top of page

September 2003

I know a lot of you have been waiting impatiently for the form for our workshop on Spanish and Mexican music with Philip Thorby. You should find it inside this issue. The form couldn’t be written until I had seen Philip in July and this is the first issue since then. I hope you have kept the date free in your diaries as it should be a really exciting workshop if my experience of some of the same music at the Beauchamp House early music week is anything to go by. I’m really looking forward to doing it again. You will see why if you read Jenny Gowing’s review of the week on page 4.

There are several reviews this month, so this is a good big issue. Thank you very much to all their authors. Please think about writing something yourself for next month.

I came back from my holiday on Tuesday and started work on Wednesday, so I was a bit depressed to receive the following from Madeline Seviour! ‘Yesterday I was cooking dinner so had only half an ear on Radio 4's Pick of the Week. However, my antennae were alerted by a clip from a play - a child's stream-of-consciousness about a perfect world - it included the words "no more dental appointments, no more recorder lessons"!’
Victoria Helby

Chairman's Chat
I enjoyed the Beauchamp Summer School as always, for the music, the company and the food - all excellent. As the subject was vocal music from Spain and the New World (though little of the latter was forthcoming) I spent most of the week singing or doubling a soprano line rather than playing a specifically instrumental part. The final evening proved more of a challenge, with Gabrieli's wonderful Dulcis Jesu, believed to have been written in thanksgiving for deliverance from the plague. It has really interesting parts for cornetts, sackbuts, violas (or violins) and two solo tenors, then after about 95 bars the heavenly choir enters and the music rises in tessitura by about a fourth - not ideal for tired wind players but very exciting. Next year it's a whole week of Gabrieli so I'll be there again!

A delightful week in Allendale (Northumberland) combining some early music with walking in stunning countryside rounded off my summer very nicely. Going back to work was a drag but I'm looking forward to the imminent TVEMF Renaissance and Baroque workshops in Burnham where I hope to see many of you.
David Fletcher

Music from Spain and the New World
Beauchamp House 20th – 26th July 2003

Directed by Philip Thorby and Alan Lumsden

Review by Jenny Gowing
Alan Lumsden introduced the music for this year’s Beauchamp House Early Music Week by telling us that in the Renaissance there was scarcely any music publishing in Spain - apart from Guerrero - it was late in taking off in comparison with Italy, the Netherlands and France. But recent research having unveiled valuable evidence in the survival of the archive of San Pedro Colegiata en Lerma*, the existence of bands of ministriles playing instruments for the small but important church in Lerma has become plausible, and Lerma’s situation, not far distant from Burgos, nor from the Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, sets off tantalising hypotheses on the reasons for the Manuscripts’ survival.

In addition to grand and rich Hispanic polychoral music for voices and instruments Alan and Philip Thorby’s course thus offered smaller scale pieces in the vernacular as well as in Latin. Through the efforts of a regular course member, Stephen Cassidy, a copy of the dissertation by Douglas Kirk Churching the Shawm in Renaissance Spain was available for us to read during the week. Kirk (who plays a variety of wind instruments on the Lerma recording) confirmed in his research that bands of Ministriles were hired to perform in the more important churches and Cathedrals, according to the available resources. The patronage of the renowned Duke of Lerma who had acquired instruments from the Royal court auction enabled the construction of a unique ducal community and the creation of a powerful religious and musical institution at Lerma. Works from the Lerma Mss introduced us to a splendid rich repertoire of pieces in use for the liturgy in the chief cathedrals and churches of Spain. The Mss constituting the repertoire of the wind band serving the Duke in the early 17th c. come to life through evidence from contemporary documents that wind bands of cornets, sackbuts, shawms, bassoons and recorders were employed. Although our application forms had advised us the course would try to heed the Bishop of Mexico’s warning of "the great excess in our archdiocese of chirimias [shawms], flutes, viols, trumpets", during the week the muster in the Barn numbered a formidable band of cornetts, shawms, sackbuts, curtals, recorders, trombones, bassoons, viols and violins, while the continuo section was enriched variously by two harps, guitar, and keyboards. The double-reeded instruments produced a thrilling music, and the plangent bittersweet shawms together with the clarion of the cornetts and sackbuts seemed to give forth pure sunbursts of sound.

The course in its daily four rehearsals worked through a score of pieces, by, at a rough count, a dozen composers, from Mexico, Seville, Montserrat, Barcelona, Gerona, to Lerma in Old Castile, as well as by the last of the Flemish composers to live and work in Spain, Philippe Rogier, represented by an ethereal Verbum caro. Lerma’s influence in modernizing style was exemplified by Gabriel Diaz, and a protegé of Rogier, the magisterial Mateo Romero, maestro de capilla to the Duke of Lerma, ‘El Maestro Capitàn’, "who" - as Philip impressed upon us "ruled his choir with a rod of iron, and was known by his rank, not his name". These pieces contrasted with smaller works by Morales and by Guerrero’s well-loved Ave Virgo sanctissima, its successive ebbing and flowing phrasing underlining the maris stella image. The Kyrie and Gloria from Cererols’ rousing Missa de Battalla a 12 formed the central piece with some of these works in a concert given towards the end of the week in the historic Norman church of St Mary-le-Crypt in Gloucester, where the Gloucester Regiment’s Glosters tapestry hangs, its verse declaring:

‘Brass before and Brass behind,
Never feared a foe of any kind.’

At every session, it seemed, further treasures were brought before us: the Exsultate Iusti in Domino of the Mexican Padilla blazed out the word’s primal meaning, to spring up, or to leap up - and a piece to catch the breath with its beauty, Vivanco’s Christus factus est pro nobis. Philip and Alan both produced examples in the vernacular of villancicos, songs especially popular at Christmas, beginning and ending with a choral estrabillo with a central series of coplas, short stanzas for solo voice. Ignited by Philip’s urgent direction our feisty vocal soloists gave their all in the performance of Cererols’ densely syncopated Ay! que me muero! a frenetic villancico with repeated rising cries of Ay! ay! ay! - a touch of cante hondo just discernible in the lower lines - ending in a frenzied rhythmic stampede to the finale and accompanied with energetic gusto on the castanets. Nevertheless, instrumentalists and choir alike inspired the statutory perennial slings of pitying insults (Philip Thorby to choir: "You have all the instincts of a thirty year old Sealyham...", to instruments: "Play where I mean, not where I say, you should know that by now!"), and the stinging arrows of reproach (Alan Lumsden: "Dare I say it....I can’t sleep at night for hearing that dreadful, dreadful, sound, - behind the beat again!")

The course was generously sustained by the delights of Alan’s cellars and the local cider, and as each meal competed to top the last, the feasts of wonderful dishes and ever more fanciful confections from the bountiful kitchens were in every way appropriate to the Ducal splendours of the memorable musical feast provided for us. Both could only be described as truly sumptuous.

*Music from the Mss is played in the impressive exposition by Paul McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort & Players on the 2002 double CD, Music for the Duke of Lerma).
Jenny Gowing

Renaissance Playing Day, Sept 2003
A Homily to the Absent
It is a long time since I have attended one of these at Burnham Grammar School, a good venue for a tried and tested format. The general rule is one to a part: we had a couple of dozen participants, including a rather awkward combination of singers (not their fault!) It meant, say, having two low voices in an eight part ensemble, but it seemed to work well, partly because the standard of sight reading was such that we seldom had to stop to rescue the lost.

There were a number of new faces to me: new member Philip Moate caused much interest with his nyckelharp, which in fact seemed to fulfil the role of a violin perfectly well.

Thank you David for doing all the spade work: I enjoyed the day. The trouble is we need three dozen rather than two to pay the bills these days when we seem no longer to have the cheap venues we had of old. Any suggestions - several rooms, car parking? David would be happy to hear your ideas. And we need more singers to provide a good balance: this is a good challenge to sing with the instruments, and we don't bite much. Chris Thorn

Rhetoric, persuasion and the Power of Music
Cambridge Early Music Summer School Baroque Week 27 July – 2 August 2003

Review by Jackie Huntingford
Rather than give a descriptive review of this well-established course, run at Trinity Hall, Cambridge by the Parley of Instruments and Philip Thorby, I thought that I would concentrate on a particular theme which ran through the week – how to communicate the essence of the music in order to give a convincing and moving performance.

This was the second year in a row that Geoff and I attended the ‘Parley’ week of this course, which follows Sirinu’s course in week one. This year we concentrated on English music including Blow, Boyce, Deering, Draghi, Handel, Purcell and Stanley in a mixture of large tutti sessions, small-scale chamber music and various sizes in between. However another theme soon began to take shape, allied in part to Judy Tarling’s interest in the subject of Rhetoric, especially as applied to music, but demonstrated both instinctively and overtly by the tutors. As a singer I was tutored mainly by Philip Thorby and Peter Holman so most of the examples below come from them, but my impression is that the ‘rules’ were applied by all.

For the singers, the day began with ‘choir’, though with around a dozen singers it didn’t feel like a chorus. From the start Philip made us think about the moods we were trying to express at different points in the music. Unlike the players, we had words, of course, but we don’t always make full use of musical devices to emphasise them. He showed us a variety of ways, which included brighter or darker vowel sounds and shorter or smoother articulation, in order to put across a mood. Dynamics markings weren’t exactly forbidden, but were too limiting. Piano or forte wasn’t enough – for example, piano can be intense, relaxed or resigned, and forte could be joyous, determined or angry. There must be a reason for a dynamic change, not just as something else to do. My copies are littered with instructions such as ‘stately, angry, smooth, alert, more energy, excited, resigned’.We were also encouraged to look at the shape of the music to gauge a mood. The leap of a fourth, octave, tenth for example can add tension, whereas stepwise movements are smoother. A dotted rhythm among otherwise even note values was also important. We kept hearing – "he could have written it like this, but he didn’t. Why?" Even "It took more ink to write a dotted rhythm and ink was expensive. It’s not a accident". During rehearsals with players and singers together, both Philip and Peter advised the players to shape certain phrases to anticipate the pattern of the vocal phrase they were introducing. For example, in Handel’s "Let Thy Hand be Strengthened", for the words "justice and judgement" the singers were to sing "justi-sand judgement" so the tension moved forward into "judgement" and the players asked to make a four-bar phrase rather than two two-bar ones. He also worked with the bassline on some bars full of leaping quavers, to build the tension through a bar and release it on the first note of the next instead of landing heavily on it, then starting to build it again for the next one. After all, tension is usually released towards a cadence in Baroque music and these were in effect mini-cadences.

But the whole effect was more interesting this way.At the outset I accepted and noted these ideas as part of Philip’s amazing ability to get to the heart of the music and give it shape after an unpromising run-through. But then on Tuesday evening, Judy Tarling gave an illustrated talk on the application of the rules of Rhetoric to music and this started to give an insight into general methods that one might always apply. I knew of Judy’s interest and expertise in the subjects of Rhetoric, Oratory and Gesture through the ages and what was known of their power to move and persuade. Judy has studied the topic exhaustively and can quote sources from classical times onwards, always appropriate to the idea she is trying to convey.

She spoke about some of the rules and how they can be employed to deliver your message. For example: for general shape, start by laying out your ideas quietly but clearly; then, as you build on them, use a variety of devices (my word) to excite, build tension, persuade; finally, release the tension as you come to your conclusions to leave the audience relaxed and hopefully convinced. This is an oversimplification of course, and I don’t have the background to do her justice, but she went on to illustrate these ideas as applied to music. She first used her violin to demonstrate these ideas, quoting references from Rhetoric and in some cases giving names to the devices. She then explained that in music we had an enormous advantage as with more than one player we could enhance the delivery of the message greatly. She engaged the help of another violinist, Fiona Allinson, as well as Mark Caudle on cello and Peter Holman on organ. She talked about and demonstrated simple harmony and simple rhythms for a relaxed statement of ideas, repetition or imitation for reinforcement or to build tension (fugue, stretto), use of harmony for both creating and reducing tension, dotted vs regular rhythms, leaping vs stepwise pitch changes and of course articulation in the form of shorter or longer, smoother or even slurred progression between the notes.

These are all ideas of which we are instinctively aware, but don’t always analyse and use to the full. Once something is found to work, the act of formulating and naming it can help to identify it and keep it in mind when deciding how to interpret a piece. However, Judy also warned against doing this too rigidly. Once something is named it might be used for its own sake rather to help deliver the message. The warnings already given about forte, piano, staccato illustrate this point but Philip was also cautious when wanting, say, an esclamatione or messa da voce. For example he was afraid that if he asked for the latter he would get a huge formulaic hairpin up and down, when he might actually require something far more subtle. He took pains to describe what he was trying to achieve, afraid that we’d put it through our choral "filter" and think "ah, what he really wants is one of these" instead of understanding why something was required and doing it precisely and with feeling.

Knowing the rules also allows you to break them occasionally if you have good reason and know that the effect is consistent with what you are trying to communicate. In fact, when I asked her about this, Judy gave me another quote to the effect that the result could be greatly enhanced by informed rule-breaking, but she warned that you have to know them first. This comment followed Philip’s overruling of her "conventional" Baroque bowing for something more unusual in order to whip up some excitement at one point in Handel’s "Let thy Hand be Strengthened". In this case, he did of course know the rules and I think she approved of the change in that instance! Also, in rehearsing the end of Handel’s "As Pants the Heart" he said that ‘Peter would hate him for this’, but he wanted a strong cadence (instead of the usual relaxation mentioned earlier) because it moved towards the "Him" of the final "Put thy trust in God, for I will praise Him!".

I hope these ideas rubbed off on us. By the time Peter started suggesting phrasing to me for a chamber piece with strings and continuo on Friday, I was already thinking along similar lines. The same words were repeated later in the piece, but by then the "story" had moved on so they were delivered in a different mood, and he also made suggestions for that change of mood as the piece unfolded, which felt absolutely right. Others remarked during the week on how our performances had been transformed by the application of all these ideas and we worked particularly hard to apply them in the public concert. Many people at the final rehearsal and concert remarked on how moving some of it was, so I venture to hope that we took something precious away from the course as a whole. Many thanks to all the tutors, and to Selene, Nick and Linda for all their hard work and enthusiasm.
Jackie Huntingford

The Viola da Gamba Society
Having seen the information about the Harpsichord Society on the back of a recent Tamesis, I thought it might interest others to see articles about related early music groups.

After I took up the tenor viol a few years ago I decided to join the Viola da Gamba Society. I have been to three meetings so far. Initially I was apprehensive about going along to meetings with no musical participation and where I might not know anyone. I needn't have worried as everyone was very friendly and the subjects much more interesting than at first sight.

The first one I attended was in Oxford at the Faculty of Music and titled Face the Music. The talks and musical extracts were based around original pictures of composers of viol music, such as Locke, Simpson and Lawes, that hang within the buildings. At lunch time we had a chance to view the Bate Collection and then afterwards most people went on to a concert by Charivari in the Holywell Music Room.

The second meeting I managed to get to was in London and asked "How Low Can You Go?". Having once played the double bass I was fascinated by the afternoon demonstration of a large number of big bass or bass viol instruments with much discussion of the various names used through the ages, such as double basse contra de violin, viola grande or just violone.... And afterwards we could have a go ourselves!

Much to my surprise the third and most recent meeting had me buzzing with excitement for days. It was on contemporary music written especially for viols. When I've heard this sort of music played on the radio or on CD's, it has not particularly grabbed me, but having Fretwork discuss and demonstrate the pieces right in front of you was absolutely mind blowing (even if James Bowman couldn't be there to sing his part in the Michael Nyman piece). Some of the composers were there too, e.g. Duncan Druce and Andrew Keeling, to talk us through their works. I was amazed at the versatility of viols and the untapped sounds and resonances that these modern composers are exploring. My favourite piece was from early 20th century and played by Jaqui Robertson and a harpsichord friend.

These meetings are only some of what the VdGS has to offer, but I have found them very stimulating.
Elaine Mordaunt

News of Members’ Activities
Member David Allinson has asked me to mention the evening class which he leads at the Ebury Bridge centre of the Westminster Adult Education Service, about 12 minutes walk from Victoria station. It happens on Thursday evenings, 7-9pm and starts on 25th September. This is a weekly, two-hour class in which Renaissance choral music, sacred and (occasionally) secular, is explored. They do warm-ups and then explore repertoire. The group does not perform in public, but rather, rolls on to new repertoire as one piece is mastered. Some sight-reading ability is essential.

The group is a friendly, non-judgemental forum with a pleasant atmosphere - many of the members stay for a pint afterwards. For some categories of people - for example, the retired, unemployed, and Westminster residents - the price of a term's attendance is startlingly low. Even normal attendance fees compare favourably with the cost of subscriptions to other choirs. Several TVEMF members already go to the course, and anyone who has been to one of David’s forum workshops will know what an entertaining, knowledgeable and effective conductor he is. I only wish I lived nearer.
To enrol phone 020 7297 7297 or 020 7641 7800.

Member Clare Norburn is Artistic Director of the Brighton Early Music Festival which runs from 26th September to the 5th October. The programme looks most interesting, including performances by Emma Kirkby, Christopher Wilson, the Hanover Band, Concordia, Musica Secreta and Mediva, so if you are likely to be in the area look at to find out more

Flipping through Early Music Review to see what I thought might be of interest to members I found an advertisement for a 2 day course leading to a concert accompanied by Charivari Agréable in the University Church in Oxford on 13th December. UK singers meet and rehearse on 6th December and on the 13th are joined by 50 Dutch singers and soloists including our own
Geoff Huntingford
For details contact Edmund Dixon on 01869 242311.

bottom of page