Think of the name Mary Springfels and a few words come to mind: musician, teacher, and director. As a veteran of the early music movement, she has been a guiding light for decades in repertoire spanning several centuries. With her appointment as the Newberry Library’s Musician-in-Residence in 1982, and her subsequent founding of The Newberry Consort, she has left an indelible mark as a world-class interpreter of early music, and, in particular, the music of the Middle Ages.
The past year marked a turning point for Mary as she retired from her directorship of the Newberry Consort and decided to pursue other avenues. Mary was in our studios and recollected her early days at the Newberry Library. In the midst of sharing her thoughts, there was one name in particular that came to mind:
“Lawrence ‘Bill’ Towner, who was a visionary, saw the library as a free university for people who didn’t necessarily have degrees but had a lot of intellectual curiosity. He added ‘centers’ to the library, which was basically an eccentric private collection from the 19th Century that he turned into a little college; basically, with a center for Renaissance studies, [and] an endowed chair for the history of the printed book. It had a research and education department that involved adult ED classes of all kinds, and he and a man named Richard Brown became great grant getters, between the NEH grants and grants by private funding organizations. We had an army of scholars at all times. A lot of the important stuff that was done at the library that I was able to benefit from was done by the scholars, and so I would talk to these interesting people, at least one of whom a year had something to do with the history of music and we would look up projects, some of which got performed and some didn’t. So, there was something going on all the time.”
Not long ago, Mary discovered a difference in perspectives between younger and older early musicians. The conclusion was an upbeat one. She summed up the experience:
“A couple of years ago, I was asked to do a ‘state of early music’ key-note address for Early Music America, and I decided to do it based on a bunch of interviews. There was a real disconnect [between the] generations. Older people were saying ‘ain’t what it used to be; world’s comin’ to an end, funding’s running out, it’s goin’ down the tubes.’ Younger people [were] totally upbeat, saying ‘I don’t expect to be a millionaire; I’m going to be doing a whole bunch of things; I’m going to play baroque oboe well enough so I can satisfy my 15th Century habit.’ It was a completely different sense of reality, and I tend to buy what the younger kids are doing.”
Mary shared her thoughts on where the presentation of early music might be headed:
“I think that we can make a living playing very well or singing very well on a much more jazz-like circuit. In other words [a circuit] of clubs, small venues, [and] unusual venues. I think that that’s where things are going to be for a while. I think that there’s tremendous creative energy out there. I think there are a lot of interesting possible collaborations with artists and dancers and people like that that everybody is exploring, but I think that it’s going to be under the radar for a while, but it’s going to be happening, all over. There are some really talented people all over the country; I think New York has lost its edge as a center. It could happen anywhere now because there is no such thing as the middle of nowhere anymore. I see a kind of decentralization of early music along with all kinds of other music.”
Arthur Haas is the harpsichord soloist in our new release of the week with a recording of music by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and François Couperin. The recording is the second volume in the Plectra label series Le Clavecin Français.