top of page

August 2004

I've just come back from the Oxford baroque week, possibly the only summer school with an emphasis on playing the repertoire. The first day is organised like one of my own TVEMF baroque days, but after that you have the use of Peter Collier's enormous library of music and the freedom to choose your own music and the people you play with and the option of inviting a tutor in to help for part of the session. It is a tremendously rewarding experience, sustained by the wonderful food produced by the Headington School cooks. I managed to get into Oxford a couple of times and picked up a lot of concert leaflets, so there are more concerts in the Oxford area in the listings than usual. I would appreciate being sent more information about concerts in Oxfordshire & Berkshire so that the list can always be more comprehensive.

I also went to the Beauchamp week where all the music was new to me (see David's comment below). Because it involves camping (optional) this course always seems more like a holiday with glorious music than a summer school.

There is a form in this mailing for the Rosenmüller Vespers workshop in Chesham in October. We shall be back at our usual venue, the Whitehill Centre, so book early as it will be necessary to restrict numbers to cope with the size of the room and to ensure a good balance. I have discovered an excellent new hall, also in Chesham, but unfortunately it is not available on Sundays. We hope to try it out soon.

Chris Thorn, who used to be Chairman and later Tamesis editor, is putting on a day of crumhorn playing at his house in High Wycombe on Sunday 19th September. Details are to be found in the section Opportunities to Make Music just before the listings.

Very many thanks to all of you who have produced contributions for this issue. It really makes the effort of producing Tamesis seem worthwhile to have such an excellent set of articles to put in. Let's hope more of you will be inspired to write something for next month.

Last year's accounts are included as a separate sheet. Don't throw them away as you may want to bring them to the AGM which will be at 5pm at the Whitehill Centre, Chesham (at the end of first day of the Thorby weekend).
Victoria Helby

Chairman's Chat
I expect a number of you have been to summer schools, so please think about writing a review when you read this. I went to the Beauchamp course where we revisited Giovanni Gabrieli and, though some new pieces surfaced, I had a certain déja vu sensation. The vocal works by Willaert and Andrea Gabrieli added variety and of course it was good to meet old friends again. The tutors, Alan Lumsden, Philip Thorby and Clifford Bartlett, were in good form and the food was delicious and over-plentiful as usual.

I am not much inclined to go to concerts, preferring to play or sing rather than listen but I was tempted by a couple of recent ones. The Renaissance Singers did their second tour of City churches, and having enjoyed the first I was happy to join them again. The format is that the choir performs some music in each of four churches in the City of London and there is a talk about the architecture and history of each church. This year the main musical fare was the John Taverner mass Gloria Tibia Trinitas from Benedictus of which the famous In Nomine theme derives. We heard a movement in each church together with two of the Tallis pieces from Archbishop Parker's psalter and what for me was rather too much plainsong. I know we ought to listen to chant as it is the basis of so much renaissance church music but it doesn't have the same intellectual interest of polyphony. To hear Dixit Dominus or Beatus Vir in plainsong when there are such wonderful polyphonic versions was a bit like looking at a black and white photocopy of a favourite painting. Perhaps others will disagree with this view? Anyway I did enjoy the event and could probably be induced to go to a third if there were one.

The other concert was one of the splendid series of "Music by Candlelight" given by Charivari Agréable in Oxford. The music was billed as "An intimate and evocative glimpse of Elizabethan and Jacobean musical life, to complement the atmospheric setting of Exeter College Chapel. Bells and knells, dumps and dances, extrovert masque tunes and haunting ballads". The composers were Allison, Byrd, Hume, & Johnson and it did not disappoint. I would also have gone to the concert featuring Jamie Savan on cornett but after 19 cancelled flights I finally got the balloon flight I had been given as a birthday present two years ago!

I'm sorry that the leaflet for David Allinson's workshop in the Dutch Church was a little vague - we will concentrate on music by Morales, mainly his six-part Missa Mille Regretz based on the well-known chanson by Josquin. There are still some places available, mainly for lower voices but don't delay
David Fletcher

Charpentier Messe à quatre chœurs:
a workshop for voices and instruments with Jeffrey Skidmore

Around thirty singers and twenty instrumentalists arrive at the Whitehill Centre in Chesham on Sunday 4 July to be introduced to this opulent work by Jeffrey Skidmore. His group Ex Cathedra has recently released a CD of the piece, which not surprisingly was on sale during the day. Jeffrey was able to bring a considerable understanding of the work - and an appreciation of issues of performance - as well as excellent Ex Cathedra scores.

The CD notes (yes, we bought one!) point to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's relative obscurity after his death in 1704, largely it appears because he was a relative outsider to the inner circles of French musical life centred around the court of Louis XIV. He had spent time in Rome during his twenties between 1665/6 and 1669, studied under Carissimi and made a copy of his Jephte. The suggestion is that the Italian polychoral tradition rubbed off on Charpentier, helping him to produce several works for two choirs as well as his mass for four choirs and a Salve Regina for three choirs, also on the CD!

Jeffrey's recording of the mass with Ex Cathedra intersperses the setting with two plainchant hymns, and we studied one of these, Ave maris stella, by way of stylistic introduction. The setting was by Guillaume Gabriel Nevers (c1632-1714) and Jeffrey began the task of replacing the singers' "standard Italianate" Latin with what he understands to be the pronunciation of the time.

From the beginning of the mass, it was clear that Charpentier revelled in the opportunities presented by four choirs. We were arranged as he had himself sketched out, with Choir 3 to Jeffrey's left, Choirs 1 and 2 in turn in the middle, and Choir 4 on the right. Indeed, Choirs 1 and 2 appeared to have more significant roles than the others, being the first choice for two choir sections or for sections requiring soloists. Charpentier however used the choirs in pairs, antiphonally or otherwise, or rolling in one after the other, or throwing musical ideas or single words like "pax" across the space at each other. There were powerful sections, others more sublime, and some fascinating false relations where sections of the forces were approaching cadences from different directions.

Jeffrey explained that each choir may have had its own continuo group. He was impressed by our thicket of three theorbos (Peter Cains, Michael Lowe and Daphne Briggs) while Michael Sharman coped manfully as the only keyboard player. As well as the plainsong hymns, the Ex Cathedra CD also has short improvised organ interludes between the mass movements, and Michael was probably very relieved that these were not on the agenda for our workshop.

We were asked to make the most of every syllable, and not to be afraid of stresses on the final syllables of words, which he illustrated with much amusing Gallic gesticulation comme ça. Dance rhythms pervade this music, he explained, with the first beat in the bar usually the strongest. These come together for example, in the word "con-fi-te-or". As we got into the mass we were introduced to more pronunciation issues: as well as importing the French "u" into words like "hominibus", we had to remember that "um" and "un" were to be nasalised and the "u" turned to an "o" that "mundi" became more like "mondi". Jeffrey also allowed us two kinds of ornament, both types of tremblement, the first decorating the descent to the third on a final note, and the second (identified by a "dot squiggle" in the scores) colouring a longer note in mid phrase. Given the four-way split of all of our forces, and the problems that this introduced for many participants looking at such a work for the first time, I think that Jeffrey judged the introduction of these sophistications very well.

As well as using the various choirs to great effect, Charpentier set two short sections for the same voice in all four choirs. The first of these was for the sopranos from the four choirs, posing as a choir of angels at the beginning of the Gloria after a very short but bouncy introduction from the continuo ("Great sound, pluckers! Let's do the first bar and a half again!"). In the Gloria too we came across white notation, and discussed matters such as inégal, where Jeffrey's approach was sure-footed and practical, depending on speed and time signature to assess the relative importance of the notes to be "swung".

Composers of the renaissance and baroque periods generally find some of their most glowing music for the Sanctus section, and Charpentier's Mass for four choirs is no exception. As with the rest of the mass, however, there was a terse use of material and very little lingering or wallowing. Very quickly we were through a short solo trio section for the Benedictus and on to the shortest, bounciest Agnus Dei that I have come across. Indeed it is so short that the Ex Cathedra CD plays it three times, a central vocal version framed by instrumental sections with free rein for improvisation. The opening bars could be sung with their own timing and stresses - doing this they are in three! - but Jeffrey wanted us to perform them as syncopations on the pervading pulse. The work ends with a strongly affirmative "Domine salvum".

We then looked briefly at some sections of the Credo as time allowed. There is a marvellous "Et ascendit" like a giant Gradus ad Parnassum, and then the second short section for four equal voices, this time a sonorous setting of "confiteor" for the four bass lines. This leads quickly to a brilliant ending, including a dramatic pause after "Et expecto" and a whirlwind rush to the amens at the end.

We were all grateful to Jeffrey for introducing us to this very fine work, and bringing his practical skills as small groups of players and singers had their Latin preconceptions turned upside down. Thanks also to Jill Caudle who organised the day and who had clearly given some thought to the make up of the four choirs and instrumentalists.
Geoff Huntingford

Saturday 10 July 2004
St Faith and St Laurence Church, Harborne, Birmingham
Dettingen Te Deum by George Frideric Handel
A workshop for singers and baroque orchestra [A = 415]

Tutor: Nicholas McGegan
I had a lovely day up in Birmingham with MEMF, a bit closer to my northern roots than Maidenhead. I went because I like the piece, loud, noisy and cheerful. Composed to celebrate `a perhaps slightly accidental victory in 1743 of the British and allies over the French and Bavarians, during the Austrian war of succession.`

I went because Nicholas McGegan.was the Tutor and he did not disappoint. Like all the good tutors he was able to draw the best from a mixed group of instrumentalists and singers without ever being unpleasant. He mostly did it by drawing pictures for us.

bottom of page