Lamentations

A Lenten Evensong with music by Thomas Tallis
Sun 25.02.24 Concerts 17:15 and 19:15

Kartäuserkirche
Basel

The horse trapped with velvet, led by two equerries; the Sargeant of the Vestrie; Children of the Chapel Royal. Part of the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth I to Westminster Abbey, 28 April 1603 © British Library

"T

allis is dead, and Music dies.” Thus wrote William Byrd in his elegy on the death of his teacher, Thomas Tallis. Tallis, affectionately known as the father of English music, took up his post in the royal chapel in 1543 and served the British royal family for more than 40 years. He maintained his reputation as the country’s greatest composer during the turbulent reigns of four monarchs with changing faiths. He continually adapted his compositional style to suit Protestant and Catholic sensibilities, earning the favor of his respective rulers.

Tallis’ Lamentations are of monumental importance to the English choral tradition. Probably composed in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, these settings subtly demonstrate the unique so-called ‘ambidenominational’ style that emerged from the constant vacillation between Protestant and Catholic during Tallis’s lifetime.

In the form of a Lenten Evensong, a vocal ensemble joined by an organ frame Tallis’ Lamentations with other works from throughout his life, providing an intimate insight into one of the most important compositional works of the English Renaissance.

Jacob Lawrence – voice; direction

Tessa Roos – voice

Loïc Paulin – voice

Henry van Engen – voice

Elam Rotem – voice

Joseph Laming – organ

Loïc, Henry, Tessa, Jakob, Elam

Video

Lamentations

Aus der Probe zu «Lamentations»  – Englische Vokalmusik zur Fastenzeit. Jacob Lawrence, Elam Rotem, Henry van Engen, Tessa Roos und Loïc Paulin, Gesang. Video von Vivianne Caragea.

Interview

Jacob Lawrence, director and singer in February’s concert, answers questions from Thomas Christ.

It is a pleasure and an honor for our Forum of Early Music to invite the Australian tenor for an interview. He has been known to our audiences for years, since Jacob Lawrence has often performed in our concert series in the Barfüsserkirche and made prominent guest appearances abroad.

TC: Of course we are aware of the international appeal of our Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, but let me start by asking you a question: How does a boy soprano in Melbourne end up in Basel at the Schola Cantorum? What mentors and circumstances led you to Switzerland in 2016?

JL: My mother is a harpsichordist and my father a church musician, so I grew up in a house full of early music. All through my vocal studies degree in Australia, I engaged more and more with early music as part of my own career, but when I finished that degree, I wasn’t sure what my next step would be. I was in love with Renaissance music, and it felt back then like a language that I’d learned by immersion, without any understanding of its grammar and syntax. A friend of mine who had studied cornetto in England mentioned the Schola to me and gave me Anne Smith’s “Performing 16th century music” to read, and I fell completely in love with it. The perspective this book gave me, as well as his encouragement and meeting students from the Schola at summer schools around Europe all led me to audition at the Schola, where I studied for 4 years.

TC: You are a well-known figure among Renaissance music lovers, yet your international performances, as well as the prizes you have received, are in the field of Baroque music – two neighboring disciplines, but we would like to know something about the different approach to that style of music, of course from the singer’s point of view, perhaps in terms of freedom of interpretation, drama or narrative art.

JL: The freedom of interpretation for any performer is a very interesting question. Baroque music today is more often performed in institutions that function in the mainstream, such as opera houses and large festivals, and hence there are simply more stages for which to develop a manner of performing this music than Renaissance music. This leads to a greater saturation of baroque music in the mainstream and creates a broader and more homogenous style, which it is relatively easier for a singer to emulate, as opposed to in Renaissance music, where I feel that a lot of people, myself included, feel a great pressure to newly decode music for every performance, and find a sound that best suits each individual microcosm of style. On top of this, there is a perception that as the Baroque is not so far back in history as the Renaissance, and it’s performative traditions closer to those that still exist today (for instance public opera houses), it is easier to find our way to its sound through the living tradition that led from it, of which we as modern singers are still a part. I guess that because there is more of an established performance style in baroque music, there are fewer questions, so people often feel more free to simply perform and engage, whereas in Renaissance music, where we often feel as if all we have are questions, there is a much larger pressure to present an individually thought out and cohesive new style for every project.

TC: Today there is more and more experimentation in the so-called cross-over area, or a possible dialog between the improvisation patterns of early music and jazz. What do you think of this?

JL: The freedom, fluidity, and risk taking that many masterful Jazz musicians feel and display, which is the result of thousands of hours of immersion in, and highly focussed study of the styles they are performing, are absolutely something that all musicians should aspire to emulate. Improvisation is one aspect, but I don’t feel that doing early music “like jazz” or having a jazz player among early musicians necessarily leads to better improvisation. We should all be inspired by the amount of hard work that goes into performing anything at a high level, and while it’s always good to have a level to aspire to, I think people perhaps get too carried away with shortcuts to improvisation, and don’t give enough importance to simply studying their style. In the end, jazz performers simply know their style so well that they can produce it in the moment, and I think this is certainly something early musicians should try to emulate in our own field. All that being said, early music/jazz crossovers can certainly yield fun results!

TC: In addition to Monteverdi’s “Ulysses” and Purcell’s “Aeneas”, you also sang in Haydn’s opera “Armida”. Aren’t they worlds apart when it comes to vibrato, for example? Can every tenor manage that, or where do you see the different skills that need to be mastered?

JL: I think that performing at a high level in many different styles makes it much harder to have a cohesive and secure technique in any one of them. If one assumes that vocal technique has vastly changed since the 16th century, and that performing Verdelot madrigals and Händel opera require vastly different techniques, one does run into problems. Each of us has only one voice, and though it is possible to train and use parallel muscle memories and capabilities, it is much, much easier to use one at a time. There’s a reason that an olympic runner doesn’t train for the 100m and the marathon at the same time, or even in the same lifetime, though they both use the same fundamental physical mechanics. I love so many different styles, and part of the joy of my career is slipping into them whenever I can, so even though it provides more challenges, I don’t think I would be happy doing it any other way.

TC: As a baroque singer, you witnessed the rediscovery of Baroque music on the big stages. Fifty years ago, many Baroque pieces were still little known to a wide audience. How do you assess the process of rediscovering the rich repertoire of the Renaissance – will this music remain a niche product or will this more intimate music also find its way into the media mainstream?

JL: I’m so happy that Baroque music has found its way into the mainstream to the degree that it has, and I think it has earned and is well suited to its place there. I would be very happy if there were more opportunities to perform Renaissance music and develop its performance, but I think that there are unique challenges which mean that we need to fundamentally rethink the way it is presented. A lot of Baroque music which we consume today was written for big audiences and big stages, with the support of huge amounts of funding by rich patrons. Today we still have big audiences and big stages, but how best to perform a madrigal intended to be sung by friends sitting around the dinner table, or lute suites to be played behind a curtain to help the king get to sleep? The music is beautiful and can still be appreciated by an audience in a concert hall, but it lacks something which a Mahler symphony, designed for the concert hall and still performed there today, does not. Of course audiences don’t necessarily consider context, but I think it’s really important for performers to interrogate how we ask for the public’s engagement, rather than simply giving up and saying “no one wants to hear Renaissance music”. It’s really exciting today to see how people are managing to present Renaissance music in ways that it engages with audiences outside of a traditional concert hall context.

 

Column

Why I’ll be there …
David Fallows

If you ask lovers of sixteenth-century music what is the most perfect composition from the middle of the century, quite a few would instantly reply “The Lamentations of Thomas Tallis”. But actually, as with almost everything by Tallis, we really have no idea when he composed them. Almost all his music is known only from manuscripts copied long after his death, with the striking exception of the motets in his joint publication with Byrd, Cantiones sacrae (1575). And what is demonstrated with particular clarity in John Milsom’s recent edition of the Cantiones sacrae (Early English Church Music, vol. 56: 2014) is that Tallis went through any number of recompositions of his works. So from the researcher’s or the historian’s viewpoint Tallis is one of the most intractable composers of the century.

Another problem that faces everybody who has ever performed or recorded the Lamentations is that they last only twenty minutes. How do you fill out a concert or a CD? In this case it seems to me that the musicians have made an excellent choice: a selection of smaller pieces that do nothing to subtract from the sheer majesty of the Lamentations. Shorter keyboard pieces, the most famous of his metrical psalm settings (the one Ralph Vaughan Williams chose for his Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis) and ending with one of the most perfect of the Cantiones sacrae motets, and one with a stunningly complex history, “O sacrum convivium”.

Program

A lenten evensong with music by Thomas Tallis

Opening sentence
Hear the voice and prayer
Certaine notes set forth in foure and three parts (London: John Day, 1560)

Introit
Veni redemptor
The Mulliner Book (Thomas Mulliner, c.1545-1570)

Preces
Preces in C
Peterhouse Partbooks (John Cosin, c.1625-1640)

Psalm
Psalm 2: Why fumeth in sight
The Whole Psalter translated into English Metre (London: John Daye, 1567)

Old testament reading
Lamentations 1: 1-2
Sadler Partbooks (John Sadler, c.1565–85)

Organ Interlude
Clarifica me pater
The Mulliner Book (Thomas Mulliner, c.1545-1570)

Magnificat
Dorian Service
The First Book of Selected Church Music (London: John Barnard, 1641)

New testament reading
Verily, verily
Peterhouse Partbooks (John Cosin, c.1625-1640)

Nunc Dimittis
Dorian Service
The First Book of Selected Church Music (London: John Barnard, 1641)

Organ Interlude
Felix Namque
The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (Anon, c. 1610)

Preces
Preces in C
The First Book of Selected Church Music (London: John Barnard, 1641)

Anthem
Lamentations 1:3-5
Sadler Partbooks (John Sadler, c.1565–85)

Postlude
O Sacrum Convivium
Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (London: Thomas Vautrollerius, 1575)

2024

September

The Bassanos

Homage to the recorder family
Sun 29.09.24 18:15 Concert

Barfüsserkirche,
Historical Museum Basel

October

Magnum opus musicum 1604

Tribute to Orlando di Lasso
Sun 27.10.24 18:15 Concert

Martinskirche
Basel

November

Du Fay 550

Music for a lifetime
Sun 24.11.24 18:15 Concert

Barfüsserkirche
Historisches Museum Basel

December

Now sing and rejoice

Sing-along Concert
Sun 29.12.24 17:45 Workshop 18:15 Concert

Barfüsserkirche