“…What we call historical performance is the sound of now, not then. It derives its authenticity not from its historical verisimilitude, but from its being for better or worse a true mirror of late-20th-century taste…So forget history. What Early Music has been doing is busily remaking the music of the past in the image of the present (necessary because we unfortunately have so little use for the actual music of the present), only calling the present by some other name.”
- Richard Taruskin,“The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” New York Times, July 29, 1990.
Provocative words that we have referenced before, but timely. Today, themes of the present are rather maniacally focused on things electronic and therefore insubstantial, and we collectively cling to the remembrance of a past when art was representational and human interaction was real. But is our vision of the past blurred? Do we rewrite history for our own ends?
Today, we are overburdened with so much information coming from so many sources that it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. It is a Herculean task to discern the useful detail from the annoying verbiage, the helpful facts from the deliberately abstruse and misleading, and the heartfelt and sincere from the humorous and ironic. By extension, there is so much clutter and randomness of detail that the time-honored uphill journey of absorbing information, trying and tempering that knowledge through experience, and finally converting it to wisdom, has truly become a Sisyphean exercise.
Eric Arthur Blair (1903 – 1950), better known as George Orwell, wrote in his prophetic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), that “who controls the present controls the past.” In the US, we have seen some fairly deliberate examples of also defining the shape of the future by rewriting the past, particularly through politically-motivated infiltration of school boards and rewriting history by those who may be called the more theologically-certain. But Orwell also wrote, in the introduction to his novel, Animal Farm (1945):
“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals”.
Leaping from the generic dystopian view of Orwell to a lofty topic specific to interpretation of early music, we observe Taruskin’s remarks above that history is frequently adapted and rewritten to serve the sensibilities of our modern minds. And also to keep the closets of certain academics well-stocked with their favorite tweeds.
As a musician steeped in the improvisatory elements of a broad variety of music, and one with far too many years of practical seat-of-the-pants experience in harmonizing melodies—simple or more complex—on the fly, I (RA) am always amused by conversations in print on the technical aspects of playing continuo in historical music from the late 16th century onwards. We have some very skilled specialists teaching others how to realize historical continuo playing from figured or unfigured basslines, but invariably drawing upon a vast storehouse of anachronistic theoretical constraints that simply were not considered by the musicians who played the music originally. Keyboard players were obviously held to a higher standard in later 18th-century music, as evidenced by surviving treatises and anecdotal evidence. But in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, plucked-string players used the resources of their instruments to serve the music with less concern about what we might think of their choices today.
Evidence? In his preface to Euridice (1600), Giulio Caccini (1551 – 1618) wrote, “I have not avoided the succession of two octaves or two 5ths.” Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1525 – 1591) wrote (c. 1590), “The law of modern contrapuntists that prohibits the use of two octaves or two 5ths is a law truly contrary to every natural law of singing.” Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (c. 1560 – 1627) in his important collection Centi concerti ecclesiastici (1602), wrote “The organ part is never under any obligation to avoid two 5ths or two octaves.” Agostino Agazzari (1578 – 1640), in his Del Sonare sopra’l basso con tutti li stromenti e dell’ uso loro nel Conserto (1607), wrote that foundation instruments, which includes a variety of plucked strings, “must maintain a solid, sonorous, sustained harmony…consonances and the harmony as a whole are subject and subordinate to the words, not vice versa.” Agazzari wrote in great detail about the practice of improvising and ornamenting continuo and the finer points of his treatise are outlined so well by Andrew Lawrence King that it is pointless to summarize further here.
The point is that, particularly when improvising a continuo on plucked strings, the rules of good counterpoint always took a back seat to taste and the spirit of the moment. If we study to death the best possible way to thwart the natural resources of a plucked string instrument in a quest to improve upon historical practice, we are missing the point. Sure, it is a good idea to apply one’s learning and eliminate sounds we all agree are not in the interest of music, even if we are applying anachronistic standards.
But folks, get over yourselves. It’s a well known fact that just about any lounge guitarist improvising from a fake book, or just about any guitar player in Nashville will play rings around your perfect voice-leading. If you are paying undue attention to scrubbing away any stray parallel fifths and octaves, you are probably not investing enough emotional energy in listening and performing with the necessary sprezzatura. Rewriting history by applying Bach’s compositional standards to music of Caccini turns the music into something it was never intended to be.
In this case, Taruskin’s remarks hit home, and the spirit of old music is ground into submission under the heel of our 21st century hi-tech running shoe—a practice that smells just like the odor of defeat.
Now celebrating our tenth year as a duo specializing in music for voice and lute, we reflect on how Mignarda is unique in many ways. The aesthetic of gentle, quiet domestic music of the 16th century is highly incompatible with the 21st century and the technology-driven preoccupation with flash, volume and speed. We think of our music as a necessary antidote to the pace of modern life – and it seems that many others agree.
Mignarda’s presence is based entirely on our own hard work. We have never paid for a recording review and we have never used search engine optimization services. Unlike performers and recording artists who place fund-raising well before musical matters, we have carried out our work without the support of state, academic or institutional grants. Mignarda does not benefit from organizational connections, recording contracts, or artist representation. We carry out all aspects of the production, from research to recording and design of our CDs, to typesetting, photography and design of our music publications and promotional materials.
Our readers know Donna Stewart as the voice of Mignarda and contributor to this blog. But she is also an artist whose creative work is informed by a multiplicity of interests and skills. Some of her work can be seen on her website Eglantyne Design
Or you might just notice the changes to Unquiet Thoughts and visit the Mignarda website to see the results of her work. Finding the language of self-promotion a bit gauche, the following quotes are more or less in her words.
So what’s changed?
Regular blog readers will notice a small change in the appearance of Unquiet Thoughts. First, there are no longer adverts on our blog. This has been bothering us from the outset, since previously we didn’t see the ads placed on or near our blog posts, we had no control over the content of the ads, and we received no financial benefit from the ads.
The menu bar above our blog posts now displays links to our new website, seamlessly integrating the blog with Mignarda’s other on-line offerings.
Did you just mention our new website?
Yes. We now have a completely updated website that is optimized for display on the mobile devices that so many people use today. The design is “responsive” which means that important text and menus will display usefully whether you are viewing on a full-size screen, an iPad, or a mobile phone.
What else is new?
The new site is “retina-ready,” meaning images conform to newer standards developed by certain unnamed tech companies for devices that feature enhanced resolution when displaying images. Also, the latest posts for Unquiet Thoughts can now be accessed directly from the home page of our web site.
Mignarda specializes in the aesthetics of old music and we keep going on about opting out of technology and fast-paced modern life. Why bother with these new features?
We may opt out, but our listeners, readers, and customers do not. I’ve been making web sites professionally since 1995, and my overriding concern has always been “useability”. The point is to ensure that all our users have access, can actually navigate the site, and can use the content – whether they’re running bleeding-edge technologies, limping along with an ancient desktop on its last legs, or using screen readers and other adaptive technologies.
If it’s any consolation, the font, at least, is a product of the past. IM Fell, inspired by and named for the 17th century Bishop of Oxford who collected and developed types until his death in 1686.
Three new recordings in 2014, plus a completely revised web site design and blog format. What else could you possibly be up to this year?
The book will tell all…
Change thy minde since she doth change,
Let not Fancy still abuse thee:
Thy vntruth cannot seeme strange,
When her falshood doth excuse thee…
- The Right Honourable Robert Earle of Essex: Earle Marshall of England.
The poem “Change thy minde” was given a simple musical setting by Richard Martin, and was published as the second song in Robert Dowland’s A Musicall Banquet (1610). The first verse, printed above, suggests a theme of reevaluation, acceptance and adjustment, a theme that unfolds as we continue to browse through a rather enormous and unwieldy stack of old copies of Early Music, dating back as far as 1973. Looking at slightly earlier repertory, the theme gathers even more interest as we read more up-to-date retrospective comments from musicologists who were involved early on.
“Much of what we do in performing medieval music is based on hypothesis; and without these hypotheses nothing would be possible. The only important issue is that people should be aware of where the areas of hypothesis lie.”
- David Fallows, quoted in The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. (p. 145).
From the beginning of its publication, contributors to Early Music like David Fallows conveyed the excitement of discovery and indulged in a spirit of sharing interpretive ideas and the results of research. But somewhere along the way, there emerged a certain elitism among a cadre of contributing writers, an attitude transmitted through recording reviews as the clear message that “if you are not doing it our way, you’re doing it wrong.”
“…Another more serious problem concerns their use of instruments. Like most early music groups the Medieval Ensemble is based on a nucleus of instrumental performers, and consequently it is not surprising that when performing songs they should wish to use instruments for at least the untexted lower parts…But as Christopher Page has pointed out, ‘it has yet to be demonstrated that instruments participated in the performance of any music during the Middle Ages, other than dances and intabulations’.”
- Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, in a review of Matteo da Perugia: Secular Works, Medieval Ensemble of London, Florilegium DSLO 577, Early Music, vol. 9, no. 2, April 1981, p. 271.
We’ve all seen this phenomenon, particularly prevalent in the academic world among a competitive sort of individual lacking the necessary imagination required to initiate original research, making their way in the world mainly by criticizing the work of others. The attitude is sneered into the airspace through curled lips, atomized like a nasty virus, replicating itself via whispering campaigns and ultimately infecting all those who come in touch with the topic.
The topic that comes closest to our home in the woods is the interpretation of music from the 15th – through the early 17th centuries, a topic that has been our major focus and continues to occupy our time and energy. Frustratingly, from an historian’s point of view, performance of music from this span of time was often described in floridly aesthetic terms of the music’s reception, rather than plainly written details clearly describing the nuts and bolts of how the sounds were produced. One can see how the dearth of practical guidelines might frustrate the historian who, for whatever reason, may be unable to experiment with producing the sounds in their proper context. Because context is everything.
“…Every musician must constantly measure his instincts against the available facts. This is difficult. Often the musician (like the historian) will find a fact or a body of information which clearly contradicts his assumptions, common sense and musical instincts. That will not be the moment for an impulsive about-turn—something which is difficult enough for the historian but so much more so for the performer. The information must be stored—in the back of the mind perhaps, or in red letters on some handy cork-board. But it must not be forgotten merely because it is for the moment ignored. That, it seems to me, is where musicology fits into the musician’s life.”
- David Fallows, in a review of the book Musicology: A Practical Guide, Denis Stevens, MacDonald, London, 1980, Early Music, vol. 9, no. 2, April 1981, p. 244.
It is a given that anyone who truly cares about old music should thoroughly familiarize him or herself with any and all surviving descriptive information regarding the theoretical concepts and mechanical practices of making music from a particular historical time and place. But the musician who complements careful research with taste, judgement, an intuitive musical sense, and a creative pragmatism will always create a more convincing interpretation.
Musicologists and performers will at times stubbornly advance a particular point of view that deliberately challenges both historical evidence and musical results. For instance, if you require your choir to sing that odd-sounding, extra-modal natural in a plainchant (that may have been a mistake in the first place), then apply the same raised interval to a related polyphonic motet (where it really doesn’t belong) just to prove a point, the oddness does not convince. Or if you lack the creative courage to sensitively compose measures of music mistakenly omitted from the original score of a set of instrumental variations on a ground, it still sounds like you’re just playing a mistake. In either event, the performer only demonstrates his lack of training, taste and musicianship by reproducing and featuring theoretical anomalies or scribal errors, not to mention creating for his audience odd sounds that were just as likely never meant to be heard.
But, it’s better to be mistaken about an interpretive detail and deliver an informed result that serves the music, than to doggedly defend a baseless supposition that does not pass the cheese test. And, as in the lyric by Essex quoted above, one is always allowed to change one’s mind. The mark of a true scholar is demonstrated through his willingness to admit to a misguided hypothesis and revise his ideas. Even when the hypothesis was advanced as much for commercial reasons as for scholarly pursuit.
“For myself, I can say it was so difficult to obtain good clean performances of Du Fay songs with voices only, to say nothing of tuning problems, that I turned with relief to harps, lutes and voices during some later recording sessions. I can well understand why many have done so since, and I am sure they will continue to perform them that way.”
- Christopher Page, introductory remarks to Essays on Renaissance Music in Honour of David Fallows: Bon jour, bon mois et bonne estrenne, Edited by Fabrice Fitch and Jacobijn Kiel, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2011 (ppg. 7-8).
Too bad about the casualties of the experiment, including The Medieval Ensemble of London. And it turns out that the famous choir schools churned out some very good vocal technicians whose singing can be heard on quite a sizable stack of recordings made during the early 1980s on; recordings that were exported by the boatload and sold to Americans who believed that this must be how it goes. But recordings no longer sell and a retrospective reevaluation of the a cappella hypothesis now admits that a convincing interpretation of quite a bit of repertory requires more—the sort of intuitive musicianship and sprezzatura required to take the music beyond a mere accurate rendering of the notes. And in order to touch the heavens as though they were a lyre, the lyre is an essential component if one is to create a celestial harmony.
This installment in our regular series of Saturday morning quotes follows a short but winding trail that offers an interesting viewpoint on the evolution and use of English lute songs. Inspired by a comment to last week’s post, we riff a little more on the theme of the firmly established practice of adapting polyphonic music for solo voice and lute.
A brief comment made by one of our favorite contemporary composers offered a suggestion to investigate the Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne (1528 – 1596), a little-known English musician and composer. Whythorne made his way serving as a music tutor in upper class households during a time when Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) was not only current, but made locally relevant through the English translation, The courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio diuided into foure bookes. Very necessary and profitable for yonge gentilmen and gentilwomen abiding in court, palaice or place, done into English by Thomas Hoby., Imprinted at London : By wyllyam Seres at the signe of the Hedghogge, 1561.
Hoby’s descriptions of the qualities of an ideal courtier “done into English” are even more charming than the available modern renderings of Castiglione’s original.
For I shall enter into a large sea of the praise of Musicke, and call to rehearsal howe much it hath alwayes bene renowmed emong them of olde time, and counted a holy matter: and how it hath bene the opinion of most wise Philosophers that the world is made of musick, and the heavens in their moving make a melody, and our soule framed after the very same sort, and therfore lifteth up it self and (as it were) reviveth the vertues and force of it with musick: wherfore it is written that Alexander was sometime so ferventely styrred with it, that (in a maner) against his wyll he was forced to arise from bankettes and runne to weapon, afterward the mustien chaunging the stroke and his maner of tume, pacified himself againe and retourned from weapon to banketting.
And I shall tell you that grave Socrates when he was well stricken in yeares learned to playe uppon the harpe. And I remember I have understoode that Plato and Aristotle will have a man that is well brought up, to be also a musitien: and declare with infinite reasons the force of musicke to be to very great purpose in us, and for many causes (that should be to long to rehearse) ought necessarilye to be learned from a mans childhoode, not onely for the superficial melodie that is hard, but to be sufficient to bring into us a newe habite that is good, and a custome enclyning to vertue, whiche maketh the minde more apt to the conceiving of felicitie, even as bodely exercise maketh the bodie more lustie, and not onely hurteth not civyl matters and warrelyke affaires, but is a great staie to them.
Whythorne’s Autobiography survives as a handwritten manuscript, now found as Bodleian Ms. Eng. misc.c.330, and a modern edition can be found in J. Osborn (ed.), The autobiography of Thomas Whythorne (Oxford, 1961). Employing his own unique version of the English language, Whythorne’s wry descriptions of the variety of teacher-pupil interactions is of even more interest than references to actual music. Nevertheless, Whythorne also published one of the earliest books of English part music, Songes for three, fower and fiue voyces (1571).
Not to overlook excellent secondary sources, a worthwhile description of Whythorne and other 16th century English music tutors can be found in an article by Katie Nelson, “Love in the music room: Thomas Whythorne and the private affairs of Tudor music tutors,” Early Music, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2012, p. 15.
For even better contextual information on Whythorne, we quote from the standard reference:
“Consort songs provide a link with the first of the Elizabethan printed songbooks, Thomas Whythorne’s Songes, for three, fower and fiue voyces (1571). One of Whythorne’s songs is clearly a consort song (“By new broom”), and others, though all the parts have words, were no doubt performed as consort songs. We learn from Whythorne’s Autobiography that he wrote his own song texts, and that he was in his youth a servant of John Heywood, the poet and musician, for whom he copied poems and psalms by Wyatt, Surrey and Sternhold (p. 14). Whythorne’s own poems show these influences clearly: they are very plain, didactic, and often proverbial in the maner of Heywood. His autobiography is ostensibly given as a context for his poems, and its original title, significantly echoing Tottel, is A book of songs and sonetts.”
It is a pleasure to acknowledge this work and state yet again that it is and will remain the best source of information concerning the lute ayres of Dowland, his antecedents and his contemporaries. The forty-one pages of introductory material at the front of Doughtie’s book is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand and perform English lute ayres. That’s all.
Recently, mention was made of a lute sighting in the 1987 episode of Inspector Morse “The Wolvercote Tongue,” and the lutenist sighted was correctly identified as Christopher Wilson. Beruffed in fancy dress, Wilson plays through the beginning of Dowland’s famous “Lachrimae pavan,” with what amounts to its characteristic g-minor fingering. A few moments later, Wilson is joined by a countertenor, likewise sporting a choking sort of neckwear, singing from memory Dowland’s “Flow my teares, fall from your springs,” while Wilson accompanies off-book – again employing g-minor fingering. You can see the scene beginning at 13:41 toward the end of this clip.
Hmm, Transposed accompaniment. Just like you can find in one of the last youtube videos you’ll ever see from Mignarda.
In a ideal world, no one would give a hoot about the great Morse transposition – aside from the anonymous hooting from the uncredited countertenor. One would offer congratulations to the musicians (and the countertenor) for securing what must have been a well-paid gig with good exposure for the music and for our instrument. Perhaps one might point out that “Flow my teares” was probably a poor choice to sing while the otherwise unencumbered guests were strapping on the feedbag, and a song in a slightly lighter humor may have more successfully aided their digestion.
But we dwell in the world of the lute revival, populated by very serious types who feel compelled to tell others, and the world at large, that they are doing it wrong, wrong, wrong. We are told that Dowland’s setting of “Flow my teares,” published in The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (London, 1600), is written to be played with lute fingering in a-minor, not g-minor. We are told this unhistorical simplification of Dowland’s work is a sacrilege and an abomination, and should be roundly criticized. In recent reviews of (other performers’) lute recordings, we have actually read that the music under review may be played well in every respect, but the key seems off a step from that found in the written score, hinting at something sinister beneath the surface. Or we read that the interpretation and musicianship is commendable, but the reviewer cannot in good faith recommend the recording because the harp in the ensemble was strung with gut instead of wire.
One grows impatient with such nitpicking that forsakes a sensitive and intelligent musicality for details like string materials, or truly meaningless references as to whether said strings were screwed up or down in pitch, or whether the fingering of a piece was transposed up or down for better musical effect. Do we think that Dowland could not or did not transpose his fingering if and when he wished? In fact, there is firm evidence that he did just exactly that, found in the form of variant surviving lute tablatures of the same tune.
If you watch the entire “Wolvercote Tongue” episode of Inspector Morse, you get to experience the caricaturized ugliness of the American tourist in all its glory. A certain snarky shrew from Cleveland carps about the phoniness of many Oxford landmarks, while her guides and minders practice rolling their eyes and quietly trousering their fee. Apart from John Thaw’s utterly charming and completely convincing performance as a misunderstood dyspeptic possessing hidden depths, a major component contributing to the universal success of the Inspector Morse series is the music. Composer Barrington Pheloung is an absolute master in the use of subtle texture applied to every minute transition, quietly suggesting what sort of underlying emotion will color each and every scene. For those in the know, just listen to the way he distills the existential pain of unresolved emotions at the end of every episode of Inspector Lewis, the more current series that is a sequel to Morse, and then without the least effort modulates into his closing theme which, for all the world, has the light melancholy character of Mozart’s finest chamber music for clarinet and strings.
Returning to the point, the sort of useless carping about pitch and strings and fingering noted above is what happens when academics and historical hobbyists take control of the megaphone and describe to us their skewed version of aesthetic beauty, and of historical music in particular. The body of work is wrestled to the ground, the jugular is rudely sliced open and all music is bled from the score, enabling the collector to then reform and pin the tidy lifeless carcass into his album to be kept on his shelf and viewed from time to time. Weary of diplomacy, for these types I defer to the wisdom of Uncle Junior.
Messer Federico: “In my opinion, the most beautiful music is in singing well and reading at sight and in fine style, but even more in singing to the accompaniment of the lute, because nearly all the sweetness is in the solo and we note and follow the fine style and the melody with greater attention in that our ears are not occupied with more than a single voice, and every little fault is the more clearly noticed – which does not happen when the group is singing, because there one sustains the other. But especially it is singing poetry with the lute that seems to me most delightful, as this gives the words a wonderful charm and effectiveness.”
- Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro del Cortegiano (Venice, 1528)
Like the fact that there was no need to mention certain exceedingly commonplace matters – such as sharpening cadential leading tones in music – the 16th-century lute was ubiquitous, and a very portable tool for playing polyphonic music. While some polyphonic music is certainly more idiomatic for the lute, it was left up to the taste and intelligence of every musician or musical amateur to choose and adapt whatever music he or she wished to play on plucked strings.
Likewise, for those who possessed an understanding of this form of musical shorthand, lute notation was considered to be a condensed score of polyphonic music from which the cognoscenti could reconstitute information that was otherwise distributed in separate partbooks. Sadly, this fundamental fact has gone unrecognized by musicologists who should know better (you know who you are), and the lute has shamefully suffered the indignity of being classified as nothing more than a chordal instrument. To set the matter straight, the lute is an instrument capable of realizing polyphony in several parts.
Music of William Byrd (c. 1542 – 1623)
William Byrd was of the generation prior to that of John Dowland and other composers of the idiomatic lute ayre. While no music survives for which Byrd left behind specific indications that it be played on the lute, it is absurd to think that he was not very well acquainted with the instrument. And it is equally absurd to think that the absence of his music composed specifically for lute is an indication that Byrd had disdain for the instrument. We need only consider the case of Palestrina, who left behind no music for which the lute was specifically indicated, but is known to have worked out his musical ideas on the instrument.
Many of Byrd’s consort songs work quite well when one replaces the fuller-bodied zum of several bowed viols with the softer but equally supportive sound of a single lute. Byrd’s more intimate Latin motets were composed specifically for private worship in a small chapel and, as mentioned above by Castiglione, the meaning is heightened when one can hear the text sung by single voice.
“In these words, as I have learned by trial, there is such a concealed and hidden power that to one thinking upon things divine and diligently and earnestly pondering them, all the fittest numbers occur as if of themselves and freely offer themselves to the mind which is not indolent or inert.”
- William Byrd, Gradualia (1605)
William Byrd’s music possesses a clarity of form and perfection of proportion such that it is equally effective performed with larger-scale or very intimate forces. Our performances tend toward the more intimate end of the spectrum, and our goal is to heighten the meaning of the words set by Byrd through an intimate balance of texture inherent in his music.
Last day of our campaign
Today is the last day of our fundraising campaign. Visit our page to check out the details and the premiums we are offering for your contributions. For those of our readers who have so generously contributed, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. For the rest of you freeloaders, it’s not too late to help keep this blog going.
Over the past several weeks, our Saturday quotes have been tailored to connect with our campaign to fund three recordings in 2014, which is coming to a close in one week. While we hear from many of our colleagues and peers that our campaign seems to be plugging into the new and innovative “crowdfunding” concept that is the wave of the future, we are here to tell you that it is the wave of the present, and is essential if art is to remain in the realm of a human-to-human interaction.
To accentuate the humanity of what we do, today’s post features the wildly new and innovative phenomenon of quoting one another.
As very quiet and private personalities, we find that the cloak of public self promotion is ill-fitting and chafes uncomfortably. However, what we do very well is provide our audiences with a deeply-felt musical experience that reflects the intensity of our understanding of and commitment to the music we perform.
And we also happen to be very good listeners. The music for our three recording projects slated for 2014 was chosen in response to specific requests from our audiences—requests for music that matters to real people. Of course like any good listeners, we possess obliging personalities and we strive to make music that successfully moves our audiences. But as artists we have our own personal reasons for investing so much of ourselves in our music, and what we feel about each of the three recording projects. Read on:
“The music of early 17th century French court has all the characteristics of good pop music of any era: it’s full of feeling and great tunes. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s romantic, it’s silly, it’s heartbreaking. It touches people, whether or not they understand the language or know anything about the music. We get mail from all over the world about it; we’ve discussed it in lecture/recitals and graduate seminars, and we’ve sung it for 5-year-olds, who’ve asked us to ‘sing it again’. It’s absolutely universal.”
“In addition to our usual slate of seasonal performances, we’ve been presenting an annual Christmas concert for the benefit of a local food pantry for the past six years. It’s always a warm and peaceful respite in the midst of the holiday madness, for us and for our audience, which has inspired this next recording with their many requests.”
“I’ve been singing Gregorian chant, in its functional context, for decades now. Ron & I met singing this music together with some of our favorite people, in a beautiful old church. For chant more than most music, the sound of the space is part of the music. The opportunity to share these ancient hymns and antiphons and the magical sound of one of our favorite sacred spaces is very exciting.”
“While we met in a schola cantorum singing chant and sacred polyphony, our first performance as a duo for solo voice and lute featured airs de cour from early 17th-century France, and we are always delighted to return to this repertory. What I find appealling in French music of this era is the surprising connection of attractive melodic phrases with the subtle underlying propulsion of dance rhythms. Of course, I also react in a particular Gomez Addams manner when Donna sings in French…”
“I have always loved music for the Christmas season, and our concentration on sacred polyphony for solo voice and lute led us to some of the very best Christmas music ever composed. The choice of music for our new recording was largely inspired by audience requests for specific pieces, but we have added several rare gems by the likes of Morales, Hassler and Willaert that deserve to be heard again and again.”
“Sacred chant heard in a sacred space has a special transporting quality, moving hearts, minds and souls for the past few millennia. The chant hymns and antiphons Donna selected for this project have special meaning, and we are very pleased to offer this beautiful meditative recording to the many listeners who have requested it.”
If you know us, you know that we carry out our work without the support of state, academic or institutional grants. We do not benefit from organizational connections, recording contracts, or artist representation. We personally carry out all aspects of the production, from research to audio engineering, mastering and design of our CDs, to typesetting, photography, design and printing of our music publications and promotional materials. Since historical aesthetics seem to be fading fast into oblivion, we are doing our bit to preserve meaningful music of the past, and we are asking listeners to Support our tropes.