniel, it is the third of Tomkins’ five services, consisting of the morning canticles Te Deum and Jubilate, both of which were included in our programme, and the evening Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, which were not. The Great Service and Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom are particularly mentioned by Phillips as examples of his status as the composer who most obviously continued Byrd’s achievement. The forward-looking nature of his music which Phillips also mentioned was addressed in an interesting discussion with Stephen when he asked if we could detect resemblances with any more modern composer, eliciting the answer ‘Brahms’. Stephen accepted this as a possibility but the composer whom he had in mind turned out to be Stanford. This caused your reviewer to wonder whether his ears were not deceiving him, since his own early experiences (ca 1943-50) of English Church music included frequent and increasingly unwelcome exposure to Stanford’s 1923 composition, the service in D major for unison choir and (with that admittedly circumscribed experience of Stanford) it would never have occurred to him to see that composer as an inheritor of the tradition to which the workshop was devoted.

Curiously, the Stanford-Brahms similarity (if such there be) was the subject of an extremely disobliging critical comment by George Bernard Shaw in his capacity of music critic of The World under the pen-name Corno di Bassetto. Shaw’s attitude to both these composers was extremely changeable - he eventually came to see merit in Brahms, whom he had once described as ‘the Leviathan Maunderer’ - and he was an admirer of some of Stanford’s works (oratorios being strictly excluded from the sphere of admiration) one of which was his quartet in A minor. In volume III of ‘Music in London 1890-94’ he said of it at page 156 ‘It is a genuine piece of absolute music, alive with feeling from beginning to end, and free from those Stanfordian aberrations into pure cleverness which remind one so of Brahms’ aberrations into pure stupidity’.

To return to the workshop itself after that digression, we concentrated for a fairly long time on the opening section of the Te Deum (the first twenty-one pages) and, after lunch, made a less detailed excursion into the remainder (pp.22-52) a particularly individual feature of which was the AAAATTBB passage setting the text ‘when thou took’st upon thee’. Byrd, too, had employed unusual vocal scoring in his Great Service, an example being the AAAT passage ‘And thou child shall be called the prophet of the highest’ from the Benedictus.

We then moved on to two contrasting settings of ‘O God, the proud are risen against thee’, the first by Byrd (SSAATB) and the second by Tomkins (SSAATTBB). The texts differ slightly - Byrd’s closing section reads ‘great in kindness and truth’ while the Tomkins text has ‘goodness’ rather than ‘kindness’ but the important feature is the way in which Tomkins, with his larger grouping of voices, outdoes his master in effect, for instance in his depiction of ‘the assembly of violent men’ in comparison with whom Byrd’s violent men might seem something of a vicarage tea-party. The richer effect of Tomkins’ augmented forces is also very well realised in the concluding ‘great in goodness and truth’ section.

With the passage of time, the remaining three items received relatively little attention. We read through Byrd’s ‘five-part ‘Domine, secundum multitudinem’ which exemplified Byrd’s debt to Tallis, and then went on to Tomkins’ five-part ‘Domine, tu eruisti’. This came supplemented with an English text which might be regarded as a contrafactum, since the text ‘Why art thou so full of heaviness’ is not, and does not purport to be, a translation of the Latin. In fact the Latin text is slightly adapted from Isaiah xxxviii, v.17, by the substitution of ‘Domine’ for ‘Tu autem’, while the English text is taken from the version of Psalm 42, vv. 6 and 7, in the English Church Prayer Book of 1662. Psalm 42 is perhaps more familiar to us in the Latin as the source of the text of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus. (The Vulgate has ‘quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum’).

So as to leave adequate time for tea and a concluding sing through, we had room for only the most cursory glance at the Jubilate from the Great Service, but that did not detract from what your reviewer would (without casting doubt on the excellence of many previous workshops) rate as one of the most interesting, informative and enjoyable TVEMF singing events for some considerable time. Congratulations are due to the TVEMF management for arranging it and in particular for getting Stephen Jones to direct it. His calm and purposeful approach to this challenging music was exactly what was required and added greatly to the experience.

Very warm thanks are also due to Michael Bloom for organising the event and taking on the herculean task of producing seventy copies of everything, and once again we are all grateful to the volunteers who ensured that bodily sustenance was made available to complement the uplift derived from the musical experience.

Sidney Ross



Meeting the Monster

November 2015

The TVEMF event on 26 September at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall, Oxford, was devoted entirely to the music of John Sheppard. This was our third visit in the last two years to the venue and, as with David Allinson’s day of Marian motets in September 2013 and James Weeks’ Rosenmüller day the following April, we were regaled with a highly interesting programme, on this occasion experiencing the sharply focused and invigorating direction of Justin Doyle.

For your reviewer, there are two particularly pleasurable features of TVEMF singing days. One is the opportunity to become acquainted with relatively little-known (or even totally obscure) composers. Sheppard has certainly attracted less attention than his better-known
    contemporaries, John Taverner, Robert White and Christopher Tye. Of the forty
volumes of Early English Church Music (Stainer & Bell), which include the entirely undistinguished Sir William Leighton’s ‘Tears or Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soul”, five are devoted to Taverner, and three to each of White and Tye, but only two to Sheppard.

The other is that so many of our distinguished and erudite directors wear their learning lightly, so that the events are enjoyably informative. To this tradition, Justin was no exception, interpolating his commentary on the early Tudor musical landscape and the Sarum rite with (to borrow a phrase from Ernest Bramah) ‘weird antics of a gravity-removing
    nature’, some of which we were required to emulate during the warm-up.
Those of us who had been exposed to David Allinson’s brain-scrambling Z YZY XYZYX usque ad insaniam warm-up exercise may have thought that there were no further worlds of lingual dexterity to conquer, but were rapidly disillusioned by the introduction of four flying fishes and five fat fireflies (both ascending and descending the scale) into the repertoire.

As with Gombert and Rosenmüller, Sheppard’s personal life has attracted adverse comment, but in his case (as the New Grove puts it) ‘his character has regularly been blackened as a result of misreading of, and scribal inaccuracy in, the college records’, the actual malefactor being, apparently, one Richard Shepper who was briefly (ca. 1548) a contemporary of Sheppard at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Sheppard’s dates of birth and death have not been firmly established, but he was born ca 1515, so his childhood years must have coincided with the last years of the lives of William Cornysh the younger, John Browne and Robert Fayrfax, all of whom were contributors to the Eton Choirbook; Sheppard’s six-part Magnificat is in a style which, according to the New Grove, seems to belong to the tradition developed by the Eton Choirbook composers and continued by John Taverner. His life spanned a period of religious turmoil, with Henry VIII’s break with Rome and Thomas More’s execution after refusing to subscribe to the first Act of Supremacy (1534) near its halfway point. It appears that much of that which has survived was composed during the reign of Mary; there is comparatively little extant of the English music composed during the reign of Edward VI.

The programme began with a four-part respond for Compline, for use between Quadragesima and Passion Sunday, In pace, in idipsum dormiam et requiescam. Justin took us through this in detail, with a considerable amount of re-editing of the plainchant. The gently melismatic section following the plainchant paints a picture of the eyes yielding to dreams and the eyelids to slumber; and after repetition of these two sections, the vigorous setting of the Gloria provides a sharp contrast. The numerous repetitions made this a work of quite substantial length, and in order to leave an adequate amount of time for the Monster, we spent only a short period on the seven-part Libera Nos, one of Sheppard’s two settings of this antiphon for Matins during Trinity.

All references which your reviewer has found that relate to the main item of the event, the six-part antiphon Media vita in morte sumus, which incorporates a plain chant Nunc dimittis, emphasise its scale, and one cannot dissent from Justin’s appellation of it as “The Monster”. The New Grove does not comment specifically on it, though the part of the article relating to his Office music is replete with references to its richness, sonority and vigour. Peter Phillips has said of it that it is ‘a unique achievement in its length, expressive power and liturgical function’. The programme booklet of the Stile Antico recording (under the Harmonia mundi label), which also includes the Te Deum and the responsory Gaude, gaude gaude Maria, states that ‘the colossal antiphon Media vita ranks among the largest-scale pieces of the entire century, and is certainly among the most powerful in terms of its cumulative emotive effect’, and that its scale seems to point to a purpose beyond its liturgical function as Lenten Nunc dimittis antiphon at Compline. Rival theories are that it was composed in memory of Nicholas Ludford (ca 1485-ca 1557) (whose eleven complete and three incomplete Masses make him the most prolific English composer of Masses) and that the influenza epidemic of 1557-59 provided the impetus for it.

Under Justin’s direction we negotiated the 71-bar first verse (media vita…juste irasceris) followed by the respond Sancte Deus, sancte fortis, sancte et misericors salvator (a further 76 bars) after which we tackled the plain-chant nunc dimittis and the verse which followed it, non proiicias… ne derelinquas nos Domine (35 bars), at the end of which is the direction ‘repeat from A that is, the sancte fortis’ which follows each verse) to the end. It would be fair to say that we enjoyed a highly interesting and vigorous grapple with The Monster, but lack of time prevented us from going the full distance, so the entreaties contained in the final two verses, noli claudere aures tuus and qui cognoscis occulta cordis, parce peccata nostris, remained unsung.

It remains only to record our sincere thanks to Justin for directing such an excellent event, to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising it and for all those who ensured that refreshments were available during the day.

Sidney Ross



The Hamburg experience

March 2015

TVEMF’s New Year began with a transition from the pre-Christmas Netherlands-influenced
    Rome to the Venetian-inspired musical landscape of post-Reformation
Hamburg. A large concourse of singers and players gathered together at the United Reformed Church, Ickenham on 17 January 2015 for an event directed by Patrick Allies, who we were delighted to have with us again following the very successful Lassus workshop at St Sepulchre’s, Holborn some eighteen months ago.

Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) came, as Patrick explained to us, from a musical family. His father Jacob was first organist at the Jacobkirche (with the associated chapel of St Gertrude) in Hamburg and provided Hieronymus’ initial tuition as an organist, though he also studied elsewhere in Hamburg, and then in Cologne. His first position was that of organist in Erfurt (1580-82) after which he returned to Hamburg, as assistant and then on his father’s death in 1586, first organist at the Jacobkirche, a post which he held for the remaining 35 years of his life. He had four sons, two of whom (Jacob, 1586-1661) and Johannes (ca 1596-1660), studied with Sweelinck and became organists in Hamburg, Jacob at St Petri and Johannes at the Nikolaikirche. His third son, Michael, was also a musician, though little is known about him.

His better-known contemporary, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) came from an entirely different family located in Thuringia, and much of his professional career was spent in Saxony. Praetorius is quite a common surname among German composers of that period; the New Grove refers, as well as the above, to five others, one of whom was the uncle of Michael. It appears that the actual family name of all these composers was Schultze or some variant of it; ‘Schultz’, of which Praetorius was the conventional Latinization, is a now obsolete word meaning ‘mayor’ or ‘sheriff’.

Though a prolific composer, he has remained relatively obscure; nevertheless, he is better known than most of his contemporaries who wrote in a similar vein; they include Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Andreas Raselius and Philippus Dulichius. His works include masses, Magnificat settings for organ and over one hundred motets, a handful of which are settings of German texts. Fifty of his motets are polychoral, for between eight and twenty voices divided into two, three or four choirs. Although his contemporary, Hans-5

Leo Hassler (1564-1612), is generally considered to be the greatest exponent of the German-Venetian style, displaying ‘ a grace and fluidity derived from the madrigalian dance songs and a fondness for polychoral structures’ (Gustav Reece, Music in the Renaissance, Dent & Sons, 1954, p.688), the New Grove comments that Praetorius’ polychoral motets express the text more vividly than those of Hassler because he introduced greater contrasts of texture, harmony and rhythm, and are less homophonic than those of other composers due to the extensive use of imitation and the breaking up of basically chordal structures by rhythmically and motivically active inner parts.

The programme chosen by Patrick illustrated all the above characteristics of Praetorius’ writing. We began with O vos omnes, set for a single choir (SATTB). The text is indeed vividly realised by the settings of ‘transitis’ with its smooth (mainly descending) scales and the chromatic melismata of ‘per viam’ depicting the difficulties of the road being travelled. This style gives way to a more homophonic and declamatory passage centred on the unique nature of the sorrow which it expresses. This was followed by another work for single choir, the Christmas motet Gaudete omnes (SSATTB). Its madrigalian style comes out clearly in the use of imitation and the different rhythms employed throughout the text. Patrick also drew our attention to the style of the Alleluia which he characterised as being different from that usually to be found in Easter motets. It is a serene and gently flowing setting which gradually becomes more intense and, in the soprano parts more florid as it reaches the final cadence. The last of the three works which we attempted in the morning session was the Magnificat Quinti Toni for double choir, (SSAT + ATTB). This is written alternatim and it may fairly be said that the singing of the plain chant sections by the tenors either en masse or in alternating sections was not one of the high points of our performance. It proceeds in a robust and largely homophonic manner with strong rhythmic contrasts which are by no means what one might always expect. Whereas the proud are scattered in a manner to which we are probably all well accustomed, the filling of the hungry with good things and the sending away of the rich, empty, is a very peremptory business compared with the treatment of the same idea in (say) the Bach Magnificat, but it is extremely effective none the less.

The post-prandial lethargy was rapidly dispelled when we tackled the next item, which was the motet Tota pulchra es for twelve voices (SATB x 3). This text, from the Song of Solomon iv, vv.7-8 and 10-11, appears to have been rather carefully selected so as to play down the praise of feminine attributes, no doubt too heady a brew for North German Protestants, which pervades many Marian motets based on texts from that source, for example his contemporary Victoria’s Quam pulchri sunt gressus (viii, v.1) and Palestrina’s Quam pulchra es (vii, vv. 6-8). The general structure is that each theme is stated by the three choirs in succession, not always in the same order, and then by all three together. Changes in rhythm illustrate the nature of the statements in the text; thus, ‘et macula non est in te’ is strong and rapidly moving, as befits an affirmation of the beloved’s flawless nature, whereas ‘favus distillans labia tua’ is slower and more graceful as it depicts the flowing down of the nectar from her lips.

We then returned to single choir mode with Wie lang, O Gott (SATTB). In the single verse which we sang, the petitioner, acknowledging that he seeks grace rather than justice, seeks divine pity, and consoles his heart with the thought that God’s help is at hand for all pious folk. The writing is intense throughout with constantly changing harmonies and the appeals to God with their pervasive repetition of the ascending minor sixth (G-E flat), paint a vivid picture of the man with nothing to hope for in this world-a truly realistic depiction of the lives which so many people must have led in a land scarred by long drawn out religious and social conflict.

However, optimism prevailed at the last with Cantate Domino, (SSAT + ATTB), which the New Grove ranks, along with Decantabat populus Israel (for four five-part choirs), and two of his eight settings of vernacular texts (Ein kindelein so liebelich and Herr Gott dich loben wir) as his finest polychoral motets. The style is brisk and hortatory throughout, with the more ornamental passages being sung by the higher voice choir, and the lower voice choir being mainly confined to reinforcing their statements.

The welcome tea break which came at the end of that demanding but thoroughly enjoyable afternoon session was followed by a sing through of the entire programme. We are all greatly indebted to Patrick for guiding us through an interesting and varied selection of the works of a composer who clearly deserves to be better known. Warm thanks are also due in particular to David Fletcher who took on the immense amount of work involved in preparing the scores and all the instrumental parts, and to David King for organising the event, allocating the singers to their varying roles, making the music available for those who wished to acquaint themselves with it in advance (a facility for which many of us, including your reviewer, were truly grateful), and arranging the printing of the music for those who did not.

Sidney Ross



The Great Byrd Mystery

July 2015

When did he write it? At whose request or command, and for what occasion, was it written? Where was it intended to be performed? Such were the questions that remained largely unanswered at the conclusion of the TVEMF workshop devoted mainly to Byrd’s Great Service, which took place under the direction of John Milsom at the Headington Community Centre on 14 March.

Before immersing themselves in the complexities of the Great Service, the fifty singers who took part were required to circumvent the obstacles placed in the way of their arrival at the venue by the Highway Authority, who had decreed improvements along the London Road. This they were able to do with the aid of various bulletins and maps provided in advance.

The Great Service, which is scored for two five-part choirs (SAATB) and is a setting of music for Matins, Communion and Evensong, consists of seven movements, the Venite, Te Deum, Benedictus, Kyrie, Creed, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Meticulous preliminary organisation of all five parts was required; we were no doubt all aware of the need for division into cantores and decani, but it came as a surprise to your reviewer (and, no doubt, to others) that we were required to engage in an exercise in self-assessment
    and divide ourselves into leaders and followers. This was accomplished with
commendable rapidity and proved to be well worth while, as the seating arrangements remained unaltered throughout the day, sparing us the continual va et vient that regularly occurs in workshops featuring polychoral music. However, before embarking on our exploration of the day’s programme, we were introduced to one of John’s attainments not previously (at least in your reviewer’s recollection) displayed to us - his mastery of the Wacky Warm-Up which placed him in the same class as such noted exponents of the genre as Robert Hollingworth and David Allinson-a series of positively Diabellian variations on the theme of ‘picketty-pocketty’, ending with an exhortation to render it in the style of Caruso.

We studied four movements of the Great Service, the Benedictus and Creed in the morning, and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the afternoon, using an edition specially prepared by Simon Lillystone. It appears from the internet that he is (or was) a counter-tenor in a group called Musica Contexta, which produced a well-reviewed recording entitled The Great Service in the Chapel Royal, released under the Chandos label in 2012.

It appeared, from an initial show of hands, that very few of us had previously encountered any movements of the Great Service other than the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. John told us that church music set to English texts (ECM) did not attain, and has not subsequently attained, the popularity of its Latin counterpart. The initial lack of enthusiasm accounts for the absence of any contemporary manuscripts and is the root cause of the mysteries surrounding the composition of the Great Service. As Fellowes observed (William Byrd, 2nd edition, 1948, p.128), ‘the scarcity of text, even allowing for loss and destruction, suggests that it was never widely used’, though he goes on to deduce from the existence of surviving text that it seemed certainly to have been used regularly at Durham, York and Worcester, and also to have been sung at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The current lack of acquaintance with it apparently derives from a combination of dislike on the part of the clergy for the ECM genre and a regrettable paucity of sufficiently agile altos. No solution to either of these problems was proposed.

Although the passing into law of the Act of Uniformity required the use of the ‘Book of Common Prayer and none other’ from the feast of Pentecost 1549, it did not, as has sometimes been asserted, require texts to be set so that there was ‘for every syllable a note’. While some early settings of canticles in the ECM genre were composed on that basis, Byrd, as the Great Service demonstrates in innumerable places, never felt himself to be constrained in that way. In fact, as John remarked, there is a decidedly madrigalian feeling to the Benedictus, and it is worth recalling, in that context, that Byrd was the first of the English madrigal composers, the abbreviated title ‘Psalms, Songs and Sonnets’ by which his 1588 collection is generally known obscuring the fact that it includes one of his best-known madrigals, Though Amaryllis dance in green. It is interesting that John should have detected a reminiscence of ‘came running down amain’ in that movement, because that phrase is found in Weelkes’ ‘As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending’ and it is Weelkes, along with Morley and Wilbye, whom Fellowes (The English Madrigal Composers, 2nd edition, 1948, p.169) identifies as influencing Byrd in his composition of madrigals.

In the four movements which we studied there are some features specific to individual movements-for instance, the Benedictus includes a most unusual grouping of voices (three altos and a tenor) for the passage ‘And thou child shall be called the prophet of the highest’ but there are many which emphasise the essential unity of the Great Service overall, whether or not the individual movements were composed separately over a period of many years. Thus, all four of the movements which we studied open (as does the Venite, also) with the same combination of voices (the bass being omitted in each case) with a very similar phrase. Byrd demonstrates his versatility in the six different settings of the doxology but, again emphasising the overall unity, the scale passages of the ‘Amen’ which concludes the Creed strongly resemble those at the conclusion of the Gloria in both the Benedictus and the Magnificat. Your reviewer gained the impression that John was more enthusiastic about the Creed after we had worked through it than before we started, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to disagree with his expressed view that in the evening canticles of the Great Service we have Byrd at his best.

We also briefly explored two pieces edited by John and set to English texts (O Lord, give ear, SAATTB, and Behold now, praise the Lord, SAATBB). The Latin text settings are from Cantiones Sacrae (1575), numbers 17 (memento homo, for Ash Wednesday, the original, suitably gloomy texts being taken from Ecclesiastes and Job) and 18 (laudate pueri, a vocal adaptation of a six part fantasia, with psalm texts) which John described as ‘neither an anthem nor a motet, but fun to sing’ – a judgment with which it was easy to agree.

The session after tea was devoted, as is usually the case, with a sing through, for which we had sufficient reserves of energy to manage successfully. We are, as always, greatly indebted to John for guiding us so expertly through territory which was to a considerable extent unknown to us, and we look forward keenly to our next venture into the unexplored hinterland of early music under his direction. Warm thanks are also due to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event, to David King for assiduously supplying us with bulletins detailing the complications created by the road works, to Dag Bergman for making his local knowledge of means of access to Gladstone Road available by way of maps, and to the providers of morning and afternoon refreshments.

Sidney Ross



When in Rome….

January 2015

As usual, the pre-Christmas TVEMF event at the Amersham Community Centre attracted a large number of participants, the singers outnumbering the instrumentalists by about two to one. It has always been a great pleasure to participate in an event directed by David Allinson, and this one was no exception. The programme, as is invariably the case with David’s programmes, was interesting and varied, spanning, as it did, the entire sixteenth century, with works by Morales (1500-53), Palestrina (1525-94), Victoria (1548-1611) and Viadana (1560-1627). Once organised into the formation in which we remained throughout the six selected pieces (three of which were for double choir) we engaged in an unusually low-key warm- up, which omitted some of the more exotic bodily contortions and weird noises that have been required of us on other occasions, though the angry librarian made a brief but welcome reappearance, ‘Bella Signora’ mercifully (for your reviewer, at any rate) terminated after Act I, Scene 1, and the confusion engendered by chanting the alphabet in reverse order was, as usual, plainly audible. We began with Victoria’s antiphon Alma redemptoris Mater, for SATB x 2. The Marian antiphon formed an important category of Victoria’s works and Victoria based this and two other of his masses (Ave regina coelorum and Salve regina) on those antiphons. The New Grove tells us that the two masses Ave regina coelorum and Alma redemptoris Mater were so popular in Mexico City that in 1640 they had to be recopied by hand because the original part books were worn out and that copies were sent to such distant places as Graz, Urbino and Bogota. Despite their contemporary popularity in mainland Europe and Latin America, Victoria’s masses (apart from the Officium pro defunctorum) aroused little interest in England until relatively recent times. While drawing this to our attention, David also told us about the change in attitude towards Palestrina which has resulted in the ‘vanilla’ image of Palestrina that prevailed in Victorian times being supplanted by a more recent perception of him as a darker and more complex composer. Allen W Atlas (Renaissance Music, Norton, 1998, p.587) traces this earlier image back to the seventeenth century, when Palestrina ‘was held up as the model of the so-called stile antico, the strict style of a cappella diatonic counterpoint that was still cultivated from time to time as a way of giving sacred music an aura of nostalgic religiosity…a tradition that would live on well into the nineteenth century’ Nineteenth century England, as the literary, musical and theological aspects of the time clearly show, would have been receptive to this perception of Palestrina. There and then, Dr Bowdler was busy sanitising Shakespeare (volume 1 of The Family Shakespeare was published in 1818), Coventry Patmore was celebrating domestic piety and tranquillity with The Angel in the House, the after-life loomed large in the consciousness of many - in particular, earnest young men from Oxford - and English sacred music rarely (as evidenced by Shaw’s entertaining criticisms in his London Music in 1888-89 as heard by Corno di Bassetto and the subsequent three volumes of Music in London) rose above the mawkishly sentimental or the reverentially turgid. There was no space in this cultural landscape for the sensuality of Victoria’s Marian music, particularly anthems with texts from the Song of Solomon such as Trahe me post te and Quam pulchri sunt, and the masses based on them, or for the brittle darkness (to use David’s phrase) of Palestrina’s O Magnum mysterium (SSATTB) which was the second item of the programme. This motet displays a great deal of syllabic homophony and, given that it was published in 1569, may have been written in this style as a gesture of conformity with the decrees of the Council of Trent, which, earlier in the decade, had been greatly exercised over the elimination of ‘every admixture of the secular’ (as Palestrina’s biographer, Baini, put it) from sacred music. The same may be said of the third item in the programme, Palestrina’s Hodie Christus natus est (SATB x 2), published in 1575. After the convivial lunch which is a feature of these pre-Christmas Amersham events, we were aroused from the resulting torpor by having to cope with the rhythmic complexities of a motet by Viadana, perhaps the least well-known of the composers to whom the programme was devoted. Viadana, a friar, was a member of the Order of Minor Observants and held posts in Mantua, Cremona, Concordia and Fano, though he is known to have spent some time in Rome. The motet which we sang was his Hodie nobis caelorum, written for SATB x 2. After the opening statement has been made by all eight parts in succession, the motet proceeds at a measured pace, alternating antiphonal and full double choir sections until all eight voices embark on the three-time section gaudeamus omnes in Christo. Once the participants begin rejoicing (jubilantes cantabimus) the action becomes much faster, the full-choir rejoicing being intermingled with the statements by the upper parts in each choir of glory to God and peace not (as is usual) simply to men of goodwill but to men of goodwill and true faith (verae fidei). One may wonder whether that unusual inclusion in any way reflected the doctrinal conflicts of the Counter-Reformation period. According to the New Grove, Viadana’s latter years were troubled by differences with other members of his religious order and he died in a convent in 1627. From the most recent, we moved to the earliest of our composers, Cristobal de Morales, a native of Seville who held appointments at Avila and Plasencia before moving to Italy and, in September 1535, becoming a member of the papal choir at Rome, from which he resigned in 1545. His two books of masses were published during his ten years at Rome. The five-part (SATBB) Missa Queramus cum pastoribus, which expands to six parts (and also contracts to four parts) in the Agnus Dei, which was the next item in our programme, is from the first book, dedicated to Cosimo de Medici, and is based on a similarly named four-part motet by Mouton. It provided a distinct stylistic contrast to the two pieces which preceded it, particularly in the opening five-part section which is full of melismatic writing in the upper parts. The motifs from the motet are more easily recognisable in the central four-part section, which is much less ornamental, and in the final six-part dona nobis pacem section where the setting of dona nobis is reminiscent of the Noe, noe refrain in the motet. We ended with the longest of the chosen works, Palestrina’s Canite tuba, (SSATB). This, again, was a largely homophonic setting in which very few words are ornamented, the conspicuous exceptions being those related to salvation, and ‘tardare’, which takes up about two bars wherever it appears. It is in two parts, the second part, which contains a good deal of dialogue between groups of voices, being a setting of the Advent antiphon text Rorate caeli desuper. Thus, the programme ended, as it had begun, on a Marian note, the dew of heaven being an emblem of purity particularly associated with Mary. We are all deeply indebted to David Allinson for an instructive, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable Christmas in Rome. Warmest thanks are also due to David Fletcher for producing the music, to Vicky Helby for her overall organisation of the event and to all those, too numerous to mention, who helped with the preparation and distribution of refreshments.

Sidney Ross



Cambridge liturgical weekend 2014

November 2014

Following what must be presumed to have been a tolerably successful encounter with Manchicourt and Guerrero in 2013, Edward Wickham kindly agreed to make St Catharine’s available again and to direct this year’s event, which took place on the weekend 19-21 September. The thirty-two singers, as was the case last year, were mainly TVEMF members, and we were delighted to welcome our familiar friends from Denmark, Finland and Holland once again.

This year’s programme again featured two highly regarded composers, Jacobus Clemens non Papa (ca. 1510-15-1555 or 56) and Philippe Rogier, (1561-96), whose music is less frequently performed nowadays than that of their contemporaries. Clemens’ original name was the rather less grandiloquent Jacob Clement and there is much speculation about his acquisition of the sobriquet “non Papa” which appears in the edition of his works published by Susato, and its less well-known variants, “Clemens haud Papa” and “Clemente nono Papa”. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems reasonable to discount the explanation in Wikipedia that its purpose was to distinguish him from Pope Clement VII, since that cleric died in 1534.

Clemens, who held positions at Bruges, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Ypres and Leiden during his relatively short life, was an extremely prolific composer, whom Allen W Atlas, in Renaissance Music (Norton, 1998) describes, along with Gombert and Willaert, as one of the three great motet composers of the second quarter of the sixteenth century. 233 of the 512 works attributed to him are motets, and his next most numerous type of composition is represented in the collection of 150 psalm settings (the souterliedekens or ‘little psalter songs’) for three voices, with vernacular texts and melodies taken largely from German popular and folk songs, designed to provide moral edification by being sung at home.

The work by Clemens which we performed was his Mass Ecce quam bonum based on his four-part motet whose text is taken from Psalm 133 (Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum, habitare fratres in unum). Like all but one of Clemens’ fifteen masses (the Missa Defunctorum) it is a parody mass; other composers whose chansons served as bases for Clemens’ parody masses include Manchicourt, Gombert, Willaert and Sermisy. The Mass is set for five voices except in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei where the tenors are divided and sing in canon. This is one of the few examples of canonic writing found in the works of Clemens and, according to the New Grove, one which symbolises (in some unexplained manner) the idea habitare fratres in unum. If that is correct, it may be that the writing of the canon in unison, rather than at the often employed intervals of a fourth or a fifth, is a particularly emphatic demonstration of the idea of dwelling together in unity. Under Edward’s calm and meticulous direction we fairly soon became acquainted with the work, albeit with a certain amount of coming and going as basses and tenors alternated (and at one point came together) on the naughty step, and there were also brief experiments with scrambled singing and surround sound.

Philippe Rogier was born in Arras and his musical career began in 1572 when he was taken to Spain as a boy treble. He was ordained a priest and was granted various benefices by Philip II, to whose court he was appointed vicemaestro di capella in 1584 and maestro on the death of Gerard de Hele in 1586. Some decades after his death, the great Spanish writer Lope de Vega paid tribute to him in a poem describing him as the ’honour, glory and light of Flanders’. In his short life he composed 243 works, of which only 51 survive from the destruction by fire of the royal chapel at Madrid in 1734. The collection in the library of King John IV of Portugal was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1788.

The work which we performed, and which provided a powerful finale to the service, at which the Mass was sung liturgically without the Credo, was the six-part motet (SSAATB) laboravi in gemitu, the text of which is Psalm 6 (Domine, ne in furore), v.6. In the Roman Catholic liturgy the text is used at Compline on Mondays and in the office for the dead at matins (Liber Usualis, 283, 1783). For your reviewer, the motet evocatively portrays the emotional state of the narrator, with the plangent opening section depicting the weariness of his groaning and the repeated melismata, ascending in pitch and increasing in intensity, on ‘lavabo’ and ‘rigabo’ simulating the flowing of the tears with which he nightly waters his bed.

Its authorship has long been the subject of controversy. Although it was included in Lavern J. Wagner’s edition of eleven motets by Rogier (Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, vol. II, A-R editions, 1966), the controversy continued; see, for instance, Peter Philips’ article ‘Laboravi in Gemitu: Morley or Rogier?’, Music and Letters (1982) 63 (1-2), 85-90. Even today, it appears in the list of Morley’s sacred music on CPDL, but how it came to be ascribed to him is unclear. The CPDL entry for Rogier refers to it as “believed to be adapted by Morley based on a work by Rogier”. However, we may note that neither in the extensive list of “Practitioners, the most part of whose works we have diligently perused for finding the true use of the Moods” at the end of Morley’s A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music, nor in the main text, is there any mention of Rogier.

For another socially and musically satisfying weekend, our sincere thanks go to Edward for directing the event and to Neil for his organisation of the event including, once again, the production of the music, embellished, as always, with the editorial accidentals which give rise to the debates about whether they should be adopted or rejected, without which no event of this nature can be complete. It is a pleasure and a privilege to participate in an event such as this and we look forward to further opportunities to sing in Cambridge.

Sidney Ross



Baroque in the Methodist ambience

May 2014

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.

Sidney Ross



A Methodist Renaissance

November 2013

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.

Sidney Ross



Unpredictability day

September 2013

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.

Sidney Ross



Hexachords in Headington

May 2013

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.

Sidney Ross



Byrd was an alto

January 2013

Some sixty singers gathered at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate on Sunday, January 6th, for the first TVEMF event to be directed by Jeremy Jackman. The event was publicised as Byrd Without Barlines but, for reasons which will become apparent, a different title has been chosen for this review. Members would no doubt agree that we are very fortunate to have so many events directed by musicians and musicologists who are able to combine instruction with entertainment and provide us with days which are highly rewarding in both respects. However, Jeremy’s interesting discourse on the history of the church at the start of today had a touch of the macabre; he reminded us of the proximity of the church to the former Newgate execution site and directed our attention to the handbell which was rung when such events were about to take place. Less pious observers were wont, as is recorded in The Execution, a poem in the first series of Barham’s Ingoldsby Legends, to view the scene (until public executions were abolished in 1868) from the conveniently sited ancient inn across the road, the Magpie and Stump, the site of which is now occupied by a bar called The Firefly. Returning to the event itself, Jeremy explained that the aim was to give us some idea of the conditions under which singers of Byrd’s day would have performed. To this end we began with a piece familiar to almost all of us, Ave Verum Corpus. We sang this first of all from the John Morehen edition which is reproduced in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems. This provided the base from which Jeremy expanded on the theme that Barlines Are Bad For You. They encourage mechanical stresses on the syllable immediately following the bar line, thus distorting the natural rhythms of the words: bar lines, as expressed in his ingenious play on words, get it wrong at a stroke. We then sang it from an edition prepared by Jeremy from which all the bar lines had been removed, but brackets had been inserted to provide some guidance as to the phrasing. Finally we sang from individual parts. This inevitably required us to pay more attention to what was going on in other parts instead of concentrating on our own respective lines. Throughout this gradual peeling away of editorial addition we were constantly exhorted not merely to “go tick” but to do so in concord with our neighbours. We continued with the much less familiar Psallite Domino from the second book of Gradualia (1607), first in an edition without bar lines and then with individual parts only. The text is taken from Psalm 67, vv. 32-33. The rhythmic complexities of this piece, which required even more assiduous ticking, prompted Jeremy to observe that Duke Ellington was good at jazz, but Byrd was better. Byrd’s career as a composer was of course complicated by the religious persecutions of the second half of Elizabeth’s reign (the execution of Fr. Edmund Campion and two other Catholic priests in 1581 being a particularly brutal example) and he himself was cited for recusancy on a number of occasions from the mid-1580s onwards, but somehow he survived personally, prospered financially and attracted some degree of official tolerance and even approval, composing, for instance, a consort song, Look and bow down (with words by Queen Elizabeth), on the defeat of the Spanish Armada, as well as O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth, our Queen (which we studied later in the day). Nevertheless, as Jeremy told us, his survival was always precarious, and we were treated to an entertaining, if perhaps slightly fanciful vignette of life in the Petre household at Ingatestone, which portrayed the family engaging in secret worship with the musical assistance of the butler singing bass and the housemaid, soprano. Drawing attention to the richness of the alto part in Justorum Animae and the prominent ornamentation of that same part in Psallite Domino, he propounded the hypothesis that Byrd was the alto in this ensemble, supporting it with the observation that he was succeeded in the Chapel Royal by an alto (though your reviewer has been unable to identify that successor in the short time available for writing this review). Next came the largest-scale and most demanding item of the programme, Laudibus in sanctis from Cantiones sacrae II (1591). The original voicing of this was ATTBB, but we sang it from the CPDL edition by Diana Thompson, transposed up a major third for performance by SSATB. Jeremy regaled us with an interesting disquisition about the consensus on such transpositions (the received wisdom for many years having been that a minor third was appropriate) and the doubt cast on the received wisdom by the discovery of part of an organ which had been incorporated into the wall of a barn in Norfolk. He was clearly sceptical about this discovery as a basis for such doubt, but in any event he decided that we should sing it in E flat major instead of E major as printed, that being a more singer-friendly key. Laudibus in sanctis is in three parts. The text of the first part somewhat resembles that of Psalm. 150, vv.1-2, and there are echoes of succeeding verses in the second part, Magnificum domini, where tympani and organa resound in praise of God, but the third part goes off on something of a frolic with arguta joining in the instrumental ensemble, agile praise, joyful dancing (chorea from coreia, a dance in a ring) in three-time, and back to the well-tuned cymbals before the long and ornate Alleluia which, most unusually, has additional text-Alleluia (all five syllables) canat, tempus in omne Deo. Once again the malign influence of the bar lines was remarked upon, and we were also reminded that our perceptions of Renaissance music are refracted through the prism of all that has gone before, from modern, back through romantic, classical and baroque, so that a conscious effort is required in order to realise the music free from these perceptual accretions. Opinions are apparently divided about the merits of O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth, our Queen, the text of which is adapted from Psalm 21. It has also been pressed into service for male monarchs, with “Elizabeth, our queen” replaced by “Our sovereign Lord, the King” when James VI and I was the subject of the requests for divine favour; and, of course, Handel’s Coronation Anthem “The king shall rejoice” is based on the same psalm text. The interesting point was raised that the normally unimportant words “and” and “but” seemed to be given undue prominence in the setting, but this is explicable as a rhetorical device pointing up the accumulation of requests which are being made for the monarch’s physical and spiritual well-being, the request for a long life being of particular importance in an age of short life expectancy and danger of assassination or death by other non-natural causes. The last item which we attempted was the Agnus Dei I from the four-part mass, again sung in an edition without bar lines, our final rendering being sung, scrambled, from the altar steps, giving us a chance to appreciate the acoustic along the length of the church. There is really nothing to say about this well-known and much admired work except that it was a fitting conclusion to a most enjoyable and instructive day which has given us much food for thought. We are all most grateful to Jeremy for all the work that he has put in to making the day such a success, and our warm thanks are also due to all those who helped to organise the event.

Sidney Ross



Alma redemptoris mater
A workshop for singers directed by John Milsom

May 2012

As the unaccustomed February sunshine beat down on the utilitarian façade of the Headington Community Centre, the 47 singers who attended the TVEMF event on 25 February were bathed in illumination of a completely different nature; singing early music is not primarily (or, perhaps, even at all) about making beautiful sounds, but about understanding the structure of the work and realising the composer’s intentions.

We can always expect John Milsom to take us on a voyage into the unknown - Richafort, Loyset Compere and Philip van Wilder come to mind from previous occasions - but this time he provided an intriguing mixture of the familiar viewed in unfamiliar ways, and the totally unfamiliar. We began with the well-known plainchant Alma redemptoris mater, but we explored it in small sections which were put into the context of the polyphony of the setting by Constanzo Festa, the first of the three motets to be studied. It is perhaps surprising that a composer so famous in his time as Festa (“musicus eccelentissimus et cantor egregius” as he was described at his burial), and so prolific both as a composer of sacred music and a madrigalist, should be so little known, and to our lack of acquaintance with his music, John added another layer of separation - the process of “de-familiarisation”. This was achieved by presenting the music on the page in an unaccustomed format, which involved reading right across a double page, dispensing to a large extent with the underlay, and arranging the parts in an unexpected order, so that the two parts making up the canon (A1 and T1) were at the top of the system, with the others (S1, S2, T2 and B) below. As was also the case on Michael Procter’s Hassler day last December, it became clear that we are creatures of habit who expect the highest part to be at the top of the system and are particularly disconcerted by any part designated 1 lying lower in the voice than the corresponding 2.

Festa served as a focus for the question “For whom was the composer writing ?”. The answer, emphatically, is not the audience except, perhaps, to the extent that they wished their patrons to be satisfied with the music which they commissioned; it is other composers. In music, as in the visual arts, there was the desire to emulate, and to surpass their peers. Such was the route to recognition and prestigious appointments - in Festa’s case, the court of Louis XII and the Sistine Chapel. Commercial considerations were also prominent. In 1536, Festa wrote to his patron, Filippo Strozzi of the Florentine banking family, addressing him as “Magnificent Sir” and asking him to have one of his agents find a printer in Venice for his hymns and Magnificats “and if he wants them, I want not less than 150 scudi, and if he wants the basse, 200 in all” (Allan W Atlas, Renaissance Music, Norton, 1998, p.466). There are no such anecdotes about the composer of the second setting which we studied. Not even the years of the birth and death of Andreas de Silva are known, and although there are several references to him both in Reese, Music in the Renaissance (Dent, 1954) and Leeman Perkins, Music in the Age of the Renaissance (Norton, 1999), these writers do not place him in the front rank-for instance, his first two appearances in Reese are under the headings “Carpentras and some lesser figures” and “Corteccia and some lesser madrigalists”. However, it appears that his compositions were of sufficient interest to be drawn on by Palestrina and by Arcadelt, and the Te Deum setting which has been found in more sources of the period than any other is attributed to him (and also to Josquin and Mouton). Indeed, it appears that he enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries, being described in 1567 by Bartoli as one of the successors of Josquin “who taught the world how music should be written”. Kirsch, in the New Grove, describes his compositional style as having “a relatively simple technical structure, a straightforward, strongly expressive melody which tends towards declamation, an expressive harmonic sense and an overall formal design which is always clear”. These characteristics were all apparent in the five-part (SATBarB) setting and it is unsurprising that at the end of the day it topped the poll for the participants’ favourite piece.

Finally we moved on to more familiar ground with the five-part (SATTB) setting by Victoria. Here, John drew our attention to a musical jest perpetrated by the composer. Both the Festa and the de Silva settings are based entirely on the Alma redemptoris mater chant and the setting of the words sumens illud Ave mirrors that section of the chant. In the Victoria, however, a setting from Ave maris stella (where the second verse opens with the line sumens illud Ave) is introduced, this being indicated by the insertion of the relevant section of both chants at the start of the corresponding text. After the florid, decorative five bars of sumens illud Ave based on Ave maris stella, the setting returns quietly and almost apologetically to peccatorum miserere as if, so John put it, Victoria was asking pardon for having strayed. Having done some detailed work on all three pieces and absorbed a variety of fascinating insights, we broke for tea (refreshed once again by Mary Reynor’s exceedingly good cakes, beside which Mr Kipling’s productions pale into insignificance) and sang through all three pieces. John was generous in his praise for our efforts and we, I am sure, felt privileged to act once again as a medium for his exploration into some previously uncharted territory. Warmest thanks are due not only to him but to Diana Porteous and Nicola Wilson-Smith for their contributions towards another successful day in Headington.

Sidney Ross



Hassler in Amersham

January 2012

Under the inimitable direction of Michael Procter, 66 singers, 19 instrumentalists and eight versatile individuals who participated in both roles assembled in the Amersham Community Centre for a programme of polychoral music by Hans Leo Hassler. The Hassler family (Isaac and his three sons, Hans Leo, Kasper and Jakob) hailed from Nuremberg and were all musicians, though Hans Leo has by far the greatest reputation. After spending time in Venice, where he was a pupil of Andrea Gabrieli (whose nephew Giovanni was his fellow student) he moved to Augsburg as chamber organist to Octavian Fugger, a post he filled from 1586 to 1601. He returned to Nuremberg in 1602 as chief Kapellmeister of the town, where he was hailed as 'Musicus inter Germanos sua aetate summus' (among the Germans, the most complete composer of his age). This adulation did not prevent him from renouncing his connections with Nuremberg and moving to Ulm, where he married into the mercantile bourgeoisie. Gustav Reese (Music in the Renaissance, Dent, 1954) says of him that he was probably the only Germanic composer of the period, other than Senfl, who could be ranked with the great Franco-Netherlanders of the 16th century.

Michael selected six items of widely differing nature for the programme; they varied from 10 to 18 parts and involved, variously, two, three and four choirs with different combinations of instruments. The instruments were of a number and variety far outweighing the somewhat mimsy collection to be found in King JesusÓ Garden or the more imposing array at the sound of which those present in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar were commanded to fall down and worship the golden image (Daniel iii, 7). They included cornets, sackbuts, viols, recorders, an 'amazement' of curtals (I am indebted to Margaret Jackson-Roberts for this newly-minted collective noun), cello, organ, and a lizard. I collect from the Mediaeval Life and Times website that this instrument gets its name from its shallow S-shape which gives it the appearance of a legless lizard and that it was used by (among others) troubadours. The idea of expressing courtly love to oneÓs unattainable lady with the aid of a lizard is not one which your reviewer finds easy to accommodate.

Michael began by drawing attention to the fact that the so-called Christmas TVEMF event was actually taking place in Advent, for which he was liturgically garbed in a tie of the appropriate colour. However, with the exception of Congratulamini, which is liturgically for Eastertide, the programme was one of music for Christmas or for general use. We began with Cantate Domino a 13 and (it being late in the day owing to the complexity of the task of getting everyone into the right place, admirably organised though that was by David Fletcher and the music monitors with their dauntingly complex spreadsheets), the singers were spared the usual warm-ups, and Michael allowed the instrumentalists to proceed on the basis (attributed to Anthony Rooley) that 'the tuning was good enough for early music'.

The next item was Coeli enarrant, another 13-part work. It is known that Hassler and Giovanni Gabrieli collaborated in the composition of a wedding motet for Georg Gruber, a wealthy Nuremberg merchant, in 1600. It was included in GruberÓs collection of motets in memory of the two composers, published in 1615 under the title Reliquiae sacrorum concentuum, and Michael surmised from the text, the last section of which reads 'et ipse tamquam sponsus procedens de thalamo suo' (which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, Ps xix, 5), that Coeli enarrant might have been the motet in question. The pre-lunch session ended with Jubilate Deo a 15, another three-choir work which is a spectacular 117-bar setting of the well-known psalm text. In this piece Michael drew our attention to the individualistic nature of the sheep, as portrayed by the setting of the words 'nos autem populus eius et oves pascuae' (for we are his people and the sheep of his pasture). Having appropriately entered into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise, we emerged exhilarated and ready for the bodily refreshment which had been admirably organised by Victoria Helby and contributed to on the usual basis.

Following the lengthy and convivial lunch-break, we returned to the fray with the 4-choir Congatulamini a 18. It was at this stage that Michael explained something that had been baffling many of us; if the four choirs were arranged from high to low, with choir 4 as the lowest, why was that choir called 'Primus' ? The answer is that it sings first - simple when you know how. Congatulamini is a piece which, apart from giving rise to what Michae described as 'the curious incident of the sharp in the night' displays considerable rhythmic complexity as well as requiring the mind of a cryptographer to understand its structure, exemplified by the make-up of choir 4 (Primus) consisting from top to bottom) of A, 17, 18, 7 and B. It was something of a relief to return to the comparative simplicity of the three movements from the Missa sine nomine which followed and which, according to the description in the Edition Michael Procter, is, 'most unusually, in vocal clefs throughout'.

After some debate it was decided to attempt the last piece, Hodie Christus natus est, for two five-part choirs (but very suitable for instrumental participation), before tea. With hindsight it might have been better to have ended there, because the reprise of Congratulamini which we attempted afterwards was not a great success. However, that minor blemish hould not be allowed to detract from the general satisfaction engendered by our exploration of the works of a master of polychoral writing. We are all indebted to Michael for yet another rewarding musical experience and no doubt many of us are looking forward to another feast of polychorality under his direction in June 2012, when the composer will be Giovanni Gabrieli. Warmest thanks must also go to David Fletcher and Victoria Helby for all that they did to make the day a success, and to the volunteers, too numerous to record, who helped with the various tasks, particularly the distribution of the music.

Sidney Ross



Tomkins in Ealing

November 2011

St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Mount Park Road was the venue for another well-attended and successful singing day. Fifty-three singers assembled to spend the day exploring the sacred and secular music of Thomas Tomkins under the expert direction of James Weeks. Some singers (including your reviewer) who are otherwise well acquainted and feel reasonably comfortable with the music of the period find themselves less at home with the rhythmic and harmonic complexities which Tomkins presents, and it is a tribute to James’ patience and encouragement that we were eventually able to produce tolerable renditions of the selected works.

Thomas Tomkins (1573-1656) is the only English madrigalist of any significance to have survived into the repressive years of the Protectorate, an age in which everyone was to be virtuous and there were to be no more cakes and ale; “if any man wished to be merry”, exhorted one of the Cromwellian divines, “let him sing psalms”. Tomkins’ one collection of mainly secular music, the Set of Songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts, was published in 1622. It contains 28 compositions, and is unusual in two respects. One is that, contrary to the more usual custom, the Set was not dedicated to a single person; instead, each piece has an individual dedication. Some are to members of his family, several of whom were musicians, and others to madrigalists and lutenists of the period; the dedicatees include his “ancient and much revered Master, William Byrd”, as well as John Dowland, John Cooper (Coprario), Nathanael Giles, who was master of the choristers of the Chapel Royal when Tomkins succeeded Edmund Hooper as an organist there and Orlando Gibbons who was the senior organist until his death in 1625. The other is that four of these ‘songs’ were settings of scripture words, one of them being the well-known When David heard that Absalom was slain.

Tomkins, in so far as he has attracted comment, has had rather a mixed press, and has not figured to any great extent in the anthologies. Of over a hundred anthems listed in the New Grove, only two appear in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems and three others in the recent collection of Tudor Anthems edited by Lionel Pike (Novello, 2010). As to the madrigals, Fellowes, in The English Madrigal Composers, (first published in 1916, second edition 1948) describes the Set as “the last volume of first- rate importance in the great series of English madrigals which began with Byrd’s Psalms, Songs and Sonnets (1588)”, though he does say that the other three settings of scripture words in the Set “do not quite reach the same standard as the rest of the volume”, while the writer of the article in the New Grove remarks that “the book gets off to a dull start, for none of the three-part madrigals except the last (Love, cease tormenting) is at all memorable”. However, the writer is more positive about the four- and five-part compositions.

No doubt to lead us gently into Tomkins, James began by taking us through the five- part To the shady woods, which is one of the nine madrigals in the set with a fa-la refrain and which, as Fellowes observes, is one of the more conventional of that type and adds little to the development of that form by Morley and Weelkes. It displays none of the rhythmic invention of (for example) See, see the shepherds’ queen which is one of the five madrigals of his in the Oxford Book of English Madrigals. This was followed by the considerably more demanding Almighty God, The Fountain of All Wisdom - something of a steeplechase with a set of gymnastic exercises at the end in the shape of the 13-bar Amen. A return to perhaps more familiar ground ended the morning session, in which we tackled Adieu, ye city-pris’ning towers and were encouraged to emulate the chirping of the birds, though whether this rendering would in practice have been an inducement to our loves “to delay not” but “to come and stay not” is perhaps open to doubt.

Refreshed in our various ways, we had a short warm-up to banish the post-prandial somnolence before attempting the piece probably most familiar to us, When David heard. It was a new insight (at any rate to your reviewer) to have pointed out to us the contrasting ways in which we should perform the opening section, the words of which are in reported speech, and the direct speech of David’s lament. This was followed by probably the most well-known of all the madrigals, Oyez (or, as the Oxford Book of English Madrigals for some inexplicable reason has it, O yes !) Has any found a lad ? This variant is somewhat reminiscent of Misadventures at Margate in the second series of Barham’s Ingoldsby Legends, in which the narrator is taken in by a juvenile con-artist who makes off with all his belongings and consequently sends the town crier round to find him, with conspicuous lack of success, recounting that “But, when the Crier cried O Yes, the people cried O No!”. Agreement having been reached on Oyez, we engaged in a spirited if not always accurate attack on the madrigal, fortified by thoughts of tea to come.

James saved the most ambitious piece till the final session, telling us that we ought to go home exhausted. The seven-part O sing unto the Lord a new song from Musica Deo Sacra is a work of great splendour with many contrasts, going from the firm but reverent setting of the opening words, to the dancing rhythms of “Sing praise unto him”, then to the majestic “let Israel rejoice” and finally (it being the portion of the blest to sing eternal psalms, or so it is said) to the more contemplative “And let the children of Sion ever sing” ending with the long-drawn out Alleluia; though even the heavenly choir might have had difficulty with some of the underlay, particularly the variants of “children”. If James wanted us to go home exhausted, he achieved his object in that respect; but we also went home refreshed after a most enjoyable encounter with an inexplicably neglected composer. Our warmest thanks go not only to James for his patient and good-humoured direction but to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event and (without which no event and no review can, for this reviewer, ever be truly complete) to Mary Reynor for yet another admirable display of the cake-maker’s art.

Sidney Ross



Obsequies in Ealing

September 2011

Once upon a time, the parishioners of Ealing’s newly developed Brentham Garden Suburb worshipped in a corrugated iron hut in Pitshanger Lane. Now, the impressive St Barnabas Church, designed by Ernest Shearman, and consecrated in 1916, provides a place of worship with its roots in the liberal catholic tradition as it towers over the modest terraces of the suburb like a Spanish galleon among a crowd of fishing smacks,. The simile is not so fanciful as it might seem, since one of the most remarkable features of its design is the “Noah’s Ark” roof; and among the many other noteworthy features of its design and decoration is a picture of the Holy Trinity (attributed to Pedro Machuca), in which God the Father is depicted with a triangular halo; this, according to Gillean Craig, a former member of the clergy, is “an interesting way of confirming the theology of the Holy Trinity”. Altogether, an admirable setting for the music that was to be performed.

This event was possibly one of the most over-subscribed in the history of TVEMF (though your reviewer, a mere newcomer with but 14 years’ membership of TVEMF, stands to be corrected on this point). Sixty-six singers took part and at least another thirty applied unsuccessfully. Clearly the combination of Victoria’s beautiful Officium Defunctorum (composed for the obsequies of the Dowager Empress Maria, widow of the Emperor Maximilian II, and performed on April 22/23, 1603) and David Allinson’s inimitable and expert direction provided an opportunity not to be missed. Not only was the setting highly appropriate but, felicitously, the event took place on August 27th ,the date being, in David’s view of the available evidence, the exact 400th anniversary of Victoria’s death.

Much praise has been lavished on this work. Bruno Turner, in his introduction to the Mapa Mundi edition from which we sang, described it as glowing ”with an extraordinary fervour within a musical atmosphere of serenity and fitness for liturgical purpose”. Perhaps, as Allan Atlas surmises in Renaissance Music (Norton, 1998), that liturgical fitness was a manifestation of the effect of the Counter-Reformation and the decrees of the Council of Trent which “although they seemed on the surface to limit artistic expression, were intended to bring music and the faithful close to one another”; and he describes it,, together with two other masterpieces (Lassus’ Lagrime and Palestrina’s Song of Songs as “among some of the most beautiful and sensual music ever written”, with special praise for the poignancy of Versa est in luctum, the structure of which he perceives as progressing from “the hushed, almost mysterious paired imitation at the opening, through the agony at ‘nihil enim sunt dies mei’ to the sense of quiet acceptance at the end”.

More generally, in his own exposition of what makes Victoria’s music special, David drew our attention to the paraphrasing of chant, the breaking out of the modal structure and the way in which the music progresses not only horizontally along the line but vertically, in its harmonic structure.

The actual singing involved quite a lot of experimentation with the distribution of voices. The initial configuration with tenors and basses at the ends with the upper voices in the middle seemed to cause some difficulty in hearing all the parts, but the reshuffle after lunch with the lower voices in the middle was, perhaps, not a great improvement. There was a rather greater amount of scrambled singing than usual, and many, though not all of us found this more satisfactory as we were singing out into the body of the church and also, better able to hear the other parts around us. But whatever difficulties individuals may have encountered, there can be no doubt that this was a greatly rewarding, if challenging event, directed by David with all the erudition and good humour that we have come to expect. The warm-ups were less eccentric and the gastronomic and other similes perhaps more restrained then we have experienced in the past, though the reaction to the stolen cheesecake and the hissing of the angry librarian may come to take a permanent place in the warm-up repertoire.

Mention of cheesecake provides a neat segue into our thanks to Mary Reynor for yet another coruscating display of the cake-maker’s art, to Michael for organising the event, and to David for guiding us through one of the finest works of Renaissance liturgical music.

Sidney Ross


Thoughts after Kilburn

July 2010

The group of twenty-seven singers which gathered at St Augustine’s Kilburn on Saturday June 12th had a more cosmopolitan flavour than usual, including as it did one Danish soprano and two Norwegian altos, who contributed significantly to the quality of our performance. The main work which Michael had selected was one of Victoria’s 15 parody masses, the Missa Gaudeamus, one of the four which were not based on his own compositions. The other composers on whose works he based parody masses were Palestrina, Guerrero, Jannequin and Morales, and it was Morales’ Jubilate Deo on which the Missa Gaudeamus was based.

The introduction to the special edition of the music (the Mass and the motet) which Michael had once again helpfully produced tells us that the motet was composed to celebrate the peace brokered in 1538 by Pope Paul III between the Emperor Charles V and François I of France. A brief survey of the confused and inflamed political and religious landscape of Europe during the 1530s shows us what a stunning feat of diplomacy the former Alessandro Farnese, Dean of the Sacred College at the time of his election to the papacy, had achieved. The Spanish Hapsburg Charles V of Spain, (Emperor 1519-58), and the Valois king François I (1515-47) had engaged in a lengthy struggle (1521-29) for domination in the Papal states, in the course of which François was defeated and captured by Charles at Pavia in 1525. Although both were opposed to evangelical Protestantism, with Charles outlawing Luther and Calvin fleeing from the French regime under François, the enmity between the two potentates was bitter enough for François to ally himself with the Schmalkadic League under the Lutheran Philip of Hesse. Into this melee stepped the conciliarist Paul III, whose first attempt to call a general council at Mantua had failed partly because of that enmity and partly because the Duke of Mantua refused to guarantee its orderly progress; but having convoked a council at Vicenza on 1st May 1538, he succeeded in bringing about a ten-year truce between the hitherto implacable opponents, which was proclaimed by the treaty signed at Nizza (Nice) on 18th June. In addition to the Mass and the motet, Michael had provided two other works for us to perform, Monteverdi’s six-part motets (SSATTB) Adoramus te, Christe and Cantate Domino. Under Michael’s guidance in his inimitable style, which, as always, blended instruction with amusement, we made such satisfactory progress on the Saturday with the Mass and Adoramus te Christe, which were to be performed at the service, that we were able to spend some time on the Jubilate Deo and Cantate Domino, which were not. In the course of his exposition Michael regaled us with some vignettes of the Renaissance musical world which are, perhaps not widely known. Reminding us in general terms that “the text is the senior partner” Michael told us of a letter by Monteverdi (in the role, it would seem, of a Renaissance Simon Cowell) which recounted auditions ending in the rejection of young lady singers “with very nice voices which were only big enough for opera, but not for singing in church”. We were also treated to a representation of Luther expounding Isaiah 50:9 “Lo, they shall all wax old as a garment: the moth shall eat them up” as “they shall die - just like that !” - with a snap of the fingers; and an anecdote which ought to be true even if it is apocryphal, of Lassus and Palestrina meeting in a Roman drinking establishment and attempting to cajole each other into disclosing their latest innovations. Michael was of the view that Victoria, although he spent a long time in Rome, probably did not participate.

There were also some remarkable similes to illustrate the required vocal effects. Thus, although the opening of the Gloria is gentle rather than (as is often the case) exultant. we were exhorted not to be too Anglican or to resemble angels pussyfooting about. The liquid quality which he wished the female voices to exhibit brought forth a reference to “honey trickling down Aaron’s beard”. Your reviewer has tracked this down to Ps 133:2 in which the dwelling together of brethren in unity (obviously desirable in a vocal ensemble, and no doubt applicable to sisters also) is likened to “the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments”. The King James Bible follows the Vulgate, which has “unguentum”, not “mel”; so one is led to wonder whether Michael has a copy of the so-called “Treacle Bible” where Jeremiah 8:22 is translated “is there no tryacle in Gilead ?” rather than the more familiar “balm” (“resina” in the Vulgate).

During the Sunday morning warm-up, which went well, an interesting point emerged regarding the difficulty of singing a descending major third accurately. Michael explained that this is because a descending minor third is a much more natural interval to sing, as exemplified by the way in which we call to children or pets. He illustrated this by calling an imaginary and pedantic dog (Fido, who spells his name faedus). Your reviewer was intrigued by this and, as the owner of three cats with disyllabic names, tested the theory on returning home and found it to be correct. His cat call is E flat to C. The cats tend to reply with portamento yowls of varying ranges.

Michael appeared to be well satisfied with our performance at the service-certainly there were no obvious glitches, and Canon Yates was extremely complimentary. Unfortunately, his impending retirement casts doubt over the future of the event, though he expressed cautious optimism about the possibility of its survival. We, of course, would greatly regret its disappearance from the TVEMF calendar.

Having earned our extended lunch break, the majority retired to the Queen’s Head, the eighteen singers who returned for the final session having been considerably fortified. Although the lower voices were considerably depleted, we managed to get through the Morales Jubilate Deo with two to each of T1, T2 and B, our forces being redeployed so that Margaret Jackson-Roberts sang bass with Michael Reynor. We also had a run through the Credo of the Missa Gaudeamus and the two Monteverdi anthems, finishing with Adoramus te, Christe, scrambled. All in all, a very satisfactory musical week-end for which we are, as ever, much indebted to Michael for his choice of music and his expert guidance through its complexities.

Warmest thanks also go to Neil for organising the event, to Penny Vinson and Jenny Robinson for making the necessary arrangements with the church, and to both of them and to Mary Reynor for the admirable refreshments which added another international dimension to the event; Danish and Norwegian singers, Dutch apple cake and Greek carrot cake. Thanks, also, to all those who helped with making tea, clearing up, and so forth. Finally, it is most appropriate, after all the years in which Jenny has participated in this event as singer, organiser and cake-maker, for us to offer our best wishes to her and Stuart as they prepare to leave Harrow for Skipton later this year. We hope that the move goes smoothly, that they will be very happy there and that they will stay in touch with us.

Sidney Ross



Once more in Ealing…

November 2009

Four-square and uncompromising, St Andrew’s United Reformed Church stands out as a focal point among the Victorian villas of the respectable city gentlemen of that time, exemplified by Jerome K. Jerome’s comic creation, Uncle Podger, who caught the 9.13 from Ealing Common to Moorgate Street, two hundred and fifty days a year. Uncle Podger, who made his first appearance in 1889, when Three Men in a Boat was published (though his daily routine was not revealed until Three Men on the Bummel appeared in 1900), probably would not have worshipped at St Andrew’s, since it was built during the ministry of the Reverend Joseph Brown Logie, M.A., which extended over the period 1908-37. Inside, the church is well-appointed and spacious, and provided a most acceptable venue for Alistair Dixon’s second TVEMF workshop of 2009, the first having taken place at the Quaker Meeting House only a short distance away. A large and enthusiastic group gathered together on 31st October to perform music for All Saints. Although the text of Gaudeamus Omnes makes its intended use for All Saints perfectly clear, the programme reflected the fact that relatively little music of the period was composed for use on that occasion. By way of illustration, the index to the sixteen Chester Books of Motets, which contain in total 166 compositions, lists only Justorum Animae (Byrd, Lassus), Audivi (Taverner) and O Quam Gloriosum (Vaet) as being for use on All Saints. We began with the relatively undemanding Tu es Petrus (SATB), by Jacobus Clemens non Papa. Prolific though Clemens was (according to the New Grove he composed fifteen masses, two Magnificat cycles and about 233 motets) little of his sacred music appears to have found its way into the current Early Music repertoire. Of his secular music, the same source tells us that love-songs and drinking-songs occupy an important place in his output. Perhaps in these times of almost unrelieved gloom we should devote a little more attention to him. Byrd’s Gaudeamus Omnes (SSATB) came next. This magnificent work was one of the pieces mentioned in the advance leaflet and was particularly demanding for the tenors, being liberally sprinkled with As and including the occasional B flat. We attempted only the first part, which was a pity, since as we finished half an hour earlier than usual, time could perhaps have been found for the verse and the Gloria. Palestrina did, as one sees from Alec Harman’s collection, compose at least one motet (Salvator Mundi) for All Saints, but Alistair’s choice of Palestrina was the dramatic Elegerunt Apostoli, an offertory motet In festo Sancti Stephani protomatyris; Stephen’s martyrdom is dated to ca AD 35. During the morning session there was the usual debate about ficta without which no early music workshop appears to be complete, and one wonders whether Alistair’s references to “diabolic intervals” referred exclusively to the anathematised conjunction of F and B natural or, additionally, to some of the less than harmonious sounds that we occasionally produced. This may have been due to difficulty in the parts hearing each other in the pre-lunch session because we were too dispersed, since in the afternoon, when we moved closer together, the improvement was apparent. The afternoon session began with a matins respond, Tallis’ Audivi vocem (SATB with two plainchant sections), thought by Alistair to be one of his earlier works. The New Grove tells us that Taverner set Audivi and also the other ceremonial matins respond, Hodie nobis caelorum Rex and that these were later set by both Sheppard and Tallis, but as most of Taverner’s choral work is thought to have been composed in the period 1520-30 when - again according to New Grove - “English church music still showed little inclination to depart from its well-established mediaeval practices” (which are quite discernible in the Taverner Audivi) it is entirely possible that Tallis was still quite young when he composed Audivi vocem . We then moved on to Victoria’s Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater (SATB x 2) which is apparently assigned to that part of the year between the Vespers of the first Sunday in Advent and Compline on the 2nd of February. John IV of Portugal (whom members will no doubt recall as the composer of the well-known Crux Fidelis) was an admirer of Victoria’s music, of which he observed that it leant towards the joyful rather than the sad, and certainly that is true of Alma Redemptoris Mater, on which Victoria also based a parody mass. The verses are commonly attributed to one Hermann Contractus (“Hermann the Cripple”), who died in 1054, and it was obviously a popular text, since the “litel clergeon” (schoolboy or choirboy) of the Prioress’ Tale was so enraptured by it that he resolved to learn it off by heart; and when he had done so, “he song it well and boldely Fro word to word acordynge to the note” - a standard which we made a fair attempt to reach. The last item was Byrd’s O Quam Gloriosum (SSATB), which provided a rousing finale before tea, but again, it would have been more satisfactory had we performed the second part. Having been stayed with tea and comforted with cake, we returned for a final sing through, in which we revisited Audivi vocem, Tu es Petrus, Elegerunt Apostoli and Alma Redemptoris Mater. It is your reviewer’s perception (though some may think otherwise) that that was our best singing of the day, and Alistair seemed to be well satisfied with our concluding efforts. As always, we are greatly indebted to him for a varied and interesting programme. We are also very grateful to the minister, the Reverend Dr Tony Haws, for allowing us (as is apparently unusual) to use the church itself, rather than the hall, for the workshop, and it is certainly a venue to which, judging from members’ comments, we would be very happy to return in due course. Warmest thanks are also due to Michael Reynor for organising the event, and Mary Reynor and Jenny Robinson for providing yet another selection of admirable cakes.

Sidney Ross



Croce in Kilburn

September 2009

It is inevitable, if one is regularly reviewing Michael Procter’s week-end in Kilburn, that, to some extent, the same things are going to be said. Thus, the opening always seems to announce that on such and such a date, 25 (or 24 or 26) singers gathered at St Augustine’s to participate in Michael’s liturgical week-end. Your reviewer hopes that, given the attractive music which Michael always selects, and the adept manner in which he combines instruction with entertainment, more members might in future years be tempted to take advantage of his annual visit.

One can always rely on Michael to introduce some slightly bizarre concept into his discourse and, while we were warming up on Saturday morning, he told us about a recent conference in York which he had attended, at which the sheep were sorted from the goats by magnetic resonance imaging scans taken while they were singing the vowel “ee”. Your reviewer was instantly transported back to the days of George Bernard Shaw’s musical criticism and his enthusiasm for the laryngoscope. In the second volume of Music in London 1890-94 he says, at p.190, in the course of a vigorous polemic about singing teachers and their “scientific” methods:-

“Yet do not suppose that I am an advocate of old-fashioned ignorance. No. I admit that a young teacher of singing, if he cannot handle the laryngoscope, and knows nothing of anatomy or physics, deserves to be mistrusted as an uneducated person, likely to offer fantastic and ambiguous suggestions instead of exact instructions”

I did, however, lose track of Michael’s explication at the point where the warming-up of the voice was in some way likened to the heat generated during the process of compressing a gas.

However, turning to the music, 2009, as can be seen from Michael’s web-site, is Croce year. In his 14-volume edition of the collected works of Giovanni Croce, volume 1 contains the 5- and 6-part Masses. Michael chose Croce’s only 6-part mass (SSATTB) for us and it is impossible to quarrel with his description of it as ”bright and grateful to sing”. As he did last year, he provided an edition of the week-end music in one volume; as well as the Mass, it contained three motets, Audi Domine Hymnum (SATTB) and O sacrum convivium I (SATB) by Croce, and one, Benedicite spiritus (SSATTB) by Claudio Merulo. Both composers were associated with St Mark’s, Venice, Merulo having been the chief organist from 1557-84 (when he was succeeded by Andrea Gabrieli, who had been the second organist since 1566), while Croce was maestro di cappella from 1603 until his death in 1609.

Curiously, perhaps, recent books on Renaissance music pay little attention to either Croce or Merulo as composers of liturgical music. For instance, Allan W Atlas, in Renaissance Music, (Norton, 1998) devotes some space to Merulo’s arrangement of Lassus’ Susanne un jour, and gives a passing mention to the “toccatas of Merulo [which] live on mainly in scholarly editions”, while he mentions Croce only as maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, Venice. Leeman Perkins, in Music of the Age of the Renaissance (Norton, 1999) refers to Merulo only as a composer of instrumental music, while Croce is mentioned as the composer of the madrigal Ove tra l’herbe e i fiori in Il trionfo Dori (published 1592) which (says Perkins) was apparently the source of Morley’s inspiration to produce The Triumphs of Oriana (1601).

On the Saturday we rehearsed the Mass (except for the Credo) and the two Croce anthems, Audi Domine Hymnum which we sang at the offertory and O sacrum convivium at Communion. The Mass is less highly charged and dramatic than many which we have sung, and Michael was meticulous in ensuring that we kept the deceptively simple music moving. It was highly gratifying to be told by him, in effect, that we were doing so well that it was worth while trying to make it even better. Audivi Domine hymnum was, perhaps, near the other end of the Croce spectrum. There are tremendous contrasts in its 60 bars, with impassioned pleading until the sudden quietness of “die ac nocte” which gradually builds up to a massive climax in which the tenors attacked the final cadence with great vigour. O sacrum convivium was, as one would expect, intense but quiet until it culminates in the final, joyful Alleluia.

The performance on Sunday went off very well, Canon Yates being kind enough to compare the effect produced by our singing favourably with San Marco, though, as Michael had told us the day before, the regular choir at San Marco is fairly appalling, that was not quite the unqualified encomium that it might appear to be at first sight. Our singing had one slight hiatus when the whole choir was feeling relieved and so pleased to be celebrating the ‘peace’, with the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and offertory motet having all been safely negotiated, that we had scarcely girded our loins for the Agnus Dei when the time came; but all in all it was a very creditable effort. Michael professed himself more than satisfied, and Canon Yates was as enthusiastic as the congregation were welcoming.

In the afternoon a somewhat diminished group sang the Credo, which struck your reviewer as having the quietest and gentlest depiction of the resurrection of the dead imaginable. We then tackled the Merulo Benedicite spiritus, which is a fine penitential motet for six voices; but the singers were in such a Croce ‘mind-set’ (and in three flats!) that it took time, quite unconnected with the long lunch at the Old Bell, to accommodate successfully to Merulo (in two sharps). Michael also treated us to an informative disquisition on the way in which the structures of the hexachords based on C, G and F militated against the use of any key signatures containing sharps; he has not come across anything originally written in G major earlier than 1640.

Returning, as at the start of this review, to familiar themes, it was a most rewarding and enjoyable week-end under Michael’s direction, and our warmest thanks go to Neil for organising the event, to Penny Vinson and Jenny Robinson for all their work in ensuring that all went smoothly in the church, and to Jenny, Penny and to Mary Reynor for providing yet another batch of admirable cakes.

Sidney Ross



Passion and Penitence
March 2009

To your reviewer, contemplating the primly respectable facades of the houses in the vicinity of the Quaker Meeting House in Ealing, it seemed an unlikely setting for such a frame of mind. What did the emerging mercantile middle class who first occupied those houses know of passion? Could they have conceived that they had anything about which to repent? Nevertheless, that was the chosen venue for the TVEMF workshop on Saturday, 28th February, a substantially over-subscribed event. And an admirable venue it turned out to be, once the thermostat had been adjusted and the windows of the meeting room opened to the optimum extent. We were then able to settle down, and be guided by Alistair Dixon, whom we were delighted to welcome back, through a programme of interesting contrasts.

One would not, perhaps, readily guess on hearing the music that was chosen for the workshop, that Palestrina (ca 1525-94), Tallis (ca 1505-85) and Robert White (whose date of birth is uncertain, but is thought to be ca 1538, and who died of the plague in 1574) were contemporaries. As Alistair reminded us, English music of the period was almost untouched by foreign influences, except for Ferrabosco, and the echoes of the Eton Choir Book to which he drew our attention in White’s Lamentations find no counterpart in Tallis’ Derelinquit impius and In jejunio et fletu.

We began with a painstaking rehearsal of a piece which must have been familiar to many of us, Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis. Here the focus was on producing the melodic line which is so characteristic of Palestrina; Anthony Petti, who edited this motet for the First Chester Book of Motets, says that it “seems to be the quintessential musical expression of grief in exile, gradually building up momentum from the opening melisma of sorrow to the release of pent-up anguish in “suspendimus organa”. Alistair did bring out the contrast between the phrasing of ”in salicibus in medio eius” and “suspendimus organa” with the break after “suspendimus” as a piece of word painting. However, whether by design or accident, he did not draw our attention to the feature of the ending which Petti describes as “a tortured irresolute Phrygian cadence in an otherwise Aeolian motet”. We may have produced some tortured irresolute sounds during the course of the day but it seems unlikely that they were attempts to perfect our rendering of this cadence.

It was then purposed to move on to the other Palestrina piece, from the Lamentations (Book Three) for Maundy Thursday, but the curse of the errant photocopier had struck and, for about half of us, “Aleph” stopped in the middle and was followed by an unrelated section of text. We therefore moved on to the White Lamentations. He wrote two, which have been published in vol. 32 of the English Church Music series, one in five parts (which is scored M CT T Bar B), and one in six (scored Tr M T1 T2 Bar B). These are said by Irwin Spector and David Mateer, who are otherwise a bit sniffy about him in the New Grove (e.g., “the antiphons and alternatim works are doubtless among the composer’s juvenilia”; “in general, White’s antiphons lack the technical mastery of his motets”) to be “particularly fine and [to] represent a highpoint of Elizabethan choral music”. David Mateer, who edited these for the ECM edition, observes that “Tudor composers of Lamentation settings did not have the guidelines of a long-established tradition on which to draw, as was the case with the respond and Magnificat…the genre in England, represented by the settings of Tallis, White, Byrd, Parsley, Ferrabosco the Elder and John Mundy…seems to have been an Elizabethan phenomenon”.

We worked on the six-part Lamentation in a different edition (Cantiones Press) from bar 135 (Lamed) to the end. The text of Lamed and Mem is from Lamentations i, vv.12 and 13, and the text is completed by the non-scriptural “Hierusalem” refrain. Here, the emphasis was on appreciating the harmonic structure rather than creating a smooth line. Mateer says that “most of its vocal lines have a control and sobriety in keeping with the solemnity of the words, and even the acrostic letters contribute to the overall effect with their slow-moving harmonic rhythm and dissonant part- weaving”.

The photocopying problem solved, we returned to the Palestrina (text from Lamentations i, v.2), for SSATB, and were exhorted to display empathy and musicality in order to create the desired vocal effects. These having been achieved to a moderate extent, we turned our attention to Tallis and two of his best-known works from Cantiones sacrae, Matins Responds for the first Sunday in Lent. There was some discussion about whether “Derelinquit” should actually be “derelinquat” but your reviewer is able to assure readers that the printed text is correct. The English version is “The wicked man forsakes his ways”; had it been that the wicked man was being exhorted to forsake his ways, the subjunctive “derelinquat” would have been appropriate. Trickier than the linguistic problem perhaps, was the introduction of a facsimile copy of “Derelinquit impius” into the proceedings and an invitation to sing it through from the facsimile. Those of us who had had more than two units of alcohol at lunchtime may have lost count at some point. That experiment abandoned and tea, embellished with Mary Reynor’s admirable cakes, consumed, we had a brief encounter with In jejunio et fletu before a final sing through of the two Lamentations settings, Derelinquit impius and Super flumina. Your reviewer may not have been the only person to experience a slight pang of regret at not being able to discover what actually did happen when Jesus went into the house of Simon the Pharisee, but perhaps that may be for another day. All in all, an excellent and rewarding day’s singing of a well-selected programme in a pleasant and commodious venue. Warmest thanks are due to Michael and Mary Reynor for organising such an enjoyable event, and to Alistair for taking us through the day and providing us with musical insights, anecdotes and gastronomic similes. We hope that there will not be such a long interval before we see him again.

Sidney Ross


“Semper aliquid novum”
February 2009

That “there is always something new out of Africa” has been proverbial since the 4th century BC, but the Latin version is generally attributed to Pliny, and it was a dictum popularised by Erasmus. What, I sense the readers of this review asking, has that to do with the TVEMF event which took place at Ickenham on 10th January 2009 ?

The answer is that our organisers have produced a series of events at Ickenham which have had little in common except that they introduced us to music which we would have otherwise been unlikely to experience; and each director has brought his particular skills and enthusiasms to the event. There is, thus, always something new out of Ickenham. On 26th April 2008 Jenny Robinson enabled us to explore the limes with David Allinson, who once again demonstrated how accomplished a choral director he is, and he gave us, in addition to Gombert and Mouton, the virtually unknown Richafort and Phillip van Wilder. On 18th October, persuaded by Neil Edington, master musicologist John Milsom added Jachet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton to our repertoire. And now we are indebted to Jeff Gill for the instrumentalist’s approach to sacred music, bringing William Hunt to TVEMF for the first time, to take us through two anthems by Thomas Tomkins and one by Orlando Gibbons.

These composers are not unknown to us in the same sense as Richafort, van Wilder, Jachet and Loyset Pieton. They are familiar names, and yet their works have not featured to any great extent either in TVEMF or other workshops in which your reviewer has participated over the last 10 years or so. Why is this? In the case of Tomkins there are two possible reasons. One is that many people seem to find him uncomfortable to sing; one feels at sea in a way that does not occur with (for instance) Tallis or Byrd. The other is that he has not had a particularly good press from the musicologists. Thus Peter Le Huray writes in the New Grove that “The style of full and verse anthems is fundamentally imitative and as in the madrigals there is much sequential extension of ideas. This leads in places to a certain ponderous predictability and dryness”; though he acknowledges that the best of the church music (which was highly regarded in his day) “forms an indispensable part of the pre- Restoration repertory”. Gustav Reese (Music in the Renaissance, Norton, 1954), had been kinder: “Notwithstanding his mannerism of repeating words at the ends of phrases to a disconcerting extent, Tomkins is one of the finest early composers of English church music”.

We began with a full anthem in 7 parts, O sing unto the Lord a new song (text from Psalm 149). William drew out attention to the manner in which the word stresses are placed within the tactus and the necessity for not only the singers, but the instrumentalists, to adjust their phrasing accordingly. Singing a smooth melodic line was not what the setting required. The contrast was particularly marked when the broad and rather stately “Let the congregation of saints” was followed by the decidedly jazzy “sing praise unto him” section and again where the gentle “and let the children of Zion” leads into the strongly rhythmical “alleluia” with which the anthem concludes.

We then moved on to the 6-part verse anthem “Know you not”. As William explained, this style derived from the fusion between the full anthem and the consort song, and is therefore much more rhetorical. Your reviewer has not been able to trace the source of the words except for the opening, which is from 2 Samuel 4, v.38 recounting the death of David’s supporter Abner at the hands of the sons of Zeruiah, “And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel”.

The high rhetorical style was well suited to the anthem, since it was written on the death of Prince Henry Stuart (from typhoid, at the age of 19) in November 1612. William compared the public reaction to that death with that triggered by the death of Princess Diana, and one can see why. A great deal of emotional capital had been invested in each of them. Henry was something of a Renaissance figure, and Carol Lee, in The Advancement of English Ballet, describes him thus:- “a popular heir to the English throne and the embodiment of the perfect prince, Henry Stuart was an excellent dancer having a genius for sponsoring and organising festivals”. Masques were a favourite entertainment of his and Ben Jonson, Samuel Daniel and George Chapman all wrote for him. He was an accomplished jouster and at the tournament celebrating his installation as Prince of Wales he participated as the knight Moeliades. David Norbrook (Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance) tells us that this was chosen as an anagram of “miles a deo” and represented his commitment to be a soldier in the Puritan cause. His death was a setback from which that cause was not to recover for a long time.

In order to perform Know you not, soloists were recruited from among the singers, and Alice Metherill (who deserves a special mention as she had come all the way from Newcastle), Paul Smith, Andrew Black, David King, Keith Hitchcock, David Griffiths, and one soprano whom, to my regret, I was unable to identify), should be congratulated for their fortitude in coping with the verses of a demanding piece of music. Unfortunately this arrangement, combined with the time taken in instructing the instrumentalists, left the rest of the singers somewhat under-employed during the period between lunch and tea while the work was in progress.

In order to avoid a recurrence of this situation, the verse anthem We praise thee, O Father, by Orlando Gibbons, which occupied the last hour of the day, was in effect treated as a full anthem, with all the singers singing both verses and chorus. This anthem, which begins with a five-part verse (mean, countertenor 1 and 2, tenor and bass) , retains that structure for the choruses but (as is apparently characteristic of his verse anthems) uses a variety of vocal groupings for the verses. Thus the dance- like “who by his death hath destroyed death” is sung in canon by C1 and C2 alternating with M1 and M2 until the final cadence, while the tenors (divided) join them in the weightier “Therefore with Angels and Archangels”, before the chorus brings the anthem to a resoundingly triumphant conclusion with “we laud and magnify thy glorious name”. The vocal forces are therefore very appropriately fitted to the text. Your reviewer did not pick up the exact point in the music at which William referred to a “loose canon”, and while the New Grove refers to “mirror”, “crab” and “riddle” canons, and informs the reader (on the authority of Tinctoris, 1475) that “Canon is a precept which somewhat obscurely states the composer’s plan” it does not explain what a loose canon is. The quest for further elucidation was abandoned after a Google search for the phrase produced 118,000 results, many of which refer to Pachelbel’s canon. Gibbons’ verse anthems have produced mixed reactions. Reese considers that he, like Tomkins, was much less successful with the verse anthem than with the full anthem, and cites Hosanna to the Son of David and O clap your hands as surpassing any of the verse anthems. Le Huray, however, has said that “his most memorable compositions are at once dramatic and yet, as Morley put it ‘carrying a majesty’ ”. He does not (though he might well have done so) refer to We praise thee, O Father, in that context, but mentions several of the other verse anthems. Judging by the number of members who bought a copy at the end of the afternoon, there is enthusiasm (shared by your reviewer) for further acquaintance with Gibbons’ anthems.

Warm thanks are due to Jeff for organising this event (and to him and everyone else who helped with the catering) and particularly to William for his patience and good humour in leading us through an area of English church music with which we have not engaged recently.

Sidney Ross



Willaert and friends

November 2008

Once again, the United Reformed Church at Ickenham has been the venue for a TVEMF event of exceptional quality. It was, as always, a most rewarding experience to be directed by John Milsom, who led us through a programme of music which featured masterpieces by composers virtually unknown to the wider world of early music. Most of us had sung some Mouton (though John expressed astonishment that not one person admitted to having sung his Salva nos, Domine, with which the programme ended), and a fair number had sung some Willaert. However, Jacquet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton were new to us.

Whether or not due to over-indulgence in the consumption of chocolate biscuits which, we were firmly told, was fatal, it took some little time before we began to produce the required quality of sound and diction. However, the time spent in bringing us up to scratch began to pay dividends as we engaged with Willaert’s Christe redemptor omnium, an alternatim setting in which the polyphonic verses were, successively, in four, five and six parts, with the two cantus parts in canon in the five-part verse, and the canon buried in the inner parts (alto I and tenor I) in the six-part verse. We are, at early music workshops, accustomed to having our attention directed firmly towards the text, so it was a fascinating and novel experience to be taken on a guided tour of the musical architecture of the Willaert, to have diatonic and exact canons explained to us and to be told why and when one or the other was used in the composition.

The second half of the morning was taken up with exploring a hitherto unsung (at least, in modern times) masterpiece, Plorabant sacerdotes by Jacquet of Mantua. The Florentine humanist Cosimo Bartoli remarked on a certain stylistic affinity between the compositions of Willaert and of Jachet, and Allan W Atlas tells us, in his book Renaissance Music, (Norton, 1998) that in 1550, Antonio Gardano, the publisher of Willaert’s Musica nova, issued a volume of music whose long title begins with the words Di Adriano et di Jachet, Jachet being the French-born composer Jacques Colebault (1483-1559), who was a prolific composer of masses and motets and who spent over thirty years as the leading composer in Mantua. Renaissance cultural history suggests that such dynasts as the Gonzaga of Mantua, the Estensi of Ferrara and the Sforza of Milan bargained, sold, and poached first rank musicians in much the same way as owners of Premiership football clubs do nowadays with world-class players, and for amounts not dissimilar when translated into modern currency. Perhaps Jachet’s lengthy stay in Mantua reflects the status of his patron, the cardinal- bishop Ercole Gonzaga, as the Roman Abramovitch of the Renaissance musical scene, able to see off any competition for his star musician.

As with verse 4 of the Willaert, Plorabant sacerdotes has the canon in the two upper parts, with the three lower parts as an accompaniment. Although we spent a considerable amount of time on it, and acquitted ourselves tolerably well in the end, given the time available, it was clear that we had not penetrated very far into its many complexities.

Next on the programme was O beata infantia, by (I quote from Neil’s note about the workshop) “the elusive Loyset Pieton, a composer of truly magnificent music whose biography remains an almost total mystery”. Neither Atlas nor Leeman Perkins, in Music in the Age of the Renaissance, (Norton, 1999) has a word to say about him. In this six-part motet for Christmas, specifically for Matins, a richly textured picture is painted of the ordinary, sad and even sordid aspects of man’s daily life being transformed by the presence of the blessed infant; the series of metaphorical contrasts between divine and human attributes ends triumphantly with the splendid stable being found to contain not only hay for the animals, but the food of angels.

In the final session, as well as revisiting Plorabant sacerdotes, we performed Willaert’s In convertendo Dominus, for two four-part choirs singing antiphonally until the last eight bars, where the two choirs came together for “et in saecula saeculorum“. This seemed fairly straightforward after the complications of Christe redemptor omnium, and we did not attempt to explore it in any depth. It was with somewhat diminishing energies (notwithstanding the sustenance derived from consumption of Mary and Michael Reynor’s excellent teatime provisions) that we ended by singing twice through Mouton’s calm and peaceful Salva nos, Domine, which provided a fitting conclusion to a an arduous, but immensely satisfying day’s singing. We are all indebted to John for his patience, good humour and expertise in taking us through his well-chosen programme, and surely we would all agree that, if the selected works by Jacquet of Mantua and Loyset Pieton are in any way representative of their general quality, these are composers whose music deserves to be much more widely known. Warmest thanks are also due to Neil for organising the event and to Mary and Michael Reynor for their admirable catering.

Sidney Ross


Kilburn revisited

June 2008

A group of about 25 singers (the numbers fluctuated, but there were 25 at the service) met on 31st May to take part in Michael Procter’s annual Kilburn weekend. For your reviewer, and no doubt for many of the other participants, this event is one of the high points of the TVEMF calendar. It is always a delight to sing whatever Michael selects, even if, as has occasionally been the case, the setting might have been more accommodating to one’s vocal range. However, except to the extent that singers were bronchially challenged, there could be no such complaints on this occasion. Chest walls having been raised and heads suspended by the usual invisible wire, we renewed our acquaintance with the madrigal Quando lieta sperai by way of introduction to the mass itself. The special edition of the music which Michael produced for us, with the mass, the madrigal and the offertory motet Domine convertere all in one volume, was a most welcome innovation - a bargain at the price and a great convenience in that it reduced the number of pieces of paper required for the service. Michael patiently and sympathetically guided us through the Mass, breaking the sequence of movements at one stage to introduce us to the rather different challenges offered by Domine convertere with its sinuous lines and continually shifting harmonic structure reflecting the “turning” in the text. The performance at the service was not marred by any serious mishaps, though there were a few moments of uncertainty. However, all concerned seemed reasonably content with the outcome, and members of the congregation were very appreciative. After a lengthy and relaxing lunch, during which the management of the Queen’s Head indicated that they would be glad of our custom on future occasions, we returned to the church, sang the madrigal and spent some time on the Credo, which we had barely looked at on the Saturday. All in all, a very satisfactory week-end, for which much credit is due to Neil for organising the event (and commiserations to him for being unable to take part in the service) and to Penny Vinson and Jenny Robinson, “our fifth column in the church”, as Michael described them. The organisation of the church’s music was admirable and the tea-time cakes that they produced deserve a special mention. Warmest thanks to all three of them and to all the others who helped out with the washing-up and suchlike tasks. I take this opportunity of mentioning that Michael’s quatercentenary Croce edition in 14 volumes will be available both in hardback (we saw volume 1, and very well got up it is) and paperback in the relatively near future. There is a very fetching picture of croci (unaccompanied by text) on his web-site and he has produced a leaflet about it.

Sidney Ross



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



Ut queant laxis - a diversion

July 2007

Ut queant laxis, Resonare fibris, Mira gestorum, Famuli tuorum, Solve polluti, Labii reatum Sancte Johannes

This was one of our Sunday afternoon treats at Michael Procter’s weekend. I had not progressed quite far enough with my OU course “Continuing Classical Latin” to volunteer a translation on the spot, but I discovered in Donald Grout’s History of Western Music the following, which seemed to me pretty accurate :-

So that all your servants may freely sing forth the wonders of your deeds, remove all stain of guilt from their unclean l, O saint John. The one obvious departure from the text is “freely” for “laxis…fibris” which, as far as my various dictionaries tell me, means, if “fibris” relates to a body part, “with loose entrails”. I have come across one other version which reads “with loosened voices” - scarcely what Michael would want from us, I suspect.

E. Cobham Brewer, the original compiler of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Brewer’s Readers’ Handbook, produced the following ingenious rendering (it fits where it touches, so to speak) which preserves the opening syllables:-

Uttered be thy wondrous story Reprehensive though I be Me make mindful of thy glory Famous son of Zacharee Solace to my spirit bring Labouring thy praise to sing

Ut queant laxis is the first verse of a hymn generally attributed to Paulo Diacono (aka Paul Warnefrido, ca 720-790), which runs to 13 verses. Other verses are sometimes sung; e.g., according to the Roman Breviary, Ut queant laxis is sung at Vespers, verse 5 (Antra deserti Teneris sub annis Civium turmas Fugiens, petisti Ne levi saltum Maculare vitam Famine posses) at Matins, and verse 9 (O nimis felix Meritique celsi Nesciens labem Nivei pudoris Prepotens martyr Heremique cultor Maxime vatum !) at Lauds.

Deacon Paul seems, from such works of his as survive, to have been acquainted with the works of Horace, since Ut queant laxis is in the Sapphic metre which Horace used extensively in his Odes, it being the next commonest after the Alcaic. The Sapphic metre (11.11.11.5, as the English Hymnal would designate it) is very rarely found in English verse, though Isaac Watts, the composer of, among others “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” and “O God, our help in ages past” wrote a poem in Sapphics on “The Day of Judgment”, the last verse of which is:-

”Oh may I sit here when he comes triumphant Dooming the nations, then ascend to glory While our hosannas all along the passage Shout the Redeemer”

which may help to explain why he hasn’t had many imitators.

Deacon Paul also turned his hand to secular matters; among his compositions is a short poem commemorating the death of a boy who was frozen in a glacier, a eulogy to one Peter of Pisa in which he compares him to Horace (as well as Homer and Virgil), and a laudatory poem of ca. 782 to “regem Karolum” who is, presumably, Charlemagne (742-814). Perhaps we should consider founding a Paulo Diacono Appreciation Society at whose meetings all 13 verses of Ut queant laxis are performed?

Sidney Ross



Andrea Gabrieli at St Augustine’s, Kilburn

June 2005

Twenty-six members gathered at St Augustine’s to sing the Mass Quando lieti sperai and the motets Laetare Hierusalem, Beatus vir qui suffert and Caro mea. The proceedings were directed by Michael Procter with his customary mixture of panache, erudition, and eccentric warm-ups. Our exploration of the programme began with the madrigal which gives its title to the mass. Michael’s edition attributes the madrigal to Rore (?) [or Cristobal de Morales ?], the latter possibility coming as something of a surprise to those of us who are unacquainted with Morales as a composer of secular music. Robert Stevenson, in the New Grove, admits only five works to the Morales secular canon but appends a list of 22 “doubtful and misattributed works” in which Quando lieti sperai is described as having been attributed to Morales in 1584, but as being actually by Rore. Alvin Johnson’s article on Rore in the same publication lists the madrigal among his works with the annotation (? by Morales). It took a while for us to settle down to some serious workbut, after a series of reshuffles which would not have been out of place in a Conservative shadow cabinet, we reached a stable formation only disturbed by Neil’s oscillations between the tenor and alto sections. In the course of the day we were introduced to a bewildering variety of concepts. Some, such as the structure of the Renaissance Kyrie, were not unfamiliar, but the more novel among them ranged from the purely musical (the infinitely extensible plagal cadence) through the musico- mystical (the relentless eternal pulse) to the aesthetico-musical (the way in which the setting physically mirrors the words, illustrated bythe shape of the music to which the word “uberibus” is set in Laetare) and, at the extreme edge, the contribution of singers of Renaissance music to global warming (or possibly the reduction in global warming). Apparently we all need more carbon dioxide and less oxygen. Michael steered us through the complexities of the music with exemplary patience and good humour, thereby coaxing a performance from us which, while not without its rough edges, was very creditable in (as we lawyers say) all the circumstances. The decision to sing Beatus vir and Caro mea, scrambled, from the chancel steps, turned out to be a particularly inspired one. Although it may not be usual to mention individuals, I very much enjoyed hearing Hazel in the role of cantor in the non-Gabrieli parts of the service. This note would be incomplete without an expression of our warmest thanks to Penny Vinson for all that she did to make our environment as congenial as possible, thus substantially enhancing the success of a most rewarding occasion.

Sidney Ross



TVEMF workshop-William Mundy

March 2003

Some 50 enthusiasts gathered at The Church of the Holy Innocents, Paddenswick Road on 15th February to extend their acquaintance with the work of William Mundy, who is distinguished (quite apart from the quality of his musical output) by the fact that the article about him in Grove gives five other spellings of his name. It is perhaps not fanciful to speculate that the Latin epigram "Ut lucem solis sequitur lux proxima luna, sic tu post Birdum Munde secunde venit" printed at the end of "Sive Vigilem" owes its origin to the variant spelling "Moondaye".

I suspect that very few of us had ever sung anything by William Mundy except "O Lord, the Maker", which is in the Tudor Anthem book. With hindsight, it might have been more satisfactory to begin with that relatively well-known piece, because the Arctic conditions in the church (due to a broken window), combined with some uncertainty in singing the plainchant sections of the Kyrie "Orbis Factor" combined to create rather heavy going in our attempts to master that item, with which we began the programme.

Grove, in a rather sniffy article, gives "O Lord the Maker" and "O Lord I bow the knee", which we also studied, the muted accolade of being "of some interest", but describes Sive vigilem and Beatus et sanctus as "two striking pieces"; and certainly we seemed to approach Sive vigilem with more confidence and a greater sense of enjoyment. Refreshed by lunch (at any rate in the case of those who repaired to The Thatched House), we returned to the warmer ambience of the church hall to tackle Adolescentulus sum ego. Fortunately, the percussion obbligato provided by the energetic activities of the children in the room above did not prove too distracting, though a short oxygen break was found to be necessary.

Tea was followed by a return to the church for a sing through which, apart from some uncertainties in the Kyrie, made a very satisfactory end to an interesting and rewarding occasion, for which we are all grateful to Alistair Dixon and the organisers. There is no doubt that many of us would enjoy a further exploration of Mundy, perhaps in combination with another of his contemporaries whose music we rarely get the chance to sing.

Sidney Ross

© Sidney Ross 2017

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