February 5, 2010
We know Simon Ives as a minor English composer of the seventeenth century, born 1600 and died 1662, which puts him smack in the middle of the Jacobean and Caroline periods. His music was perpetuated in the music collection of Playford, for example, and we know he composed vocal and instrumental music. His Ayres for two bass viols (British Library Add MS 31424) are important for those of us interested in bass viol music, and especially music for two unaccompanied bass viols. I’ve previously referred to the likes of Michael East and John Ward in this regard, with links to similar duets accompanied by organ, as in the case of Coperario.
So what are the characteristics of this music that appeal to viol players? Viol players like eighth-note runs of short motive imitation, moments contrasting with chordal passages, with passages in thirds to jolly things along. Ives works to this pattern, commencing his ayres with fluid melodies broken up into very short imitative passages and contrasting them with a second repeated section (the structure being most often AABB) with strident chords. As with John Ward, Ives “splits” the melody and bass lines, so players swap them between themselves every few bars. From an aural perspective, it sounds (or is supposed to sound) like a vocal-like, lute song. In practical terms of course, the players are in fact darting from melodic fragment to supporting bass line: hence the challenge or ‘conceit’ of playing these duets. To add to the fun, and we’re talking here about music-making as primarily social, players would swap parts at every repeat. Players and composers alike obviously took pleasure in ‘working at’ their music; there is no room for complacency or predictability. The pieces are incredibly short as a consequence, few longer than 20 measures, so it is all about short sprints to a finish line rather than considered, drawn-out ‘conversation’ between many voices as in viol consorts. Obviously players will have paid very close attention to their quaver run passage and ‘eased up’ at the chords and double-stops, a sort of psychological stop-start pressure-on pressure-off effect.
We know Ives wrote tablature music, so it’s not surprising that these duets feature chords and double-stops. Unlike tab though, these duets feature no ornaments. The transferability of ornamentation from tablature lyra-viol music to these duets and consort music in general is of course the subject of conjecture. Is Ives after the suavite of melodic line (short as they are in this case) over complex ornamentation? Certainly on the face of it, there can be little difference – and here I’m thinking about intended audiencces and performances – between playing duets as lyra-viols and playing these duets (aside of course from the fact that tab and lyra-viol are associated with alternate tunings).
I’ve “flattened out” number 9 from the set, so that the melody line appears in one stave and the bass in the other. Basically the A Section of Ayre No.9 is in a simple 8 bars, while the B Section pushes the imitation a bit more and runs out to thirteen bars or so. Both sections start with a crochet upbeat, as is the case with Ayre no.8. Ayre No.8 looks almost identical, but in that one he has included three and five-note chords, not used at all in no.9. If you’re wondering, Ayre no.7 is something straight out of the helter-skelter ‘running’ style of Michael East and No.3 is an extended piece closer to the style of a consort fantasy, with lots of imitation (including scale passages in dotted notes) to measure 50, with a tirumphalist ‘slow’ finale section of white-note chords for a further ten bars.
January 26, 2010
Martha Bishop, Weeping Viols. June 2006, for three viols: T/B, T/B and B. Available on the Pacific NorthWest Viols website.
Unlikely to ever either hear this live or play it, I copied it out in NoteWorthy Composer today to hear out it would sound and to get a firmer understanding of the compositional structure.
It’s a relatively short lyric for three low viols. It resembles a traditional English viol fantasy, with its strong cadence and fermata over the rest in bar 23 marking off a first section ending in complex counterpoint, and a strong finale from bar 38 to the end, worked over a descending chromatic scale over two octaves, starting in bar 35.
The first section establishes a strong sense of the key of Gminor with a duet in the two lower viols. The third viol has a rest for four bars. This structure is similar to that opening the second section, the four bars from bar 24, except there the ‘duet’ is in the two two viols. The three viols enter in a 5/4 time signature passage in bar 5 and this time signature features again in bars 28-30.
There is a strong melody line from bar 9 in the top viol which becomes chromatic from bar14. The writing becomes more complex from a 5/4 section starting 14 with a long descending chromatic scale passage ending in bar17 for the middle part. This strong chromatic descent is very similar to that of the lowest viol from bar 35 to the end also.
There is a lot of melodic invention amid the harmonic complexity; I noticed only one melodic fragment repeated – middle part, bar 4 and again top part bar. 27. There is some rhythmic play with triplets in bars 17-22 and triplets are echoed though more briefly later in bar 37.
There is something dark and inexorable about the descending chromatic passages throughout, magnified by the Largo tempo indication, all amplifying the Weeping Viols of the title.
December 26, 2009
I’m as crazy about French consort music as anything composed by the Brits. I know that’s a sacrilgeous, blasphemous thing to say.
Along with Moulinie, Geoffroy and LeJeune is Henry Dumont. For me, LeJeune represents the first half of the century and DuMont the middle. Solo gamba music is a thing of its own making, with Maugars, Hotman, DuBuisson in the lead up to Louis Couperin and Marin Marais. Basically, DuMont moved into Paris from Flanders in 1640 adn stayed till his death in 1684. Somewhat unusually his music was printed in the middle of his life, not at the end. I can’t think of too many other French composers who managed this, the idea being that you relied on circulation of manuscript copies during most of their life.
I can’t pick up major stylistic differences between the different published collections, though to be honest not much time had passed between the Cantica Sacra of 1652 and the Motets of 1668. I’d like to point to the fact that the later ones feature reduced scores as written-out continuo parts (i.e. they operate as stand-alone keyboard dances), but they range across all three collections. Obviously as a life-long churchman (St Paul’s in Paris), the organ works well with them; for the salon, the harpsichord or lute works equally well. He seems to have liked to add a tenor viol (as well as getting the bass to tune the bottom string to C instead of D) for the ‘serious’ Allemandes, where Allemanda gravis is differentiated from a less heavy Allemanda (never Allemandes). He’s big on two trebles with bass, a subtle shift away from the treble-tenor-bass instruments used in earlier consort music without continuo.
Dove House Editions Canada have published ten of the dance movements: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668. I’ve long been very attached to a particular recording of Henri DuMont’s viol music by Arianne Maurette’s group, where they are interspersed with other viol music, but am paying attention to another by Les Talens Lyriques under Christopher Rousset, Henri Dumont: Motets en dialogue. Here the focus is on vocals and organ, with viol music as a respite. You feel as if you’re sitting through an extended church service in a dark, candle-lit Parisian church on a rainy Sunday.
The sound focuses on a strong contrast between the slow and the haunting with the fast and gayement. The contrasts exist in individual sections of the dances, so while they’re nominally Allemandes and Pavanes, they take on a much more Italian fast-slow-fast character, something also exploited in Henry Purcell’s consorts of the same period where he adds tempi markings such as Drag. So the dances can start at a surprisingly slow pace until you startled by a fast section. Playing standard English pavans, with one reasonably stepping-out tempo throughout, is therefore at odds with the brooding, haunting starts of DuMont’s. There is nothing brashly violinistic in the playing – this is French music and not Italian, after all.
Track 3, Symphonia a trois is No.2 in Coeyman (1652; trtrB), the first 20 bars (repeated) are played very slowly and tentatively. The 2nd section (no tempo markings) is fast and frothy and Italian, with a return to the Slow in the last six bars.
Track 7, Pavan a 3 (1657; trtrB) is taken a tad faster than the Symphonia, a lot slower than we would play an English fantasy or an English pavan. Unlike the English Pavan with its three sections of increasing complexity musically (so you end up feeling exhausted by the end of the repeat of the third section), the second and third movements here feature contrasts between Lentement and Gayement phrases (tempo marks being specified). The whole thing ends up taking Rousset some 6mins 35secs.
Track 8, Sarabande a3 (1657; trtrB) is not in the Coeymans collection.
Henry Dumont (1660-1684). Motets en dialogues. Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset dir. CD. FNAC Music, 1992. WM 334 5920988. Florence Malgloire and Alain Petits play treble viols and Kaori Uemura plays bass.
Henry DuMont: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols (other strings, recorders, winds) and Bass Continuo from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668. Edited by Barbara Coeyman. Dove House Editions, Canada, Viola da gamba series no.39. 1990.
December 25, 2009
The Manchester Gamba Book, with an introduction by Paul Furness. Scout Bottom Farm, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: Peacock Press, 2003. Reproduced from the manuscript in the Henry Watson Music Library (BRm 832 Vu 51) by kind permission of the Director of the Manchester Public Libraries.
Inspired by the prospect of music for two lyra viols by Wm Cranford sometime, I’ve put this music on the stand. This is a facsimile of the manuscript printed on yellow paper. It’s one of the largest collections of lyra viol music around, so Martha Bishop and others have included it in their anthologies of tablature.
Sherlie and Ives are in this collection, along with Coleman, Young, Lawes and Jenkins, which puts it smack in the period 1640-1660 I guess. Last time I tried to unravel the tunings, I came unstuck. The first twelve pieces are in staff notation. The first piece sounds like a Ballet from the suites of Hotman.The pedagogic value of this “A Schoole grounde” is demonstrated in the very similar No.5 “A fancie“. Nice to get my fingers around No.4 Wooddicocke, so to speak, with all the Englishness of “Greensleeves“. The untitled No.2 and 3 by Hugh Facie make a lot less sense and I’ll leave the 16th note runs in the Richarde Sumarte bastarda-like pieces for another day, though no.11 recalls Lachrymae.
A “way into” the 27 pieces with standard tuning (Violl Waye) might be the well-known tune of No.6 Daphne and then perhaps No.9 Lachrymae.
Other diversions –
* a seven-string 70cm bass (after Bertrand) on eBay for $AU4000.
* lush viola solo (would sound great on gamba) in a piece called Celtic Dance, as recorded and distributed by the Palm Strings Quartet, A Festive Christmas. See www.blogcatalog.com/blog/e-sarasota-violists-escapades.
* And Johnny Depp in “The Libertine“. Astonishingly good writing in this film, notwithstanding the unusually blunt bawdy language. Concerning the Earl of Rochester and Elizabeth Barry (with references to Wren, the Great Fire and plague), it follows on very naturally after another film, also made in 2004, set in the Restoration, Stage Beauty. In SB, Rupert Everett plays Charles II; in Libertine, he is played by John Malkovich. Stage Beauty is a rivetting drama about the first women to take the stage in Restoration England, replacing men actors playing women; Libertine is set but a few years later. No viols in either, but Stage Beauty has a scene of instrumentalists in a public house which bears striking resemblance to a description by Roger North at the time about violin solos in such venues as organised by Banister. Neither is your standard bonnet drama by any means, with Stage Beauty being largely and strongly feminist and Libertine seriously exploring wine, women and theatre (that is to say, addiction, sexuality, gender relations and the life/artifice divide). Both deal with important social issues (sexuality, gender relations and personal freedom in the main, and the English love of the theatre) set against the upheaval of Charlie’s Restoration England. It’s certainly not hard to imagine Purcell and his predecessors of Charles I’s time in both films. Stage Beauty, set somewhat earlier points up the frippery somewhat more; Libertine shows Charles II in more desperate times and in more straightened times politically, without Nell being portrayed at all. Both show everyone literally mired down in the filthy muddy streets of England; Libertine has more of the heavy fog about it. Both form a nice foil to how things were in France at the time, as portrayed in Tous les matins du monde.