ondon, June 27, 1521: It is the eve of the 30th birthday of the English King Henry VIII. 500 years later, ReRenaissance presents a snapshot with music from Henry’s environment, which is in the manuscript of the British Library Add. 31922 has survived, including pieces attributed to “Kynge H. VIII”. These are, in a sense, utopian sounds that emerged when Henry, as an educated humanist, took an interest in the arts, made music himself, and placed his trust in diplomats like Thomas More. More’s book about the imaginary island “Utopia”, printed in Basel in 1518, in its dialogue about an ideal society, does not yet foreshadow anything of the later rejection with Henry. Thus, this concert gives an insight into the world of sound at the royal court even before its first marital crisis: six musicians wish “Happy Birthday, Henry!”
Tessa Roos – voice | Emma-Lisa Roux – lute, voice | Grace Newcombe – voice, clavisimbalum | Claire Piganiol – harp, recorder | Elizabeth Rumsey – viola d’arco, recorder | Tabea Schwartz – recorder, viola d’arco; conductor
Tessa Roos – singer and renaissance specialist
Thomas Christ (TC): How to get from South Africa to the world of Early Music of the Old Continent? Who discovered her voice?
Tessa Roos (TR): I feel incredibly lucky to have even had the choice and opportunity to come to Europe to study early music. As a member of a musical family, I have always sung in many choirs and I loved this world, which was often connected to folk music. And the smaller the choir ensembles became, the more we devoted ourselves to early music, but also to contemporary music – and so my enthusiasm increased as well.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Music from Stellenbosch University in South Africa and a teaching degree from Cape Town University, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to the study of early music. There is indeed a music scene for early music in South Africa, but it does not have the size and the offer for a full course of studies – so it was clear to me that I had to look for the way to Europe. That’s how I discovered a course by Evelyn Tubb and Anthony Rooley at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dedicated to the madrigals of the 16. and 17th century – that’s when I applied for a recording. I was accepted into a master’s program as well, where I was able to study early Baroque, Renaissance, and Medieval music in depth.
TC: What are your favorite accompanists, the lutes, the viols, the flutes or other singers? Do they also accompany themselves instrumentally?
TR: They’re all great, the preferences are based on the person accompanying rather than the instrument itself. Different feelings can be emphasized with each of the above options, and so different artistic possibilities arise with the different accompanying instruments. But my first choice is clearly vocal polyphony: I always feel most comfortable in a group of singers. In Basel, of course, we are spoiled by the enormous abundance of professional musicians. Being accompanied by a lute is a wonderful experience, I enjoy its rich tenderness very much, there is something incredibly honest about its unwavering openness – there is not a note hidden. Interplay with the flutes (transverse and recorder) is also stimulating, since they also use the breath and the same pitches. In their own way, they allow a common mixture of colors. But more than that, I have completely fallen in love with the world of early string instruments – the professional viols and viol consorts in Basel provide a unique accompaniment, and the opportunity to sing with them is just great.
TC: In recent years – and even more so with the Corona Lock Down – the possibility of digital performance has increased enormously, and with it the anonymization of the audience. Do you feel this is a curse or a blessing, a dangerous loss of an audience dialogue or an enriching extension of your art?
TR: As an emergency measure, that is, for dealing with the pandemic regulations, the possibility of streaming a concert is a great alternative and we are of course happy that we can still play and reach an audience, even if not at the venue. In the long run, however, I can’t imagine that musicians will and can resign themselves to a video existence, because this is simply not the form of our art that we are here for. Of course, I also like to listen to sound recordings and I am even glad that they exist, but the performance of our art is not primarily there to be immediately captured in a canned sound.
On the one hand, it’s nice to play and know that we’re sharing our art with all kinds of people – and equally as a listener, to attend concerts that they wouldn’t have discovered at all without streaming. On the other hand, musical communication without that human element is an alienating thing, and the loss of dialogue with listeners makes no sense for our art, at least not in the early music scene. Thus, I believe that in the end, presenters and listeners alike do not see digital concerts as a valid alternative. Music is about communication – if now the musicians are supposed to play as if an audience were present that is not really there … then the whole thing can take on a strange, even comical air. You can record a concert, but there must be an audience present, otherwise where would be the addressee of our art?
TC: Perhaps more than classical music allows and plays the Renaissance and Baroque world with ornamentation or even small improvisations, could you imagine participating in musical cross over projects or have you participated as a singer in new music or jazz performances?
TR: In fact, I dabbled in jazz singing for a few years in South Africa and almost studied jazz instead of classical singing in Cape Town as well. I’m not sure I’d use the term “cross over,” but I find such forms of collaboration wonderful. Interacting with musicians or artists who are at home in other eras can be extremely inspiring and enriching. And what’s more, with such collaborations you reach new audiences, new performance venues, you get to know new composers and are confronted with other concert traditions. Of course, I enjoy my specialization in the world of early music and likewise, performing in a scene with an inclined audience, but cultivating the connection and curiosity of other circles, outside of our world is without a doubt refreshing and educational.
TC: Of course, my interest in your multifaceted interests doesn’t come out of the blue, because on one website I read: “Tessa is working towards becoming a Wine Master.” Apart from the parallels of the noble music to the noble wine, the circle to your South African origin could close here again. Or am I wrong with my conclusions?
TR: No, you’re right. But since I’ve been immersed in the Basel music world, I unfortunately don’t have much time for this “hometown” hobby, but I very much hope to pick up the activity again soon! Some of my family members own wineries – if you grew up in the vineyards of Stellenbosch in South Africa, it’s unthinkable to just ignore the wine culture and the scene that goes with it. Ideally, one day I’ll combine my wine knowledge with my professional routine, but until that happens, I’ll continue to learn in silence.
Almost one third of the 109 pieces in the British Library manuscript, Add. MS 31922, are labeled either “The Kyng . H . viij” or with “The Kynge . H . viij.” Although in three cases he seems to have added only a fourth voice to existing songs, experts seem to agree that the remaining pieces are all his. In addition, an extensive and rather complex motet with the incipit Quam pulchra es survives, attributed to him in the collectaneen book of the Elizabethan singer John Baldwyn, and a chronicler of the period reports that he composed “two beautiful masses, each of them for five voices, which were often sung in his chapel and afterwards in various other places.”
Certainly Henry’s compositions are of varying quality, but I have never heard so many of them in a single concert (or even recording) as offered here; so it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed.
The same manuscript also contains works by composers from his royal chapel, especially the wonderful William Cornysh. And – and this is quite extraordinary – it contains works by continental European composers, all of whom are anonymous there. Among them is La my, the piece that Henricus Isaac wrote in just two days when he visited the court of Ferrara in 1502. And, most interesting to me, is the setting of Fors seulement, which was otherwise known only from a Pepys Library manuscript with an attribution to Antoine de Fevin. Recently, a manuscript has been discovered in which the piece is attributed to Robert de Fevin. The scoop, however, is the anonymous appearance of this piece in the printed collection of Trium vocum carmina (Nuremberg, 1538), to which a handwritten commentator added the name “Josquin.” This annotator was recently identified as Senfl’s longtime colleague Lucas Wagenrieder. And in this transcript he named composers for 33 of the 100 pieces in the collection: and only for
Fors seulement, there is a plausible competing attribution elsewhere. That is, there would be very good arguments for the assumption that he was right and that the piece is really by Josquin des Prez. And the Josquin year is certainly a good occasion,
to rethink some of our old assumptions about what he might and might not have composed.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
1. pastyme with good companye – Henry VIII (1491-1547)
London, British Library Add. MS 31922, fol. 14v-15r
2. withowt dyscord – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 68v-69r
3. la my – [Henricus Isaac (c1450–1517)]
MS 31922, fol. 7v-9v
4. a Robyn – William Cornish (c1465-1523)
MS 31922, fol. 53v-54r
5. my thought oppressed – Anonymous
MS 31922, fol. 116v-120r
6. pastyme with good companye – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 14v-15
7. in may that lusty seson – farthing [Thomas Farthing ( † 1520 oder 1521)]
MS 31922, fol. 26r
8. fa la sol – [William Cornish]
MS 31922, fol. 9v-14r
9. grene growth the holy – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 37v-38r
10. pastyme with good companye – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 14v-15r
11. fors solemant – [Josquin des Prez (c1450/55–1521)]
MS 31922, fol. 104v-105r
12. wherto shuld I expresse – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 51v-52r
13. if love now reigned – Henry VIII
MS 31922, fol. 48v-49r and 52v-53r
14. taunder naken – Henry VIII
MS 31922, 82v-84r
15. though some sayth – Anonymous MS
31922, fol. 71v-73r
16. belle sur tautes: Tota pulcra – [Alexander Agricola (1445–1506)]
MS 31922, fol. 99v-100r
17. [Consort VIII] – Henry VIII
MS 319222, fol. 64v-65r
18. madame d’amours – Anonymous
MS 31922, fol. 73v-74r
19. farewel my joy – Cooper [Robert Cooper (1474–1540)]
MS 31922, fol. 66v-68r
20 Helas Madam – Henry VIII MS 31922, fol. 18v-19r
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