The Final Curtain

Tomorrow (in terms of the time of writing) I shall take my final Ripieno Choir rehearsal (approximately the 750th – I think I’ve missed about 10 in 22 years). We will be working on the second half of next week’s progamme, so this hardly qualifies as a ‘wind-down’! Indeed, as far as Parry’s Songs of Farewell are concerned, it’s very much a wind-up as we tackle his seven-part setting of Donne’s awe-inspiring At the round earth’s imagined corners, and then the eight-part, double choir Lord, let me know mine end (words from Psalm 39). [As an aside – am I the only person that thinks the opening of this inspired the opening of William Harris’s Faire is the heaven?] Continue reading

Spanish Practices, English Speculations

In terms of total performance time, I’ve probably conducted more music by J S Bach than by anyone else but when it comes to individual named works then Victoria leads the field. There are several reasons for this. Reliable editions are available from a number of sources; the ranges of the individual vocal lines suit modern singers in a way in which Byrd’s, for example, often do not; and I like the noise it makes (very much). True, in Victoria we do not find the scintillating rhythmic virtuosity of Byrd (though his Lauda Sion gets pretty close), but there is a Palestrinian perfection of technique Continue reading

Motets – Humpty’s last word

We are now in the midst of preparing Parry’s Songs of Farewell for our June concert. I don’t expect anyone to believe me when I say this, but I really did include them in the 1st draft of this programme about 3 years ago – long before I thought that this might be my final concert. I must admit that I’ve never thought of these marvellous works as representing any particular genre of music – they’ve just been the Songs of Farewell. If you’d pushed me, however, I’d have plumped for anthem or partsong. I was therefore a bit startled to see that, on the printed music, Parry (or his publisher) designates each piece a motet. Bearing in mind my previous observations on this term, this could well be the point at which an author of any dictionary of musical terms might give up. Perhaps the meaning of words really is in the mouth or mind of the user.

I would say this wouldn’t I, but there is some wonderful music to be heard in this programme. I’ve resisted the temptation to pack it with personal favourites, though there are one or two! Do join us, and remember that our tickets are cheaper when bought in advance.

Humpty-Dumpty and the motet

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Lewis Carroll’s Humpty might well have speaking on behalf of composers over the centuries who have labelled an astonishing variety of pieces ‘motet’. Actually, scarcely any of the standard musical ‘genre’ labels have always meant the same thing: symphony and concerto were very different things for Schütz compared to Mozart, for example. And sometimes one term has meant different things at the same time. An early 18th century trio sonata might require anything from one to four players.

There isn’t even clear agreement about the origin of the term motet Continue reading

But it’s really all about great singing

It is very easy to become so side-tracked by the historical and musicological issues that surround Monteverdi’s 1610 music that one overlooks the fact that it is, above all, a set of great vocal pieces. Monteverdi explicitly makes provision for performance by singers with just an organ for support. The opening response can be chanted, the instrumental interludes in the first psalm and the hymn can be omitted, the sonata can be omitted, and there is a second Magnificat setting Continue reading