|Newsletter issue 35 - January 2009|
|Written by Richard J Milner|
|Thursday, 15 January 2009 00:00|
Lots of news again in this Newsletter about recent get togethers at Bungendore and Armidale. Do look at the last page for a photo gallery of these two events. In the electronic version of the newsletter these pictures will be in full colour! Also some news of interesting new publications, CD reviews and an account of Jordi Savall's workshop in Sydney. I thank the various members who have contributed - particularly Polly Sussex, Di Ford and Caroline Downer. Please let me know of all gamba news and events for me to cover in the newsletter or the news emails.
Easter Viol Workshop - Melbourne: 10-13 April 2009
The 2009 Easter Viol Workshop will be held at Canterbury Girls' Secondary College, Melbourne, from April 10 to 13 2009. The school is being directed by Laura Vaughan and the other tutors are Susie Napper, Margaret Little (Canada - Les Voix Humaines), Miriam Morris and Victoria Watts. The brochure and application form have been sent out by email, where possible, and by mail otherwise. I hope it will be available through the web page soon but in the meantime if you need a copy please contact me - Richard Milner (0262369212 or
Notice of AGM and Membership Dues
Notice is hereby given that the Annual General Meeting of the Australian Viola da Gamba Society Inc will be held during the Easter Viol Workshop at Canterbury Girls Secondary School on Monday 13 April 12.45 pm. Reports will be given by the President and the Treasurer and all positions on the committee will be open for nomination at the meeting. This will be a short business meeting. A general meeting of the Society to discuss future Easter Viol Schools and other Society matters will be held on another day.
Viols at the ECMSS Armidale January 2009
Some 40 instumentalists met for a week of mostly baroque music for harpsichord, baroque strings, recorders, oboes, and viols. The main tutor for viols was Ruth Wilkinson with other sessions taken by Hans Dieter Michatz, Linda Kent, and Caroline Downer. Ten viols got together each morning for 2 hours of technique with Ruth. We went through the basics of holding, bowing and fingering the viol as well as playing expressively using vocal music to ensure insight into phrasing. The Ganassi book was used as a basis, with readings and playing some of his musical examples. Other music played included the Ortiz Ricercada which we were asked to prepare and a motet by de Monte. Cecile Michels was an observer each morning and her detailed notes are given below as the ‘Technical Tip’. Ruth was remarkably effective in coping with the range of instruments and technical ability of the class and managed to provide many valuable tips and exercises for all of us.
Consortium - Bungendore: October3/4 2008
Seven players assembled for this weekend of viol playing at my house near Bungendore. We basically divided into groups of 3 or 4 and used two rooms. We also had a session with all 7 players together playing music by Gabrieli and Parsons which proved most enjoyable. Other music enjoyed over the weekend included trios by Bassano, Coprario and Susato, quartets by Byrd, Montaro, Ward and Ferrabosco. A convivial dinner with partners was held at the Harvest Restaurant in the ‘top pub’ at Bungendore. Lunches were also excellent being shared. All in all it was a very good weekend with some beautiful sounds being made. (See photo gallery)
Gol o Bolbol
Celeste Sirene LC05724 Cavalli Records
Gol o Bolbol (Rose and Nightingale) explores orient and occident – the rose symbolising Persian music, and the nightingale symbolising the Italian coloratura singing. The music ranges from mediaeval (1325) to contemporary (post 1948).
Du temps & de l’instant
Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, Arianna Savall, Ferran Sevall and Pedro Estevan AliaVox AVSA9841
Perhaps it is a little unfair to compare this group with the veteran performers of the Savall family, but given that Jordi Savall has just toured Australia, it seems opportune. Their CD Du temps & de l’instant (Moments in Time) has a similar aim of intercultural dialogue to Gol o Bolbol, to “point to or build bridges between [among other things] Eastern and Western music and ancient and contemporary music.”
Autumn Entertainments for Viol Players in London
In mid-November, I took time out from my intensive Viol studies at the Scola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, to go to London for a week.
One can’t take it all in without a whole day so my whistle stop, half-day tour is just a fragment of what is offering. My first stop was at the Renaissance viols of Richard Jones. (Google again). Richard makes the Venetian type of Renaissance viol of which an example survives (by Ciciliano) in the Music Instrument Museum in Vienna. A consort was demonstrating as I looked through the display; these instruments certainly match beautifully; they are also not expensive and have that lovely silvery sound that earlier viols make. I tried and bought a simple bow made of yew wood. It plays well and feels good in the hand; the main criteria for any bow.
I whizzed past displays of instruments from West Dean College, bows from Holland, new and old makers, Kingham Cases (who make cases for any instrument to order) and an array of back issues of Early Music, free to anyone who wanted them. Several found their way into my bag.
I found a treasure trove of music for viol at one stall, and came away with some Sonatas for four viols by Legrenzi and a work for six viols and two singers with continuo by Buxtehude. Mimo Peruffo, from Aquila strings, was deep in discussion with someone about a string problem so I didn’t disturb him. The Viola da Gamba Society stall was empty by the time I got to it but all their membership material was there. I bumped into Charlie Ogle, from New York and looked at his very reasonably priced treble bows and a really nice copy of the festooned bass instrument by Rose (?) in the Ashmolean Museum. It had a lovely open sound for a new instrument and would be good for someone who could manage a rather long stop-length. Esha Neogy, who organised the Pan Pacific Gamba Gathering in Hawaii in 2007, was also there.
The Early Music Shop had a huge display of all manner of Early Music instruments and there was a stall exclusively for harps. The recorder players were all out in force at their stall, making a huge din (musical of course) and Jack Pipes and Hammers, the firm that also runs Peacock Press, was doing a roaring trade in sheet music. By this time, it was dark outside (4.45pm) and the imitation candle lighting was lending an antique air (and perhaps ayre) to the huge hall. It was time to leave but the Exhibition runs for three days and lots of concerts are held in the surrounding area.
I met Alison Crum dashing off to play in a concert in a local church and we were to meet again the following day at the Royal College of Music, where she was tutoring some students in a Gamba Consort Masterclass. Some of the students from Hille Perle’s Viol class in Bremen had flown over for a few days. I had missed their concert which was on the first evening of the Gamba Festival, now also an annual event at the Royal College of Music. Richard Boothby of Fretwork, tutored some students who were playing the Forqueray Trio for three bass viols later in the day. A visit to the Royal College is never complete without a look at their Music Instrument Museum, which is very hard to find and not always open but is well worth the ‘lost in the maze’ feeling before you get there. There are some beautiful and some ugly viols but they are all interesting and the tasteful simplicity of the Barak Norman Division Viol is exquisite. The oddest viol is a seven string German instrument of 1710, which has a detachable neck which folds away inside the instrument!
Usually when I go to the RCM, I make a point of going to the Victoria and Albert Museum too because it is so close and the trains are so expensive, that it is a pity not to see more old viols in the same journey. The V & A has a knack of turning off the lights and closing off the staircase to the Musical instruments display at times. One can never be sure if it will be there or not. If you do go, it is above the Costume display on a mezzanine floor of its own. Good luck!
Technical Tip: Summary of notes of the course with Ruth Wilkinson at Armidale January 2009
Sit up straight, not stiff but tall, with shoulders parallel to floor, feet in the familiar second position (balletic but for holding the viol only the foot, not the leg).
On the common string a, go backwards and forwards, long bows. All the effort should be put in the middle finger, on the hair of the bow. Pull the weight on the hair. Exercise: Put middle finger on the hair and let it flop down. Then little Tirez or Poussez without the thumb (only first vibrations). Little finger can be used to help push the bow, movement from the wrist, the arm, shoulder, no pressure in thumb. Arm works from the shoulder: become aware of this while walking.
Exercise: on one bow stroke (P or T): a, a-d double stop and d. Try this with any two adjacent strings while leaning bow in the direction one goes in, that is, leaning on string and leaning towards bridge. Playing close to the bridge. The bow has to keep moving in a calm way.
Reading chapters 1 and 2 of Ganassi’s Regola Rubertina (p.4-4): Don’t take this text too literally: Ganassi used instruments somewhat different from the later viols of which we have copies: These were thick, solid instruments with gut strings on which the bridge was put further back, there were no soundposts (lute tradition) the string tension would have been less. Gut strings with metal didn’t appear before 1630. The first printed advertisement for the newer viols, the new model, appeared in 1668.
In chapter 2 Ganassi advises to look at the text first: Music is composed to words, in order to find the accented syllables. We have to interpret this advice in bow speed, amount of bow and position of the bow on the string. Ganassi also mentions an arm tremble. The goat thrill appears in Caccini’s time (one generation later) but it is possible that it was used earlier.
Ruth’s articulation suggestions: bow out the cadence passages:
t p t p t ptptp t p t p
On: LAS - SO
New Viol Music
“I am an amateur singer, viol and recorder player who is passionate about music of the Renaissance.
Jordi Savall in Sydney
Jordi Savall Masterclass….Friday November 21st…2008 Sydney Conservatorium was the venue for “Up Close with Jordi Savall” … Gamba tragic and early music enthusiasts gathered in the small auditorium for this unforgettable event. We were not disappointed. Annika Stagg, ably accompanied by Chris Berensen played Marais’. D major Suite from the 4th book. Given the pressure of playing, not only before an informed audience, but also within two metres of the master himself, they gave an excellent performance. Maestro Savall, with his gentle manner, wit and firm insistence, suggested subtle ways towards a more expressive way of playing the music of this most demanding composer.
Different types of vibrato some fast and narrow… some slow and wafty… all within the same piece… were discussed and demonstrated…. Phrasing and comparisons with singing and breathing gave further insights into performing with sensitivity and understanding. Playing very near the bridge, and different forms of “attack” were two of the ways ably demonstrated by Jordi….. Jordi Savall is not only a musician, he, by communicating so easily and positively with his student of the evening, and his audience...gave us insights into a humble man of infinite empathy and wisdom. A philosopher and humanist, stressing …. much to the relief of us poor striving mortals…. That music is for everybody, not just the gifted few. Jordi touched us all with his intimate and sensitive performance of a Prelude by St. Colombe le Fils...introduced by the man himself with a hint of reverence so evident in the music which followed… It was interesting to observe… from a distance of only three metres, the tremulous vibrato on some notes, the attack near the bridge on others, and the sheer variety of contrasting sounds which made up the whole short piece. There was then an insightful and entertaining short interview by FM personality Andrew Ford, to end two and a half hours of what amounted to us in the very front row, a private lesson complete with eye contact and little soft “asides” heard by only a few of us. Jordi’s pedagogy is legendary, with good reason, … the passion is contagious, the manner gentle and persuasive and the wisdom and simplicity with which it was so generously shared with us made it truly “Up Close and Personal”
News from the UK and USA
The Autumn issue of The Viol gave details of the Viola da Gamba Society meeting in London on 8 November 2008. This meeting is a presentation by Marc Soubeyran and John Topham on the Kessler Collection. Marc talked about the history of the collection while John talked about restoring the instruments. They both worked for some time for Dietrich Kessler. Also the copy of a Richard Meares viol being raffled was on display. A number of tickets for this raffle have been purchased by our members in Australia and the raffle was due to be drawn at a concert by Fretwork in London on January 25 but I do not know who won!
Susanne Heinrich, well known as a fine solo viola da gamba player and also a key member of Charivari Agreable has replaced Caroline Wood as administrator for the Society. We wish her well and I am sure we will continue to have an excellent relationship with our much larger sibling Society.
An interesting piece of news s that Mike O’Connor has found in a private library in Cornwall a bass viol part book. It is apparently written in a ‘fine professional hand’ probably around 1620 and contains 48 viol fantasies and In Nomines by well known composers - Lupo, Coprario, Ferrabosco, Ward, Dering, White etc. All pieces are known except for one 3 part piece by Coprario. A CD Rom of the book will be presented to the Society ‘for the use of scholars’.
An article by Michael Brussing suggests that ‘body percussion’ can help us viol players - and I am sure he is right. He suggests using the feet, hands and voice or any combination of the three. The main rhythmic problems he identifies which can be helped are- doted notes, syncopations, triplets and other proportions of temp. He suggests that it can be done as a group or individually and can be done in conjunction with a metronome. He advises to go slowly at first and to make all movements as big as possible and relaxed. He provides a table of abbreviations for use in notating body percussion.
An article by David Smith explores the question of keyboard music particularly by Byrd and whether or not some of the keyboard pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and My Ladye Nevells Book originated as consort music. Apparently it is clear that the First Pavan in the Lady Nevell book originated as a consort piece. Also the author believes that Peter Phillip’s keyboard music mostly originated as consort music. Another composer who arranged consort music for keyboard was Tomkins. This gives the green light to modern editors reconstructing keyboard music for viol consorts.
Julian Boby gives an introduction to viol maintenance which goes through handling the instrument, applying peg lubricant, fitting strings, adjusting the bridge, fixing frets, checking the sound post and cleaning the varnish (use a soft cloth dampened with detergent and water).
‘Ask Your Viol Teacher’ this time is under the title ‘Why Gut?’ . This question was especially directed at the lower strings on the bass viol which today are mostly gut wound in metal. This type of string was not invented until the mid to late seventeenth century and so can be considered unsuitable for most of the music we play. Wendy Gillespie suggests that these wound strings obscure some of the subtlety of polyphonic music by ‘sustaining notes one does not want to hear’. She says there are 4 or 5 makers of these fat bottom strings and they are expensive but they last a long time. They also go out of tune the same way as the upper all gut strings, unlike metal wound strings. Alison Crumb also favours their use. The ‘best reason’ is the historical accuracy one. Another is that they stay in tune better. They allow the lines of polyphonic music to come out more independently. The sound of the viol is more even across all strings and they last longer. Disadvantages are that some people may find the sound more ‘scratchy’, it is harder to get the note started and they are expensive. Mary Ann Ballard says she stopped using all gut as they did not provide a ‘strong bass sound for the foundation of the Baltimore Consort’. David Morris also prefers the sound of wound strings while feeling guilty that they are inauthentic. Finally Tina Chancey says that she likes the even tone of all gut strings though she implies that she does not normally use all gut strings. So the result is a tie!
The reviews section provides information about the ‘Elizabethan Play Along’ downloads. For more information go to http://www.ElizabethanConversation.com. Here you can download music files of consort music for you to play along with at home, you can also get the sheet music and order the music as a hard copy CD . A limited repertoire is listed on her web page but she will make a recording of any repertoire you chose. She provides a choice of clefs, pitches and speeds. As the reviewer remarks ‘this type of flexibility and level of customer support I commendable.’ The reviewer remarked on how much she enjoyed playing along with the CDs and by changing the ‘balance’ one can hide the part you wish to play. One complaint is the lack of practice tempi for some tracks. However by using another piece of software “Amazing Slow Downer” one can alter the pitch and tempo of any piece of music. The reviewer concludes that despite some minor reservations the recordings are ‘useful and fun’. I will have to try them.
Chelys Australis 2009 Issue
The editor John Weretka says that he is on track to have the next issue out at Easter. Items for inclusion include an articles by Ian Watchorn on Ruth Wilkinson’s new violone, an interview with Erin Headley, music review by Laura Vaughan and a review of John Hsu’s DVD and book on playing Marais.
March 21, Melbourne Recital Centre - 6.00 pm; La Compania directed by Danny Lucin
Viols on the web
There is an increasing number of worthwhile videos on the web which can be downloaded/watch for free. A good place to start is the Viola da Gamba Society of America web page (www.vdgsa.org) and go to the ‘About the viol’ link. This will get you to no fewer than 18 videos which you can stream (if you have broadband) or download (if you have dial up). The files are quite large. They include several about bowing and making a beautiful sound, as well as tuning, learning to play from tablature and how to straighten ones bridge. They are made by a variety of well known and highly regarded teachers in the USA.
The next place to try is you tube (www.youtube.com). Here you can watch Shaun Ng (Perth) playing a prelude by De Machy (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=drR2kpQrmxQ). Also John Mark Rozendaal giving a viola da gamba lesson (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=2qXWiTa6ZNA&feature=related). Also one on a home made viola da gamba (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPvSKq5d9_o). Also a Prelude by Marais played by Roy Weldon (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=bTd0q4y6ln8). Once you get into You Tube it shows you related videos and you will find a lot more of music by Marais, St Colombe, Bach etc.
News from Saraband
This year, Saraband Music is starting the Cadet Publishing Program to encourage highly talented student musicologists and performers at our universities and conservatoria to edit early music under the direction of their supervisors, which will later be published by Saraband Music. Already one project is under way and another is under discussion.
This is a win/win/win/win situation for all concerned. The student learns about editing and publishing with Patrice from Saraband and their own supervisor mentoring them in various ways. They also receive the same contractual arrangements as all of Saraband’s editors including royalties, and they have a music publication to put on their CV, as well as the satisfaction of having produced a publication that will be sold world-wide. Saraband Music benefits with publicity, new talent and more to publish and sell. The institution and supervisors benefit from the kudos of their top students researching and producing publications, and musicians everywhere benefit from new and exciting editions to purchase and play.
Saraband Music would like to hear (via email) from musicologists at Australian universities and conservatoria who have students producing work which may be worth publishing. This will probably be for an honours or postgrad thesis; this level of research is expected. If the music is worthwhile, but not commercially viable, it could also be put on the Saraband website as a free download in pdf format, with full credit to the editor.
The first step is to discuss the potential and interest, so please email
for further information.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 11 October 2009 14:47|