Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

Robin Wilson Leads Us In A Latin Canticle, Tinniat Tintinnabulum

Back in March, when Janie and I went to see The Tallis Scholars perform works by Heinrich Isaac:

The Tallis Scholars: Isaac and Mouton, Wigmore Hall, 9 March 2017

…I had no idea where it would lead. But I was much taken by their encore song, Innsbruck, Ich Muss Dich Lassen. I found a simple chord version of the song and started strumming it out on my baroq-ulele.

Once I learnt that the piece probably had a strong temporal connection with Sir Richard Gresham’s birth year and the start of the Tudor period, I resolved to prepare that song for the next Gresham Society soirée by learning how to play it “properly”.

Ironically, I found my source of serious early music learning through a comedic spoof shared on the Early Music Facebook Group on the 1st of April:

The song Shakespeare stole from: a discovery from the 16th century

I tracked down Early Music Muse, who is a delightful musician, music teacher and expert on early music named Ian Pittaway, based in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

I have now had several fascinating Skype-based lessons with Ian, a couple of face-to-face lessons and lots of practice in-between. Ian also transcribed the Innsbruck song for me into Renaissance-style tablature.

Roll the clock forward some months to the day of the soirée. Despite several explanatory exchanges of e-mails, Professor Tim Connell remained convinced that I am dead-panning a joke rather than REALLY preparing to play something serious. Fortunately he was at our offices that afternoon, so, on the way to Gresham College from Z/Yen, I had the opportunity to persevere with him and get him to amend his introduction.

In fact I bundled out of the cab before Gresham, to pop in and see John White, to drop off some gifts from Thailand and from the Chelsea Physic Garden in the summer, all of which I keep forgetting to take with me when I see John. He and his work team were finishing their Christmas lunch in Vivat Bacchus. The team, who are a very jolly and friendly bunch, asked me to play my Renaissance song for them. I attempted to play it, but frankly the place was far too loud for anyone to hear me…

…which was just as well, as I soon realised, once I got to Gresham to warm up, that my baroq-ulele was monstrously out of tune. Something to do with tube train vibrations that doesn’t seem to happen in the car. I spent most of my warming up time desperately trying to tune my instrument. In desperation, I even got the screwdriver out at one stage – really.

Meanwhile Michael Mainelli was also in the green room warming up his bagpipes and trying to “sooth my nerves” by challenging my pronunciation of every German word. As Elisabeth (Michael’s wife, who hails from Germany) put it, rather sharply, when I asked her, after the performance, about this pronunciation point, “what would Michael know about German pronunciation?”

In truth I was already feeling a little sensitive about my pronunciation, as Micky, the night before at the Chelsea Physic Garden, had declared my accent, “more like Yiddish than German”.  Elisabeth thought Micky’s concerns were just funny.

The soirée was scheduled differently this year, with the buffet served before the show, then the first half of the soirée was professional musicians showing us how it should be done.

Sian Millett Sings A Very Flirty Habanera, With David Jones On Keyboard

David I/we knew well from previous soirées – he was my “partner in crime” at the event a few years ago in my rap version of Any Old Iron (to be Ogblogged in the fulness of time).

But don’t be deceived by the limitations of David’s bit-part roles in my slapstick comedy performances; David is actually a fine pianist and has an excellent baritone voice in his own right. His rendition of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements is always a bit of a highlight of soirées, but this year he did also sing some charming songs, such as Copeland’s Long Time Ago and Novello’s My Dearest Dear.

Sian Millett charmed us with arias spanning the centuries, from Ombre Mai Fu  (Handel) to Secret Love (from Calamity Jane) via the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.

After a short break, the amateurs took over the programme, including my rendition of Innsbruck, which I billed as the Sir Richard Gresham Nativity Song.

I don’t have a recording of the performance but I do have a rather rudimentary vlog of my dress rehearsal at home on the day of the performance:

I probably spent as much time preambling the song as I spent singing it – so if you want to know more about the song you can find my preamble notes (including some additional notes I didn’t use on the night) in full by clicking here.

After my little performance, the highlight for me was Anthony Hodson’s bassoon performance (with David on “harpsichord”), Telemann’s F minor sonata. Those two also performed The Teddy Bears Picnic (which looked equally challenging for bassoon) – I could have joined in and even sung my Coppers Are Dressed As Hippies version of the tune had I known in advance…probably for the best that I didn’t.

There was also a comedic poetic tribute to Dawn who was sitting in front of me, looking amused and embarrassed in equal measure. Finally, of course, the traditional Professors’ Song as the closing number, captured this year on vid by Georgina – shared through this link, with thanks to Georgina.

I got very kind and pleasant feedback on my piece from lots of people over drinks after the show. But the icing on that particular post show cake was feedback from Frieda, one of the Gresham Society regulars, who explained to me that her mother is from Innsbruck and used to sing that song to Frieda when she was a little girl. Frieda seemed almost overcome with emotion telling me about it.

I asked Frieda if the song had sounded alright to her in my attempted German voice and in the early music style; she said it had. I told her that she had really made my evening with her feedback, but she insisted that hearing the song at Gresham had made her evening.

As always with Gresham Society, there were lots of interesting people to chat with before and after the show. I suggested to several people that I would revert to silly stuff next time, but detected a groundswell of enthusiasm for a more serious piece. We’ll see.

Innsbruck, Ich Muss Dich Lassen, My Preamble For The Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

There follows the preamble to my Innsbruck performance, explained in more detail in the piece linked below:

Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

Did anyone by any chance come to this soiree primarily to hear me sing a silly song? Good, because on this occasion I’m going to perform a serious piece, for the first time since I was at school.

  • Heinrich Isaac was a Netherlandish (Flemish) Renaissance composer who died 500 years ago this year;
  • Prolific composer of beautiful sacred music, but by far his best-known work is a secular song, Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen – Innsbruck I must leave you.
  • If there had been Euro pop charts back in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Innsbruck would probably have been number one in the charts for decades. Greensleeves probably originated more than 50 years later, but in mainland Europe, Innsbruck was probably still number one for decades even after Greensleeves turned up.  Many hymns, cantatas and songs are based on the Innsbruck tune, not least several Bach works;
  • the first document mentioning Isaac’s name dates back to September 1484, placing him in Innsbruck as a singer for Duke Sigismund of Austria;
  • documents show that by July 1485 Isaac had relocated to Florence, employed as a singer at the church Santa Maria del Fiore…
  • so it is likely that Isaac wrote his Innsbruck song c1485;
  • c1485 is an interesting year. Not least, c1485 is the exact circa year of Sir Richard Gresham’s birth;
  • 1485 is also the year when Richard III failed to trade his kingdom for a horse, ending up interred in a Leicester car park, marking the start of Tudor England;
  • so it seems right to perform Innsbruck for The Gresham Society in this lovely Tudor Hall;
  • To try and give the song an authentic early Tudor sound, I found a delightful expert on early music Ian Pittaway, who wrote the tablature arrangement I’m going to play you and has coached me to play my instrument better, not least the Tudor-stylee I shall try today;
  • The difference between messing about with comedy music (my usual thing) and having a genuine go at performing in a Renaissance style, in German, is enormous. I have learnt a lot about early music and also about myself by attempting this;
  • You’ll hear three verses. The first laments having to leave Innsbruck. The second laments having to leave a true love behind.  The third verse professes faithfulness and virtue ahead of an intended return to Innsbruck;
  • It is a beautiful song and I hope I can do it justice for you tonight.

 

Additional Notes

  • Much of his working life in Florence; a close associate of Lorenzo de’ Medici. A contemporary of Josquin des Prez – agent’s letter to the court of Este comparing Josquin with Isaac – “[Isaac] is of a better disposition among his companions, and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to.” Isaac got the job;
  • Lutheran chorale, “O Welt, ich muß dich lassen”, the 17th century hymn “In allen meinen Taten” by Paul Fleming and later still Bach’s chorale cantata In allen meinen Taten, BWV 97 and also elements of the St Matthew’s Passion.

I DID Want To Go To Chelsea, Gresham Society Visit To Chelsea Physic Garden, then The Other Side Of Hope, Curzon Chelsea, 30 May 2017

When Tim Connell sent round a circular announcing a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden, I knew immediately that the visit would be a special treat for Janie and guessed that Linda Cook would also be very interested. I was less sure about Michael and Elisabeth; as it turned out Michael was keen.

Janie was very keen and had not yet booked in any patients for that day, so we basically decided to make it a date and took the day off.

A hot date in the Chelsea Physic Garden

There were 25 to 30 of us in the Gresham Society party, I believe. The weather was very kind to us; occasionally the clouds looked a bit iffy, but there was also some sun and certainly no rain.

The Original Sloane Ranger In His Garden

We got split into two groups; our guide was Anne, who seemed very well informed and proved to be good company.

To my mind, the best plant in the garden was Catharanthus roseus (Madagascan or Rosy periwinkle), which yields natural remedies for childhood leukaemia, increasing survival rates by orders of magnitude. Yet the most popular plant amongst our cynical, Gresham Society group seemed to be Veratrum viride (Indian Poke), which induces profuse vomiting and which some native American tribes use to choose their leader; on a “last candidate to throw up” basis. Going back to traditional, natural methods is sometimes a very good idea.

Janie asked Anne zillions of questions, many of which seemed to me to be more about the poisonous, nasty plants, rather than the medicinal, nice ones. Even more worryingly, I thought I heard Janie ask a few of times, “would you be able to taste this if you added it to food?” Perhaps I am mistaken about that. But when we visited the bookshop before leaving, Janie bought a small book on medicinal plants and a larger book on the poisonous ones. I think I’ll eat out for a while.

We enjoyed a spot of lunch/high tea at the Tangerine Dream cafe within the garden, which made for a very convivial conclusion to the outing. We always enjoy spending time with the Gresham Society crowd.

By the time Janie had concluded her book shopping, I thought we might be running a bit late for the movies, but I had sort-of forgotten that the car journey from the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Curzon Chelsea was a very short one.

So we had time to book Janie’s birthday treat (a preview of the new V&A wing) before stepping in to The Other Side Of Hope. We thought this was a great movie – very interesting, at times amusing, at times shocking. It is about a Syrian refugee who lands-up seeking asylum and then working as an illegal in Helsinki.

Here’s a trailer:

Highly recommended.

Then we went back to the flat to round off our very enjoyable day with a dinner of delicious leftovers from the weekend and salad. I prepared it all, not allowing Janie anywhere near the kitchen today, she had done her bit over the weekend.  Continue reading I DID Want To Go To Chelsea, Gresham Society Visit To Chelsea Physic Garden, then The Other Side Of Hope, Curzon Chelsea, 30 May 2017

A Gresham Society Visit To See The Gresham Music Collection And Other Treasures, The Guildhall Library, 29 November 2016

Source: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/images/purcell_1.jpg
Henry Purcell: The Gresham Autograph. Source: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/images/purcell_1.jpg

Awesome.

I don’t use that word in the youthful, throw-away sense that I have been known to lampoon elsewhere – click here for an example.

I mean that some of the items I saw this evening really did inspire awe. That rare, tingling feeling at the back of my neck when seeing an especially stunning drama unfolding in an unexpected way, or hearing a wonderful piece of music, or seeing a rare, thought-provoking and/or beautiful artefact.

This was a very interesting Gresham Society outing, albeit so close to Gresham home turf that the word “outing” seems barely appropriate. The Guildhall is just off Gresham Street and around the corner from the old Gresham College; perhaps an “innings” rather than an outing for the Gresham Society.

Anyway, Dr Peter Ross provided a fascinating introduction, explaining the story of the Guildhall Library and its historical collections, of which the Gresham Music Collection is but one. Here is a link to Dr Ross’s Gresham lecture on the subject; more generally detailed but less oriented towards the Gresham Collection than the talk he gave us. Irene, one of our Gresham Society members, was a librarian at the Guildhall Library as a youngster, so she could fill in some details too.

I hadn’t realised the diversity of subject matter contained in the collection. I knew to expect music books and I knew that the Guildhall Collection generally had a massive collection of books about London; my cousin Sidney would have been in his element for those. But also many books on food in the Gresham Collection and fascinating books about travel, inventions and mechanical devices.

After the illustrated talk, Peter then showed us around the many artefacts he had lovingly laid out around the library for us to glance at and (in the case of more robust/less rare items) examine.

Among the most interesting to me, a rare manuscript of Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis, a favourite piece of mine. The rarity of this manuscript is two-fold. Firstly, it is documented as a “grandchild” of an original autograph – those are extremely rare for words of such antiquity and especially so for this work. Secondly, it contains a forty-first part for this forty-part piece.

Several of us wondered how the extra Spem part might have come about. I imagined a much simplified part, to allow a keen but profoundly untalented enthusiast like me to join in the singing. But that is mere conjecture for our “post-factual” era. Perhaps a truthful answer lies in the learned notes (mentioning the Gresham) contained in the version of the score shown in this link – click here.

One very beautiful travel book, Victorian era I should imagine, included a description and illustration of musicians in Aleppo. My slightly cack-handed smart phone image below does not do justice to the picture.

img_0294

Coincidentally, Janie and I are going to see Basel Rajoub (a musician from Aleppo) together with his Soriana Project and Wu Man, this Friday at the Wigmore Hall – (Ogblog item on that concert to follow shortly), so this exhibit seemed especially poignant to me that day.

(Janie and I think about Aleppo a lot at the moment. Not many people we know had, like us, the good fortune to visit that beautiful city some years ago – we look at our photos from Aleppo often these days – click here.)

But the highlight of the artefacts was the Purcell Autograph from the Gresham Music Collection. That was the item that really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Source: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/images/purcell_1.jpg
Source: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/images/purcell_1.jpg

In order to ensure we were in the right mood for the Purcell Autograph, Peter Ross put on some suitable Purcell Music. I didn’t realise until later that he really was playing the music from the autograph we were observing; the contents of the autograph were recorded some years ago and the recording is still available as a CD or download. I have downloaded the album and am listening to it with great pleasure as I write. It can be obtained through Amazon – click here...and other places too no doubt.

Libations and nibbles were available in the lecture room, at a safe distance from the precious books. The Gresham Society people are always delightful company. I believe that the merriment continued afterwards in a nearby watering hole; I needed to retreat quite early having irritatingly accepted an early morning speaking engagement in Southampton the next day. Still, this evening at the Guildhall Library will live long and happily in my memory.

Gresham Society AGM and Dinner, National Liberal Club, 4 February 2016

A convivial evening at the National Liberal Club; the Gresham Society AGM and dinner. Michael Mainelli said he was going to miss not only the pre-AGM drinks but even the AGM, so suggested that I leave the office ahead of him.  But by the time I had got there and made his excuses to everyone, he arrived; a good 5-10 minutes before the AGM started.

In the hands of Tim Connell, an AGM is neither painful nor lengthy. So there was time for more chat between the AGM and dinner. Several people were complimentary about my maiden baritone ukulele performance at December’s Gresham Society soiree, which certainly made me feel good at the end of a long day.

I sat next to Elisabeth Mainelli on one side and Noel-Ann Bradshaw from the University of Greenwich on the other side, which made very pleasant company; indeed at Gresham Society functions, pleasant company is more or less guaranteed.

The speaker was Michael Binyon, whose tales of derring-do as foreign correspondent for the times didn’t quite match Boot of The Beast (Scoop is one of my favourite novels) but raised several laughs none-the-less. A memorable tale about Messrs Foot and Healey meeting Brezhnev sticks in my mind, as does the problem of dictation down the phone line which led to the reporting of “dead sea squirrels”. What a by-gone era story that makes, although it occurred within living memory).

No doubt Michael Binyon had to dodge a bullet or two as a correspondent, but he struggled to dodge a “question-bullet” about the Times pay-wall, claiming that the iPad version of the Times is making money now.  As the economists, accountants and operational researchers on our table might put it; that depends on how you count.

I imagine that the merriment continued in the bar long after I sloped away, but at the end of a long day I decided to quit while I was still feeling very much on top.  A most enjoyable evening.

 

 

 

 

Thomas Gresham Nativity Song, Gresham Society Soiree, 9 December 2015

To Gresham College at Barnard’s Inn Hall, for the biennial Gresham Society soiree.  Those of a musical or light entertainment persuasion put on a short variety show, as the scene-setter for a jolly social. The usual assortment of super people gathered; a mixture of professors, former professors/lecturers and Gresham College enthusiasts.

I wrote a version of “I’m Henery The Eighth I Am”, to describe the events that might have led to Thomas Gresham’s birth and eventual financial heroics. I decided to give my recently-acquired baritone ukulele skills an outing this time, not least because I have recently imported a Roosebeck Baritone Baroq-ulele which certainly looked the part for this “piece”.

This was quite a daunting performance for me – I only took up the baritone ukulele 18 months ago, having eschewed all instruments since the disaster that was my attempt at the violin as a small boy. So this was to be my first performance in front of an audience.

Further, the song I chose did not have any simple chord versions to be found on the web; the chorus of course (a big hit for Herman’s Hermits and Joe Brown before them) but not the verse.

So I needed to work out the chords for myself – see attachment with my hand-written notes.  I wrote “capo 1” all over it, as I chorded it in G but it was originally written (and indeed Herman’s Hermits sang it) in A minor. In the end, though, I sang and played it without the capo, i.e. in G major, as the baroq-ulele was a little quiet for the Barnard’s Inn Hall and my voice copes a little better the deeper I go.

The audience participation elements worked well and I am told the performance was well received. In any case, as the compere Professor Tim Connell put it at the start of one of the other acts that evening, “it’s not all about music tonight”. That was certainly the case for my little rendition.

The text that follows has the original verse and chorus, by Fred Murray and R P Weston, followed by two verses of my own. Shown in the text below the music notes and then further below as viewable JPEGs and also a downloadable PDF.But, as Michael Mainelli said, there’s probably only one music hall in the world that will really appreciate my Thomas Gresham verses for the song; Barnard’s Inn Hall.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

THE THOMAS GRESHAM NATIVITY SONG

(Song to the Tune of “I’m Henery The Eighth, I Am”)

FIRST VERSE

You don’t know who you’re looking at, now have a look at me,

I’m a bit of a nob I am, belong to Royaltee;

I’ll tell you how it came about, I married widow Burch,

And I was King of England, when I toddled out of church.

Outside the people started shouting, “Hip hooray”;

Said I, “Get down upon your knees its Coronation Day.”

CHORUS 

I’m Henery the eighth I am, Henery the eighth I am, I am

I got married to the widow next door

She’s been married seven times before

Everyone was a Henery (AUDIENCE: Henery)

She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam (AUDIENCE: or a Sam) 

I’m her eighth old man named Henery,

I’m Henery the eighth I am.

SECOND VERSE (different from the first; different from the original too)

I’m not so good with money if I’m left upon me own,

So I called my mate, Dick Gresham, who could organize a loan;

I said, “I need the wonga, but I can’t afford the fleece,

Get terms I can afford or else we’ll end up just like Greece”;

Dick planned long finance, so he said, “thy will be done,

Your brood will still need Greshams’ help, I’d better pop a son.”

CHORUS 

I’m Henery the eighth I am, Henery the eighth I am,

I am I got married to the widow next door

She’s been married seven times before

Everyone was a Henery (AUDIENCE: Henery)

She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam (AUDIENCE: or a Sam) 

I’m her eighth old man named Henery, I’m Henery the eighth I am.

THIRD VERSE (different again!)

So Dick, he had a son named Tom, as smart as smart could be,

And when my Ted went brassic, Tommy saved the currency;

My Mary fared no better, Tommy had to bail her out,

And Liz retained his services, though she was more adroit.

All raise a glass to Tom, without him we’d be poor,

Bad money drives out good, I say, and call it Gresham’s Law.

CHORUS AND OUTRO 

I’m Henery the eighth I am,

Henery the eighth I am,

I am I got married to the widow next door

She’s been married seven times before

Everyone was a Henery (AUDIENCE: Henery)

She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam (AUDIENCE: or a Sam) 

I’m her eighth old man named Henery, I’m Henery the eighth I am. 

H-E-NRY, ‘Enery, (AUDIENCE: ‘Enery) 

‘Enery the Eighth I am, I am, Henery the Eighth I am! 

 

Gresham Song Page One of TwoGresham Song Page Two of Two

The Thomas Gresham Nativity Song With My Chords and Hand Written chords.

Click here or below for a link to see Harry Champion’s original version of this song.