Voices & Vyalls – first Spring rehearsal

August 13, 2011

Spring has returned, with temperatures during the day edging up to around 20 degrees. This also means sufficient light on Saturday afternoons in the church for the Voices & Vyalls group to meet, since the afternoon light in Winter closes in too early to provide much playing beyond a 3.30pm teabreak.

A blissful four hours of five-part music, with two sopranos and several male voices (alternating with their instruments), supported by two treble viols, two tenor viols and a bass viol and lute, and a violinist, we sightread the following:

Angelus autem, for five voices by Alonso de Tejeda (c1556-1628). A straight-forward warm-up piece from a continental Spaniard, given we’ve been in the habit of running through the music of New World Spanish composers. Very nice 50 bars with a lovely drawn out five-bar resolution at the end.

O Death, rock me asleep. An anonymous viol consort song. One of our editors lay the words under each of the parts, as per extant part books despite printed editions usually having the words under only the top part, i.e. the “main singing part” which clearly doesn’t rule out other singing parts. Gorgeous descending phrases throughout.

Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg, by North German composer, Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674). This specifies (bass) viola da gamba and worked well with the baroque violinist on hand to keep the playing short and ‘edgy’. There is a certain amount of trickiness involved in the changing tactus, but it was an excellent contrast to the English and Spanish pieces. On treble viol, there was still some way to go in terms of polish, especially with matching the top violin part, but you could feel the beginnings of the German Baroque swirling around in this music.

This was concentrated enough of  a dose to be followed by a tea break. 

My choice for voice and lute by Pilkington. The tendency was to let this drag, though it’s definitely a Sarabande in form. With such large forces to hand, its essential chamber quality got a little swamped, but it was so delightful everyone had to participate. We did this a couple of times, including sitting around a facsimile of the music in original ‘table format. The close physical proximity required to read the music helped re-create the feeling of the original. Apparently there was a standard requirement of 20 pieces in the printed editions; this contained an extra piece for lute and bass viol.

The silver swan, by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). We do this standard from time to time and it seems to get better with every playing. Again it can’t drag too much. For me, Gibbons never put a foot wrong!

O, that the learned poets of this time by Orland Gibbons. This will have been a commentary on poets of the time, including John Donne. It was a truly delightful piece. Gibbons always manages to produce sequences of notes which fit so naturally under the bowhand. Lovely wordplay in the final phrase “How would it sound if strung with heavenly strings?”

Dum transisset Sabbatum by Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585). I go along to these Voices & Vyalls sessions not only because the music is simple and relatively straight-forward (I almost never have to run through the music beforehand though of course I ought) but because it invariably includes pieces by my all-time favourites: Byrd, Gibbons and Tallis. Any hardship involves melts away when these come up on the music stand. On this occasion, we worked from two different editions, complete with plainchant opening, but true to form, this piece of Tallis’ was marvellous and a great finish to a great afternoon.


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