Tamesis Issue 209
I’ve been trying for some time to organise a workshop for May, and finally, half an hour before sending Tamesis off for printing, I’ve managed to book Will Carslake who comes highly recommended by several forum members. The workshop, on May 10th, will be for singers and instrumentalists on something from the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, and it’s not too late to make suggestions if you do it at once though Will has plenty of ideas. Details of the venue, music and booking arrangements will be in the April Tamesis. Would anyone like to help with the organisation? Philip Thorby’s dates still haven’t actually been confirmed by him but I’m sure that he would have let me know if there was a problem. However he did lose his diary in Venice, so if you’ve booked him for anything it might be a good idea to remind him of the date.
David sounds a little apologetic about his renaissance playing day in his Chairman’s Chat, but I certainly had a great time and would love to do more of that kind of playing. I hope everyone else’s groups were just as good. I enjoyed Alastair Dixon’s workshop on the previous day as well, helped by Michael and Mary Reynor’s usual faultless organisation, but it really is a problem that alto parts are often so low in this kind of music. This time they really were tenor parts, though the soprano parts were, I’m told, enjoyably high, and I’d almost lost my voice by the end of the day.
At the end of the workshop I had to rush off to get to Wavendon in time to see Red Priest’s new show, Pirates of the Baroque. I was a bit luke-warm about the CD in Early Music Review and said I thought it might be better as a live performance. I was certainly right about that and I can thoroughly recommend going (their tour includes a charity performance at the Cadogan Hall), though without listening to the CD first which rather spoils the surprises.
With this Tamesis you will find a sponsorship form for Background Baroque’s latest Red Nose Day mini-marathon in aid of Comic Relief. We (Hazel Fenton, Norma Herdson, Barbara Moir and I) will be playing as many trio sonatas as we can in the space of two hours in the café bar of Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead between 10 and 12 on Friday 13th March. Last time, which I’m surprised to see was as long ago as 2003, we managed 27 in three hours. This time we’re all rather busy later in the day so have only two hours available, but we’re still aiming to do twenty. You’re welcome to come and have a cup of coffee and listen for a bit, though I warn you it won’t be a fully rehearsed performance, but the main thing is to sponsor us. You can email me with your offer of sponsorship or send the form, but we’re also hoping to set up a page on Just Giving www.justgiving.com which will make it possible to use a credit card.
Last weekend was the first time we have ever run two events on consecutive days but because they were of a rather different nature there seems to have been no significant fall in attendance. I gather that the workshop with Alistair Dixon went well but I was too busy in attempting to resolve the groupings for the Renaissance Day to be able to attend. Unlike the giant Sudoku puzzle that it resembles, there is no correct solution, so apologies to anyone who had a poor deal. Over the years I have developed a computer program that helps a little in that it shows me what voice or instruments each person has and who they are playing with in each session. It also tells me how many sessions each person will have with each other person which enabled me to limit this to a maximum of two for each pairing. I can see a number of possible enhancements such as coping with room allocation as I ended up with a rather curious room layout which failed to ensure complete wheelchair access or spatial separation from the room above. It needs to be able to handle three dimensions next time and to ensure that the music I carefully select for some of the more complex groups doesn't languish in my briefcase as it did on Sunday! Many thanks all who helped make the day a success by dealing with the coffee, putting up signs, carrying 50 boxes of music in and out and clearing up afterwards.
Our next event is the Baroque Day in Oxford where I shall relax in the knowledge than Peter Collier has done most of the hard work.
Passion and Penitence
To your reviewer, contemplating the primly respectable facades of the houses in the vicinity of the Quaker Meeting House in Ealing, it seemed an unlikely setting for such a frame of mind. What did the emerging mercantile middle class who first occupied those houses know of passion? Could they have conceived that they had anything about which to repent? Nevertheless, that was the chosen venue for the TVEMF workshop on Saturday, 28th February, a substantially over-subscribed event. And an admirable venue it turned out to be, once the thermostat had been adjusted and the windows of the meeting room opened to the optimum extent. We were then able to settle down, and be guided by Alistair Dixon, whom we were delighted to welcome back, through a programme of interesting contrasts.
One would not, perhaps, readily guess on hearing the music that was chosen for the workshop, that Palestrina (ca 1525-94), Tallis (ca 1505-85) and Robert White (whose date of birth is uncertain, but is thought to be ca 1538, and who died of the plague in 1574) were contemporaries. As Alistair reminded us, English music of the period was almost untouched by foreign influences, except for Ferrabosco, and the echoes of the Eton Choir Book to which he drew our attention in White’s Lamentations find no counterpart in Tallis’ Derelinquit impius and In jejunio et fletu.
We began with a painstaking rehearsal of a piece which must have been familiar to many of us, Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis. Here the focus was on producing the melodic line which is so characteristic of Palestrina; Anthony Petti, who edited this motet for the First Chester Book of Motets, says that it “seems to be the quintessential musical expression of grief in exile, gradually building up momentum from the opening melisma of sorrow to the release of pent-up anguish in “suspendimus organa”. Alistair did bring out the contrast between the phrasing of ”in salicibus in medio eius” and “suspendimus organa” with the break after “suspendimus” as a piece of word painting. However, whether by design or accident, he did not draw our attention to the feature of the ending which Petti describes as “a tortured irresolute Phrygian cadence in an otherwise Aeolian motet”. We may have produced some tortured irresolute sounds during the course of the day but it seems unlikely that they were attempts to perfect our rendering of this cadence.
It was then purposed to move on to the other Palestrina piece, from the Lamentations (Book Three) for Maundy Thursday, but the curse of the errant photocopier had struck and, for about half of us, “Aleph” stopped in the middle and was followed by an unrelated section of text. We therefore moved on to the White Lamentations. He wrote two, which have been published in vol. 32 of the English Church Music series, one in five parts (which is scored M CT T Bar B), and one in six (scored Tr M T1 T2 Bar B). These are said by Irwin Spector and David Mateer, who are otherwise a bit sniffy about him in the New Grove (e.g., “the antiphons and alternatim works are doubtless among the composer’s juvenilia”; “in general, White’s antiphons lack the technical mastery of his motets”) to be “particularly fine and [to] represent a highpoint of Elizabethan choral music”. David Mateer, who edited these for the ECM edition, observes that “Tudor composers of Lamentation settings did not have the guidelines of a long-established tradition on which to draw, as was the case with the respond and Magnificat…the genre in England, represented by the settings of Tallis, White, Byrd, Parsley, Ferrabosco the Elder and John Mundy…seems to have been an Elizabethan phenomenon”.
We worked on the six-part Lamentation in a different edition (Cantiones Press) from bar 135 (Lamed) to the end. The text of Lamed and Mem is from Lamentations i, vv.12 and 13, and the text is completed by the non-scriptural “Hierusalem” refrain. Here, the emphasis was on appreciating the harmonic structure rather than creating a smooth line. Mateer says that “most of its vocal lines have a control and sobriety in keeping with the solemnity of the words, and even the acrostic letters contribute to the overall effect with their slow-moving harmonic rhythm and dissonant part- weaving”.
The photocopying problem solved, we returned to the Palestrina (text from Lamentations i, v.2), for SSATB, and were exhorted to display empathy and musicality in order to create the desired vocal effects. These having been achieved to a moderate extent, we turned our attention to Tallis and two of his best-known works from Cantiones sacrae, Matins Responds for the first Sunday in Lent. There was some discussion about whether “Derelinquit” should actually be “derelinquat” but your reviewer is able to assure readers that the printed text is correct. The English version is “The wicked man forsakes his ways”; had it been that the wicked man was being exhorted to forsake his ways, the subjunctive “derelinquat” would have been appropriate. Trickier than the linguistic problem perhaps, was the introduction of a facsimile copy of “Derelinquit impius” into the proceedings and an invitation to sing it through from the facsimile. Those of us who had had more than two units of alcohol at lunchtime may have lost count at some point. That experiment abandoned and tea, embellished with Mary Reynor’s admirable cakes, consumed, we had a brief encounter with In jejunio et fletu before a final sing through of the two Lamentations settings, Derelinquit impius and Super flumina. Your reviewer may not have been the only person to experience a slight pang of regret at not being able to discover what actually did happen when Jesus went into the house of Simon the Pharisee, but perhaps that may be for another day. All in all, an excellent and rewarding day’s singing of a well-selected programme in a pleasant and commodious venue. Warmest thanks are due to Michael and Mary Reynor for organising such an enjoyable event, and to Alistair for taking us through the day and providing us with musical insights, anecdotes and gastronomic similes. We hope that there will not be such a long interval before we see him again.
Renaissance Chamber Day
This is not a review, but a snippet. I was asked to monitor the final session, a group of four none of whom I knew well (apart from me, who is rubbish). One male singer, no bass instruments (actually there was a contrabass recorder but that was a secret unveiled only at the death). This could be a difficult session. Out came Bernard's Music for Crumhorns, vol i. The shortest song to test resources: O Tentalora. Bass voice on the tenor cantus firma (it doesn't go very high), bass crumhorn underneath, cornetto on the tenor line, treble recorder on top. We were off! We even found one with the words in the bass.
Apparently the previous singing session was doleful stuff, so we looked for jolly ones about landsknechts and drinking. We tried all sorts of combinations and octave transpositions from two descants down. Possibly the best session of the day! If this illustrates anything, it is that Bernard's crumhorn editions are some of the best 16th century stuff there is, even if you loathe the crumhorn, and that a little imagination works wonders.
Tanks to David Fletcher for a successful day: we really ought to do this more often. I never got to play my shawm.
Handel’s Other Hat
I have expatiated in these pages before (August 2004 and June 2006) on the merits of the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, so I will hope not to be too repetitive in drawing attention to the exhibition Handel the Philanthropist which has recently opened there to mark the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death. This explores Handel’s connections, in the last two decades of his life, with not only the Foundling Hospital (from 1749) but also (from 1739) the Fund for Decay’d Musicians (now the Royal Society of Musicians), and brings together material from many different sources, some of which has never been shown in public before.
It is well-presented, with lots of accompanying information, mostly in the exhibition gallery in the basement, but there are also items in the picture gallery on the first floor and in the mini-museum attached to the Gerald Coke Handel Collection on the top floor which appear as part of this exhibition rather than forming part of the regular display. There are portraits, of Handel himself (including the Hudson portrait, loaned by the National Portrait Gallery), and of many of the musicians and other people whom he knew, there are music manuscripts and prints, there are drawings and paintings of buildings which were significant in his life, there are letters, concert posters and tickets, newspaper accounts, libretti, minutes of meetings in which Handel was concerned – you name it, a wealth of Handeliana, which will enable those interested in Handel’s charitable work (of which many people do have some vague knowledge, especially since the publication, and production of the stage version at the National Theatre, of Coram Boy) to find out about it in considerable detail. At the same time they can find out much about other aspects of Handel’s life and work and can listen to a wide selection of his music in the “musical chairs” in the mini-museum aforementioned.
The exhibition is accompanied by a detailed catalogue, which includes Donald Burrows’ revision, undertaken especially for this exhibition, of his 1977 article on Handel and the Foundling Hospital in Music and Letters, and an article by Katharine Hogg, curator of the Gerald Cook Handel Collection, on Handel’s work for both charities – good value at a fiver, as all the main exhibits are illustrated, and the accompanying information is reproduced, so that you can in effect take the exhibition home with you.
As mentioned in my previous account, the museum is worth a visit at any time – the displays about the work of the Foundling Hospital itself are interesting, there is an art collection which includes several Hogarths (the painter contributed considerably to the work of the institution) and which furnished the first art gallery in London – visitors came to see the paintings, and donated to the charity – and there is the Gerald Coke Handel Collection.
The museum organises concerts (my earlier thought, that the Long Room, which houses many of the pictures, would make a wonderful concert venue, obviously occurred to the museum authorities as well) and other events – imminent Handelian ones on 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th (2 events) April, and several of the other concerts include Handel in the programme - also many children’s events, some of them Handelian. It is also the venue for a small annual conference on music in 18th-century Britain, organised by a member of the library staff at the Royal Academy of Music. There is disabled access, and there is a nice little eatery attached (at least, it was nice last time I ate there, but I haven’t used it very recently – I have had no adverse reports from anyone who has, however). The present exhibition, which runs till June 28th, is an added attraction for Handel fans.
Information on visiting hours, forthcoming events etc, can be found on the museum’s website www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk, and there is a free mailing list.
The Joy Dodson Music Fund
The Joy Dodson Music Fund was set up in 1991 to celebrate the life of Joy Dodson who was an enthusiastic viol player, music calligrapher and publisher. It is financed through donations from members of the Viola da Gamba Society and is administered by a small sub-committee of the Society. The Fund assists students with the cost of attending a music course as a viol player or undertaking research related to the viol. In order to be eligible for a grant, students must be members of the Society. However non-members may also apply on the understanding that, if awarded a grant, they will join the Society. Student membership is £9 for the first year and £12 in subsequent years although students under 16 years of age receive their first year’s membership free. Normally applicants have to be full-time students. Those wishing to apply for grants should contact Susanne Heinrich, The Viola da Gamba Society Administrator email admin.@.vdgs.org.uk. They will be sent an application form and a copy of the Guidelines which give details of conditions of eligibility and the maximum award they can expect to receive (which in 2009 is £165). If successful, a cheque for the amount awarded will be forwarded to the applicant. After completing the activity for which the award was made, students will be expected to write a short account of that activity and how it will help them in further music studies. During the current recession it is hoped the Fund will be of particular value in helping students further their studies of the viol when they might otherwise find it difficult to meet the cost of attending courses. We would be grateful if Forum members would mention the Fund to any student viol players they might know.