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Welcome to Harmonia . . . I’m Angela Mariani. In October of 1991, I was a grad student, and through a part time job as an announcer at the local public radio station, I was asked if I’d be interested in developing a weekly, hour-long program of early music…and here we are 30 years later! This hour, in celebration of our 30th anniversary, we visit with a few veterans of the early music world, reflecting on how the field has evolved over the years. Stay with us!
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Isaac - Missa Wohlauff gut Gsell von hinnen
Hyperion, 2021 / B08ZV173CS
Tr. 23 Recordare, Jesu Christe (4:45)
We heard the ensemble Cinquecento sing Heinrich Isaac’s motet Recordare, Jesu Christe. Written as a Marian offertory, the piece was altered during the reformation, replacing references to Mary with references to Jesus.
This hour, we’re taking a snapshot of the world of early music in 2021, reflecting on the opportunities we now have to bring the music we are so passionate about to a wider audience than ever before, as well as to expand our repertory, and reinvent live performance and recordings. We’ll look at the wonderful gifts we’ve received from research, experimentation, and curiosity.
To help us do so, we have some special guests, all well known to the early music world, who’ll share their impressions…and some of their favorite recordings as a tribute to Harmonia’s 30th anniversary.
But first, let’s start with a piece chosen because of my great love for medieval music, and for the music of Sequentia, who released this CD the same year that Harmonia was launched. This is Philippe de Vitry’s “Ay amours” from a re-release of Sequentia’s 1991 recording of DeVitry’s motets and songs:
DeVitry: Motets and Songs
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2017 / B014I416EC
Philippe de Vitry
Tr. 8 Ay amours (4:16)
We heard the Ensemble Sequentia’s version of Philippe de Vitry’s “Ay, amours,” from their 1991 recording DeVitry: Motets and Songs. The singer was Barbara Thornton, and the vielle, or medieval fiddle, was played by Patricia Neely.
We talked to Patricia about her experiences over the past 30 years. Diversity was one of the topics that came up in the conversation. In 1991, Patricia, who is African American, was having a challenging time in New York City. Today she feels that attitudes are changing rapidly:
When I came along, there might have been one other person who was of color. I felt that I was completely alone as a professional struggling to figure out why. I was so enthusiastic. Educationally, I had the top professors in early music, and I was still invisible. I'm encouraged by what has happened in the past 15 months because it has opened up the discussion with everyone, it has given me more of a voice too, and more self-esteem to think that everything I thought that I couldn't talk to anyone about or when I did they always said, “Oh no, that couldn't be true.” I was right on, and it makes me feel more appreciated as someone who has been doing this for a long time. I am now validated.
Patricia Ann Neeley, acclaimed player of viola da gamba and vielle, who has performed and recorded everything from medieval music to Baroque opera with a long and illustrious list of ensembles. She is the Managing Director of Abendmusik, New York’s Period Instrument String Ensemble, and the Chair of Early Music America’s Taskforce on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
The topics of culture and diversity also emerged in our conversation with Laury Gutierrez. Laury is from Venezuela, lives in Boston, and directs one ensemble, La Donna Musicale, dedicated to the work of women composers; and another, Rumbarocco, that explores the intersection of early European music with the aural African and Amerindian traditions, then links them with current Latin-American genres. She spoke with us about issues of cultural appropriation:
I just gave a talk about Afro Baroque music and people were asking cultural—I think that people forgot that I am from South America—So this, this is my culture. So, I have all the right to be looking into this.
Sometimes you take a liberty, then you put it on your program notes. Cultural appropriation is an issue, and one has to be careful, and one has to be respectful, but the color of your skin has nothing to do on what you should be playing.
As a musical offering, Laury Gutierrez suggested that we share a piece that combines both of her ensembles in a recording of what began as a song of Hildegard von Bingen, but became infused with the performers’ own musical creation and expression. Here’s “O splendidissima con Bolero Son.”
Latinas in Fusion
Rumbarocco, La Donna Musicale
CD Baby 2020 / B089CZYTQL
Tr. 10 O splendidissima con Bolero Son (7:16)
From the 2020 release Latinas in Fusion, Laury Gutierrez directed the ensembles Rumbarocco and La Donna Musicale in a collaboration based on a piece by Hildegard von Bingen. The title of their creation is “O splendidissima con Bolero Son.”
Another topic of reflection that emerged from our discussions is the immense amount of research into instruments, tuning, and temperament that we’ve seen over the years. Makers have studied, measured, and copied existing instruments; and players have explored different incarnations of their own instruments and different techniques of playing them…Sometimes this resulted a different sound in pitch and temperament, even to well-known repertory.
Not only that, but digitization has made it possible to recreate sounds anew. William Hunt, violone player in many of the UK’s finest period instrument ensembles, tells us about one project that changed his life as a violone player:
The group I've been fortunate to play with for the last 10 years with John Butt and the Dunedin lot. I mean, it's about five years ago now probably, but they started using--instead of the little sort of wooden box continuo organs, which we all have been compelled for a few decades to resort to when you go and play music in a Bach cantatas or a Passion in a concert hall--to do away with that and use a digital sampling of a real big church organ, properly reproduced through some decent speakers and so on. It is just transformational, the way that the organ then becomes the thing around which the orchestra is collected, rather than its puny little thing with no bass notes in the middle of an inflated orchestra. This great big church organ does have particular bits of it, which are particularly well tuned to balancing with a small group. And then there's a lot more when you've got the whole full chorus [sound], including 16-foot pedals, which you never hear on a continuo [box]. So, that's interesting, and I mean it's particularly interesting from my end of things having been playing big violones in order to give the base support that you feel is acoustically necessary in a concert hall. Actually, that's much less the case when you've got a real organ there, and, you know, quite good reason to think that in many cases they didn't have 16 foot strings at all but had something much more incisive and, um, sort of big eight-foot instruments giving a clear baseline rather than this sort of chundering noise in the strings when you've got a real support from the bottom of the organ.
Let’s hear that organ William Hunt’s talking about in a recitative and aria from the second part of JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248.
Christmas Oratorio BWV 248
Dunedin Consort and Singers, John Butt, director
Linn 2016 / B01ITCCIQO
D. 1, Tr. 14 Part II: Recit: Was Gott dem Abraham (:40)
D. 1, Tr. 15 Part II Aria: Frohe Hirten, eilt (3:20)
John Butt lead the Dunedin Consort and Singers on their 2016 recording of JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248.
Research on pitch and temperament also affects vocal performance, even when no instruments are involved. And one of the performers is the acoustical setting itself! Judith Malafronte, singer, voice teacher, and music critic, is blown away by what she has heard lately:
There's a renaissance of Renaissance music. There's a whole lot of Renaissance polyphony that I'm listening to that is so good. Bold and great vocalism, really wonderful stuff. The group I think is called Cinquecento. They’re five guys; they have an ESOC recording that's, -- I loved sonically. It's really beautiful. The tuning and the colors on the vocalism…
Let’s hear Cinquecento sing a motet by Heinrich Isaac. When Lorenzo de Medici died in 1492, Isaac memorialized his patron in several works, including Quis dabit pacem populo timenti. This motet draws on Classical precedent, borrowing lines from Seneca, and supplementing them with additional text that explicitly mentions Lorenzo and the Medici.
Isaac - Missa Wohlauff gut Gsell von hinnen
Hyperion, 2021 / B08ZV173CS
Tr. 24 Quis dabit (5:57)
The ensemble Cinquecento sang Heinrich Isaac’s Quis dabit pacem populo timenti on the 2021 Hyperion recording Isaac: Missa Wohlauff gut Gsell von hinnen.
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[Theme Music Bed: Ensemble Alcatraz, Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 / B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal]
You can hear highlights from recent and archival concert recordings of early music on Harmonia Uncut -- our podcast, curated and hosted by Wendy Gillespie. Listen online at harmonia early music dot org and through iTunes.
You’re listening to Harmonia . . . I’m Angela Mariani.
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:59 Midpoint Break Music Bed: :59 music bed: Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, Dunedin Consort and Singers, John Butt, director, Linn 2016 / B01ITCCIQO, JS Bach: D. 2, Tr. 38 Das alte Jahr (excerpt of 2:06
Welcome back. As we look back over the 30 years that Harmonia has been bringing early music to the airwaves, we, along with some special guests, are reflecting on changes in the field of early music performance.
Alexander Blachly has been directing the vocal ensemble Pomerium for nearly 50 (!) years, and he knows a thing or two about tuning. Although there’ve have always been wonderful singers, he finds singers better prepared these days. Here is part of a conversation with him and viola da gamba player Mary Anne Ballard:
And my most favorite of the Pomerium recordings is the most recent one, the Musical Games of the Renaissance. The ensemble has changed and has advanced. I don't think singing in general has, though. I think there has always been really fantastic singing [in] early music.
[Mary Anne Ballard:]
And so now, singers coming in to try out for Pomerium who already know what you're talking about—Maybe they need a little bit of training, and they can hear it and so forth so.
No, it's really true. I mean, I can remember bringing in singers after—I had really established in my mind how it worked. It took a while to actually formulate it and put some rules down that I could tell to other people how to do it, but I remember in the early years once that had happened we would bring a singer in, and I’d explained what they should do, and they were “Oh yeah, sure, sure,” but they wouldn't do. They would say they got it. They literally didn't believe it and wouldn't do it, and it could take a year and a half because they were so resistant to it—not intellectually, just emotionally. I mean, just in terms of muscle memory and everything, it just seems so wrong to them. And now they come in and they're ready to go. It takes 10 minutes and they're in. It's what happens with musicians all the time. They're listening to recordings they love. They listen to how it works. They imitate it and they can do it after a while, and there's no resistance.
In honor of Harmonia’s 30th anniversary, Alex Blachly suggested we play a love song by Baude Cordier. It’s literally written in the shape of a heart, and it’s called Belle, bonne, sage.
Musical Games of the Renaissance
Pomerium, Alexander Blachly, director
Old Hall 2019
Tr. 4 Belle, bonne, sage (4:47)
Members of Pomerium sang Baude Cordier’s Belle, bonne, sage on the 2019 release Musical Games of the Renaissance, under the direction of Alexander Blachly.
Digitization has affected the early music scene in other ways, as musicians have started to count their acoustical space as one of the performers. Here again is violone player William Hunt, who sees future possibilities here:
There's a very interesting thing that's being pioneered by one of the U.S. universities, trying to create the at the time of John Dunn. Not giving you sermons in the 1620s and 30s and trying to recreate the sort of sounds that you would have heard from outside if you are—it's actually not in St. Paul’s, itself. It's at the preaching place just outside the cathedral, which is where a lot of outdoor sermonizing happened. So you can hear the street noises and you can hear [y’know] the birds and those you might hear some music coming inside—but trying to really sort of create the whole atmosphere of the period, which has to be done digitally, obviously. That's an interesting idea, and I'm not sure how much further that could be taken.
Digital technology definitely has inspired some amazing research and performance. Recently, as ensembles have been forced to explore ways to perform other than in live concerts, digitized performances have started to take on a new look. Alexander Blachly noted that today’s performances can be, you might say, more business casual:
[Garbled]…all the way, no. This fantastic recording technique and a great church—I mean, the great acoustic, but the look of the church was just—they just sort of pushed all the tables off in the corner, and there's stuff stacked up over here and over there. Really different from white tie and tails back in the 60s and 70s.
Not surprisingly, the issue of digitization arises over and over again with relation to performance of early music today, both as a challenge…and as an inspirational gift to performers, probably comparable to—and maybe ultimately even more world-changing than-- the appearance of music printing, around 1500, in regard to its importance in making music available to many more people than ever before.
It certainly has inspired William Hunt’s research, through access to digitalized source materials, which has given him a new understanding of the music and rhetoric:
What changed most for me is, sort of, getting interested in and being able to see original performance material, and first of all, online, and I got fascinated by looking at all the Bach cantata stuff on the Bach website. And then in the last four years, you know, be going into libraries and actually looking at the stuff and getting the buzz from the original material.
I mean, so, you know, [the] last few years when I've been looking at this particular English verse anthem repertory—It's-it's so clear that it's all about text. It's a vehicle for presenting text which was passionately important to people, and it simply isn't to us. We cannot identify with the sort of things which they reacted to, and they heard, in the way that music was presenting the text. We cannot put ourselves in their position. And so, we are looking for things in this sort of music—and the same sort of thing is true in a way of about cantata—and we're looking for things which are purely musical, when we ought to be looking for things which are much more to do with rhetoric. How the text is being presented to you. And that's fascinating. And it does affect the way that we try to perform the stuff when we do it in a live concert. We're tending still to want to emphasize things which are going to work in a concert hall or work in an acoustic [which] have nothing to do with the one in which it would originally have been heard. Or we were making so many allowances to a modern situation in order to get the music to work on our modern terms, which is very, very far away from how it was conceived and intended to work back then. And is there any point in trying to put yourself back in that position? How can one ever hope to do that? If you can't have the audience react to what you're presenting to them in the way that would have been expected by the composer at the time?
To illustrate his point, William very kindly shared a recording of an anthem by Edmund Hooper, who is unknown today but was very highly regarded in his own time. It was written for “King’s Day” (the anniversary of the succession of James I) and could well have been performed at court in a festive setting, accompanied by cornetts and sackbuts.
In Chains of Gold Vol. 2
Magdalena Consort, Fretwork, His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts, Silas Wollston, organ
Signum Classics 2020
Tr. 17 O God of Gods (6:16)
Edmund Hooper’s “Oh God of Gods” was performed by the Magdalena Consort, His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, and Silas Wollston on organ on the 2020 recording In Chains of Gold, Volume 2. Though His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts has existed since 1982 and recorded since 1988, this project is the first they’ve taken on the English anthem repertory.
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Harmonia is a production of WFIU. Support comes from Early Music America: a national organization that advocates and supports the historical performance of music of the past, the community of artists who create it, and the listeners whose lives are enriched by it. On the web at EarlyMusicAmerica-dot-org.
Additional resources come from the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
We welcome your thoughts about any part of this program, or about early music in general. Contact us at harmonia early music dot org. And, you can follow our Facebook page by searching for Harmonia Early Music.
The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Wendy Gillespie.
Special thanks this week to Patricia Ann Neely, Laury Gutierrez, William Hunt, Alexander Blachly, Mary Anne Ballard, and Judith Malafronte.
Our studio engineer is Michael Paskash, and our production team is LuAnn Johnson, Aaron Cain, Wendy Gillespie, and John Bailey. I’m Angela Mariani, inviting you to join us again for the next edition of Harmonia.