|23rd March 2013 5pm|
Glebe Music Festival
In conjunction with The Glebe Society Inc
O, Care, thou wilt dispatch me,
Hence, Care! Thou art too cruel,
Traveling to the Question,
O Vis Eternitatis (Hildegard)
And I see you
If there is a great wind
And I see you
And I see
Now I also smell
And I see
Belinda Montgomery, soprano
Josie Ryan, soprano
Brooke Green, treble viol, tenor viol, vielle, director
Fiona Ziegler, tenor viol
Laura Moore, treble and bass viol
Margo Adelson, bass viol
I am delighted to be able to arrange this concert to coincide with Mary Springfel’s visit to Australia. In 2008, during the second semester of my study at Bloomington, Indiana, Mary gave me quite demanding lessons in viol and vielle. I’m still trying to absorb those lessons! In this programme we celebrate the season, with music for Lent, Palm Sunday and Easter. We also aim to tease your brain with some witty madrigals and Renaissance instrumental works. On the contemporary side, Albanese is a protest song and the other works – well, they’re hard to categorise. Suffice to say, spirits of the past loom large but hopefully only haunt in the gentlest of ways.
We begin with music for Palm Sunday: Thomas Weelkes’ Hosanna to the Son of David: a popular work in church choral circles, particularly admired for the way it builds up to a resplendent conclusion. This work survives in four secular manuscripts and there are some indications that Weelkes’ may have intended this for a grand courtly occasion. One clue can be found in his text setting. Rather than directly quoting from biblical texts, he avoids biblical acclamations referring to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, simply selecting three verses on the subject and adding a Latin peroration.
Weelke’s innovative side can be also heard in the extreme chromaticism and abundant word painting of his madrigals O Care, Thou Wilt dispatch Me and Hence, Care Thou Art Too Cruel. The Italian madrigal had been recently introduced to England and he was among a small group of composers who began to adopt Italian techniques such as adding chromaticism to falling intervals to heighten the already popular obsession with melancholy. Even his Fa la las are darkly subdued, unlike contemporary more cheerful settings.
John Jenkins’ genial personality has often been remarked upon and this is evident in the sunny opening of the Pavan we are playing today. But one should never take him for granted: in the third strophe of this Pavan, there are surprising harmonic twists. In his Fantasies such as the one we are playing, he seems to delight in creating a turbulent world where nothing can be taken for granted. Seemingly straightforward themes can be varied by one note or one beat, rhythmic displacements abound, points of imitation are never quite where one expects and so the player always has to be alert but seemingly not alarmed!
The French 17th century composer Bouzignac typically composed motets in a retrogressive 16th century style. But he was innovative with his creation of dramatic scenes such Ecce homo. In this passion motet, compiled from the four Gospels, Pontius Pilate asks the crowd what he should do with Jesus. Originally for voices, here the part of Pilate is sung by Josie while the viols, led by Belinda represent the crowd’s response.
Hundreds of In Nomines can be found in English 17th-century manuscripts, reflecting a particularly English fascination with the genre. The In Nomine is a polyphonic (many-voiced) setting of the chant derived from the Gloria tibi Trinitas in a mass by John Taverner. Picforth’s In Nomine is one of the most radical rhythmic experiments of his time: each part is given just one time value which only aligns with the other parts over large stretches of time. The harmonic effect is mesmerizing and hypnotic: something that Steve Reich and other minimalist composers would surely envy…
The dissonant cross relations or chromatic clashes in Robert Parsons In Nomine suggest he had something to complain about. Perhaps there was the strain of being a secret Catholic in Protestant England? Or perhaps he truly was a Renaissance ‘choleric’ personality, quick to anger, producing too much yellow bile. The piece begins with a sense of reasonable argument, with the treble viol pitted against the lower three parts. The momentum grows until moderation gives way to furiousness with the lower voices often breaking ranks and appearing to henpeck each other. For this performance, we have restored the original text to the In Nomine line in order for it to be sung and perhaps Josie is our impartial judge finally bringing these disputes to a sense of order.
Captain Tobias Hume was a Scottish composer and viol player. Much of his life remains unknown but since he was never accepted into court circles as a musician or didn’t seek to do so it seems that he was forced to work as a mercenary (professional soldier). He published two major collections of mostly solo viol works, trying to raise the profile of the viol to an equivalent or perhaps even superior status of the lute.
Christopher Tye left twenty-one settings of the In Nomine, which are distinctive for their clear shape and structure, along with a range of styles and textures. Christus resurgens can be found in one of the same sources as his In Nomines but this work is based on the plainsong melody from the Sarum liturgy for Easter Day. (played by Laura on tenor viol)
In William Byrd’s Fantasia:Two parts in one in the 4th above the two treble parts play in canon (imitation) throughout. It appears to be a stoically academic work until we reach the mid point where each of the treble viol parts is set to what was known as The ‘Sick tune.’ This derives from a ballad called Captain Car recounting a bad night at sea:
Sick, sick and very sick,
Originally for voice, trumpet and bass viol, Albanese appears on the CD Travel Notes featuring the brothers Andrea and Paolo Pandolfo. It was composed and semi-improvised by the group, in response to the desperate conditions suffered by Albanian refugees attempting to make the sea voyage to Italy. I transcribed Albanese from the CD and made this arrangement for Josie and the Emeralds as a protest against the harsh policies of the Australian government and the Coalition Party towards refugees. When I wrote to Andrea Pandolfo, seeking performance permission for this arrangement (which he kindly granted,) he asked that we dedicate the song “to boatpeople everywhere.” We have since had a few more emails about what he refers to as the “world wide boat people tragedy.” I asked if he would write a few words about the song and he replied: “When I wrote Albanese I was that mother with her little daughter in her arms.”
Shades of Presence Past is an evolving work with ghostly themes. There is also a notion that we in the 21st century can only hope to evoke fragments of the past and these musical motifs will inevitably be transformed by our own dreams. Spirits and Dreams begins with a few renaissance spirits lurking about and these become overlaid with haughty baroque ones. Finally, they all just disappear in a puff of smoke, as spirits do. Graceful Ghost pays homage to William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag and while it bears no musical connection, I hope it recreates something of that haunting spirit. Spirits and Dreams and Graceful Ghost were premiered in our recent concert at the Glebe Music Festival 2012 and today we are premiering the third but not necessarily the last movement: L’esprit rigole. I have subtitled it The Ghost of Inspector Gadget because Fiona says it reminds her of the theme music to the Inspector Gadget TV show!
Traveling to the Question is an anonymous commission that after some discussion was reduced to an eclectic brief. Could I write something that would include chant, Nick Cave’s Carny Song and this quote from Science and Reflection by the philosopher Martin Heidegger? “Traveling in the direction that is a way toward that which is worthy of questioning is not adventure but homecoming.”
Thinking about how to set this very dense text brought up various questions: Could it be half sung, half chanted? If set to chant, what type of chant would suit? Did the text need to be quoted in full? This problem circled around me for quite a while until finally I realised that it was possible to set a lyric version to the melody of The Carny Song:
The Carny Song paints a bleak environment of a down and out travelling carnival troupe. The Carny (Carnival Man) is a mysterious figure, who suddenly disappears one day, leaving behind his old skin-and-bone nag, Sorrow. When Sorrow dies, the boss, Bellini decides they can’t afford to carry ‘dead weight’ and orders the dwarves to dig a shallow grave. But the body of Sorrow soon floats to the marshy surface, making the dwarves regret they had not done a better job. They are surprised the Carny has not reappeared: one senses he might have magical powers. Somehow his revered but uncertain status reminded me of Colm Toibin’s novel Testament of Mary where Jesus is seen by his mother as moving between rationality and irrationality.
Hildegard also a questioner, and suffered for her religious convictions and unconventional interpretation of biblical texts. In her chant O Vis Eternitatis she celebrates the Incarnation itself, not Christ’s death, as the central liberating moment in history; and she sees the fallen world freed not so much from sin as from suffering.
In Traveling to the Question I have tried to combine these two visions, whereby the transformative one of Hildegard wins out, mostly!