Tamesis Issue 258 November 2016
Diana Porteus’s article on vibrato in September obviously struck a chord with a lot of
people. Just after it came out everybody I met mentioned it, and I received two
letters, printed below.
Many thanks to Penny Aspden for her review of the Peter Syrus day which I had to
miss. I’m sorry nobody felt inspired to review the Robin and Marion medieval day.
We all seemed to enjoy it and a fine collection of medieval instruments added to the
occasion. The centre of the day was a comic play with monophonic songs written
while the composer, Adam de La Halle (c.1235-c.1288), was serving at the French Court
in Naples. I’d been worried that people might not be willing to take part in the play,
which was certainly a first for the forum, but we all read it enthusiastically in chorus, the
men taking the part of Robin and the women Marion. Thanks to Kate for organising it
and to everyone who helped with the chair-moving and coffee-making.
The Baroque day is always a bit of a nightmare to organise, with some people who
only play at A=415, some at 440 and some who helpfully bring both pitches. I work
out all the groups and music the day before in case somebody falls ill at the last
moment but nobody did, and we even managed to overcome the problem of Burnham
station being closed thanks to Alison, Penny and Simon who made sure that everyone
had a lift. The end result was very satisfying to hear as I walked along the corridor
outside the playing rooms. The quality of the playing these days is often impressively
Our next event is our annual Christmas workshop with a shared lunch. The form has
been on the web site for some time and a printed one is enclosed with this mailing.
There is now a file at http://www.tvemf.org/events/2016ChristmasMusic.htm with
links to all the music. There is no need to type in this rather long address – you can
click on a link on the TVEMF events page. There is no reduction for printing your own
music or reading it from a tablet this time (see David King’s article on page 5) but if
you don’t need us to print it for you please let me know so that we don’t waste money
and paper printing it out for you. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you on the 11th
December and welcoming James Weeks to conduct what looks like an attractive
selection of music for a Spanish Christmas.
There have been two very different event since the last Tamesis: Le Jeu de Robin,
arguably the first opera, and a Baroque Chamber Music day. The music for the former
was several centuries earlier than we normally tackle, but Sarah Stowe took us
through it with enthusiasm and good humour to achieve a satisfying run-though. The
regular autumn Baroque Day was very successful and I am always impressed at being
given specific music for the sometimes improbable combinations that inevitably arise
at such an event. On my Renaissance Day I rarely manage this, relying on what might
be considered an over-provision of music. One of the delights of these one-to-a-part
days is coming across enjoyable music by some neglected composer (Prowo for
instance) even if on other occasions the neglect turns out to be deserved. On Sunday
I had an example of both, but one can always fall back on Telemann, and of course
the company was excellent, so I went home happy.
Sunday 11th December 2016 at 5.15 approx.
(after the Christmas workshop in Amersham)
1. Apologies for absence
2. Approval of the minutes of last meeting
3. Chairman's report
4. Secretary's report
5. Treasurer's report
6. Election of officers and committee
7. Any other business
Letters to the Editor
Four of us in my north London madrigal group of (on that day) nine are members of
the TVEMF. Last Friday one said, “Did you see the letter about vibrato in Tamesis?”
and the other three replied, “YEEEEEEEEES!”. Thank you, Diana!
Diana may have been unfortunate in her neighbours by having been discomfited so
often; I cannot think of any regular “offender”, but when it does happen it’s awful. In
my book it’s an affectation and mannerism, not without musical arrogance - “look (or
rather: listen to) what I can do - I sound just like a professional opera singer!”. Only
that we don’t do C19 opera in TVEMF workshops, leave alone its solo parts, and
musicological research, by now not even that recent, on early recordings shows that
vibrato hasn’t been an accepted feature of even professional solo singing since time
immemorial but only crept in around 1900 (stringed instruments ditto). Vibrato had
been known for centuries, even in the Baroque, but it was considered an ornament
like trills, to be used occasionally and sparingly, not a case of “chips with everything”.
I personally think our excellent course leaders should squash this practice, and if they
don’t notice (can be hard, standing quite a distance away from the group, depending
a lot on the room and its acoustics) we participants should not hesitate to alert the
conductor during intervals, so he/she listens out and can then ask, firmly, for the “off
button” to be pressed, equally firmly. If there is the odd participant who can’t actually
switch it off, it's a pity for them if they enjoy singing early music, but they really
shouldn’t apply to come. You can’t do topiary with a modern electric hedge cutter -
you mustn’t sing choral music, of any period, with vibrato. And vibrato comes with
increased volume, compared to that of non-warblers: I’ve never yet encountered a
warbler who warbled softly and thus might be ignored.
If singing “straight” is ok for professionals from Agnes Giebel to Emma Kirkby, surely
it’s ok for us?
Feeling better now.
* * *
I agree with Diana Porteus that the worst thing about vibrato is singers and players
who cannot turn it off. Maybe some of it is the fault of some teachers who think that it
is 'the proper way' to perform.
Many years ago, two of us had lessons with a very good teacher on the modern flute.
He said that I could do with adding a little vibrato, whereas my friend played with a
'continuous nervous flutter'. One week, he told us to stop working on the Poulenc or
Hindemith and that he wanted us to do nothing but play long held notes, and then add
various types of vibrato - wide, narrow, rapid, slow etc., and switching them on and
off. We could then select what we liked or what was appropriate for the music. I think
that many teachers could do the same.
TVEMF event prices and application procedures in 2017
The prices of TVEMF workshops events have been the same for around 10 years or
more but the time for a modest price increase has finally arrived and from the
beginning of 2017 most workshops will go up from £12 to £14 and playing/singing
days up from £9 to £10. However at workshops when the tutors do not bring the
music but it is taken from the Internet, participants may be offered a £2 discount if
they print the music themselves and all other participants will be able to keep the
copies provided on the day at no extra cost.
From the beginning of 2017 participants will be able to apply for some workshops
electronically by email and bank transfer as well as by post and cheques. Electronic
applications have many advantages including speed and the saving of postage and
stationery cost. However there is no intention to phase out post and cheques as an
David King (Treasurer)
1535 - a year in the life of Pierre Attaingnant
‘Pile it high and sell it cheap’ was the motto of Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen, and on the
back of it, he transformed his modest grocer’s shop into the world’s third largest
Hang on. What relevance has the rough-and-tumble of the grocery business to the
altogether more courtly and refined world of early music?
Well, commercial strategy influences musical culture as surely as it determines how
much we pay for lettuce and cornflakes. If this seems a controversial claim, consider
September’s workshop, in which we were transported back to that point in history
when mass production changed music publishing from an art into a business.
Under the genial, scholarly guidance of Peter Syrus, singers and players sampled the
output of a single year - 1535 - in the working life of 40-year old French composer,
lutenist, music printer and publisher, Pierre Attaingnant. He had married the
daughter of a music printer, and in the late 1520s started publishing from premises in
the evocatively named Rue de la Harpe in Paris. Attaingnant is a key figure in the
development of music publishing because, along with Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice and
Tielman Susato in Antwerp, he led a revolution in the availability of sheet music
during the Renaissance. He came to dominate the French chanson market, and we
owe to him much of what we know of the music of Clément Janequin, Claudin de
Sermisy and their contemporaries.
A page from one of Attaingnant’s 1535 partbooks
The key technical innovation that enabled Attaingnant’s firm to flourish wasn’t printing
with moveable type as such - Gutenberg had made that breakthrough a century
earlier - so much as the ability to print a page of music in a single pass through the
press. Before Attaingnant’s time, publishers like Petrucci printed the notes, words and
staves separately, so each page needed at least two impressions. In addition, this
method requires precise and time-consuming alignment of each page in the press, to
make sure that all the notes line up properly on the stave. Output was modest - an
edition every couple of months, with a print run of about 300, was typical.
In the 1520s, Attaingnant adopted the radical practice of including a fragment of stave
with the note on each piece of type. This change made it possible to print a page of
music in one impression and speeded up the printing process no end, though it still
takes some skill to line up the segments of stave (see the illustration above). Mass
production allowed him to increase his output and print runs grew to 500 or more. It
brought the price down dramatically and opened up the market - previously confined
to rich aristocrats - to the expanding bourgeoisie. Volumes of chansons, motets,
dances and masses poured out of his print works and onto the desks of singers and
players across Western Europe. Other printers rapidly followed suit, and ushered in
the era of commercial printing. The system promoted by Attaingnant remained in
place for the next 200 years.
Our workshop opened with a spring edition, taking from it an Easter motet on the
plainchant Regina Caeli Laetare, in a setting by Adrian Willaert. Later in the day we
returned to the same plainchant and explored a more elaborate arrangement by a
composer virtually unknown today, Jean Rousée. He used two four-part choirs, an
innovation for the time; this creativity, together with evidence that contemporary
critics and collectors rated his compositions highly, makes his subsequent anonymity
all the more mysterious.
The next obscure composer at least had the excuse of being Belgian. Jean Richafort
might have studied with Josquin des Prez; he became a choirmaster in Mechelen, then
Bruges, and moved to Brussels in the 1520s. His five-part Salve Regina, from the
same March edition as the previous motets, came in three linked sections and
contrasted exuberant counterpoint with declamatory unison passages to bring out the
meaning of the text.
Next, we backtracked to a volume of chansons published in February, and looked at
two settings, by Claudin de Sermisy and Clément Jannequin, of the ditty ‘Martin
menoit son Pourceau’. This chirpy man-meets-a-maid chanson concerns Martin, who
in the course of leading his pig to market encounters saucy Alix. Animal husbandry
takes a back seat for the next couple of verses, until Alix cries out that the pig,
tethered to her leg to stop it wandering, has taken fright at their doings and is
dragging her away.
Following the jaunty chanson, a sober penitential motet, also published in February.
Jacquet Colebaut, known as Jacquet of Mantua was born in Brittany but, as his name
suggests, spent his working life in Italy. Domine non secundum peccata nostra
experiments with textural contrasts, juxtaposing long-held notes with rapid passages,
and high with low voices.
Finally, we moved forward to May 1535 and Pierre de Manchicourt’s motet Caro Mea
Vere. He was the only composer to whom Attaignant devoted an entire volume, and
could well have known the publisher personally, as he had been a singer in Northern
France before moving to the Spanish court of Philip II.
Singing and playing these works gave us other things to think about, aside from the
music itself. We pondered briefly on the enduring problem of how best to arrange
singers and players so that each can hear and help the other. One drawback of the
common arrangement in which players sit in front of the singers (or vice versa) is that
the people at the back can’t hear or see those at the front. In this workshop, Peter
placed the singers in a semicircular block, while beyond them the players sat facing
one another in two groups - on the ends of the horseshoe, so to speak. Thus the
singers could see, and mostly hear, the instrumentalist(s) doubling their parts.
If the music doesn’t now seem quite so daringly inventive as it did at the time, it is
still beautiful, which makes the eclipse of most of these composers a puzzle. Josquin
des Prez is a pretty famous figure from those years, but Jean Richafort, Jacquet of
Mantua and Jean Rousée definitely aren’t, though it’s not clear why. Not the quality
of their music, anyway, as at the end of a full and exhilarating day we all agreed.
Further reading: this doorstep of a book is the last word on Pierre Attaingnant’s life
Heartz, Daniel (1969) Pierre Attaingnant, Royal Printer of Music: A Historical Study
and Bibliographical Catalogue. Berkeley, University of California Press.
News of Members’ Activities
TVEMF member is organizing what may be her last ‘Thames Valley Baroque
Workshops’ at Bourne End Community Centre on Sunday 4th December from 10am to
5pm. Conductor Michael Sanderson, who specialises in Baroque and Renaissance
repertoire and sang as a soloist with ‘Opera Restor’d’ for more than ten years, is
moving away from the area. Experienced string, wind players and singers are invited
to spend the day playing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah and his Concerto Grosso in B
flat major. The workshop which will culminate in an informal performance at 4pm to
which visitors are welcome. If you are interested please contact Norma Herdson on
01628 621367 or email nherdsonbtinternet.com as soon as possible.
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.
Please contact Katharine May (GRSM Hons, ARCM) by email
Tuesday 8 November 6.30-7.30pm Froberger: A Lasting Legacy
Katherine May (harpsichord). Music by Johann Jakob Froberger
Thursday 10 November 6.30-7.30pm Torments of Love
Chaconne Ensemble – Sarah Hayashi, Lisa Kiriaty (soprano), Angela Lobato (cello),
Thomas Allery (harpsichord). Music by Monteverdi and Handel
Saturday 12 November 6-7pm Handel: Messiah Part 1
Handel House Singers, Belsize Baroque, Laurence Cummings, Grosvenor Chapel,
South Audley Street W1K 2PA
Thursday 17 November 6.30-7.30pm Young Mozart
Yeo Yat-Soon (harpsichord). Music by Mozart
Thursday 1 December 6.30-7.30pm An Instrumental Christmas
Royal Baroque – Caoimhe de Paor, Rebecca Vucetic (recorders), Kaisa Pulkkinen
(harp), Kate Conway (cello), Katarzyna Kowalik (harpsichord). Music by Corelli,
Charpentier and Balbastre
Thursday 8 December 6.30-7.30pm God rest ye merry gentlemen
Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord). Christmas music from Georgian England
Tuesday 13 December 6.30-7.30pm Johann and Johann
Masumi Yamamoto (harpsichord). Music by Fux and JS Bach
Thursday 15 December 7-8.30pm Christmas Showcase
St. George’s, Hanover Square W1S 1FX. Various baroque ensembles and soloists
Thursday 22 December 6.30-7.30pm An Amadé Christmas
The Amadé players, Rosie Middleton (mezzo-soprano). Music by Handel
Thursday 29 December 6.30pm-7.30pm JS Bach: Goldberg Variations
Asako Ogawa (harpsichord)
Thursday 5 January, 6.30-7.30pm Wine, Death and Adultery
Guy Withers (tenor) Music by Handel
Tuesday 10 January, 6.30-7.30pm The Time Machine
Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) Music by Steven Dodgson and Domenico Scarlatti.
Thursday 12 January, 6.30-7.30pm Voices of the Past
Janet Forbes (soprano), James Liu (tenor) and Thomas Allery (harpsichord)
Music by Handel
Thursday 19 January, 6.30-7.30pm A Musical Voyage
Laura Vadjon (violin) Music by Handel and the Corellis
Tuesday 24th January- 11am-1pm Masterclass with Mark Padmore (tenor)
Thursday 26 January, 6.30-7.30pm Lucretia’s Last Breath
Sarah Gabriel (soprano) Music by Handel
Bookings 020 7399 1953 https://handelhendrix.org/whats-on/events/
Contact 020 7495 1685 mailhandelhendrix.org
Wednesday 14 September – February 2017
John Beard: Handel’s Tenor
This exhibition explores the extraordinary life of the celebrated tenor theatre star and
18th century celebrity, John Beard.
Museum opening hours Tuesday-Saturday 11am-6pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm. Last