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Saturday morning quotes 4.45: Original pop

March 21, 2015

ARRANGEMENT OF VOCAL POLYPHONY FOR SOLO VOICE AND LUTE IS NOT A MODERN DEVICE, BUT THE RESTORATION OF A LOST ART THAT WAS IN COMMON PRACTICE DURING THE 16TH CENTURY.

Our energies have of late been diverted from our usual routine, offering us the rare opportunity to pause and take a retrospective look at the sum total of our work over the past 11 years.  Despite the fact that we are entirely independent artists who do not engage the services of hype-merchants, and we have very little interest in the antics involved in aggressive self-promotion, we take delight in noticing the way different listeners with very diverse backgrounds and tastes discover our recorded music.  We receive appreciative correspondence from notable figures in the world of early music and also from many kind listeners who didn’t know the genre of early music existed.

Our usual routine involves reading through many thousands of neglected works of 16th-century vocal polyphony – sacred and secular – in order to find musical settings that are particularly susceptible to arrangement for solo voice and lute.  In secular music, we pay very particular attention to texts from the pens of the best poets.

Without music, poetry is almost graceless, just as music without the melody of verses is inanimate and lifeless.

– Pierre de Ronsard (1524 – 1585)

And, as is the case with every aspect of our music, our choice of repertory is no accident.  Particularly when sifting through secular music, we deliberately select pieces that may appeal to a diverse audience because of its attractive melodic characteristics and its appealing harmonic interest.  This is a deliberate choice we make with the objective of reaching new converts to early music, those who may be otherwise put off by the anachronistic 19th-century vocal production, either a detached or an overly-mannered extrovert delivery, and the inappropriately precious Victorian diction one hears far too often in performing what was, in its day, considered conversational popular music.

And not popular “lounge” music, nor music that was meant to be heard in a concert hall with row upon row of listless listeners attempting to be polite.  Or not polite, as was the case recently when we sat next to a woman, mature in years, who refused to turn off her cell phone, and was constantly texting throughout a concert during  which the performers successfully turned a program of beautiful baroque cantatas into a ludicrous vaudeville routine.

Apart from sacred polyphony that was deliberately composed for large forces, and festive music such as the Intermedii, almost all of the music we perform with solo voice and lute was meant for domestic use – music to be played and poetry to be sung for a small number of people in small rooms.

For he…that hearing the sweet accord of instruments or the sweetness of the natural voice feels no joy and no agitation and is not thrilled from head to foot, as being delightfully rapt and somehow carried out of himself – ’tis the sign of one whose soul is tortuous, vicious, and depraved…

– Pierre de Ronsard

We have happily been experiencing a growing interest in our 2009 recording of 16th-century French music, Au pres de vous, despite our usual routine of nearly zero promotion.  When we released the recording, we deliberately listed it among modern pop and singer-songwriter offerings, rather than in the early music listings.  This is may seem like ineffective marketing, but we see it as effective outreach – and it seems to be working.

Today, we draw your attention to two songs from our recording Au pres de vous that seem to speak across the centuries with an appealing melodic cantus that floats above an intricate web of polyphonic accompaniment on the lute.  The first is “Toutes les nuictz” by Clément Janequin (c.1485 – 1558), and the second is a setting of “Pour un plaisir que si peu dure” by Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505 – 1557), one of three settings of the same text included on our recording.

If you believe the engaging sound of the natural voice and the gentle and rhythmically supple accompanying polyphony played on the lute is in any way anachronistic, we beg to differ – and our interpretive approach is reinforced by 16th-century sources.  As we published in a recent posting:

“The truth is we invented the early music vocal sound based on what we wanted it to be like, and on the voices of a small number of singers with particular talents. The small-scale, refined, straight, disciplined early music singing that we were used to came out of nowhere..Even when singers began to look at pedagogical sources and so on, they (we) chose to ignore those bits that didn’t fit the model we had in our heads.”

– Richard Wistreich and John Potter, “Singing early music: a conversation,” Early Music, Vol. XLI, No. 1, February 2013

One Comment
  1. We now have a program with music composed by the sons of bach played live by our early music orchestra while the “sons of the street”, a local street dance group dances. Meant to reach out, I hope it will!

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