Tamesis Issue 226 July 2011
I’ve been listening to an unexpected programme on Radio 4 in the afternoons - The
Making of Music with James Naughtie. It’s very brief but contains some lovely music.
He may have got past early music by the time you read this but you can catch up with
at least some of it (listed under M) on the BBC iPlayer
News of some of our forthcoming workshops. Michael Reynor has asked me to say
that the Victoria workshop in August has waiting lists in all parts except for tenors.
David Hatcher has now chosen the music for his workshop in September. He writes:
“I have recently been looking at British Library Ms. Royal 8 G.vii, a
choirbook copied in the Netherlands under the rule of Marguerite of Austria
between the years 1516 - 1522, and presented to Henry VIII and his wife
Catherine of Aragon. It contains twenty-eight four-part Latin motets all
lacking ascriptions, many of which can be found ascribed to composers in
other sources. There are five settings of Dulces Exuviae (Dido's Lament) and
one of Fama Malum (also Virgil) and a puzzle canon in eight voices.
Composers represented include Josquin, Isaac, Mouton, De la Rue and
Ghiselin. I am working on editions of a number of pieces myself, and there are also
editions of some pieces already available.”
I’ve now had my orchestra’s concert dates and there isn’t a clash, so I can confirm
that my regular baroque chamber music day will be on November 5th.
For our December workshop, which as usual will include our Christmas lunch, Michael
Procter is anticipating the 400th anniversary in 2012 of the death of - not Giovanni
Gabrieli but his friend Hans Leo Hassler. There are likely to be works for 7, 8, 10, 12,
16 and 18 voices, with appropriate instruments of course.
As usual I’m off to the Beauchamp House early music week with Philip Thorby and
Alan Lumsden (Schütz this year) and the Oxford Baroque week a couple of weeks
later, and I’m really looking forward to them. They’re completely different, but if I
could only go to one of them I really don’t know how I would choose. As far as I
know they still have vacancies, if you haven’t made up your own mind.
In spite of some prior misgivings about my ability to sing the music with all its
dissonances, I enjoyed the Gesualdo workshop with Gerald Place and as far as I could
tell, did so everyone who was there. The viols were a great help though they had
their own difficulties because of (shock, horror) keys involving as many as three flats.
The summer schools is almost upon us, so do consider writing a brief report for
Tamesis. I’m told that the Beachamp course could do with some more tenors and
basses – I’ve lost count of how many of these courses I’ve been to but they are
always good, and the music of Schütz is particularly suitable for the likely lineup.
Unusually we have a workshop in August, when we shall be commemorating the
400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria. I think most of us find his
music very gratifying to sing so no doubt David Allinson's workshop will be well
attended in spite of being in the holiday season.
There are rather a lot of new members and changes of email and of address given in
this issue. Some of the latter are due to retirement or marriage - I offer my best
wishes to all embarking on a new phase of their lives.
Striggio Forty Part Mass at Waltham Abbey
This was only my second visit to an EEMF day, but turned out to be by a long way one
of the best workshops I have attended this century; indeed one of the best of my
forty years singing. The scores from which we sang, prepared and edited superbly (of
course) by Clifford Bartlett, were a model of clarity, being two-to-four choir part-
books over the ground bass. They were not only perfect to sin g from, yet gave an
insight into the greater structure of the piece. Only by performing from the map of
the full score could a full overview have been possible, but then we would each have
quickly have ended up in no doubt in disjointed interactions, dead-ends, no-go areas
or solitary wildernesses! (I well remember many years ago hearing a very august
institution’s attempt at a performance of Spem in Alium from full map scores breaking
down amidst consternation and acute embarrassment!)
That we did not is due entirely to the wonderfully capable Philip Thorby, tutor for the
day, who with great good humour even redistributed us to a full complement of sixty
voices for the final Agnus Dei; a magnificent conclusion to the day. Not only did he
keep us amused and geed up at the same time (e.g. “The more rubbish you are, the
less likely I am to beat in four”), but shepherded us expertly through the notes, to the
leads and the parts, while fascinatingly introducing us to the rhetoric which helped us
unlock the style and articulation of each line. The key elements of the character of
the word-setting, we learnt, lay in the difference essentially between “vivace” and
“suave”; by analogy the “suave” style takes the bow away from the bridge to express
longer notes more fully, in contradistinction to the faster, more florid passagework of
the “vivace” style.
Interpretation of the detail of course did not end there, for the words of “Domine
Deus”, for instance, needed full expression of the stressed syllables, following the
injunctions of stylists such as Heinrich Schütz that music should be written “in the
style of careful speech”. Further, the setting of these words by Striggio bore
resonances of temporal kingship in chords fitting for trumpets, as did the sumptuous
brilliance of regal C major at the words “Qui sedes” (and “Et resurrexit” bore
unmistakable echoes of the last trump!) whereas the setting of the word following,
“Pater..”, described a quite different character of intimate tenderness and concern, far
removed from the stentorian glory of the preceding section. Comforting triple-time
rhythms in the “Agnus Dei” and smaller notes symbolising the humbleness of the
“manger” were further examples, as was the use of just four voices at “Adoramus”,
but all forty at “Glorificamus”. Then we were shown how in the ominous setting of the
words “Et iterum..”, cast into D minor, B flat and G minor, such darkness of emotion
emphasised the longing for the second coming. So it was fascinating to come to
understand how in a non-madrigalian way, Striggio had responded so immediately
and yet also so subtly to the images of the text, alongside a varied use of choral
texture and colour. This was further underlined in Philip’s injunction to us: “If you
have a strong syllable, start with a sforzando then crescendo; if you start with a weak
syllable it starts quiet and you crescendo”.
So far as the sonority and detail of the mass was concerned, many of us sensed
unexpected resonances of Spem, as it was this Mass, not Striggio’s forty part motet
“Ecce beatam lucem” which was held up to English composers of the day as a model
to emulate, eliciting Tallis’ glorious response. What a brilliant tutorial the mass was,
and is. What I found so telling, and for which I gratefully thank Philip, was that this
elucidation of style, rhetoric and articulation came not in an erudite introductory
lecture, but at each relevant point in our preparation of the music. The result was
that performance of the phrase or section in question immediately improved and
gained in confidence, while the information remained much better in the memory for
having been focused in example.
The day and the performance could not have been complete without the contribution
of splendid brass and wind playing, which to my mind offered much more than
accompaniment. It not only, literally, offered a fundament, but also in added
character and helped produce a thrilling sound, which this correspondent found utterly
compelling. How these instrumentalists manage to breathe and keep in time was the
one great, unanswered mystery of a day splendidly arranged by the Thames Valley
forum which will live long in the memory, and for which I am thankful, and privileged
to have been a part.
Saturday 30th April, directed by Philip Thorby
Heinrich Isaac at United Reformed Church, Ickenham,
As a new-this-year member of TVEMF I’m on a steep learning curve with regard to
almost anything written before about 1550, so I hadn’t heard of Isaac before signing
up for this day of singing. Isaac (c.1450-1517) came from Flanders and worked in
Austria and Italy; we were provided with a very full chronology and reading list, and
sang two masses and four motets. We also had an opportunity to buy the music at
very reasonable prices.
I did consider beforehand playing the recorder, and I do appreciate having the
opportunity to choose between singing and playing. There are definite pluses to
having the instruments. It is of intrinsic interest to see and hear not only the usual
viols and recorders but also sackbuts, cornetts and curtals, this last a new one to me.
It’s also more authentic sometimes to have the voices reinforced – although in
Masses? I wonder. The instrumentalists managed an attractive blended sound, not
always quite in tune, but probably helped the singers to stay in pitch. The one thing
missing was a really firm instrumental bass sound. Are there no serpents? The
biggest recorder bass in the world can’t compete with that, and I think the bass
singers could have done with it, especially when we were in six parts.
The downside to having the instruments is that vocal technique isn’t going to get
much attention in that setting, the emphasis being mainly on our sight-reading skills,
which were certainly tested. I very much enjoy being among musicians who don’t
expect to be note-bashed and can get through a fair bit of quite florid material in a
day. I note from previous reviews in Tamesis that singing-only workshops do get
quite technical, and it’s quite right that TVEMF offers a good mix of both types.
Peter Syrus is of course an academic. Among the musicological topics which he
discussed in passing was the problem of pitch created by the fact that such works
were originally written for an all-male choir and not necessarily one with boy trebles.
One good male alto would probably have out-sung a whole row of women singing
below their natural register. In the editions we used, one work was raised a tone
from the original pitch, another was raised by a fourth. Quis dabit capiti meo aquam
remained at its original pitch (I think) and dispensed with the sopranos. The final
work, Angeli, Archangeli, was a delightful change for the sopranos, allowing us to go a
bit nearer to the top of our registers and really sing out.
Like other TVEMF events I have been to, this was outstanding value for money and a
really enjoyable day. I’d love Peter Syrus to have some voice production lessons so
that he didn’t mumble his interesting insights to the six people nearest to him, and we
all cheered when he finally raised his voice – but if he’s booked again I will happily
Saturday 11th June, with Peter Syrus.
Gesualdo study day for voices and viols, 2nd July 2011, Burnham
Some fifteen singers and not quite enough viol players assembled at Burnham to taste
the delights of, and lay some myths about, Gesualdo’s music.
We started with a piece not by Gesualdo, ‘O vos omnes’ by Scipione Stella, his fellow
Neapolitan, who eventually worked for Gesualdo and prepared his first two books of
madrigals for publication. We were able to compare Stella’s piece with Gesualdo’ own
setting of ‘O vos omnes’ . The similarities – the use of unexpected key changes and
chromatic steps to enhance the emotional impact of the text – were more marked
than the differences.
We then split into two groups, to study two of Gesualdo’s madrigals, ‘Dolcissime
sospiro’ and ‘Beltà, poi che t’assenti’, both on the familiar theme of the suffering of
Three sopranos (four actually) separately studied ‘Donna se m’ancidete’, a brilliant
madrigal written for the three ‘singing ladies of Ferrara’. This must have been the
most satisfying achievement of the day for these singers. There were participants
whose expectations were, for at least part of day, to sing one to a part or at least in
small numbers, and this could be achieved only by splitting into smaller groups.
Those participants appreciated Gerald's respect and confidence in their abilities.
Other singers would have welcomed being able to study a piece separately, before
putting it together with the viols.
Meanwhile, we moved on to sterner stuff – a sacred madrigal ‘Sparge la morte’,
describing Jesus’ dying moment on the cross. We then came together for the last
piece of Gesualdo, the respond for the third nocturne of Holy Saturday, ‘Plange quasi
virgo’. These solemn pieces were possibly the most successful ensembles of the
workshop – the key transitions are more manageable at their slower tempo.
The day’s main difficulties arose from having two groups working simultaneously.
Gerald had to flit from one room to another, on one occasion leav ing a group to
rehearse itself in an unfamiliar piece and an unfamiliar idiom – how many of us get
the opportunity to sing Italian madrigals? Minor difficulties arose from the editions -
at one point Gerald found himself conducting a piece where the viols were in a
different time signature to the singers!
However, this was a most satisfying and interesting workshop, and Gerald is to be
congratulated on the brilliantly selected pieces, and for skilfully directing both the
small and larger groups, making sure of a rewarding experience for us all, and
achieving at the end some quite creditable ‘performances’.
Musical Quotations collected by Red Priest
Earlier this year I found a collection of interesting musical quotations on the Red Priest
web site http://redpriest.bandzoogle.com/fr_home.cfm. If you want to look yourself,
you’ll probably find it easier to search for Red Priest rather than type in this rather
strange address. I emailed Piers Adams for permission to use some of them if I had a
space to fill, and here are the first few:
“Both the soul and the intellect are deeply moved by music. What causes this? Surely
not just the sound-vibrations themselves, nor their shape, size and figuration; but
mainly their original and endless combination, variation, application, mixture,
character, interweaving, height, depth, stepping, springing, loitering, speeding up,
turning strength, weakness, violence, usual and unusual tempi, softening, slowing
down, silence and a thousand things more, which no compass, no ruler, no standard
can measure, and none can judge except the noblest, innermost part of the man
whom nature and experience have educated.”
“Experience has shown that the imagination of the hearer is in general so much at the
disposal of the master that by the help of variations, movements, intervals and
modulation he may almost stamp what impression on the mind he pleases. These
extraordinary emotions are indeed most easily excited when accompanied with words;
and I would besides advise, as well the composer as performer, who is ambitious to
inspire his audience, to be first inspired himself.”
Mattheson (1713 and later)
“Concerning such would-be luminaries who believe music has to follow their rules,
when in truth their rules have to follow the music, one can rightly say: ‘they manage
their thinking to understand nothing’.”
“Rules are valid as long as I consider it well and sensible to abide by them. They are
valid no longer than that.”
“Rules are what I like and as long as I like it.”
“The rule of nature is, in music, nothing but the ear.”
Praetorius (1618) – on rules of keyboard fingering
“Let a player run up and down the keyboard with his first, middle or third fingers, or
even with his nose if that will help him…”
“From the first note where they are so indicated, forte and piano should be played by
everyone in such a way that when piano is played it is scarcely heard, and when forte
is played it sounds so powerful that listeners remain amazed at so much noise.”
Opportunities to make music
Norma Herdson is organising another of her regular series of baroque workshops at
Bourne End Community Centre on Sunday 20th November. It is for singers and
baroque orchestra (A=415) and the music will include two Odes to St Cecilia by
Handel and Purcell. Contact Norma on 01628 621367 or email
Since this year’s summer doesn’t seem to want to start on its own, Orlando Chamber
Choir is organising a sunny Latin American Baroque workshop on 20th August from
10am to 4pm at St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, London EC2V 6AU. The workshop is for
singers, directed by James Weeks, and will include De Padilla's Missa ego flos campi
and works by De Araujo and De Zéspedes. Sight-reading skills are a pre-requisite.
Tickets by advance booking only from www.orlandochoir.org.uk or 01223 247 027
News of Members’ Activities
Saturday 17th September is the date of the launch concert of 'De Profundis', a new
all-male polyphonic choir conducted by David Allinson. David writes:
“It's an all-male ensemble, based in Cambridge and drawing on a really talented pool
of ex-choral scholars and the like. We're going to perform the highlights of the
polyphonic repertoire of Italy and Spain, 1450-1650, using only broken male voices -
so the music will be at a lower performing pitch than is generally used today, and in
many cases this will be closer to the 'original pitch' of the music. The exciting thing
will be working with this kind of rich, deep sonority - and the challenge (as a
conductor) will be achieving transparency and a range of colours in that chest-voice
range. I'm really looking forward to it!”
Unfortunately it’s rather a long way for most of our members to go as it’s in
Cambridge, in Jesus College Chapel at 7:30pm. Music will include Palestrina’s Missa
Papae Marcelli and motets. Tickets from www.deprofundis.org.uk or on door.
Please call Katharine May (GRSM Hons, ARCM) on 01628 783272 or email
available from teacher with over 18 years experience.
Whether you are looking to pass exams, diplomas,
improve your continuo playing, or just want to learn for fun,
lessons are designed to suit individual needs.
Bechstein model B grand piano. Very good condition. Contact Nick Pollock
npollock09gmail.com or see http://ncvp.co.uk/piano