top of page

April 2004

Last month I complained that no-one had written a review of the excellent Bach Family day in Oxford - now there are two reviews, so thank you very much to both writers. Many thanks too for the review of the course in Italy. There is certainly a lot more to read this month.

I also asked last month if anyone had been to a Pro Cantione Antiqua course. Pat Field reminds me that he reviewed one in the November 2002 Tamesis. As I write this Tamesis before February 2003 has disappeared from the web site, but I hope that all the earlier issues will shortly reappear there.

I hope you enjoy the seasonal book review provided by David!

Neil Edington told me about a month ago that tenors are still needed for Michael Procter's weekend in May. I'm not sure if this is still true, and I think that other parts are already full, but it's worth asking him.

You will find on the back page a booking form for a singing day with one of our favourite conductors, Dr David Allinson. It's called a Tudor Feast but I don't think food is involved! If you don't want to cut up Tamesis you can photocopy it or send a letter with the details asked for on the form.

Please note that from next month the copy date will be the second Monday of the month, instead of Wednesday.
Victoria Helby

Chairman's Chat
I gather the Baroque Day was very well attended and went well, thanks to a huge amount of work by the indomitable Peter Collier - many thanks Peter. Sadly, I was unable to attend as the Inter-Fora meeting took place the same day in Sutton Coldfield. This has nothing to do with florists, but is the annual meeting of Forum representatives at which we discuss matters of mutual interest. Forum boundaries were on the agenda, following a proposal to align them with county boundaries. I pointed out that we actually had as many members in Cyprus as in Bedfordshire (which had been allocated to TVEMF), but 35 in Surrey which was not thought to be TVEMF county. The idea was abandoned but the Forum map in the Yearbook will be changed to reflect the fuzzy nature of the borders. My claim on behalf of TVEMF to the historic lands of Burgundy (on the grounds of once having had a member in France) was left on the file.

Next month sees our annual liturgical mass with Michael Procter, this time in St Mary Le Strand whilst St. Augustine's is being renovated. This is always a successful event and it is good that we occasionally remind ourselves of the purpose of much of the music we sing.
David Fletcher

Thames Valley Early Music Forum Members by County as at 18th April 2004
Berks 33
Bucks 26
Cambs 7
Glos 5
Hants 4
Herts 28
Kent 6
London 114
Middx 30
Northants 3
Oxon 35
Somerset 3
Surrey 35
Sussex 5
Cyprus, Beds, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Leics, Suffolk, Warks , Wilts, Yorks 1 or 2 each
Total 337

Book reviews
Durrell: The Alexandria Quartet
Set in early twentieth century Egypt, this book explores the passions and relationships between four very different people. The lovely Justine tempts Darley away from his lover Melissa but is finally seduced by the eponymous Alexandria who dominates the recorder quartet with her unique blend of arrogance, sexuality and musicianship.

Waugh: Viol Bodies
An enterprising instrument maker sets out to convince the world that viols should be made trapezoidal, rather than the traditional shape. He fails.

Arrowsmith: Jackboots and Coronets
A salutary tale of the perils of too readily accepting a spell checker's suggested correction. The early brass ensemble suffer the attentions of Neo-Nazis and fortune hunters after a misprint in a concert title is "corrected". Not for the faint-hearted.

Joyce: Ulysses
This appears to be a somewhat verbose translation of the libretto of Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patri but in an idiom which some may find offensive. Some of the book is difficult to relate to the original, but just close your eyes and think of Italy.

Dadd: Mutant Ninja Curtals
An early wind band attempts to save civilisation as we know it but merely succeeds in annoying the neighbours.
David Fletcher

The Oxford Baroque chamber music day
I don't know how many people there were at this joint event with the Friends of the Oxford Baroque Week (who support the annual summer school) but there seemed to be an enormous number. It was really frustrating to see so many friends and hardly to have time to talk to them, never mind play in the same group with them.

As usual the day was admirably organised by Peter Collier, the director of the summer school. On a day of torrential rain, the weather almost cleared up for a few minutes at 9.30 in the morning and 6 in the evening so that it was possible to unload and load harpsichords without getting them too wet. Lunchtime was not so good. I had only just got back from my holiday so couldn't take a picnic lunch. Someone kindly lent me their umbrella so that I could splash over to the pub, where I eventually discovered that there was a waiting time of an hour for food. I think next time Peter should suggest that everyone takes their own food, though I did in fact eventually find a very nice café in Headington, the Café Noir, where they managed to produce a very good hot sandwich for a couple of drowned rats in record time.

This kind of day is always difficult to organise if you don't know all the people who are going to be there, but Peter managed to arrange about fifteen groups for each of the four sessions and was 99% successful in avoiding making anyone play the same piece twice. I heard about one or two less than perfectly compatible groups, but on the whole I think they worked very well. I had some very good sessions, two of them in particular. One of them was playing Couperin's Les Nations on baroque flute with a baroque oboe d'amore on the second part, a particularly successful combination. For me of course it was also a great pleasure to take part in a baroque day that someone else had organised!
Victoria Helby

The Genius of the Bach family:
a workshop for voices and instruments with Peter Leech

My attempt to respond to Vicky's request for a review of the Bach Family Workshop by Peter Leech in Oxford on 28th February 2004 is somewhat restricted by the fact that I was so caught up in enjoyment of the day that I neglected to write down legibly many details of the pieces studied - so please forgive me for being rather non-specific at times. I arrived a bit cross, having wandered round the many buildings of Magdalen College School in search of TVEMF, but this irritation was speedily dispelled (and David forgiven for leaving behind the directional signs).

Peter Leech was informative on the effect on German music of the 100 Years War, which had just ended at the relevant time, pointing out the twin themes of Doom or Fate (as evinced by the many settings of "Das Blut Jesu Christi") and Redemption. In some settings, these themes were split between a high and a lower choir, before the choirs combined more optimistically towards the close of the piece. Peter gave information as a guide to interpretation in performance and I thought the balance between talk and actual music- making was just right.

We actually worked on 7 pieces, achieving a creditable performance of 6 of them at the end of the day. In this respect, this was one of the best workshops I have attended, as the music chosen was relatively straightforward, though rewarding, and there was time to achieve a polished performance. Peter was satisfactorily complimentary about our sound and our performance at the end. This was a well attended event, with visitors from Midlands EMF as well as pupils from the school - the latter adding a nice countertenor sound behind me in Choir 2.

There were unexpected delights. "This is just like Brahms!" my neighbour, accurately, pointed out, while a brief and pleasing bit of Soprano/Alto duetting reminded me of Schubert's Mass in G. A Hassler piece was included to remind us of Italian influence, and one of the pieces concluded, very unexpectedly, with a joyous and dance-like 'Hallelujah'. I was particularly struck by 2 of the pieces by Johann Ludwig Bach (one of the "Das Blut"s and "Gott sei uns gnadig"), and also "Unser Leben ist ein Schatten" by Johann Bach, but it was all wonderful, and Magdalen College School Chapel, once found, was an excellent venue. Oxford, on the day, was cold, bright and sunny, and as always beautiful. May I request more similar events with Peter Leech, please, so we can explore more of these undiscovered gems from the other 45, or however many, members of the Bach family living in and around Eisenach?
Penny Vinson

The Genius of the Bach family:
a workshop for voices and instruments with Peter Leech

Magdalen College School was the venue for the latest TVEMF workshop, an exploration of works by members of the Bach family earlier than the great Johann Sebastian. Around 65 early music groupies were joined by staff and students from the school, which I note from one of my books was founded in 1478, 20 years after Magdalen College itself. We were in Big School, a combined hall and chapel built in 1964-6 with plenty of board-marked concrete, and described by Pevsner as "generally canted in the sixties way".

The day was very ably run by Peter Leech, director of the Bristol Bach Choir and the City of Oxford Choir, who combined great musical skills and a well-tuned ear for the colour of the German language with fascinating glimpses of the local conditions in which many of these works were created. Firstly, Peter pointed out to us that Germany lost around a third of its population during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) through conflict, disease and famine, the population only recovering to its former size around the 1740's. Thus in the first piece we tackled, a two-choir 'Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil' by Johann Michael Bach (?1648-90), the second choir with its bouncier rhythms possibly represented Hope while the first choir in more serious chorale mode pointed the finger of Fate. The ensemble was pretty tidy right from the start of the day, which earned compliments from Peter and promised well for the rest of the workshop.

We also learned that of the 85 musical members of the Bach family of this period, most lived and worked without ever leaving an area of 50 mile radius in Thuringia. (Andrew Benson-Wilson very usefully described this to me in the lunch break as the "bottom left hand corner of East Germany"). They all knew each other's work, and it is evident that the pieces stayed in the repertoire because in many cases the surviving manuscripts are much later than the original composition dates.

We moved on to another double choir piece, 'Das Blut Jesu Christi' by Johann Ludwig Bach, born 1677 and a third cousin of JS. For Peter, the 7/6 cadences of the initial phrases were a musical sigh or sob, requiring delicate phrasing. Because of the seriousness of the subject and the contemporary difficulties of existence, he thought that the lighter music might represent the transience of life.

Then came another setting by Johann Ludwig, this time of Psalm 67, 'Gott sei uns gnädig'. This was a liturgical piece based, Peter thought, on the tone scale of a particular Magnificat. While the setting was for two unequal choirs, SATBB/SATB, it could be better described as two equal choirs with an astonishing added bass line, sometimes ascending and descending in scales of B flat major, and sometimes breaking out into cascades of semiquavers against homophonic antiphonal writing for the rest of us.

The next piece was a more intimate five part setting of 'Das Blut…' by Johann Michael again. The chorale in the top line prompted Peter to tell us that there was a long tradition of chorale singing, and indeed choirboys were expected to know a large number of chorale tunes by heart as part of their education. The forces expanded again for Johann Bach's 'Sei nun wieder zufrieden'. This particular Bach lived between 1604 and 1673 and was not a direct ancestor of the great JS. He knew the music of Schütz, who though working for Catholic courts in southern Germany brought polychoral composition style to Germany as a whole. Here his influence was felt in the more immediate borrowing of music between the two choirs.

Another Johann Bach piece, 'Unser Leben ist ein Schatten' brought back the idea earlier expressed of one choir, this time a smaller three part ATB group telling the story of the piece in simpler harmonies between more florid writing for a larger SSATTB choir. Finally, by way of contrast, we tackled 'Angelus Domini descendit' which showed the influence of Lassus on the South German musical scene, this time in the hands of Hans Leo Hassler writing for two unequal four part choirs. The joyful Latin was quite a change after the generally more pensive German.

We managed to get through a great deal of music, and our thanks go to Peter for his excellent handling of our varied forces, his great sense of fun and his application of just the right amount of knowledge and musical wisdom. Thanks also to Andrew Benson-Wilson for playing the organ (rather a busman's holiday for him), to John Graham for organising the day, and to Magdalen College School for generously donating the hall by making the workshop an educational experience for staff and pupils. I hope that they enjoyed the day as much as I did.
Geoff Huntingford

Whilst many people in Britain were agonising about whether or not to go and see Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, TVEMF stalwarts Sidney Ross and I, together with members of Brighton Consort and Southern EMF, were in Italy, doing Palm Sunday for real. The occasion was a weekend workshop from 2nd to 5th April that was held in Triora, a picturesque medieval village set high up among really stunning surroundings in the still snow-capped Ligurian Alps. This workshop was organised by Tallis Scholars Deborah Roberts and Andrew Carwood and was aimed at experienced singers with a particular love for old-fashioned liturgical music and practice. Sidney and I both qualify on this score, on account of a preference for pre-Baroque music.

Thus it was that a mixed bag of 5 sopranos, 5 altos, 2 in-betweenies, 5 tenors (two of us female), 1 baritone and 4 basses gathered on a Friday night in our hotel to explore our collective ability not just to sing through but to make music of some lovely repertoire from the sixteenth century, mostly but not exclusively from the pen of Tomas Lu?s da Victoria (and comprising Pueri Hebraeorum; O vos omnes; Vere languores; O Domine Jesu Christe; a double choir Agnus Dei; a 4-part piece for men's voices, Tenebrae factae sunt; Domine non sum dignus; Caligaverunt oculi mei; a short set of Lamentations for Holy Saturday for the Third Reading; and an extract from the Improperia: Popule meus, quid fecit tibi). Italy was represented by Anerio's Christus factus est, and England by Thomas Weelkes' stirring anthem, Hosanna to the Son of David. In addition, a small group of us, more familiar with Gregorian chant, formed a Schola cantorum to provide an authentically ecclesiastical opening and some plainsong interludes to pad out Crux fidelis, attributed to King John IV of Portugal.

The locals having been warned in advance, we processed through the narrow streets on Palm Sunday morning, singing the hymn Gloria laus, et honor tibi sit. The most memorable recollection is of Andrew Carwood walking backwards, one arm raised high in the manner of a tour guide leader, whilst attempting to hold together a choir that was largely hidden from a sight of him (and the dots) round dark medieval masonry bends; all this without stumbling or falling, and in the teeth of a wind that threatened to remove the written neums to another realm. (P)neumatic rendition, as one might say. One participant, as a child of the Hebrews, was mightily relieved at not having to carry any olive branches while attempting to concentrate on producing the required degrees of stress on the horizontal epizemata and reduction in volume on the liquescents. After this we performed most of the prepared music in an adjacent church, San Giovanni Battista, to an appreciative audience, many of whom were old enough to remember when this glorious sound was still considered the authentic voice of Holy Mother Church; sadly, this is in general no longer the case.

And naturally, this being rural Italy, some energetic quaffing of local brews, relaxed enjoyment of good food and conversation, striding the hills and medieval streets, and purchasing of regional staples such as olive oil, was engaged in to a degree by all present. Since one can count the experiment as a major success, Deborah Roberts hopes to make it something of a regular occurrence in future years. Any prospective applicants may wish to register this fact now for later reference.
Margaret Jackson-Roberts

News of Members' Activities
TVEMF members Julia Raeburn (Voice/Recorders) and Dawn Johnston (Lute/Theorbo) together comprise "The Muses Gardin" Duo. Julia writes:
"Our aim is to bring the Renaissance and Baroque periods well and truly alive with "themed" concerts, e.g. "Shakespeare and Love!", "Let there Be light!", "Come Ashore Merry Mates!". We include a great variety of vocal/instrumental pieces, with readings from the time to add an extra dimension - a entertaining "buffet" of many small musical dishes rather than a "sit-down" meal…!! - We have given concerts from Leeds to Cornwall, for Music Societies and the National Trust. We were delighted to be invited to give four concerts at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, over Summer 2003, as part of their prestigious "Elizabeth" exhibition, marking the 400th Anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

Our new programme for Summer 2004 is "In an English Country Garden" celebrating the beauty and imagery of the flowers, gardens and landscapes that have been for many centuries an essential element of the English Country House, in music and readings from the 14th-17th centuries. This programme is receiving its first outing in a free Lunchtime Recital at Kingston-upon-Thames Parish Church, (All Saints), Market Place, Kingston, Surrey, on Thursday 27th May 1.15-2.00. TVEMF members most welcome! You will also catch sight and sound of Dawn at the Globe Theatre, playing at a number of performances of "Much Ado About Nothing" this Summer."

Pellegrina - Kyoko Murai (soprano), Maria Sanger (recorders), Amanda Seaborn (viol), Alison Bowler (harpsichord) will be playing in an afternoon concert on Sunday 23rd May at St.Anne's Church, Kew Green at 3.30pm. The concert will include cantatas, songs and instrumental music by Handel, Purcell, Pepusch and Finger. Teas will be available afterwards and there will be a retiring collection. For more details, please email Alison Bowler.

Non-TVEMF Activities
Renaissance Singers 60th Anniversary
2004 sees the 60th anniversary of the Renaissance Singers and a number of unique events are planned and are open to all.

The main Anniversary Celebration will be an all-day open workshop in London on Saturday June 5th. A number of TVEMF members took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations, which were a uniquely memorable musical experience, a highlight of which was singing Palestrina under the direction of our founder, the late Michael Howard. For the 60th anniversary, we are again inviting former directors and musicians of the Singers to take part and lead events.

More recently, many TVEMF members will remember the Renaissance Singers concert tour of City Churches in summer 2002, which turned out to be a phenomenally popular, enjoyable and successful event. On Saturday, July 10th, starting at 4.30pm, the Singers will once again explore with their audience some rarely visited historic churches in the City of London. Music from the Singers directed by Edward Wickham, and short commentaries by our guest speaker Andrew Joncus, will help reveal the unique identity of these hidden architectural beauties.

On May 22nd, the Singers will give a concert with a difference! The theme will be parody mass settings based on the tune 'L'homme armé'. Different sub-groups of the Singers will prepare and perform four different composers' settings starting with the Kyrie movement. After each movement the audience will be asked to cast votes on a setting to knock out. Just one setting will end up being performed fully. The concert is designed, as always, to be musically illuminating, and supported by additional elements of competition and fun!

The final arrangements for each of these three special and complex events are still being worked out. Please see the Singers website for the latest information.

bottom of page