Voices & Vyalls – Winter session

August 8, 2009

Okay, so this is not exactly mid-winter because we are starting at 1.30pm and going through till sunset. The last session had to start at 1pm in order to eke out at least an extra 30 minutes of daylight before the church interior became too dark. Before teabreak we played at A415 and after tea, A440 when the Instruments Hauts arrived.

Salomone Rossi, Barechu. Better known for his violin works, this is a short three-voiced piece. We’re honouring the viol players known to be working at various synagogues (Mantua, etc.) at the time. A great warm-up piece.

Peter Porter, Thus sang Orpheus to his strings. This is a madrigal by an English student of Monteverdi. Published I think around 1632, this particular piece starts off with a three-part instrumental intro, for two violins and bass; there is a strongly declamatory style for the voice (“Ah, dear Euridice!” expressed in a minum followed by four quavers) but the string writing accompanying is quite Baroque and always tasteful. My ‘violin’ part was quite independent in parts, that is to say, not strictly following the voices as much as in Monteverdi madrigals. Not exactly operatic, but really quite dramatic; an absolute delight to play. The instrumental intro worked well on two viols, bass viol and lute.

Pierre Sandrin, Douce memoire. For at least two of us, this will be a very pleasant reprise of the intense workout we did at the Orpheus Music summer school at Armidale NSW last January on Ganassi and Ortiz, where we spent days examining both texts in very great detail and ‘vocalising’ appropriately the part-songs in our instrumental approach. Obviously viols only take it at a sombre pace. The divisionists want it taken very much faster. So we ran through it several times on viols, then adding the divisionists (both bass and treble viols) and then the singers. Of course it’s extremely low for the singers – A466 for male voices? – and there was some exciting talk at Armidale about playing it in a much more Renaissance style – tenor and bass viols only.

Giovanni Gabrieli. Sancta Maria sucurre miseris. This is a smart Venetian piece for (single) choir and instruments, and at 86 bars not overly long, with the obligatory 3/2 towards the end. For some odd reason we seemed to get bogged down in the middle, between bars 40 and 54; not sure in hindsight what the reason was exactly, but there was more ‘space’ between some of the entries. In any case, the full grandeur of the sound eventuated. Before the teabreak and at A415, we had the viols (trtrTTTTBB) plus violin, lute and tenor recorder, with two sopranos. After the teabreak at A440, we had a shawm and a recorder with viols (TTBBB), violin, theorbo and curtal, plus sopranos.

Senfl, Patientiam.  For two voices and instruments. With the same resources as the A440 Gabrieli, we did extremely well with this intricate piece. We had a little difficulty in the very beginning where one voice starts on a D to be joined a few bars later by the other on E, but an admirable piece of quiet beauty and poise. Senfl apparently was specific in his instrumentation, either calling for grosse Geige or kleine Geige, the former Big Strings being the viols as here, and the littlies being the violins.

Heinrich Schutz, Du Schalksnecht. Oviously the hardest thing has been getting five bass viols (curtal on the bottom part) in the one room together. Obviously too Schutz has a real affinity with the viol. I’m not sure some of the pointed harmonies came out as well as they might (moving to major chords amidst a whole of lot of writing in the minor), but we did more than get through it. It’s written for tenor and trombones (one first which works closely with the voice; a quartet of others providing harmonic support and two bass trombones providing the bass line). We swapped around the voice between tenor and sopranos, curtal on the lowest, viols spread out in between with shawm/recorder elsewhere. When our tenor was not singing, he played trombone.

Moritz (1572-1632). Various pavanas (Rose e Gigli and d’Alto monte) despite the rapidly fading light. Two bars intro on an improved drum, the shawm and recorder playing the top two lines. This was real waits stuff and highly enjoyable! We’re intrigued by the Pavan titled “Yellow Cow” in this series!

My playing is a lot more ‘matter-of-fact’ these days. I play the very best I possibly can at the time, but I don’t dwell on mistakes. It’s a time-based medium, it’s here now and then gone in a second’s time. If I make mistakes (but don’t necessarily crash the whole event), then I simply “move on” as they say. Any individual performance can’t (and won’t) cause me to despair. I’m coming to think that what’s important is that we are all participating (and coming to grips with the music) not looking to criticise each others’ performances. There’s a certain gratefulness that we take time out of our busy lives to make this music, rather than just listen to it. What I find particularly curious and interesting is that everyone is so caught up in their own part, they don’t necessarily hear if others are faltering – everyone is so intent on making sense of the whole that they don’t necessarily ‘hear’ individuals’ difficulties. Only when the whole thing breaks down as a team effort is their major cause for concern. It’s like an Amish roof-lifting ceremony: we’re all there, we’re all lifting, we’re not so much interested in how much any one person is lifting or not because we’re concentrating solely on the team goal. Ultimately too, I’m simply not turning down opportunities to play anymore, not allowing doubts to creep in to make me nervous or trepidatious. I know the stylistic requirements of the music, I know how to ‘get on’ with others in a musical team effort – that’s plenty enough for me to appear at the starting line.

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