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

I felt a little foolish at the end of the Gresham Society soiree in December, when Professor Cox asked me, after seeing my Renaissance guitar and vocal performance of Innsbruck – reported here and below, why he hadn’t seen me at Christopher Page’s lectures on 16th and 17th Century guitar…

Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

…the answer, quite simply, was that I hadn’t even noticed that they were happening. I know I’m supposed to be finding more time for the things I want to do now, but I hadn’t even skimmed the Gresham College lecture list for the 2017/18 year.

Of course, one of the many wonderful things about Gresham College these days is that the lectures are all archived on-line, including in video form.

So over Christmas I caught up with Christopher Page’s series, by watching the first two lectures on-line.

You can find the whole series here – to the extent that it has already been delivered and uploaded by the date when you click through.

I found both lectures absolutely fascinating. I was particularly taken with the notion, which Christopher Page stated very clearly in the first of the lectures, that the Tudor guitar was, to all intents and purposes, a baritone ukulele; i.e. “my” instrument.

I learnt a lot watching those two lectures and/but I realised that such lectures, with live performance included, would be far more stimulating and enjoyable live…

…especially in the beautiful setting of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

…which is, after all, within even easier reach of the Z/Yen offices than Gresham College itself (by a few hundred yards).

So I booked out the remaining four dates in my diary and resolved to try my very hardest to organise my City working days around those slots.

I’m glad to report that my plan worked for lectures three and four.

17 January 2018 – The Guitar in the Age of Charles I

This was a wonderful lecture, not least for the diversity of the performances that peppered the lecture. Not only several different stringed instruments – the period covers the transition from four-course gittern-type Tudor instruments to five-course Baroque guitars of the Spanish variety – but also some performance with castanets which was a very pleasant surprise and addition. Christopher Page himself played a bit during this lecture.

So I commend the YouTube below if you can spare the time to watch it – most enjoyable as well as informative:

This link to the Gresham College site itself – click here – not only has the video but also the transcripts and audio file.

I picked up a few ideas for my playing at this lecture, not least realising that even I can muck around with the later Folia progression.

A charming lady sat next to me during this lecture – a visitor from Canada – who was strolling the City – had never heard of Gresham College and had simply wandered in having seen the sign outside the church. She was absolutely transfixed by the lecture and the whole idea of Gresham College. She chatted for a while with me, Professor Francis Cox and Frieda after the lecture; it turned out she was also named Francis.

7 February 2018 – An Englishman (with a Guitar) Abroad

I actually did a slightly better job of organising my work around this day, but that did mean that I really was squeezing in the lectures time slot, but still I was able to get to the church in time to grab a decent seat.

At the time of writing (9 February 2018) the video has not yet been uploaded, but the other resources are there and the lecture will go up in full eventually I am sure – click here for the available resources.

Ulrich Wedemeier – the sole performer for this lecture

Again the lecture and the performances were fascinating and interesting.

My fun takeaway from this lecture was a vignette about Charles Stuart (soon to become Charles II) spending 50 livres to transport one guitar and 18 tennis rackets from France to England (presumably in expectation of the Restoration).

Click here for a link to the relevant page in Christopher Page’s book.

This possibly says something about Charles’s relative levels of interest in those two hobbies, but probably says more about his relative playing styles and the fact that broken tennis rackets cannot be repaired in quite the same way that guitars can be restored.

It brought to mind one of my favourite pictures from a busy day a year or so ago when I indulged both hobbies on the same day:

Packing it all in; real tennis and 16th/17th century guitar jam – did Charles Stuart’s consignment look anything like this?

An Unusually Busy Day With Tennis, Middlesex/Saracens and DJ Jamming Session, 9 May 2017

The rest of that day was littered with early music coincidences, which took me back thirty years and involved the Hilliard Ensemble and even Christopher Page’s Gothic Voices project too. Truly weird. Watch this space for a retroblog piece on’t.

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.