|Newsletter Issue 43 - Summer 2011|
|Written by Richard J Milner|
|Saturday, 12 March 2011 09:38|
Thanks to this year's Musical Director Katy Finnis, Laura Vaughan and Victoria Watts , we have a very exciting Easter Viol Workshop coming up. The brochure is now out and should be sent out with this newsletter. More copies are available from Victoria or me. We hope to have it on the web page but the Brisbane floods have disrupted our web page updating. We are delighted to advise that Ibi Aziz, a very fine young player from the UK and a member of the internationally renowned consort, Fretwork, will be our visiting tutor. If you would like to have a lesson from him while he is in Australia then I urge you to contact him directly.
Lots of news in this newsletter from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Saraband Music. Also the first of two articles by Michael O'Loughlin concerning his recent trip to attend the Potsdam gamba meeting. Slurs seem to be a hot topic at the moment with both the UK and USA Societies broaching the topic and suggesting that perhaps we are too shy in avoiding them all together. Its that time of year again when the Society holds its AGM. It will be on the Monday of the Easter Workshop. Please consider if you would like to serve on the committee or have useful suggestions for making the Society more vital and relevant. Do come along and support the Society. Annual memberships need to be renewed now!
Easter Viol Workshop
(22-25 April, 2011)
See attached brochure. There have been some changes to the tutors with Danny Yeadon being unable to attend and Brooke Green and Jennifer Eriksson being added to the faculty. Think about your 'choices' – Purcell, songs, diminutions, Marais, mediaeval and more consorts. If you live in or near Sydney then consider offering to billet one or more visitors. We have several players from New Zealand planning to attend and I hope we can help them all by providing suitable accommodation.
Annual General Meeting
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 MLC School, Burwood, Sydney, on Monday 25 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.
Many of you, I hope, are planning to come to Sydney at Easter for our annual Workshop, so now is a good time to have a good look at your viol(s) and check they are OK.
First, check the bridge to see that if it is vertical with the feet snug onto the belly. Can you see a gap or fit a piece of thin paper under the foot? If it needs adjusting then it is best done (very carefully) while the strings are still tight. With one hand hold the back of the bridge so it does not fall over ad with the other move the top of the bridge back working gradually across from treble to bass. Just a little at a time and then repeat the process until the bridge is back to vertical. (see a video about this)
Now check the strings – when did you last put new strings on? The highest string in particular could be getting a bit hairy so may need replacing. However it is best to replace all the strings at once. Good sources for strings are Saraband Music, Ian Watchorn and Boulder Early Music Shop. Popular makes are Kurschner and Pirastro but there is a wide selection. After you have put new strings on and have checked the bridge again, now check to see that the fret are in tune. Most of us tune to equal temperament and can use a tuner to make sure the frets are in their correct position. You may find some are sharp and that by making them flatter they become loose. Then replace that fret (or even better all the frets). Click here for instructions on tying frets
Do your pegs move nicely? This can be helped by using peg paste, however I prefer a more primitive method. Take each pegs out one at a time and put some household soap onto it where it binds in the hole. Then coat this soap with talcum powder. Put the peg in the hole and give it a few turns. You may want to add more talc and put it in the hole again. When you are happy that the peg is turning nicely put the string back on and wind it up to pitch. Then move on to the next peg.
Take a look at your bow(s). Are they getting short of hair or is the hair too matted with rosin. You can wash the hair with denatured alcohol being very careful not to get the solvent on the varnish. The use of a cloth soaked in alcohol on the hair of the bow with the frog removed is one way of doing it. Another is to soak the hair in a bowl of alcohol. Click here for a video
Ideally if you have any concerns about your bow you should get it rehaired. If you have this done by a maker unfamiliar with baroque bows you will need to caution him or her to place the right number of hairs. Modern bows have many more hairs than baroque bows. It is not expensive to have a bow rehaired.
You should wipe the dust and rosin off your viol with a lint free cleaning cloth after each playing session. Generally the use of polishes is not recommended by makers as can damage the varnish.
From Madrigal to Fantasy
Gamba Meeting in Potsdam, 15 – 16 January 2011
This story begins at Berlin Central Station, built on the plan of a vast cathedral, where people and trainlines cross. It’s a temple of consumption, with shops more reminiscent of an international airport than a humble train station. You would think it to be a model of German efficiency unless you had read the bestseller Senk ju vor trävelling (“Thank you for travelling”, spoken with a thick German accent). The authors advise you always to carry rations for a week and changes of clothes, and don’t expect to arrive at all if you have more than two train changes. With this in mind I had taken the direct train from Bünde in Westfalia (or more precisely, Eastwestfalia, I’m not kidding), ancestral home of my wife Simone. Now Bünde isn’t Berlin, but it also has its charms, including a functioning gamba consort – but that’s another story.
In this case the train was swift, punctual and problem-free, as was the next one from Central to Wannsee. From there you catch a bus along one of those apparently endless straight boulevards in which Berlin specializes, to the edge of the city. Then you step across the place where a forbidding wall once stood, into the neighbouring city of Potsdam, and arrive at the house of Christiane Gerhardt and Tilman Muthesius. Christiane is a gambist and gamba teacher, and Tilman is a maker of considerable repute and also a player. Every year in January they hold the Potsdam gamba meeting, a weekend at which playing and scholarly discussion (the latter also informed by performance) hold equal place.
The Saturday was entirely given over to playing. It was surprisingly relaxed, considering that the group comprised 11 gamba players, some of whom had never met, who had to decide what to play, rehearse it and perform it in a public concert that evening. So we just divided into basic five- and six-part groups, with a little swapping later. This allowed for a programme divided into two halves, with a viola bastarda solo in the middle. The theme of the weekend – “From Madrigal to Fantasy” – was inspired by the publication 400 years ago in 1611 of Il primo libro di madrigali by Heinrich Schütz. Madrigals by Schütz, by his teacher Gabrieli and by Monteverdi were played as consorts or sung to the viols. The English were not forgotten, with three-part Ayres by Lawes and an In nomine by Tye, the concert closing with what must be one of our all-time Easter Consort Workshop favourites, Go From My Window by Gibbons.
The concert was a success, with about 50 guests packed into the music room. The room has a beautiful view over the river Havel, contains an organ and a harpsichord, and is ideal for chamber music. Have a look at Tilman’s website: http://www.gamben.de/ . You can look up the concert series there on the link Kammermusiksaal . The great thing about consort music is that it’s not really interested in star power, so I’ll just mention a few people and pieces almost at random. There was the rendition for viola bastarda and organ of Rognoni’s diminution of Ancor che col partire, performed by gamba maker Henner Harders, who has a viol in Melbourne. There were the raging basses of Heidi Gröger and Ulrich Wolff in the Gibbons. Heidi may be the world’s finest bass viol player who doesn’t own one! Luckily she has a long-term loan of a fine Tielke copy by Tilman. She teaches at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule. Ulrich is a bass player with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who has recently discovered the joys of the viol, and already handles it with great skill. As an orchestral bass player myself, I found it good to have a rave with him. Also worth mentioning are Tilman’s all-gut performance of an Ortiz diminution of Doulce mémoire, and the beautiful, surprisingly tricky and unpredictable settings in three, four and five parts by Eustache de Caurroy of the classic folksong Il était une jeune fillette. I’d recommend these for any consort meeting.
The other performers were Christiane Gerhardt; Leonore von Zadow, who is married to Günter, the proprietor of Edition Güntersberg; German gambists Michael Krayer and Georg Zeike; Michael Dollendorf, who used to play the bassoon in one of the top baroque orchestras (was it Les Arts Florissants?) but put that aside and now lives as a singer and storyteller in Berlin; and Rika Murata, who’ll be mentioned again below.
Before the start of activities on Sunday I was able to fit in a short walk. The house backs on to the Havel, that ancient, still waterway, just before it opens out into the Wannsee. I was reminded of Theodor Fontane’s beautiful poem of death and renewal:
Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland,
Ein Birnbaum in seinem Garten stand
It’s canonic in Germany, and rightly so.
Tilman’s house is attractive and well restored, with plenty of room, but it’s one of the more modest riverfront dwellings in the area. Next door is a deserted garden restaurant which is probably hopping on a summer Sunday. A sign outside informs us that picnics on the grass are regrettably not allowed, as the heritage protection authorities have determined that this might upset the view of the people strolling along the opposite side of the river. Ah, Germany! One moment you’re in awe of the genius of a Schütz or a Fontane, but then . . . Across the road are several Swiss chalets, a folly of one of the former princes who was impressed by Swiss architecture on his way to Italy. Hills rise on either side of the river, a pleasant change from the endless plain which is Berlin, and there are three castles in the immediate area – and that’s not counting Frederick the Great’s Sans Souci, also not far away. Walking back into the house and the music room, you could be forgiven for thinking you had died and gone to gamba heaven: there are instruments everywhere. Of particular note: a magnificent 8-string bass by Tilman, after Benoit Fleury (1759) with bridge, tailpiece, pegbox and pegs all gilded and highly figured. We agreed that the high G string comes in very handy for late works such as the Pièces de clavecin en concert by Rameau. In fact, how else do you play the D octaves in the second half of La Laborde? There was also a fantasy cellamba with no frets, steel strings and flame soundholes. Don’t blame Tilman for this, it was in for repair! In general, if you suddenly wanted any size of viol from pardessus to violone, it was probably already within reach. There was no lack of bows either, but as far as I noticed, not a single screw frog.
To be continued: gamba, bastarda and lirone seminar.
Edition Guntersberg - G166 J.G.Graun, Concerto for gamba in C major, GraunWV A:XIII:2, First Edition, VdG+2V+Va+Bc, score, 5 parts, 104 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-166-3 29.80 €
While this concerto contains the excitement and virtuosity which is the soul of the concerto, it is perhaps less demanding than some of Graun’s other gamba concertos. We are indeed fortunate that it has recently come to light again after the chaos of the war years and the darkness of the following Cold War. At the time of its disappearance in the 1940s it would have been dismissed as an unplayable curiosity, but now there are surely many who can bring it to life, as Ludwig Christian Hesse did in the eighteenth century. We are grateful to the Berlin Sing-Akademie for permission to produce this first edition.
G189 Handel, Concerto, in C major, Cemb+VdG/Va, score, 2 parts, 24 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-189-2 13.50 €
This Sonata in C major for viola da gamba or viola and obbligato harpsichord is one of the well known works for this instrumentation, in spite of the fact that its attribution to George Frederick Handel is considered uncertain. The slow movements of the piece are tuneful while the fast movements show a quite lively character, and the piece is extraordinary popular among performers and listeners. In our investigation of the authorship of this work we came across an interesting manuscript in the Lund University which is relatively unknown, and which we used as a base for our edition. In this manuscript and thus in our edition the work has the title “Concerto”.
G188 C.F. Abel, Sonata Viola da Gamba Solo & Basso, from the Pembroke collection, WKO 152, WKO 152, VdG+Bc, 3 score, one of which contains a realisation, 20 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-188-5 13.80 €
This energetic and effective little sonata in G major might have been played by Abel himself in his concerts. It is part of the Pembroke collection, whose other pieces with bass are generally somewhat simpler. An accompaniment by a cello or a second viol corresponds to the custom at Abel’s time. However, the bass can just as well be played by a keyboard instrument. Our score contains therefore a continuo realisation. The informative introduction was written by Peter Holman.
G161 A. Kühnel, Sonate ô Partite, Sonata I-III, 2VdG[+Bc], score with preface and three parts, 60 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-161-8 15.80 €
G161-1 A. Kühnel, Sonate ô Partite, Sonata I-III, 2VdG[+Bc], score with continuo realisation, 28 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-900-3 7.50 €
G162 A. Kühnel, Sonate ô Partite, Sonata IV-VI, 2VdG+Bc, score with preface and three parts, 48 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-162-5 15.80 €
G162-1 A. Kühnel, Sonate ô Partite, Sonata IV-VI, 2VdG+Bc, score with continuo realisation, 24 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-901-0 7.50 €
G163 A. Kühnel, Sonate ô Partite, Sonata VII-VIII, VdG+Bc, score with preface, score with continuo realisation, two parts, 60 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-163-2 18.50 €
The Sonate ô Partite number among the most important German compositions for viola da gamba at the end of the 17th century. The work contains fourteen consecutively numbered sonatas or partitas of which the first six are for two viols, and the rest for one viol – all with continuo. The best-known piece is undoubtedly no. 10: a solo sonata, designated “Aria,” with nine variations on the chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut.” The first three and the last four pieces are composed in such a way that they can also be played without continuo. The level of difficulty varies.
G191 J. Ch. Pez, Duplex Genius, Twelve Sonatas for two violins, viola da gamba or violoncello, and basso continuo, Opus I, Sonata I-III, First Edition, 2V+VdG/Vc+Bc, score and 4 parts, 80 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-191-5 19.50 €
G192 J. Ch. Pez, Duplex Genius, Twelve Sonatas for two violins, viola da gamba or violoncello, and basso continuo, Opus I, Sonata IV-VI, First Edition (Sonata VI only), 2V+VdG/Vc+Bc, score and 4 parts, 80 p., ISMN 979-0-50174-192-2 19.50 €
Pez’s sonata collection "Duplex Genius sive Gallo-Italus Instrumentorum Concentus" appeared in 1696. Contrary to the title’s promise, the sonatas clearly speak the musical language of the Italians, with which Pez had become acquainted in Rome. French elements clearly withdraw behind those of Corelli’s style. The level of difficulty is moderate. The third part can be played on a gamba or on a cello. The basso continuo can be played on a harpsichord or on another chordal instrument; an amplification by a further bass instrument is not necessary. Five of these sonatas have already been published in 1928 in a “Denkmäler” volume. All twelfe sonatas are now presented by Johannes Weiss in a practical edition which satisfies today’s requirements for fidelity to the original.
Antoine de Fevin – Petite Camusette for Tr T B viols
Tielmann Susato – Dances from Het derde musyk boexken for TTTB viols
William Byrd – Four Consort songs for solo voice and TrTTB viols
Ludwig Senfl – Fantasia for TrTB viols
John Sheppard – Rejoice in the Lord for TTTB viols
Martin Grayson – In Nomine (2007) for TrTTB viols
Winter Consort Music Sale
This winter, let BEMS help you cozy up with a few friends for some consort playing. From now until March 1, 2011 we've reduced the price of these titles by 20% (*while supplies last). Add friends, warm mugs of tea or hot chocolate, and play the winter season away.
Viol consorts by Fretwork Editions: FA09 Bach, J.S.- Alio Modo Vol. 4: Five Part Pieces Was $37.50 Now $30.00; WM05a Byrd, William- The Second Service, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis Tr,Tn,Tn,B,B Was 17.50 Now $14.00; FE29 Jenkins, John- The Five Part Consort Music, Vol. 1 Tr, Tr, Tn, Tn, B, Org Was $62.00 Now $49.60; FE30 Jenkins, John- The Five Part Consort Music, Vol. 2 Tr, Tr, Tn, Tn, B, Org Was $62.00 Now $49.60; FE26 Dowland- Lachrimae and Galliards. Was $62.00 Now $49.60; FE23 Gibbons, Orlando- The Consort Anthems Vol. 1 5 Voices or Viols Was $52.00 Now $41.60; FE11 Lawes, William- The Royall Consort (new version) 2Vn, 2B Gamba, 2 theorbos Was $135.00 Now $108.00.
Viol consorts by Charivari Agreable Publications: CAP011 French and Italian Duets for 2 Bass Viols. 5 sonatas by Somis, Montanari, Mascitti and Corelli Was 23.00 Now $18.40; CAP012 French and Italian Duets for 2 Bass Viols. 6 sonatas by Senaillié, Benda and Leclair Was $14.00 Now $11.20; CAP024 Froberger, Johann Jakob- 6 Canzonas for 4 Viols Vol. 1Tr,Tr/Tn,B,B Was $24.00 Now $19.20; CAP028 Mattheson, Johann- 6 Fugues for 4 Viols Vol. 2 Tr,Tr/Tn,B,B Was $32.25 Now $25.80.
News from the USA and the UK
From the USA
A recent issue of VdGSA News had as the 'Ask your teacher' a question which is very relevant for those of us attending the Easter Viol Workshop. The question was:
“I’ve recently come home from Conclave and had a wonderful, inspiring week playing with loads of other viol players and learning from a wonderful variety of teachers. It was magical; it made me want to play the viol every waking hour for the rest of my life. But now I’m back in a fairly remote place with no regular lessons and nobody to play with save for a few recorders. My motivation is flagging. How do I keep myself playing, practicing, and improving?”
It’s a difficult task. Not surprisingly, a majority of the teachers I heard from complained of the very same problem. Brent Wissick writes, “Professional viol players who teach also come away from Conclave with a determination to improve something about their playing. It’s a wonderful “shot in the arm” for players of all levels. But indeed it’s hard to sustain the momentum sometimes, especially without the support group of a regular consort or duo partner or a teacher.”
Mary Johnson says that, “If you are even a little bit inclined towards performance, then develop some performing opportunities for yourself. I, myself, need a goal of some kind in order to keep looking forward. Once committed to a performance, it is easier to develop a self-directed practice system. As to where you might play and what you might play, it depends totally on your location and possibly your recorder friends, but surely there is a school, nursing home, or church that would have an audience who would find your instruments and the music fascinating.”
Laura Mazza-Dixon points out that creative motivation is not just a musical issue: “The problem of being isolated in your endeavors goes beyond the fact that there are no viol players around. Musicians and artists of all types need the momentum of a community to keep them going. I suggest reading a book like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and doing some of the exercises in the book to help you think about your goals and priorities in your life. I was fortunate enough to join a group organized around that book a couple of years ago, and even though no-one else in the group was a musician, the support I got from the meetings was very helpful.”
So now that we’ve got our external motivation sorted out, how are we supposed to get ourselves to actually pick up the viol? There’s still so much else going on in our lives and it’s hard to find the time and energy to get the gut-strung beast out of its case. Well, Laura Mazza-Dixon suggests that “keeping your instrument handy and your music stand all set up in one dedicated space may make all the difference to sitting down and getting something done.”
Brent Wissick recommends that “even busy people try to play the instrument every day if they possibly can, even if that is only five minutes total. Just taking the instrument out of the case, tuning it and playing a few long tones and feeling the frets under your fingers is time well spent. The tactile experience helps keep you connected for when you have more time to develop. Sometimes I have very intense concerts to play on the modern cello that require three to four hours a day of cellistic weight-lifting after which I am exhausted. But I still try to tune my viol.” You’ll probably find that once you’ve got the instrument in your hands, you’ll want to spend a bit of time with it, and at the very least you’ll become really great at tuning!
But even once we’ve persuaded ourselves to unpack the viol, tune it and warm-up, it’s still possible to find ourselves in a practice routine that has become monotonous and unproductive. Without the guidance of an outside ear, we must take personal responsibility for ensuring we’re on the right working track. Here are a few tips:
Brent Wissick: “Consider what it is that you specifically want to improve. Some people read music well but need to work on their sound. Those folks could spend fifteen minutes warming up on bow exercises. Evaluate yourself every few days. Is your sound getting fuller and more resonant? Some folks are trying to feel more agile, working on fast scales or shifting or string crossings. Do some of those exercises for fifteen or twenty minutes daily and watch yourself over time. You can even keep a log if you need to keep things in perspective for yourself. Some things don’t show results day to day, but will have improved over the course of a month. Some people have fairly good technique but have trouble reading the complex rhythms that are an important part of consort playing. Make yourself read an unfamiliar rhythm every day. The list goes on and on. But the key is to identify what you want to improve and realistically make it part of your routine.”
Laura Mazza-Dixon jumps straight in at the technical deep end in her practice: “I tackle the trickiest parts of the new pieces I have ahead of me as goals. I’ve learned that it is better to address those problem spots head-on, at the beginning of a practice session. The difficulties might be rhythmic ones (requiring some tapping against a metronome), or technical issues with the bow or the fingering (requiring the invention of a new little exercise suited to the actual demands of the piece). Whatever they may be, I get more done when I have not allowed myself to begin playing the piece itself before I’ve worked on the problem areas. Once I go back to the piece, and I encounter those sections, I am less likely to stumble and happier in the long run.”
Some things in music are just plain hard, and it takes a long time for them to settle, regardless of how talented we are or how hard we work. Laura Mazza-Dixon says, “Every new technique you learn will require a lot of time to polish. Most adult students of musical instruments have no idea how many repetitions are required to work the new technique into their mind and muscles. They understand what they want very quickly; getting it to happen is something else. Be happy when you can play something simple accurately, and keep at it until you can play it beautifully.”
Rebekah Ahrend suggests that, “If you feel that you do not have enough opportunities to get feedback on the results of your own practice, get a small recording device. Record your practice sessions and then listen to the results. Try to discover what you like and don’t like about your sound, and work on your technique accordingly. It may also be an idea to contact your favorite teacher and send him/her a sample of your practice recordings to get feedback--long-distance learning, if you will.” (Recording oneself is an invaluable tool and I cannot recommend it more strongly.)
And sometimes the best way to improve is to just take a break! Emily Walhout says, “My cello teacher Richard Kapuscinski pointed out that some of these ‘down times’ (chunks of time without practicing) can actually be very useful. Your brain takes all the practicing and learning you’ve done and lets it stew around a bit, maturing, gaining depth and understanding, much like a good soup improves over time. So sometimes you can come back from a break playing even better, with more maturity than before. (Woohoo--guilt trips no longer required!) Sure, it may take a day or two to get the fingers and bow moving as they had been, and you may sound worse for a while, but those things can come back quicker than you think, and then you’ve got the added depth to boot. Just be patient and forgiving of yourself. It’ll come back; it really will!”
In the December 2010 issue of the News, Wendy Gillespie asks if we are too rigid in our approach to slurs:
“The bow continues to occupy my thoughts, and the word today is 'slurs' – we don't do very many of them in music much before Marais, but why not? Is it possibly part of the now rather ancient rebellion of the hippies, a knee-jek reaction against 'mainstream' practice, the same reason as stops us doing vibrato? Simpson quite clearly tells us in English that in 1569, both slurs and vibrato are among the ways that all good players grace their music. Granted it took a while before music engraving made it possible to print those swooping, beautiful, slurs we find in Marais, but surely players of bowed string instruments have always done slurs for various practical, expressive and virtuosic show-off reasons. “
Among the reviews is the new issue of Six 4 part fantasies by Thomas Brewer (PRB VC078) which gets a glowing review. The PRB volume of Ward 5 part madrigals (VCO72) is also enthusiastically welcomed.
From the UK
The Winter 2011 has the second (and last) part of Mary Iden's interesting tuning survey, concerning the practical tuning of a consort.
1. Consort tuning: Does each player tune individually or do all tune to one instrument?
Of the 77 or so people who answered this question: 18 people (23%) usually tuned from one instrument that gave notes to the rest. These 17 included 8 professional and one semi-professional players. 18 people (23%) usually tuned individually to a tuner or tuning fork. I of these was a professional player. 41 people (53%) tuned individually or from the bass depending on the situation. These 38 included 5 professional and one semi-professional players.
Of the 18 who normallv tuned from a single instrument: 9 people said that they preferred this method:
A typical answer was: “One tunes and gives notes to the others, I prefer it this way. Some felt very strongly about the advantages of this method. In my regular consort, I tune my bass, and everyone else tunes to me, and the whole consort seems to like it that way. When I get to play from time to time with "strangers ", there is sometimes someone that insists on doing their own tuning, either to their own "needle" tuner because they're not used to tuning to a note, or tuning themselves string-to-string from A, because they flatter themselves that their ears are good enough. In my humble opinion, both classes of "individualist" tuners seem to get an inferior result thereby.
It's hard to stop people using the former (ie individual) method, although I much prefer the latter (ie one viol gives notes to rest of consort), which I always insist on for performances and more serious work. I usually let them do the rough tuning with their own meters whilst I tune my viol, then I check their notes (and make them change if I'm sure I'm right!).”
One player whose consort usually tuned from a single instrument would have preferred everyone to tune individually. “We usually tune to a single instrument (I tune my bass with my Korg tuner using the sound option, then give notes to the other members), but I would prefer to tune individually as it is so much quicker. It sometimes seems that we could have played several fantasias in the time it has taken to tune. If there are 6 people in the consort then the method where the bass gives notes to the others takes 6 times longer than if we had tuned individually. “
8 people didn't comment on any preference, though they usually used this method of tuning to a single instrument so presumably prefer it.
Of the 18 who normally tuned individually: 12 preferred this method (for the initial tuning at least), though for differing reasons. “Generally in consort, to save time, we tune simultaneously with tuners and pickups. For concerts we try to avoid playing E and F strings at the same time! Separate tuning for speed to start (most using tuners and pickups), one instrument giving notes for accuracy once tuning has settled down.”
4 of the 12 who prefer individual tuning use tuning forks.
“I use a fork to get my A and then tune the rest of the strings as appropriate - checking 5ths octaves etc. I find I have finished tuning long before the rest of consort who are still faffing around with their tuners! I then check my notes with theirs and find I am usually in tune.”
Those who usually tune individually would actually prefer to tune from a single instrument.
Of the 41 who tuned individually or from a single instrument depending on circumstances 14 (including 2 professional players) preferred to get their notes from a single instrument. “Tuning from a single instrument is probably better, but if everyone has a tuner with a pickup it is much quicker if everyone tunes separately - giving more time to play. What happens depends on who is in the consort, and to some extent on mood and whim. I prefer the method of having one bass tune and then give notes, preferably from one string ie the A, C and D from the A string- what is called the American tuning method.”
“Tuning tends to be anarchic; I would prefer a single instrument if it weren't so time consuming. Usually we rough tune individually to our. electronic tuners, then eg pairs of tenors check notes against each other, but mostly it's chaos. A more disciplined approach to tuning would be good, specially if it made things quicker. It is easier to match pitch to a bowed note than to the sound that a tuner produces.”
8 people (including one professional player) preferred to tune individually, either to their own or a shared tuner. “ I prefer to tune individually, with my own or a borrowed tuner directly in front of me - it is much harder for me to hear the note from a tuner that is on the other side of the room. When playing with someone who has the role of note-giver (either from their instrument or from the tuning box) within their home consort, things can sometimes seem rather authoritarian. Everyone needs to become practised at making their own decisions about tuning in a consort situation, but in a relaxed atmosphere without the threat of someone waiting to pounce on them if they 'get it wrong'. l find tuning difficult at the best of times, and near impossible when I am with people who make it seem stressful.”
Some people feel that it is their right to tune first and insist everyone tunes to them!
19 people (including 2 professional and one semi-professional player) had no preference, or said that their preference depended on the situation, “Every consort I've ever been in seems to use a different approach. Sometimes a tuning box is passed around, sometimes someone tunes and then members take the notes from him/her - most usually a bass. Increasingly almost everyone leans over and stares intensely at their bridge-assisted tuning meters, usually for what seems like hours, after which none of the viols agree. I prefer either one box, going round while others listen, or tuning the bass who gives notes to the rest of the consort. In private, each tunes individually, but in the concert situation it is better if you tune to another player as the sound of the tuner is rather intrusive for the audience. In rehearsals we tune individually to Violab. In concerts, we have one instrument tune and check pitches to that. In my consort class we all use our individual tuners. We can spy on each other's efforts, which focuses the mind. In my family consort, it is a long tradition to tune from one particularly keen-eared player. I have no preference. Overall success depends far more on whether the player can tune his/her string and frets than on the tuning method used. Both work fine for us provided that people take care. It depends on who is in the group as to which method I prefer.”
2. Do you check chords individually once open strings seem to be in tune?
Of the 73 who answered this question, 21 people ie 29% (including 5 professionals and 1 semi-professional) said that they always checked chords within their own instrument once the open strings seemed to be in tune.
3. Do you check chords as a consort once open strings seem to be in tune?
Of the 74 people who answered this question, 13 ie 18% (including 3 professionals and 1 semi-professional) said that they always checked chords within the consort, either before starting, (often playing the last chord of the first piece), or after a few minutes of playing. One group usually started with a simple chordal 'tuning piece' and checked their tuning after this. 20 people ie 27% (including 3 professionals) rarely if ever checked chords as a consort. Some said that they felt that they should. However, one professional wrote: “We assume that each has done their homework and fixed frets in place, so it follows that once open strings are sorted, everything should be fine and we just go. “
41 people ie 55% (including 2 professional players) answered that they occasionally checked chords within the consort, for instance if the tuning sounded bad.
4. Other comments by respondents
“At one point in the past one or two of the (professional) consort (including me) started using Korgs with needles, but it somehow seemed less satisfactory than when we all tuned to Violabs (and hence were hearing the same thing). I wonder if we could achieve results that were just as good if all of us were to tune to Korg needles (and hence would all be seeing the same thing), but some of the members of the consort prefer to tune to a sound, and it's easier to do that when using Violab tuners. I imagine that different consorts have different ways of tuning but I've not yet been in a professional group that tells you how to tune. I guess the real business is the music, and often there is limited time for that so we try to keep personal tuning as out of the way as possible.”
“Too many viol players take too long to tune. After a year or so of playing with others, the ear should be refined enough to enable swift and accurate tuning. Fine-tuning an instrument before sitting down to play with others should be encouraged. Waiting for players to tune at the beginnings of sessions wastes a lot of rehearsal and course time. There should be a law.”
“We who use aural tuning (either to a note from a tuner or from another viol) are now in a tiny minority. Anyone with a bridge pick-up seems to forget that those who tune aurally need to do so in relative quiet - people now talk at normal volume while others try to tune.”
In a long article Wendy Hancock discusses the 'sense of humour' (as in expression and affect not funny!) as illustrated in Thomas Mace's book Musick's Monument of 1676. This is not specifically about viol music but covers the need to bring out the emotion(s) od a piece by the use of ornamentation, dynamics, tempo etc. A comment by Roger North is of interest - “ for smooth and sliding graces the great secret is to break and yet keep in time” (rubato!?). Of relevance to the remarks about slurring (above), Wendy provides an example of a piece by Simon Ives with slurs specifically marked in!
A short note is concerned with a new book – Life after Death: The Viola da Gamba in Britain from Purcell to Dolmetsch by Peter Holman (Boydell Press, GBP50.00, 432 pp). The contents are:
I will try to get a review copy.
News From New Zealand
Polly Sussex From Auckland:
Polly Sussex ran a Viol workshop weekend in mid January. It was a successful introduction to viol for one cellist and several students from last year's viol workshop returned. Mid January isn't the best time for such events, as so many are away on holiday so future Viol workshops will probably be at another time of the year.
On 13th February, a group of musicians played a programme of Early Music on authentic instruments to raise money for Clifford Bartlett, the English publisher of facsimile editions and well edited modern editions (eg, Messiah) and producer of the Early Music Review. The sad story of his financial difficulties has been circulated amongst Early Music groups over the last six months. The performers were Miranda Hutton and Rosana Fea, Baroque violins, Wen Chuan Lin, Baroque viola, Margaret Cooke and Polly Sussex Baroque cellos, Polly also played Bass viol and James Tibbles, harpsichord and organ. The programme was an eclectic mix: Concerti grossi by Avison, Corelli, Vivaldi, a trio sonata by Telemann, a cello duo by Barriere, le Tombeau pour Monsieur de Lully by Marais, an organ solo (on the 1779 Avery organ) by John Stanley and one of the Biber Rosary Sonatas with the Purcell Chacony and Arrival of the Queen of Sheba to round it all off.
The group raised over $1,000 for Clifford Bartlett and would like to encourage other groups in Australia to do likewise.
Roger Buckton from Christchurch
Rhona Lever should be writing this review because she has been such a wonderful support to anyone interested in playing the viol in Christchurch and given her time and expertise so willingly over many years. For some time now, she has played with Barbara Peddie and Peter Low.
About a couple of years ago there was University concert of Renaissance music at the Great Hall in the Arts Centre. I assembled a student quartet of singers and an instrumental band. I used a combination based on the "mixed" or "broken" or 'English" consort. That is that wonderful combination of violin, flute or recorder, bass viol, lute, cittern and bandora - except that we didn't have the cittern and bandora but there was an extra lute in the ensemble. The theme of our consort items was 'animals' and there are some excellent chansons, madrigals based on a particular theme, such as Pierre Passereau's "Il est bel et bon". It was a lot of fun and a great success.
What has all this to do with viols in Christchurch? If it hadn't been for that concert, I wouldn't be writing this now because at the end of the concert, Jonathan Le Cocq, the lutenist and myself, playing flute and recorder were approached by Rhona who said something like, "I think you two lads should be playing viol". (I must confess I had played viol briefly about 30 years ago.) Although time was at a premium for both of us, we agreed and then asked a friend and recorder player, Gay Peek, if she would like to join us. Since then, we have met more or less weekly, although, recently Jonathan has been very busy with other concerts.
Last year, I made contact with an "old" student of mine, Don Moorhead who I had discovered was living in Dunedin. During that same 30 years ago, (the "early music bubble") he had toured Australia a couple of times with a group lead by Steve Rosenburg called "The troubadors". He still had his viols gathering dust in his music room. Later that day and still in Dunedin, I met another old friend ex-cellist Aart Brusse. He was now playing recorder in an early music group with a recent arrival from the UK, Joanna Fielding on bass viol and violin. I set up a viol weekend in Christchurch last September and Don and Jo joined Gay, Rhona, Jonathan and myself to launch into the six-part repertoire. This weekend nearly didn't happen because it was only one week after the earthquake. For those of us (and our homes) who were still shaken by the earthquake, it was a great tonic and greatly enjoyed by all and lead to a visit to Dunedin by Rhona last December and another Christchurch viol weekend in January - with Aart who had since made great strides on the bass, Jo, Rhona, Gay, Barbara and myself.
Aart tells me that there are others now in Dunedin who play viol and they are looking towards getting their own consort established. They are fortunate to have a chest of viols at the University so there seems good prospect of linking in with lutenist Sue Court of the music department there.
So speaking for the South Island of New Zealand, there's plenty of enthusiasm coupled with fair progress in technical and musical skills. I feel that we are establishing a basis where our own viol schools should be viable soon and we could take advantage of the 'professionals' in the country such as Polly Sussex in Auckland and Robert Oliver in Wellington, quite apart from calling in our cousins in Australia and further afield.
News from Saraband Music
As we’re still adjusting to the move and the inclement weather, I haven’t had time to issue any new publications as yet, but a number of new viol editions are still planned. A recent order from Fretwork means that there is plenty of consort music in stock, and a new publisher is on board. Editions HH is a UK company which produces clean editions of many string and chamber works, but with a few viol editions. The Complete Consort Music of Maurice Webster is here now, and was edited by Peter Holman.
Saraband Music will make a brief appearance next Easter in Sydney, with strings, CDs and music to sell. Please let me know if you want particular items brought along, or need spare strings beforehand.
I now have two gamba students at Stony Creek. Both are doing well, and one – Chris Twidle – is also planning to come to Easter, along with some of the excellent viols he has made. Just before Easter, Chris and I have been asked (provisionally) to give some viol talks and demos to the string students at a Brisbane private school’s music camp. The local Woodford State School senior students may also get a viol demo in coming months. We’re talking!
Phone: 5496 3439
Viols on the Web
One of the most interesting web pages relating to the viol is that from Mimmo Peruffo of Aquila Strings (http://www.aquilacorde.com). Besides the information about his strings and their purchase and use he has some 'researches'. The latest article in English is on “Equal tension, equal feel , scaled tension in the bowed and plucked instruments of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth century”. This is quite long and detailed about the historical evidence for the use of the string gauges we use today and his conclusions are at odds with most modern practice. To do justice to this article you need to read it, however I think it is useful for me to print the conclusions:
The examination of different historical and iconographic sources in our possession might possibly allow to draw a sufficiently clear criteria for choosing a set up for stringed instruments in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century (as seen in everyday practice, and not at the level of pure theoretical disquisition). If you cannot say with certainty which were the criteria used in the Seventeenth century , we can emphasize with some certainty which ones were not.
In first place there is the concept of equal tension 'by calculating' so prevalent today: despite the writings of Mersenne, seems not having been followed as common practice in the Seventeenth century.
Moreover, equal tension 'derived from calculation' unfortunately, is based on an error of scientific evaluation of the proper relationship equal tension= equal feel. The tension of this equivalence is that the string which is already tuned, not the one you set by the known formula for the calculation of the diameters.
It must be emphasized that this criterion of equal feel is still derived from the treaties for plucked instruments only like the lute and not for stringed instruments, for which we do not have actually anything really exhaustive. The first useful practical information date back only to the late Eighteenth century.
Our point of view, summarizing the existing corpus of information examined, aims to suggest in practice a scaled -type tension for most of stringed instruments: Kircher, moreover provides a real test. To determine how scaled it could be is unfortunately impossible to determine. It remains an open question on the open Fifths of fingerboard, which was for some researchers of the Nineteenth century, a topic to explain the need of scaled tension in stringed instruments. But if the problem of having the fifth in tune in the Nineteenth century was a real problem , was it a problem even in the Seventeenth century?
To my mind this is very convincing but unfortunately does not help me choose better strings for my viol!
There is a lot of information about how gut strings are and were made for viols, violins, lutes etc. Also a FAQ page on which I found this interesting information:
“How were strings sold in the past? Present string gauging is a relatively modern praxis, adopted after the introduction of precision mechanical polishing. Up to the beginning of the 20th century a string's diameter was first of all determined by the number of guts employed to manufacture it. a violin treble, for example, was generally made of three guts. This means that, gut being a non-standardizable natural product, the resulting string was not of a constant diameter but fell within a possible diameter bracket. In our violin example the string obtained with three whole lamb guts would have a diameter of between .65 and .75 mm, most probably .68-.70 mm. Strings were usually sold in oiled envelopes containing 30 to 50 strings, all made of the same number of guts: first of all the musician had to select the true strings from the false ones - see 'Mersenne's test - and then select with a gauge and put aside the ones that were too thin or too thick for his purpose. “
|Last Updated on Thursday, 10 November 2011 07:15|