Tamesis Issue 230 March 2012
Peter Collier has not been able to organise his usual baroque chamber music playing
day at Oxford this year, so I am going to run one at Burnham instead. I hope to see
lots of you there. Everyone is welcome, but as usual I'm particularly looking for string
players, keyboard players and oboists because everyone else always asks to play with
them. I've been given a whole lot of string music by Brian Clark who publishes it,
with several viola parts, and it would be nice to be able to put on at least one session
to play it.
Some of you know that I've been trying to fix a recorder workshop with Philip Thorby,
but he's so busy that even moving the event to a Friday hasn't helped us to come up
with a suitable date yet. You will be able to see Philip in action though at the
Amersham Festival recorder masterclass on Sunday afternoon, 15th April. There will
be four advanced recorder players, including one of the wind finalists from this year's
BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. She will be coached on the first
movement of the Vivaldi Recorder Concerto in C minor. There will also be a Handel
Sonata and Castello's Sonata Seconda, but I haven't got any information about the
fourth piece. Details about venue and booking are in the Concerts list.
A couple of small administrative requests - please make sure you fill up your booking
forms legibly with all details even if you think we know them already, and always use
separate cheques for each event and your membership subscription.
Thanks very much to all our contributors. I've kept one review back for next time,
but please keep writing.
As well as the four forms included with this mailing, don't miss the special one on our
web site, to be read on the first Sunday in April.
In the November Tamesis I wrote about the British Library's "Early Music Online"
project to digitise their volumes of early music. So far they have digitised 300
sixteenth century books, mainly anthologies of chansons and sacred music in
partbooks but also a few choirbooks and some keyboard tablature. Last week I went
to a talk about it organised by SEMF where I learned that the digitising had actually
been done from microfilm rather than directly from the books themselves, which
means it is always just black and white. It was good to be able to handle a set of
partbooks that I had been working on and verify that the digitised version is nearly as
good as the original and that the last page does indeed have "British Museum"
stamped so as to partly obscure the notes!
We have had some very successful events since the last Tamesis. I was very pleased
that we had about 40 people for the Renaissance Day, the most we have ever had.
John Milsom's workshop on Alma Redemptoris Mater was particularly memorable as it
gave an idea of what it might have been to be an Oxford University student in one of
his lectures. Wonderful music with real insight from our tutor - very inspiring. I think
there is a record number of leaflets in this month's magazine so I look forward plenty
of good music in the coming months.
Letter to the Editor - more about the Open University
I owe a great deal to the OU - in fact I would probably not be reading Tamesis were it
not for the OU.
I began studying for my degree in 1974, the fourth year of the OU's existence. I took
six years to acquire the six credits required for an ordinary BA degree, taking
humanities courses which were history-based, but containing elements of music,
literature, art history etc.
There was then only one specialist music course and I took that in 1976. During the
summer school students were given opportunities for practical music-making, which
was not part of the course, and that's where I discovered the recorder. The OU had
provided two consorts of wooden instruments and I must be one of the few recorder
players to have started on bass.
In a week I was hooked. Not long afterwards I discovered the recorder classes at the
City Lit, and there met people who introduced me to the SRP. After six years studying
and working full time I was ready for a break and decided to take a year off before
doing two more credits for an honours degree. However, in that year my recorder
playing activities took off in a big way, and I never did get that honours degree!
Renaissance Day Review
On 29.01.12 around 40 of us gathered at Burnham Grammar School for another day
of musical surprises planned by David Fletcher (although I did hear a whisper that he
may have been computer assisted in his selection of who sings/plays with whom). The
music was as varied as ever; I seemed to spend the morning singing lamentations in
Latin, German and French. In the afternoon we found relief in a book of madrigals in
Italian (and Fa La La) and sang/played the whole book! There seemed to be more
singers this year, which brought some interesting issues of balance - don't sing facing
cornetts, stand behind them for safety. And I regretted the lack of a sackbut section,
the one player I encountered played beautifully but couldn't provide that warm
cushion of sound I remember from past years. But surprise is what the day is all
about, and some unpromising combinations of instruments and voices proved to be
really effective. In my first session of the day we had a cornett, two viols, a cello and
two voices and soon found ourselves making good music with Gabrieli's "Beata es
Virgo". One of the most successful combinations was a larger group at the end of the
day formed as a double choir, and making the antiphonal music that Venice was
This was a stimulating and enjoyable day with room for initiative and creativity. Thank
The Glory of the Muses, a Choral Workshop with Sally Dunkley and Philip
Cave on Music by Robert White, Robert Parsons & William Byrd
No apologies for the focus on editing - while en route to Oxford I read Elaine Gould's
thought-provoking article "What Get's My Goat...Poorly Presented Music" (Making
Music January 2012) then the February Early Music Review with editorial musings on
clef-configurations for late-Renaissance music. EMR definitely 'vaut l'abonnement'.
Clifford suggests - I paraphrase somewhat - that for a sing-through of Palestrina
motets printed in high clefs, singers should sing a little lower - the average amateur
singer can manage to sing around a tone lower without having to think that they are
transposing. That's nothing - some of the choirs with which I have been involved can
modulate microtonally from C down to A with an ease that Ligeti would envy (B.O'H).
In Philip's combination warm-up/ear-cleaning we practised D Major arpeggios followed
by d minor, then F Major. Parson's Ave Maria a 5 ends with a Tierce de Picardie -
acoustically the major thirds resonates better in a domed cathedral. The college
chapel has no dome but the stained glass survived our major chord. Incidentally the
non-PC etymology T. de P. is based on the theory that the gypsies (horse-nobblers
pickpockets etc) came to Spain via the Spanish Netherlands and the cadence on a
major chord ("expect the unexpected") is typical of card-sharps. Oddly enough no
such racial overtones attach to the English cadence, unless perhaps some French
musicologist writing circa 1815 suggests that deceptive suspensions are typical of
Warmed up, we practised "Swedish" vowels (for brilliance) and Swingle-type nigunim
(to maximise phrase-lengths), and, now "in the mode", we sang the Parsons. My
neighbour was familiar with an edition by the indefatigable Lily Pond and ignored
Philip's advised to listen to the other voices with the result that his underlay went
awry by the 2nd note! No excuses, Giles, you should have gone to SpecSavers.
The Parsons is not quite a fugue, with imitative entries at the 4th & 5th but paired
3rds. "It's counterpoint Jim, but not as we know it" (Fux). The soprano voice has the
theme in augmentation and inversion. For the sing-through Philip quoted "Do you feel
lucky? You are no longer sight-reading, this time its serious." (Die Wahre Kunst des
Singens - Schwarzeneger transl. Eastwood.)
Although Elizabeth (Tudor) had decreed that services should be in English, she
tolerated (encouraged?) some Latin which, as the language of the Mass, would have
had a special poignancy for Catholic recusant composers, as would the themes of exile
and loss. In some synagogues Eicha (Lamentations) are recited in darkness while the
congregation sits on the floor. The Christian Tenebrae in Holy Week also features
darkness as the candles are successively extinguished.
Sally, now talked about sources, clefs and facsimiles. White's lamentations survive in
a copy by the calligrapher Robert Dow which includes the words "No music is so sad
as the music of my composer". As in the Tallis and Byrd settings, the letter-names of
the Hebrew alphabet which number the verses in the Hebrew are set as lengthy
melismata. Jerusalem is pronounced as in modern English. (Hierusalem is a calque -
Holy City - on the Greek 'hieros' rather than an initial letter Yodh). Hocquetus is not in
White's musical vocabulary though phrygian episodes and word-painting ('vilis' in
lower register) is.
I went back to EMR at this point to see if it serendipitously had anything about Byrd or
Tallis and found the review of 2 Fux CDs of Triopartiten, so JJ was "not just a dusty
old fuddy-duddy who dreamt in four-part invertible counterpoint" but a jolly good
composer into the bargain, almost as much a surprise to me of Prout's quasi-
Reverting to White, spot the false-relation in Ad focillan-dam animam; make a melody
out of intervals; use the space between repeated notes for breathing.
Even with a small number of works the order in which they are performed is a matter
for thought, as is the tempo at which to take the chant. We then studied Byrd's
Christe qui lux est et dies (a favourite also with White who set it four times) in the 5-
part setting: bring out the voice which has the chant. Now for some inconclusive
mathematics. Bar 1 and 4 of the chant each have 9 crotchets, as do bars 8-9 12-13
16-17 20-21 and 26-28, while bars 24 and 29 have 10 and 7 beats respectively.
Conclusion? Search me but it looks intriguing.
In the Byrd Lamentations 1) the non-standard barring is designed to help the singer;
2) Teth has more quaver-movement than Heth; 3) the dramatic semitone in F Ab, Ab
G connotes misery, similarly "the sunken gates defixae sunt". I wonder if composers
who did not experience the Reformation at first hand (Crequillon, Lassus, Victoria)
achieved Byrd's intensity. Philip suggested pencilling a mini-triangle over a stressed
syllable in such words as pEr didit, gEntiles, Contr I-i-i-vit.
Sally talked again about clefs (When I got home I consulted the Anthony Petti
"Chester Motets" which show original clefs as well as vocal range. If we interpret Mean
to mean the average boy soprano, then perhaps David Wulstan's influential views
need to be revised.
Before "oculi somnium capiunt", I'll try to summarise what I got from the day. 1) I
learnt that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you get to the OUP-Dunkley Musica
Dei Donum. 2) When His Master's Voice says "You know my methods, apply them", I
go to the sources, scrutinise the clefs, burnish my tessitura and shape the phrases.
Who could ask for anything more?
Thanks to Diana Porteus for organising the day. I note the Bruno Turner Mappa Mundi
Victoria Requiem combines lightness with near-hardback rigidity compared to the
Mappa Mundi Striggio, and the OUP Spem in full score - nul points for ease of
handling. As for Giles, he more than redeemed himself (and earned a round of
applause) with his solo on the final syllabic -em of Mem. Very well done indeed (oh,
and thanks to Philip and Sally).
(Saturday Jan 21st 2012 at St Peter's College, Oxford).
Alma Redemptoris Mater Workshop Review
Some 50 well-balanced singers gathered in the Headington Community Centre in
Oxford to be guided by the inspiring John Milsom in exploring three 16th century
settings of the plainsong alma redemptoris mater by Festa, de Silva and Victoria. He
had transcribed the three pieces for us in semi-modern notation, in scores (the 16th
century singers would have had only their own parts to look at) and using unbarred
staves reading across the two-page spread. It was an exploration for us in how this
well-known plainchant was incorporated by the three composers, and for Milsom in
seeing how well a large group (the originals would have been sung by one voice per
part) could catch some of the fine points in a day's work.
He began by exposing us to the plainchant itself, in original notation, modern
notation, and then in excerpts pasted above the parts we were singing, to show what
part of the plainsong was being addressed. He explained that everyone in the 16thc
would have known the plainsong by heart from hearing it so often Î not so for the
modern singers and listeners who needed to be reminded. So we sang it over a few
times until some of it was beginning to sink in. This was how he illustrated the
relationship between memory and invention Î a different way of singing in those days,
when each time a bit of the plainsong came along the singer would know that and
bring it out. We needed some work to "get" that. He left the underlay in two of the
three for us to decide where to place syllables. The singers of the time would have
known how to do that Î or would have listened to how the leading voices did it and
remembered to do the same. We never really got that after the first few phrases, but
came close. It was all part of what he termed "defamiliarizing us" with modern barred,
edited, and scored notation. It got some of us actually listening to what was
happening in the other parts, which, when we got out of note-reading, began to reveal
some of the composers' insights.
He also revealed to us one of the driving reasons composers of the time tried to write
their very best music for these papal chapel occasions. Not just to impress the clerics,
their employers (or the noble employers, in Venice) but to impress other composers,
their colleagues and sometimes rivals who were either singing in the choir or listening
to it. He discussed whether they would have composed the works by building them up
from parts of the plainsong, or, in a change of mentality, have imagined to
themselves the whole piece at once. Whereas the first two settings were built up bit
by bit, he suspected that the latest of the three pieces, Victoria's, was designed
differently. The idea of a "non-standard" ending could have served as the original
inspiration. Victoria's ending strays away from the original plainsong, and at the very
end where the closing words "peccatorum Miserere" return to the plainsong music, it
is as if the composer was saying to the listener "whoops Î sorry about that."
The Victoria setting proved easier for us because it was constructed in four-bit (or
four-"bar") phrases, a technique more familiar to the modern singer, and also because
the harmonies were more "accessible and rhetorical. Votes at the end for "favourite"
among the three showed that one in the lead, although I and a few others liked the
deSilva more because it was so close to Josquin Î with whose music DeSilva must
have been familiar.
At the end of the day, which passed quickly, we came away with a new understanding
of 16th century composition, how the composers seemed to be passing the effects on
from one composer to another. Milsom hoped that we might now be able to pass
some of this along to our own singing groups, inviting us to take along the music to
try out the three pieces in smaller groups. Most of the music was taken away, and
many of us will indeed try what he recommended. This "envoi" at the end of a day of
singing under an inspiring leader is an example of the value of gatherings organized
Plaudits to organiser Nicola Wilson-Smith for the workshop, and of course to Mary
Reynor for her wonderful cakes at teatime.
Inspired by Tallis - a contemporary forty-part motet
Thomas Tallis's 'Spem in Alium' will need no introduction to anyone with a interest in
early music. It makes use of the full gamut of choral compositional techniques Î
spatial, antiphonal, block harmony and true, independent polyphony, in which all forty
parts are simultaneously doing different things but nevertheless fit together to make a
glorious and harmonious whole.
The very challenge of putting on an amateur performance of the work inspired
conductor and composer Robert Hanson to set himself perhaps the even greater
challenge of writing a forty-part motet of his own. If one has managed to assemble
the requisite singers for the Tallis, why not make use of the occasion by giving them
another piece to sing?
So 'And There Shall Be No Night There' came into existence, utilising a brass quintet
and organ as well as Tallis's vocal line-up. The work sets texts from the book of
Revelation and the Nunc Dimittis.
The example of Tallis was constantly in front of the composer as he worked, and
although the finished work does not sound like Tallis, some of its compositional
procedures were influenced by 'Spem in Alium'.
There is a timeless quality and structural purity in Tallis which, despite the
Renaissance musical technique, seems to retain something of the late Medieval about
it. Hanson has sought to emulate this quality in his own work. Tallis's use of
plainsong in some works, too, is echoed in Hanson's quotation of the ancient hymn
Veni Creator Spiritus.
Hanson describes the composition of his forty-part motet as "intellectually one of the
most demanding things I have done of any kind Î and I must say that my respect for
Tallis grew week by week as I worked on my own piece."
The Borough Chamber Choir, conducted by Robert Hanson, will be performing 'And
There Shall Be No Night There' along with 'Spem in alium' and works by Gibbons,
Josquin and others at St George the Martyr Church, Borough High St SE1 1JA on
Saturday March 31st at 7.30pm (see events list for more details).
Opportunities to Make Music
Singers who missed our day with John Milsom last month, or would like to
experience another of his excellent workshops, will have the chance on Saturday 17
March. This time his subject is the Jean Richafort Requiem. The Eastern Early Music
Forum workshop will be held in Fitzwilliam College Chapel, Storey's Way, Cambridge
CB3 0DG, where there is ample parking in the college car park or in Storey's Way.
The six-voice Requiem Mass by Jean Richafort, composed probably in the 1520s, is
one of the loveliest works of its age, but also one of the most intriguing. Most
unusually, its polyphony quotes from polyphonic chansons by Josquin des Prez, as
well as traditional plainchant melodies used for Masses of the Dead. Richafort is
thought to have been one of Josquin's pupils, so this Requiem may have been written
in his memory. The workshop will sample all three components of the work Î chant
melodies, relevant Josquin chansons, and movements of Richafort's Requiem itself. If
you would like to take part please contact Ellen Sarewitz (01799 525503)
ellen.sarewitzcantab.net as soon as possible. You can find a booking form on
TVEMF committee member Sarah Young is organising Michael Procter's choral study
weekend at St Augustine's Kilburn, which for many years was a TVEMF event but is
now an independent event. This year it is for instruments as well as voices and runs
from 22nd to 24th June. The main work is the set of mass movements for three choirs
from Gabrieli's Sacrae Symphoniae 1597. There will also be the Agnus from Hassler's
triple-choir mass, as well as all the other music necessary for the sung High Mass on
Sunday morning. Applications are invited from singers and experienced players of
cornett, sackbut, curtal and appropriate strings. For more information look at
Michael's web site or email Sarah at sfyoung1blueyonder.co.uk.
Early music groups are invited to go and play at the Weald and Downland Open Air
Museum on Saturday 7th or Sunday 8th July. Karen Searle Barrett, Head of
Interpretation , writes: "This is a very informal affair, and presents a wonderful
opportunity to enjoy a day out at our beautiful site free of charge, as well as time to
play your music in some beautiful appropriate buildings, with a ready-made audience!
Please do let me know if you think you would like to join us. I look forward to hearing
from you. The Museum will be open to the public between 10.30am and 6pm on those
days, and you would be welcome to come at any time during the weekend. Musicians
are welcome to play on one or both days, or just part of a day if it suits them best
[between 11am and 5pm]. I hope the various groups will feel they can spend a day
here enjoying a day out at the Museum, with intervals during the day when they
perform." Contact Karen direct if you are interested on: 01243 811030 or
Education2wealddown.co.uk. The Museum's switchboard number is 01243 811363
and their web site is www.wealddown.co.uk.
SWEMF have asked me to mention their workshop on music of the waits and royal
wind bands of sixteenth century Europe on Saturday 21st April at Holy Apostles
Church, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL52 6HW. The course will be directed by Tim
Bayley of the York Waits. The aim will be to provide players with an opportunity to
enjoy the rich and varied sonorities of a Renaissance Big Band. The repertoire will be
drawn from across Europe, including German chorales, Italian carnival music, French
dances, Flemish polyphony, & music from the English Tudor court. Applications will be
welcome from experienced players of Renaissance wind instruments Î shawms,
sackbuts, cornetts, curtals, crumhorns and recorders. For more information contact
Simon Pickard (01242 579016) gloucestershireswemf.org.uk
Please call Katharine May (GRSM Hons, ARCM) on 01628 783272 or email
6 string baroque bass viola da
gamba by Michael Heale, number
315. Copy of an existing bass by
Norman Barak, with inlaid finger
board and tail piece (borrowed
occasionally by Fretwork).
String length 70 cm.
With fine baroque bow and in
hard Kingham case.
Judith Hughes 01932 342573
6 string renaissance bass viola da
gamba by Michael Heale number
343. Copy of a Cicilliano bass.
String length 68cm
With special antiqued back.
With bow by Harry Grabenstein,
and in hard Kingham case.
Judith Hughes 01932 342573
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.