EASTERN EARLY MUSIC FORUM
Epiphany Party 2008
Music by Heironymus Praetorius
Saturday 5th January
The Friends’ Meeting House, Beccles
Tutored by Philip Thorby
experience a sense of incongruity driving into Beccles just after Christmas and
seeing the sign for ‘Beccles Heliport’, surprised that this small and rather
THE two main works were by Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629), who was not related to his namesake and contemporary, Michael, although the two men apparently knew each other.
THE first piece tackled was his Te Deum: Herr Gott dich loben, performed in
WE were arranged in 4 groups: recorders, cornetts, string and organ, with the first three of these having a choir. ‘Vertiginous sopranos’ were invited to join choir II, and Clifford was there to play the organ. Fortunately we were not arranged on the ‘special platforms’ as described in the history, which were made up of trestles put on top of chairs and upon which the musicians then sat. (I know that sort of trestle, having fallen off the back of one in
PHILIP is currently exploring some of the performing information given by the other Praetorius, including rubato, without which a performance would be ‘dull’. This included massive ritardandos at ends of sections and often sustaining the penultimate beat for from 4 to 7 beats, with a crashing esclamazione into the final chord, and there were often beats within beats. Putting this into practice required careful watching, and choir tempi often differed from those of our conductor, who hinted gently ‘Bar 22 may arrive a little late this year and there’s only one way to find out!’ Other perceptive comments made by Philip included ‘My intense professional training tells me that there were things not quite right’ and ‘Where did that beat come from and more pertinently, where did it go to’ and ‘I’ve heard a lot of music but rarely anything like that’.
A second theme emerged which was the case to be made from historical evidence for justification for having a conductor (if indeed such justification is at all needed!) Some composers employed a mixture of madrigal and motet styles within a piece, one of these being Hieronymus. A musician who worked closely with Monteverdi noted that the maestro instructed him to stop conducting in the middle of a madrigal section in one of his own pieces containing such a mixture. Ergo the conductor was beating during the first part of the madrigal section. The same commentator wrote that the music should both ‘rush’ and then ‘stop’. Philip quoted Carl Ruggles: ‘Poetry in translation is like a boiled strawberry’ to illustrate the danger of too literal a reading of scores of this time by modern performers, resulting in an unexciting performance.
THE second piece by Praetorius was his 8-part Cantate Domino, also used in the Dedication service, and very rewarding. We performed it with a low choir (sackbuts, lower strings, with low altos, tenors and basses) and a high choir of the rest. A regal, an instrument of ‘simple gravity’, was apparently used in the original performance – a pity Philip left his at home! He experimented with different combinations of voices and instruments for different sections of the piece, employing the convention of the lower voices of the high choir singing and the high voices of the low choir playing. At the same time he commented on the changing practice in Early Music. At the start of the modern revival it was ‘anything goes’, usually with a sopranino recorder on the top! Then the practice became very discreet, with fewer instruments and no recorders (which can dramatically alter the whole sound of a piece), whereas now, following Praetorius, Philip took an experimental and pragmatic approach to ring the changes with the forces available. For example cornetti were paired with tenors, and strings with altos, to get the best blend on the day.
THE idea of the past not always being what we expect (in our linear way of thinking of history) is highlighted by the use of vibrato. Alessandro Striggio, librettist of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and son of the composer of one well-known and another lesser-known 40-part pieces, described the most beautiful sound as that of a recorder playing a ¼ tone vibrato with the tongue, or else the fingers, or else the breath, in that order, or else the sound of the lirone, these being most like the sound of the human voice. Yet it is goes against the accepted and erroneous view that vibrato was a later development. Marain Mersenne wrote in 1636 that lute players should give up vibrato, as it was being used interminably by the old masters.
THE final piece for the day was a light Cantate Domino by Jacob Handl (another piece of whose was used in the 1607 service). Also for two choirs, it had a very simple chordal structure, with a lot going on within the parts, and we worked through it in short time to finish the meeting.
ALL in all a very good day of music making. I did miss the Apple Snow at lunch time, though.
Extracted from EEMF Newsletter 67, February 2008