Reading a slightly defensive article by Andras Schiff in the ‘Guardian’, explaining why he’s performing Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ on a grand piano at the Albert Hall as part of this year’s Proms, set me reflecting on the whole subject of ‘authenticity’ in performance - a subject against which greater minds than mine have been banging their heads for years.
A lot of what we in the EMFs do could not be considered in any way ‘authentic’ performance practice. We frequently have workshops where instruments - sometimes anachronistic instruments - double vocal lines in sacred music where this would certainly not have been the composer’s intention. We have women singing in works that were intended only for men and boys (just as well, otherwise our workshops would be rather thinly attended!). And don’t even start me on the question of pitch ...
Does it matter? My own fence-sitting view is that there is room both for performances which get as close as possible to the way the music was originally conceived, and for those which, while respecting the general period and style of the music, allow as many people as possible to participate and enjoy wonderful repertoire, as long as we recognise what we are doing. If we are open-minded about this, there can be a fruitful interchange between the two approaches, with each able to learn from the other. So, for example, knowing that the instruments for which a piece was intended had a very small dynamic range will suggest that huge crescendos and diminuendos are not appropriate, regardless of the instruments we’re using. And the scholars who research and edit the music benefit from having an enthusiastic and informed audience keen to purchase and perform the results of their work. Of course, the very phrase ‘early music’ is no longer in favour; ‘pre-classical’ is the current usage. But as the acronym for South West Pre-classical Music Forum is not as euphonious as SWEMF, I won’t be proposing changing our name any time soon!
I hope you have all been enjoying a good summer of playing and singing. Certainly there is plenty happening in the world of early music, and I look forward to further reports of summer schools and workshops coming in, in addition to the enthusiastic write-ups of Renaissance dance, the West Bay August workshop, and the exciting plans for the autumn and early winter that we have featured this quarter. There is a baroque playing day in Cheddar in September, with Dick Little and Sylvia Davies, a workshop for voices and instruments in October on Byrd and Josquin in Thorverton, with Robert Harre-Jones, and an exciting November workshop on Hieronymus Praetorius (booking forms enclosed) at Gloucester Cathedral, with Patrick Allies.
A première recording of the Berlin Gamba Book has recently been released, played by Dietmar Berger. Only the initials of the arranger are known, J.R.. The leatherbound manuscript has been in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris since the late 19th century and also contains pieces by Du Buisson, Verdufen and Hotman. The recording focuses on the chorale settings; secular songs are interspersed in the manuscript among hymns from Catholic and Lutheran sources. These have been sensitively adapted for the viola da gamba, an unusual endeavour, though similar adaptations were made by August Kühnel (1640s-1700) for basso continuo or viola da gamba, and Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657) for the recorder or transverse flute. These were more embellished adaptations, according to Dietmar Berger, whereas the Berlin book retains a meditative quality appropriate to the sacred origins of the collected pieces. The recording promises to be of considerable specialist interest
Your editor has also been enjoying some excellent viol music over the summer. While on holiday in Dartmouth I was lucky to coincide with the Dartington International Summer School, including an excellent recital by David Hatcher and Richard Tunnicliffe of duos for bass viol. They played music by Jean de Ste Colombe (1640-1700), Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-87), Johann Schenk (1660-1716) and Christoph Schaffrath (1709-63), marvellously varied within that confined range, from the delicate and melodic to the troubled and divergent, where the two instruments almost seemed to part company within the piece. It was a highlight of our holiday.
The South West Early Music Forum (SWEMF) is a charitable organisation promoting all aspects of early music in the South West of England. Its constitution can be found here. It is one of ten regional Fora, which cover most areas of the UK, and are affiliated to the National Early Music Association, NEMA, who have recently produced a report on the future of Early Music in Britain.
The South West Early Music Forum region includes Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire and brings together amateur and professional musicians, musicologists, teachers and pupils, instrument makers, and early music enthusiasts.
Throughout the year a series of workshops and playing and singing days are organised within the region where members have the opportunity to study works under the guidance of early music specialist tutors. These activities include Baroque Chamber Music Playing Days, Singing Days focusing on particular composers or periods, and Workshops preparing larger scale works for both voices and instruments etc.
SWEMF also organises a number of social events including the Annual General Meeting in May which is sometimes combined with a residential weekend providing ample opportunity for music making and the opportunity for members to voice their views and suggestions on the future operations of the Forum
Members receive a quarterly Diary of Events announcing future activities of SWEMF, and other EM Fora, and also concerts and other events both within the region and elsewhere. Application forms for forthcoming SWEMF events are included in the Diary of Events mailing and are also available on the website.
Membership forms can be printed from the website. The next subscriptions are due on 1st April 2015 for for 2015/2016. For details click here.
A Membership List (last issued with the March 2012 Diary) gives information concerning members' particular interests, instruments played, voices sung etc. so that they may arrange joint activities outside those organised directly by SWEMF.
This site is maintained and Dick Little. Please send any comments or suggestions for improvements to email@example.com. Suggestions for additional links are particularly welcome.
Last modified: 4 November 2015