The Day That Early Music Found Me, 31 October 1987

Sometimes people like me have a pivotal moment in their self-education about music. I discovered this week (writing in February 2018) that mine was on 31 October 1987.

You’ll need to roll with this one, dear reader, it is a somewhat convoluted tale but in the end it is riddled with strange coincidences twixt 2018 and 1987. I hope this piece has some interesting general insights too.

The evening before I went to Christopher Page’s fascinating Gresham lecture this week – click here or the link below…

A Couple Of Gresham Lectures To Enhance My “Tudor Guitar” Knowledge, 17 January and 7 February 2018

…I looked up the programme for the Phantasm concert Janie and I are heading too later in the month at Wigmore Hall

…and spotted that the William Byrd specific concert would include “Though Amaryllis Dance In Green”. I remembered that song fondly as one of the first Tudor period songs I had heard and liked. I could even recall the tune and many of the words. I sought and found a simplified transcription of the music for lute on-line and decided that it would be a good example for me to work on with Ian Pittaway to further transcribe for solo voice and Tudor guitar.

On the day of the Gresham lecture, my mind began to wander (during the journey home after work I hasten to add, not during the lecture or work) about that song. I knew I still had a recording of it and would have kept notes on who was performing it.

It is extraordinary what memory can do. My mind latched on to that late 1980’s period and I was pretty sure I heard the music while I was getting ready for some professional exams.

I enjoyed a Saturday morning Radio 3 programme back then which played new releases and gave some interesting background on the recordings. But I also wanted to get my homework out of the way, so I tended to spool the radio show onto the trusty reel-to-reel and listen to it later in the day.

One week there had been a morning dedicated to early music and I remembered that some of the music had blown me away…

…to such an extent that I had edited that spool and preserved the recordings…

…then digitised it some 20 years or more later.

In fact, the recording that had really blown me away from that morning’s show was Josquin Des Prez and my records tell me that it was the Hilliard Ensemble.

That album is available digitally now – click here or the image of it below:

…and as I am promoting the material so flagrantly for the Hilliards…and have of course now bought a copy of the album for myself, assuaging my guilt for the home taping…I’ll guess they won’t mind that I have uploaded my rather worn-sounding track – the one that blew me away – Ave Maria:

It really is a lovely recording of the piece. I have heard several others since and (perhaps it’s me) but that Hilliard recording of it is something very special.

When I got home to find all this out, there was a really nice message waiting for me (us) on Facebook from Ros Elliot, an old friend of Janie’s who now lives in Turkey.  I recalled that Ros’s brother Paul used to sing with the Hillard Ensemble and of course, it transpired with a little e-digging, is indeed singing on that very album of Josquin music.

Also on that same old tape of mine, as I expected, was Though Amaryllis…which was also a recording by the Hilliard Ensemble. The Byrd was released the same year as the Josquin; 1987. Now available as part of a double-album of Byrd and Dowland…yes of course I procured this one too. Only available in CD form for now – click here or below:

So, given that the Hilliards got a sale and an advert out of me for this album too, I’m going to guess that they’ll be OK with the worn-sounding Though Amaryllis file going up for you to sample:

So then all I needed was my diary and the trusty BBC Genome project to resolve exactly when this introduction to Early Music happened.

It was 31 October 1987 – click here for BBC Genome listing…

…which yielded the next coincidence. The same broadcast had included Christopher Page with Gothic Voices singing, amongst other things, Ian Pittaway’s favorites Westron wynde and Hey nony nonyno. Clearly those didn’t make the cut on my edited tape. Perhaps I missed the start of the show…or perhaps those songs were too alien for my ears at that time.

It was a tumultuous time for many people, that month. We had the great storms a couple of weeks before (a “westron wynde” to remember)

...and then the markets upheaval a few days after that – not that markets affected poor apprentices like me and humbly retired folk like my parents.

My diary for 31 October 1987 simply says that I studied during the day and relaxed at home during the evening – much as I remembered it.

I also remember my dad not much caring for Ave Maria…on principle sort-of…going beyond the Ian Pittaway theory – click here for that – dad struggled with Christian sacred music generally…probably all sacred music really…

Oy vay, Maria?

…but dad did like the secular Josquin tracks very much; and the Byrd. Mum didn’t get early music at all. Chopin, Strauss (the waltz ones) and Tchaikovsky for her.

Momentous stuff in late 1987 – it really was the day that early music found me – and some wonderful coincidences in early 2018 while I found that momentous day again.