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.

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

Been going a very long time

Heinrich Isaac died 500 years ago this month. Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have been around for most of that time…

…OK, not really, but they have been around since the mid 1970s, which is one heck of a long time. What a superb and professional troupe they are.

The concert was billed as being Isaac and Mouton, but in truth it was almost all about Isaac.

Here is a link to the Wigmore Hall resource for the concert we saw/heard. The centrepiece of the first half of the concert was Isaac’s wonderful Missa de apostolis. The second half had more, shorter works; motets, including one by Mouton but the rest all by Isaac.

We spotted Michael Heseltine in the audience a few rows behind us, when we returned from the interval. A bit of a coincidence, as Janie was seeing Angela the next day; Angela was Hesser’s right hand person, back in the day.

We’ve seen The Tallis Scholars before and I have a few of their recordings of Renaissance and Early Baroque music: Brumel, Gombert and Taverner, all excellent. Indeed we listened to this Taverner one – click here – when we got home. 

But before getting home we were treated to a delightful encore of Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, a choral work attributed to (and probably the best known work of) Isaac. It was one of the greatest hits of the Renaissance. In truth, Isaac almost certainly didn’t write the words and possibly didn’t even write the music. But Isaac did live in Innsbruck at one time and did leave the place, perhaps in sorrow as suggested by the song, c1485. That was around the same time as, in Blighty,  Dick The Shit was feeding worms underneath a forthcoming Leicestershire car park and the Tudor era was just kicking off.

We’re talking nearly 100 years ahead of Greensleeves publication, so Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen might well have been at Number One in the Renaissance charts for some 5000 weeks.

In these circumstances, it seemed only sensible for me to get my head around the words, chords and music – click here.

I’ve been working on that lovely song periodically since. It’ll go down an absolute storm on my baroq-ulele. I’m nowhere near as adept as The Tallis Scholars, needless to say, but they are nowhere near as Baroque-and-roll as me.  You never know, my version might just be the summer hit sensation of 2017.

Here are the King’s Singers giving it a go: