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Vox Humana

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  1. Festal responses

    Thank you, Richard!
  2. Ornamentation in Bach’s “O Mensch bewein”

    Badura-Skoda had an article published a year or two ago in 'Early Music' entitled something like 'Let's get rid of the wrong Pralltriller', which, so far as I could see, was based on nothing more than personal feeling. His argument is certainly contradicted by some ornament tables from the period. I'm certainly no expert, but I understand that Bach's ornament table for W F Bach (?) is based on French practice and some argue that it is not necessarily applicable to music in other styles - although again I'm not sure whether there is any substance behind this. What does need consideration in O Mensch (and elsewhere) is whether a distinction should be drawn between a trill indicated by a wavy line with a vertical slash at the end and one with a wavy line without a slash but with a turn of two demisemiquavers written out at the end. Bach writes both forms in this piece. Why did he make a distinction? Did he intend one?
  3. Length of voluntaries.

    Surely "the" Widor is guaranteed a favourable reception?
  4. Speech rhythm

    I don't suppose that this is susceptible to proof either way. However, I find John Sheppard's hymns interesting. Rather like Morley and his endlessly inventive variations on the same "plainsong" phrase, so Sheppard seems to have had a bit of a thing about a point of imitation consisting of (in solfa) sol, sol sol, mi, ut, often flexed as sol, sol, sol, fa, re (along with several further variants thereof). Alas, few of these hymns are available on CPDL, but there are a few there (not all under the "Hymns" heading). Mostly the uploaded settings are the more interesting ones that avoid this figure, but Beata nobis gaudia uses it extensively. So, to a lesser extent does his Jesu salvator saeculi. From these and other similar treatments, one could certainly argue that what interested Sheppard was the musical phrase and that he didn't mind the occasional misaccentuation here. It's worth pondering because, as a general rule, it is quite obvious that Sheppard normally did go out of his way to accentuate words correctly so that strong syllables fell "on the beat". I might add that, so far as I know (and I have asked people who should know), no one has yet discovered any evidence of Tudor choirmen rehearsing and I'm not at all convinced that their standards were as high as we might like to think.
  5. Speech rhythm

    There's plenty of evidence, just none for office psalms. Faburden (a form of harmonised chanting consisting at its simplest of chains of 6/3 chords with 5/8 chords at beginning and end) is at least as old as the second quarter of the fifteenth century and there are older pieces that are not so very different in concept. The many faburdens that have survived, whether as single voices or incorporated into polyphonic compositions, include Magnificats (which used the psalm tones), hymns (over 100 of these survive), Te Deum, processional items (Salve festa dies, litany refrains, the two psalms I mentioned above), antiphons, an offertory and a communion. It's always possible that new evidence will come along to upset received wisdom, but on the current information available I would have to say that the office psalms were not sung polyphonically until Tallis & Co began to write festal settings. For all that Edward VI was a staunch Protestant (if that word is not an anachronism at that time) he evidently did allow very elaborate music in his chapel. John Sheppard's vernacular services could hardly have been written at any other time since he died almost at the same time as Mary Tudor. Recent research has shown how unwise it is to make assumptions about the chronology of Tallis's music, so I wouldn't entirely discount the possibility of Tallis's festal responses having been written for Edward's chapel, although they do seem to sit more comfortably in Elizabeth's. From this later example by Gibbons we can easily see how formalised Anglican chant later came about. The instructions that Scottish Anonymous gives for faburden do include rules for improvising it in four parts. I can't say I have internalised them, but there's an old article in Music and Letters that discusses them. In the Latin services all polyphony was a mark of ceremonial - although not officially sanctioned in the customary, it became to be regarded as a highly desirable tool in the same basket as incense, candles, silk copes and everything else that was brought out to add greater solemnity to the ceremonial of special occasions and feast days (and the more important the feast the more elaborate the ceremonial). The forms that exist in Faburden are exactly the forms for which composed polyphony also survives, so the distinction was just one of complexity. Faburden would certainly have been viewed as polyphony. Flippin' clerics.
  6. Speech rhythm

    But the point is that the text is metrical.* Let's turn this around. Many musicians argue that the absence of barlines in Medieval and Renaissance music, considered together with the micro-rhythms of the individual polyphonic lines, proves that these lines were played or sung not with regular stresses such as barlines impose, but in free rhythm that followed the music. The mensuration symbol (equivalent to our time signature) in which the piece was written governed the music only at the macro level. You, however, appear to agree with Peter le Huray, who points out somewhere in his book Music and the Reformation in England that performers would have felt the tactus and the microrhythms would have been felt against this regular pulse (an effect not that different from barlines). If the former view were correct then we wouldn't be debating whether or not Latin fits Tallis's Canon, because the stresses in the music would then follow the text as necessary, not the "time signature". (In fact Tallis's psalm tunes were printed without any mensuration symbols, but that's John Day for you). Le Huray was surely right. There is just no way anyone could have performed the complex proportions ('tuplets' in modern transcriptions) found in Morley's Introduction, John Baldwin's Commonplace Book and elsewhere without feeling the regular beat of tactus and prolation very firmly. Morley's book makes it very clear that the ability to maintain an unyielding, rock-steady tempo was crucial in performance. (His Christ's cross be my speed is so horrendously complex that I seriously wonder whether anyone has ever managed to perform it.) So, if we accept that the music was subject to a regular pulse, how do you account for the clear misaccentuation of "Discretor" in bar 3 and "Gloria" at bars 45-7 of Tallis's Jesu salvator saeculi? Similar examples can be found throughout the Tudor hymn repertoire - and the Tudors so routinely accented Alleluia on the second syllable in their responsories that I seriously wonder whether they didn't pronounce it that way. * I find it interesting that Latin poetry in medieval services (hymns, sequences, rhymed offices) mostly obeys regular metres (Stabat mater dolorosa and Ave verum corpus natum are familiar examples) while English poetry of the Middle Ages is typically much more flexible in this respect.
  7. Speech rhythm

    If I accede your point I would have to accept that the plainsong tune was accented differently in different verses (viz. Confessionem personent in verse 2), but is there any evidence for such treatement?
  8. Speech rhythm

    I'm not sure that's entirely correct. It's true that an anonymous Scottish treatise describes how to improvise a four-part faburden upon a plainsong and Thomas Morley in his A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke provides harmonisations for the different tones, so the technique was certainly known. Nevertheless, so far as I know, there was no tradition in England before the Reformation of singing the psalms of the office in polyphony, faburden or otherwise. The only psalms that were sung thus were Laudate pueri Doninum and In exitu Israel, when sung during the procession to the font and back after Vespers on Easter Day - a special case. Polyphony during the office was, in any case, confined to feast days and then to a limited selection of items (e.g. at Vespers the responsory, hymn and Magnificat). There is no hint of festal psalm settings in Edward VI's reign (although it is also true that there are very few sources); they seem to be a product of the more musically tolerant reign of Elizabeth I. It would have been natural to have resorted, as Tallis did, to harmonising the plainsong tones traditionally used for chanting, but that doesn't necessarily point to an unbroken tradition. It is perfectly true that these settings evolved after the Restoration into the more rigid form of Anglican chant.
  9. Speech rhythm

    Really? Tallis's "Canon" (in the truncated form found in modern hymns books) fits Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus well enough, as well as other hymns in this metre. (O salutaris hostia might be a more familiar possibility.) Incidentally, I don't think any scholars now believe that Byrd wrote Non nobis Domine. See Philip Brett, "Did Byrd Write 'Non Nobis Domine'?", Musical Times cxiii (Sept 1972), p.855.
  10. Speech rhythm

    He may have just meant that it was apt to be overdone. Here's what he said: "It has been well argued that English in conversational rhythm has no place in singing in church. Without labouring the point, we may assert that when delivered upon a chord in four-part harmony it sounds musically fantastic and unstable. Few will deny that the quest for so-called speech-rhythm has carried the chanting of the psalms to ludicrous extremes besides encouraging the merciless pruning of dozens of perfectly good anglican chants. A careful reassessment of values from time to time is advisable." Nearly all of his own chants (not that there are many) have passing notes. He once spoke to me about the matching of chants to the psalms. I can't remember his exact words, but the gist was as follows. One had one's favourite chant/psalm matches and that, on taking up a new post, one's instinct was to make lots of changes; however it was much better to hold back and absorb the status quo properly before introducing any changes. On the other hand, you may have a point about the choir. The boys loved him, but he frequently complained that the lay clerks "couldn't or wouldn't" do what he wanted. One should bear in mind that in Campbell's time the lay clerk-ships were jobs for life, with all the disadvantages that that entails. After Campbell's death, Christopher Robinson expanded the number of lay clerks from nine to twelve, which helped to improve the quality, and it wasn't long before most of the older men had gone. The standard shot up.
  11. Festal responses

    Yes, I think that's what he meant. I was tempted to quote more of Campbell's introduction, but feared it might send my remaining reader to sleep! Clearly he didn't like people trying to sing in the rhythm of "conversational English" and deplored the excision of passing notes in Anglican chants. Whether he was still advocating the old measured style of chanting he doesn't say. If he was, he must have changed his mind on going to Windsor, for only a couple of years later he broadcast a Choral Evensong from there in which the chanting is most definitely speech-rhythm (it's on YouTube); however, he still thought omitting passing notes was wrong. I'm glad you brought this subject up. I hadn't previously appreciated how innovative Rose's responses must have been. Their publication certainly seems to have opened the floodgates, for a number of other settings were published hard on its heels. What we don't know is when any of these sets were actually written: they might have been in use in manuscript for some time previously - but if so, they didn't feature in broadcast Evensongs.
  12. Festal responses

    Having done some more homework I find that my information was incomplete; I had forgotten to check the files in my basement. Rose's was by no means the first of the latter-day settings, although it might still have been the first of significance. A set by one Charles Westoby was published in 1901. 1926 saw the publication of another by E. S. White, the Organist and Choirmaster of Great Warley parish church. Then in 1940 came one by Clifford Richardson. Harry Moreton also wrote a set for his choir at St Andrew's, Plymouth.* The publication is undated but he must have written them before 1958 when he retired and very probably much earlier (the engraving looks older). All of these are very uncomplicated settings. Moreton's are almost as uninteresting as Elvey's, Richardson's didn't grab me either, but the other two are better although I doubt anyone would rush to schedule them today. In 1960 Sidney Campbell published his arrangement of the "Canterbury Use" responses. These are not too far removed from the ferial ones and again are set very plainly. They are interesting because they include a long and typically idiosyncratic note by Campbell, perhaps intended for parish church organists, which reads almost as if he thought he was being innovative: "Numerous choirmasters and clergymen will no doubt raise horrified eyebrows at the appearance of these Responses. Not only do they defy well-intentioned attempts to establish a uniform setting for all churches in this country and indeed farther afield; by employing musical note-values, they contradict the opinion that certain parts of a service should be sung in 'speech-rhythm.' ... There are in Jebb's Choral Responses, settings peculiar to most British Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches. The Bristol Use is frequently heard: the Norwich Use has perhaps never been dropped: the Westminster Responses are sung at Ely. The Canterbury Use is sung regularly alongside the more elaborate settings of Tudor composers. It is sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes doubled by the organ and sometimes freely accompanied..." * A propos what I said previously about all sorts of things getting attributed to Tallis, by coincidence today I was given a manuscript book of Moreton's. It includes harmonisations of both the "Ferial Responses" and "Festal Responses", both of which Moreton attributed to Tallis!
  13. Length of voluntaries.

    I am sorry to introduce a cynical note, but it depends entirely on where you play. In most parish churches the ideal length is however long it takes for the bulk of the congregation to reach the tea and coffee urns at the back of the nave.
  14. Festal responses

    One should never say never! However I think it is probably safe to say that all early manuscripts have been well plundered by musicologists and if there were any other Restoration settings we would know about them. The extended "Tudor" period is well covered here and here, from which lists I note that there are some responses by George Jeffreys, whose career spanned the interregnum. Jeffreys was a first-rate composer, so I wonder what they are like?
  15. Festal responses

    Thank you very much indeed for that, Philip. That's most helpful and, I'm afraid, exactly what I suspected.