|Newsletter issue 36 - April 2009|
|Written by Richard J Milner|
|Wednesday, 15 April 2009 23:39|
You will notice the absence of the two column format in this Newsletter. This is because it is going to be mostly published ‘on-line' and so I think it is easier to read on the screen without the columns. Your views on this and any other aspect of the Newsletter are of course most welcome. As so often after an Easter Viol Workshop, the Newsletter is late. There are many things to do - payments to be made, reports for the Office of Fair Trading and making preliminary plans for the next Easter Viol Workshop. It will be held in Canberra and will be directed by Miriam Morris. Also our new treasurer, Clive Lane, found he was unable to continue in this role and so Rosaleen Love has nobly stepped into this position. Our thanks to Ro!
For those of you who were not at the AGM, we have the reports here and a full annual statement of accounts. The committee continues to endeavor to reduce the cost of running the Society and as part of this cost saving the 2009 issue of Chelys Australia will be formatted in house and mostly distibuted electronically. Also through the advice of Peter Brewer, the Society plans to affiliate with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, thereby gaining access to their Public Liability scheme. This should mean a saving of over $500 annually for the Society.
I hope you will all find something of interest in this issue. The recent Easter Viol Workshop included stimulating talks from John Weretka on the viola bastarda which led me to find this and other viol related articles in Wikepedia the online encyclopedia as detailed in Viols on the Web. Also Miriam Morris spoke about the concept of ‘flow' in music so this is the topic of the technical tip. The UK and USA society newsletters always are interesting and we have a series of reviews of ‘Playalong CDs', a new source of practice material which is most welcome. At the end of the Newsletter you will find a page of photos from the Melbourne workshop.
Annual General Meeting - 2009
Canterbury Girls Secondary College, Melbourne.
13 April 2009 1.15 pm
Presidents Report March 2008 - April 2009
Looking back I see that this year has been a relatively quiet one. The Easter Viol School was held in Sydney under the expert leadership of Jenny Eriksson, in addition we held a rather informal Consortium at my house in October and a Sydney consort day in August. Issue no 7 of Chelys Australis under John Weretka's editorship was published and the Newsletter came out on its quarterly schedule. The Web page is unfortunately not up to date as Taco Scheltema, who maintains it for us, has been occupied with his recently enlarged family. At his suggestion we are currently developing a new web page which will be more easily updated. This should be launched in a few weeks.
A major change during the year was the treasurer's position with Clive Lane taking over from Laura Vaughan. I thank Laura for her excellent work and welcome Clive. Also we welcomed Di Ford onto the committee as Public Officer and chair of the Development Fund committee. At last year's AGM, one issue was the cost of membership and the suggestion that we have a reduced fee for ‘electronic only'. This has now been put in place and is proving popular with about half the membership choosing this option to date. I might say that one of the more frustrating apsects of running this Society is the difficulty of getting members to renew their memberships. Frequent gentle reminders do not seem to work, while cancelling the memberships of people I know want to stay in the Society is difficult.
Next year's Easter Viol Workshop is planned for Canberra, however we are not committed to this plan and it will depend on the membership approval as well as obtaining a suitable venue. By 2010 I will have been President for 5 years and so I think the time will have come for me to resign and the Society to find a new President.
Statement of Income and Expenditure 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2009
Easter Viol School 2008
Easter Viol School 2009Richard Milner
The recent Melbourne Easter Viol School was enjoyed by some 29 participants. Consort music by Jenkins, Lawes, Coleman, Lupo and many others filled the corridors of the Canterbury Girls Secondary College with the wonderful sound of viols. Under the expert and thoughtful musical direction of Laura Vaughan, the consorts were frequently mixed and matched so that a busy and challenging time was had by all. When not playing consorts we had technique sessions and then just when you thought you had a break for lunch there was a talk! The tutors - Victoria Watts, Margaret Little, Susie Napper, Miriam Morris and Vivien Hamilton, as well as Laura herself , had lots to offer and made different demands.
The talks were varied and most interesting. On the first day Margaret Little talked about the basics - holding the viol, bowing so that gravity was used to maximum effect and fingering also to take advantage of gravity. She clearly demonstrated the effects of different bowing - near or far from the bridge and different weight and speed combinations. One day two, John Weretka introduced us to the mysterious world of the ‘viola bastarda ‘ with musical examples. He listed the small number of composers who specified the music was for viola bastarda. The music is mostly based on well known songs of the day and provides virtuosic divisions not only on the melody and often quite high, but also on the bass line and going quite low. While some commentators speak of the viola bastarda as a particular instrument often their descriptions are inconsistent and make it doubtful as to whether or not there were specific ‘viola bastarda' instruments. There is no doubt that there is music written in bastarda style. In this regard there are interesting parallels with the ‘lyra viol'. The final talk was by Susie Napper with live musical examples provided by herself on bass viol and Margaret playing the treble viol. Her topic was ‘How to make a boring bass line interesting'. She took as her example an exercise from Quantz's famous book ‘On Playing the Flute' (page 257/8 in the Reilly edition). The melody, played on the treble viol, is accompanied by groups of 6 repeated quavers in the bass line. She played it straight at first - very boring- then with some light and shade within the bar. Then she marked the cadences more clearly. Finally she showed us that Quantz had added many dynamic markings - often 3 within a bar. They ended by playing with Quantz's dynamics. Quite a dramatic change form the initial playing of the straight notes.
Miriam Morris in the technique class introduced us to the psychological principle of ‘flow' and how it relates to musical performance in general and viol playing in particular. She expertly guided us into a state of ‘flow'. A key web page is - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology). There is more about flow below.
Michael O'Loghlin came from Brisbane to launch his book on the Berlin School of viola da gamba playing. He gave us a most interesting talk about his trials and tribulations in writing the book, and also outlining some of the key features of this distinctive school of playing. The music is highly virtuosic and Michael was joined by Laura Vaughan and Victoria Watts to play some of the music by Schaffrath and Graun.
Frederick the Great and His Musicians: The Viola Da Gamba Music of the Berlin School
By Michael O'Loghlin
Published by Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008
ISBN 0754658856, 9780754658856
The tutors concert was provided by Les Voix Humaines who played a selection from the duos of Monsieur St Colombe. It was a real privilege to hear these two great musicians in an intimate setting play this music with style and verve. The final concert by some of the participants was also most enjoyable - I particularly remember the Jenkins Siege of Newark and Michelle Corrette's La Phoenix.
The whole school was expertly organised with excellent lunches, evening meals at Colombo's or take away pizza, and even managed some excellent weather. That I was not expecting!
It will be a hard act to follow but I hope to see all of you and others at the Canberra Easter Viol Workshop in 2010. We have some exciting plans involving overseas tutors which are still to be finalised.
Reviews of the Playalong CDs from Elizabethan Conversation
A). English Consort Set 2, Tompkins and Gibbons for four viols;
English Consort Set 3, William Lawes, Suite in C Minor for four viols;
Diego Ortiz, Set 1 for solo bass viol, Recercadas.
Rosaleen Love with suggestions from Lucy Blomfield.
Playing along to CDs is fun, but not for a player who isn't yet in command of instrument or the tempo of the beat. The Elizabethan Play Along Series provide tools to bridge the gap between musical aspiration and achievement. The CDs (or downloads) are designed so the music plays at both the regular tempo, and a slower practice speed. The stereo mix allows for separation of two parts, with, for example in the Gibbons trios, the treble voice coming from the left hand speaker, the tenor from the right, and the bass line muted underneath.
The Tompkins pavan provides an easy introduction to the play-along activity. Repeats help when getting lost and getting back in again. The Gibbons fantasias are more of a challenge with the two high Cs in the treble line, but certainly a do-able task for players striving to the higher reaches. The slower tempo allows for experimentation with changes of position to make the leaps more easily. It's also fun to play along with the deep notes of the 7-string bass, something most learners never get to do.
I also played the third of the English consort set, The William Lawes Suite in C Minor, which is sold for advanced players. Because I said I wanted to play both the treble and the bass lines, two CDs were sent. On one, the two treble lines were louder, and on the other, the two bass lines. The ordering process allows for this degree of customisation.
I wasn't so taken with the Ortiz. To me, the practice tempo seemed more like a performance tempo, while the regular tempo was more for someone in the Jordi Savall category. Intermediate players who are able to tackle Ortiz might find the pace a bit too strenuous.
The quality of the recording is fine for what it is, a teaching tool rather than a definitive performance. The consort series allows the player to switch instruments and play the three parts, if sequentially, and this is ahelp in becoming competent in more than one instrument. I'm sure I shall learn a lot by playing along with at least two of these three CDs, and one day may even be tempted to tackle the Sainte Colombe.
The recordings are available as CDs or audio MP3 downloads, and the sheet music is also a available. The pitch may be A=415 or other. Tuning notes play in the track before the practice tempos. The tempo of the beat is tapped out before each piece begins.
The series is available online from www.ElizabethanConversation.com.
B). Hume, Elizabethan Play Along for Lyra Viols, Set 3 The Spirit of Gambo,The State of Gambo, The Virgins Muse, Touch me sweetly.
Sainte Colombe Concert II - Le Change; Concert VXVII - Le Mesle'; Concert XXXVIII - Le Mesle'; Concert XLIV - Tombeau Les Regret
In the normal course of events when reviewing a CD, I settle with a glass of tolerable red wine and set out to enjoy myself. Reviewing the Elizabethan Play Along CD proved to be a different experience altogether because I discovered you can't drink and play the viol at the same time. Once I had mastered the dials for balancing the speakers so that I could choose whether to opt for the top or the bottom part, I thought I might have a little sneak preview/listen to the two bass violists playing Hume at equal volume together. The quality of the recording is uninspiring to say the least, and the players are often out tune with each other, especially above the frets. "Oh well" sez I, "stop whingeing – this is a different exercise – get going Morris!"
Starting with Tobias Hume, I opened the sheet music expecting to see tablature but was disappointed. Seriously now – there should be two copies of the music - mandatory for one of them being in tab. However, it was an interesting experience playing Hume in manuscript…. once. In terms of getting the old ‘souldier' learnt in time but not in tune, this ingenious idea works. Given professional situations where I know that rehearsal is minimal I am a firm believer in miming along with a CD of unknown repertoire. It is inspiring to have the great musicians of our time as playing partners in the privacy of one's own home. They are so well behaved while yours truly can swear to her heart's content. No talking back – I like it! Back to the matter in hand -the click track to bring one in at the chosen tempo was clear for each piece but I was exceedingly puzzled as to why I had to wait until track 9 at the end of the CD for the tuning tape.
Sainte Colombe came next with the tuning tape at track 7 followed by slow practice tempi of the previous pieces from tracks 1 – 6. The slow practice is an excellent idea but maybe this and the tuning track would have been more practical at the start. Here we have music of a highly esoteric, often quirky nature requiring considerable flexibility and freedom of the beat and tempo changes, all needing discussion. Obviously this isn't going to work if your playing partner is trapped inside the CD player and you can't nut things out with a chat or body language in terms of who leads. As I persevered playing along with the CD, I told myself not to be so critical of interpretation and general standard of playing as I realised that the point of this exercise was to learn one's notes while playing along with a partner. However there also needs to be learning of the spirit and interpretation of the music rather than being accompanied by plodding, out of tune playing, lacking any of the light and shade of French performance practice.
People invariably play better when they are in the company of players of a higher standard to which to aspire, and this would have been a golden opportunity for such an occasion. The producers of Play Along have come up with a good idea that would have benefited greatly by employing better players and production team to make a really worthwhile educational product.
C. Playalong CD Consort Set 2 - Gibbons and Tomkins
I strongly recommend players in the early stage of consort playing to try these CDs. They enable the player to experience the thrill of playing in a consort without the embarassment of searching for the notes 'in public'. They are invaluable for players who are distant from other viol players and who therefore want to make the best use of the precious time when they are with other players. I particularly enjoyed playing along with the Gibbons 4 part fantasias. Great music and challenging to play. It is remarkable how well the different lines stand out when you play along.
Technical Tip - FlowRichard Milner
At the recent Easter Viol Workshop, Miriam Morris introduced us to the psychological concept of ‘flow'. As a follow-up and a reminder, here is a summary based on information from the web.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)), the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.
Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be on the ball, in the zone, or in the groove.
Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following nine factors as accompanying an experience of flow:
A very useful article which relates this to playing the violin ( or viol) is in the Strad Magazine of July 2003 (downloadable from the web - see http://www.practising-in-flow.de)
Flow involves ease, flexibility, naturalness; things work harmoniously and effortlessly. A solo performance looks strenuous from the outside, yet in fact the player is not experiencing any particular strain. The activity runs smoothly, guided by inner logic. All necessary decisions arise spontaneously from the demands of the activity without any deliberate reflection.
The essence of practicing in flow is to be intensely in touch with how each movement feels. Once the comfortable contact between the instrument and the body is established, you will want to feel and sense all your movements in this particular way. Any technical difficulty which is not mastered will now be felt as a roughness in an otherwise consistently pleasurable stream of feeling, like a gem that needs to be polished. From now on aim your practice at a continuous smoothing of all the necessary movements until they lose their bothersome edges. Problems are thereby thoroughly unraveled. Solutions become deeply rooted in the body's sensory motor resources.
There are 3 main inner dispositions that get I the way of accessing the flow-state while practicing: fear, over ambition and impatience. All these attitudes will cause physical tension and therefore hinder the free flow of energy through the body; the subtle contact with the instrument is impeded.
As put by Simon Fisher:
"As adults we need to recapture the unconscious effortlessness of the child".
New Music PublicationsRichard Milner
PRB Productions (http://www.prbmusic.com/index2.ivnu)
Hingeston: Fantasia-Suites for 3 & 4 Viols and Organ
In his last year, Hingeston put together most of his music for viols and organ and donated it to the Music School in Oxford. After his death, the organ parts (only!) of several more suites (and some of the already donated suites) were acquired. All are now held by the Bodleian Library. Harold Owen has reconstructed the viol parts for all 8 of these hitherto unperformed suites, six for the rich combination of treble and 2 bass viols, one for treble, tenor and bass, and a superb piece for 2 trebles and 2 basses. Score and Parts: $35 Available February 2009.
Our Price: $35.00
John Ward: The Songs of Six Parts, edited for viols/voices by Virginia Brookes. Edition VC073: Early 2009
August Kuhnel: Sonatas and partitas for one or two viols with figured basso continuo edited by George Houle.
John Coprario: Eleven Pieces for Three Lyra Viols, edited by Richard Charteris: Score in notation; separate parts in tablature (VC055).
News from the UK and the USARichard Milner
UKThe recent meeting at Oxford University on Saturday March 21 was entitled "All creatures Great and Small" . The morning was devoted to big viols – the violone and double basses. Susanne Heinrich following Peter McCarthy's notes talked about and no doubt played some large viols. Then Colin Bullock showed how he designed and made his current violone. In the afternoon the pardessus ad quinton were the subject of Michael Mullen's talk and finally he joined up with Suzanne to talk about and play music for the pardessus. This included an arrangement made in 1759 by Villeneuve of some of Marais's bass viol music.
Their June 2008 meeting was about the solo bass viol suite (no continuo) in France from 150 to 1700 and was given by Charles Medlam. His talk is summarized in the recent issue of The Viol. The suite was not fully formed until about 1700. By this time a non-measured prelude had often been added as well as 'galanteries' (gavottes, minuets etc) between the sarabande and the gigue. He speculates that suites may have been composed to perform at a 'small gathering of connoisseurs', for the composer to use as teaching material, or for dancers to practice their dancing. The first composer of suites for the viol was Hotman. He played an example and asked if the audience thought it worthy of a concert performance. The answer was apparently Yes. He moved on through a suite by Du Buisson, to de Machy and St Colombe. He makes the interesting observation that the de Machy suites 'represent the closest source to the Bach suites (for cello) as regards questions of bowing and fingering'.He also suggests that Hesse, a gamba student of Marais and Forqueray, and a friend of the Bach family influenced the Bach solo cello suites. He then played a suite by Marais. He suggests that the continuo parts for suites by composers such as Marais and St Colombe are not 'strictly musically necessary'. He posed some unresolved questions – how much should one ornament?, do we compose doubles? How much inegale should be used?
The November 2008 meeting featured the Kessler collection and the instruments were played by Susanne Heinrich. Marc Subreyran and John Topham discussed the viols and their restoration by Kessler. Incidentally the raffle which several people in Australia bought tickets in was won by Esha Neogy a member of the UK (and USA) Society.
In both the UK magazine and the USA one, the main article is by Alison Crum on her recent visit to China. She went with her husband Roy Marks in September 2008. No one actually plays the viol in China but as a result of this visit some 40 people tried the instrument. She started in Beijing where both the Charlie Ogle factor and the Lu Mi factory are located. She visited both workshops and found about 12 people in each. Each person looked after one aspect of the making process and she suggests that over 100 instruments/year are made and exported from each factory. The Lu Mi viols are set up by the owner Mr Wang, while the Ogle viols are sent to Oregon for set up by Charlie himself. They then flew south some 1200 miles to Chengdu where the largest conservatorium of music in China is to be found. Some 2000 pianos and 20,000 students in this one conservatoire!
Interestingly she says that the only record of a viol being played in China prior to her visit was by Danny Yeadon in Beijing. He played a Bach gamba sonata at an international music festival.
There is an obituary to Julian Boby (1933-2008), who was a much liked and respected maker of viols in England. Always willing to help, he was valued for his maintenance of pegs bridges etc at summer schools and when playing in a consort.
USAThe VdGSA News of March 2009 has an interview with Judith Davidoff about her list of contemporary music for the viol which she started in 1995 and is now freely available to all on the Society's webpage (http://vdgsa.org/pgs/catalog_intro.html). She notes that the earliest 'modern' work is a method published in 1928 by the German composer and cellist Paul Grummer. There are almost 900 pieces on her list now and she is keen to keep adding music so composers should let her know (I wonder if Calvin Bowman's song cycle is there.)
Much of the newsletter is taken up with the end of year finances of the Society. There is a whole page with a long list of donors to the Society. I did not add them up but they must number over 100! In contrast we had one. Their overall income for the 2008 year as $US 260,871.30.
The death is announced by John Shortridge, Linda's husband.
One of the most useful items in the US news is the 'Ask your Viol Teacher' segment. This issue the question is – why play on the side of the bow rather than having all the hair on the string? Brent Wissink provides an intriguing response about the fact that gut strings respond better to a small number of hairs while metal or metal wound strings respond better to a flatter bow. Other replies are concerned with the health or ergonomic aspect that the wrist is in a more natural position when playing on the side. Lisa Terry comments that with the thin strings a more clearer focused sound is obtained and suggests you roll the bow back towards you for the bass strings to get more hair on the string. David Morris also takes the view that you can vary your sound by altering the amount of hair in contact with the string.
Robert Green has compiled a list of viol CDs issued in 2008. A long review covers a new issue from a group called 'Les Boreades' which includes Margaret Little and Susie Napper. It is a CD (Beatles Baroque 3) of arrangements by Eric Milnes of the Beatles music! On ATMA (ACD22 2351) and issued in 2006. Sounds interesting. 'The long and winding road' melody is played on a cornetto! About 1/3 of the pieces are primarily on viols – 'This Boy', 'In my Life' etc. For details and musical examples see their webpage: http://www.boreades.com/en/
Viols on the Web - Extracts from the free on-line encyclopedia WikepediaRichard Milner
The viol (also called viola da gamba and lira da gamba  ) is any one of a family of bowed, fretted, stringed musical instruments developed in the 1400s and used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The family is related to and descends primarily from the Spanish vihuela (a guitarlike plucked string instrument) and the lira, a bowed instrument developed in the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century.
The history of bowed string musical instrument in Europe goes back to the 9th century with the lira - over the centuries that followed, Europe continued to have two distinct types of bowed instruments: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, known with the Italian term viola da braccio (or lira da braccio, meaning viol for the arm) family; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, known with the Italian term viola da gamba (or lira da gamba, meaning viol for the leg) group . During the Renaissance the gambas, were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) lira da braccio family of the modern violin. However, the gamba playing position remained popular for the larger instruments that could not be played with a braccio position. The instrument was imported to Italy from Spain by the Borgia family.
Vihuelists began playing their flat-bridged instruments with a bow in the second half of the 15th century. Within two or three decades, this led to the evolution of an entirely new and dedicated bowed string instrument that retained many of the features of the original plucked vihuela: a flat back, sharp waist-cuts, frets, thin ribs (initially), and an identical tuning—hence its Spanish name vihuela de arco (arco, meaning "bow").
Viols most commonly had six strings, although many 16th-century instruments had five or even four strings. Viols were (and are) strung with (low-tension) gut strings, unlike the steel strings used by members of the modern violin family. Gut strings produce a sonority far different from steel, the former generally described as softer and sweeter. Around 1660, gut or silk core strings overspun with copper wire first became available; these were then used for the lowest-pitched bass strings on viols, and on many other string instruments as well. Viols are fretted in a manner similar to early guitars or lutes, by means of movable wrapped-around and tied-on gut frets. A low seventh string was supposedly added in France to the bass viol by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (c. 1640–1690), whose students included the French gamba virtuoso and composer Marin Marais. Also, the painting Saint Cecilia with an Angel (1618) by Domenichino (1581–1641) shows what may be a seven-string viol. Unlike members of the violin family, which are tuned in fifths, viols are usually tuned in fourths with a major third in the middle, mirroring the tuning employed on the vihuela de mano and lute during the 16th century and similar to that of the modern six-string guitar.
Viols were first constructed much like the vihuela de mano, with all surfaces, top, back, and sides made from flat slabs or pieces of joined wood, bent or curved as required. However, some viols, both early and later, had carved tops, similar to those more commonly associated with instruments of the violin family. The ribs or sides of early viols were usually quite shallow, reflecting more the construction of their plucked vihuela counterparts. Rib depth increased during the course of the 16th century, finally coming to resemble the greater depth of the classic 17th-century pattern. The flat backs of most viols have a sharply angled break or canted bend in their surface close to where the neck meets the body. This serves to taper the back (and overall body depth) at its upper end to meet the back of the neck joint flush with its heel. Traditional construction uses animal glue, and internal joints are often reinforced with strips of either linen or vellum soaked in hot animal glue—a practice also employed in early plucked vihuela construction. The peg boxes of viols (which hold the tuning pegs) were typically decorated either with elaborate carved heads of animals or people or with the now familiar spiral scroll finial.
The earliest vihuelas and violas, both plucked and bowed, all had sharp cuts to their waists, similar to the profile of a modern violin. This is a key and new feature—first appearing in the mid-1400s—and from then on, it was employed on many different types of string instruments. This feature is also key in seeing and understanding the connection between the plucked and bowed versions of early vihuelas. If one were to go searching for very early viols with smooth-curved figure-eight bodies, like those found on the only slightly later plucked vihuelas and the modern guitar, they would be out of luck. By the mid-1500s, however, "guitar-shaped" viols were fairly common, and a few of them survive.
The earliest viols had flat, glued-down bridges just like their plucked counterpart vihuelas. Soon after, however, viols adopted the wider and high-arched bridge that facilitated the bowing of single strings. The earliest of viols would also have had the ends of their fretboards flat on the deck, level with or resting upon the top or sound board. Once the end of their fretboards were elevated above the top of the instrument's face, the entire top could vibrate freely. Early viols did not have sound posts, either (again reflecting their plucked vihuela siblings). This reduced dampening again meant that their tops could vibrate more freely, contributing to the characteristic "humming" sound of viols; yet the absence of a sound post also resulted in a quieter and softer voice overall.
It is commonly believed that C-holes (a type and shape of pierced sound port visible on the top face or belly of string instruments) are a definitive feature of viols, a feature used to distinguish viols from instruments in the violin family, which typically had F-shaped holes. This generality, however, renders an incomplete picture. The earliest viols had either large, open, round, sound holes (or even round pierced rosettes like those found on lutes and vihuelas), or they had some kind of C-holes. Viols sometimes had as many as four small C-holes—one placed in each corner of the bouts—but more commonly, they had two. The two C-holes might be placed in the upper bouts, centrally, or in the lower bouts. In the formative years, C-holes were most often placed facing each other or turned inwards. In addition to round or C-holes, however, and as early as the first quarter of the 16th century, some viols adopted S-shaped holes, again facing inward. By the mid-1500s, S-holes morphed into the classic F-shaped holes, which were then used by viols and members of the violin family alike. By the mid- to late 16th century, the viol's C-holes facing direction was reversed, becoming outward facing. That configuration then became a standard feature of what we today call the "classic" 17th-century pattern. Yet another style of sound holes found on some viols was a pair of flame-shaped Arabesques placed left and right. The lute and vihuelalike round or oval ports or rosettes became a standard feature of German and Austrian viols and was retained to the very end. That feature or "genetic marker" was exclusively unique to viols and reminded one always of the viol's more ancient plucked vihuela roots, the "luteness" of viols. Historians, makers, and players generally distinguish between Renaissance and Baroque viols. The latter are more heavily constructed and are fitted with a bass bar and sound post, like modern stringed instruments.
The bow is held underhand (palm up), similar to a German double bass bow grip, but away from the frog towards the balance point. The stick's curvature is generally convex as were violin bows of the period, rather than concave like a modern violin bow. The "frog" (which holds the bowhair and adjusts its tension) is also different from that of modern bows: whereas a violin bow frog has a "slide" (often made of mother of pearl) to hold the hair flat across the frog, viol bows have an open frog that allows more movement of the hair. This is essential to allow the traditional playing technique in which the player tensions the bow hair with one or two fingers of the right hand between the hair and the bow stick in order to control articulation and inflection while playing.
The gamba (as the name is often abbreviated for convenience) comes in six sizes: "pardessus de viole" (which is relatively rare, and which did not exist before the eigtheenth century), treble, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass (also known as a violone). The treble is about the size of a violin, but with a deeper body; the standard bass is a bit smaller than a cello. The English made smaller basses known as division viols, and the still-smaller Lyra viol. German consort basses were larger than the French instruments designed for continuo. Two closely related instruments include the baryton and the viola d'amore, although the latter is played under the chin, viola-fashion.
The standard tuning of the viol is in fourths, with a major third in the middle (like the standard Renaissance lute tuning). For bass viols, the notes would be (from the lowest) D-G-C-E-A-D, with an additional low A for seven-string bass viols. For the tenor viol, the tuning is G-C-F-A-D-G (though the Renaissance tenor viol is usually tuned A-D-G-B-E-A). The treble viol is one octave higher than the bass.
Much viol music predates the adoption of equal temperament tuning by musicians. The movable nature of the tied-on frets permits the viol player to make adjustments to the tempering of the instrument, and some players and consorts adopt meantone temperaments, which are arguably more suited to Renaissance music. There are several recognized fretting schemes in which the frets are spaced unevenly in order to give "better-sounding" chords in a limited number of keys. In some of these schemes, the two strands of gut that comprise the fret are separated so that the player can finger a slightly sharper or flatter version of a note (for example G sharp vs. A flat) to suit different circumstances.
Viols were second in popularity only to the lute (although this is disputed), and like lutes, were very often played by amateurs. Affluent homes might have a so-called chest of viols, which would contain one or more instruments of each size. Gamba ensembles, called consorts, were common in the 16th and 17th centuries, when they performed vocal music (consort songs or verse anthems) as well as that written specifically for instruments. Only the treble, tenor, and bass sizes were regular members of the viol consort, which consisted of three, four, five, or six instruments. Music for consorts was very popular in England in Elizabethan times, with composers such as William Byrd and John Dowland, and, during the reign of King Charles I, John Jenkins and William Lawes. The last music for viol consorts before their modern revival was probably written in the early 1680s by Henry Purcell.
Viola bastarda refers to a highly virtuosic style of composition or extemporaneous performance, as well as to the altered viols created to maximize players' ability to play in this style. In the viola bastarda style, a polyphonic composition is reduced to a single line, while maintaining the same range as the original, and adding divisions, improvisations, and new counterpoint. The style flourished in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Francesco Rognoni, a prominent composer of divisions, stated that although works using the bastarda techniques could be played by a number of instruments, including organ, lute, and harp, the "queen" of bastarda technique was the viol because of its agility and large range.
The first use of the term was by Girolamo Dalla Casa in a 1584 treatise. Rognoni's Selva de varii passaggi (Milan 1620) was the definitive treatise on viola bastarda technique. Earlier bastarda compositions were accompanied by viol consort or plucked instrument such as the lute or harpsichord, with another instrument on the bass line. Later compositions were accompanied by continue bass. The last composer to write for the bastarda was Vincenzo Bonizzi, in Alcune opere di diverse auttori a diverse voci, passaggiate principalmente per la viola bastarda (1626).
Viola bastarda music is written for standard viol tuning, in fourths with a third in the middle. Early sources speak of the viola bastarda as a style of playing, and the ranges of pieces written during this time indicate that bastarda pieces were played on whichever size viol was at hand; however, Rognoni describes the standard size of a viola bastarda as between that of a tenor and bass viol, indicating a change in understanding of the term. It may be related to the English division viol.
The lyra viol is a small bass viol, used primarily in England in the seventeenth century. While the instrument itself differs little physically from the standard consort viol, there is a large and important repertoire which was developed specifically for the lyra viol. Due to the number of strings and their rather flat layout, the lyra viol can approximate polyphonic textures, and because of its small size and large range, it is more suited to intricate and quick melodic lines than the larger types of bass viol.
The lyra viol has been favorably compared to both the lute and the violin, by Tobias Hume and Roger North respectively. The name lyra viol came into use because the playing style of bowed chords is similar to that of the lirone.
The structure of the lyra viol has been fluid throughout its history. In seventeenth century England sympathetic strings were added. This may have led to the development of the baryton, but it was not a lasting development for the lyra viol. The most common lyra viols had six strings, but there were also viols with four and seven strings. John Playford describes the lyra viol as the smallest of three types of bass viol: the consort bass, division viol, and lyra viol. Christopher Simpson wrote that the strings on the lyra viol were lighter and the bridge flatter than those on the other bass viols. The strings were also closer to the fingerboard than they were on the consort bass. These modifications were probably in part to make playing chords easier. The first description of bowed polyphonic music for the viol is in a treatise by Johannes Tinctoris, and the first development of its repertoire can be traced back to Sylvestro di Ganassi dal Fontego in the mid-sixteenth century.
Despite these differences in structure, the lyra viol is not significantly different from other bass viols, and lyra viol music can be played on any bass viol.
"Lessons in the dark": the viola da gamba and François Couperin's 'Leçons de Ténèbres'Chris Berensen
The use of what we might call "art music" in contemporary Christian worship is, sadly, often a divisive issue, this despite the fact that most performances of the well known liturgical classics such s Bach's St John and St Matthew Passion and Handel's Messiah now take place on the concert stage rather than in church. In addition, as we will see below, "art music" both sacred and secular often draws from popular genres in any case. But perhaps this controversy goes back much further than the late 20th and early 21st centuries, in fact way back to Paris in the 1700s and no doubt, much further!
'That which was established only to produce a holy and beneficial remorse in Christian souls has been transformed into entertainment" thundered one conservative eighteenth-century critic of an emerging practice in French church music. He was referring to the increasingly popular Holy Week services held at the Abbey of Longchamp near Paris where on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday, settings of the highly emotive words found in the Old Testament book "Lamentations of Jeremiah" were presented. The prophet Jeremiah's writings were considered particularly apt in assisting Christians to reflect on the meaning of Holy Week. The attendees were throngs of fashionable Parisians, who in the weeks leading up to Easter, would have busily discussed where they would be 'doing Ténèbre' this year. The intriguing name, 'Leçons de Ténèbre' or 'Lessons in the Dark', owes to the fact that these services were spookily sung in the dark in accordance with Lenten regulation of the Catholic Church.
In contrast to the majority of French Baroque sacred music, which although glorious can be considered rather perfunctory, the Leçons de Ténèbres offered by a long list of composers can be considered their most eloquent and convicting works. It should not come as surprise to discover that this is because they were conceived with the intention of combining the most sophisticated aspects of French secular music with the traditions of French sacred music.
In Holy Week, it had been traditional for centuries in the western church that a great blanket of austerity descends: the ubiquitous pipe-organ, that "hi-tech band-in-a-box" of yesteryear, was silenced. The sumptuous choral arrangements were reduced to unison chanting, and candle consumption slashed considerably. Thus enters the new Ténèbres tradition at the aforementioned Abbey of Longchamp in the early eighteenth century. Away from the critical eyes of Bishops, parish priests and the strict Lenten regulations, the nuns sponsored the performance of newly composed Leçons de Ténèbres in their own attempt to find a compromise between liturgical austerity and aural excess.
Couperin's three offerings in this genre are written in the intimate semi-theatrical style known at that time as the 'chamber style', building on the refined and expressive French tradition of the air de cour. Emotional expression in the airs de cour, tends to be cool, classical and reserved: Chromaticisms are rare, and the overall simplicity of expression is striking. Couperin combined these features of the air de cour with the moving and excitable recitation patterns originally associated with Italian opera. One of his three Leçons is composed for two sopranos, the others for one soprano. The accompaniment is to be provided not by the large church organ, which as noted was not allowed to be used in Holy Week, but by a portable chamber organ if available, harpsichord and lutes. Additionally, Couperin made specific mention of the necessity of the viola da gamba.. Couperin writes in the introduction to the published Leçons: "If a bass de viole or a bass de violon can be added to the organ or harpsichord accompaniment, that will do very well."
A slightly more controversial element of the Longchamp experience was that singing-stars from the opera and royal court were involved. One of the greatest stars of the time was Mademoiselle Catherine-Nicole Le Maure, of whom it was said an opera company could be bankrupted if she became ill. Indeed, her absence from a performance on more than one occasion caused shows to fail, and once she was imprisoned for this. At Easter time, she contributed to the Leçons de Ténèbres of Couperin and his contemporaries at the Abbey. Eventually she tired of the politicking of the secular music world and became a nun herself.
Ironically, in those far off days, opera singers were "pop stars" and it was something of a scandal for such people to sing in Church, particularly at solemn festivals such as Easter. Today, pop and rock musicians are the norm at Pentecostal churches such as "Hillsong" and even take to the platform at Catholic World Youth day, whilst opera stars are rare guests in a local Parish church!
The final word, however, must go to the music itself. Throughout the setting of the three Leçons Couperin demonstrates an extraordinary ability in the art of vocal declamation as well as a well-developed feeling for word painting. The music is rich in dissonance and chromaticism. All three Leçons conclude with the phrase, "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum". (Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God). All of this accompanied by the glory of the gamba!
The Marais Project has been performing Couperin's 'Leçons de Ténèbre' individually for several years and recorded the third Leçon for the ABC in 2007. In 2008 we presented the complete Leçons at Christ Church Lavender Bay, North Sydney. We will perform the three Leçons twice in Easter Week 2009 on April 5 & 6 (see www.maraisproject.com.au for details). Thereby we hope to add new (old!) music to the rich Easter liturgical tradition.
Chris Berensen is a freelance performer of early keyboard instruments and recently completed a Research Masters degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He has performed with Salut! Baroque, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, La Folia, the New Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Cologne, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, and toured nationally throughout 2007 as the Principal Continuo player with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. He is also the harpsichordist with French Music Specialists, The Marais Project.
|Last Updated on Friday, 25 September 2009 09:43|