illiam Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Robert White – these are Mr. Dow’s favorite composers, and we will spend a musical hour with them. Imagine: The famous calligrapher Dow has invited to the evening party. We look over the shoulders of the invited gambists and the singer as they make music together and create a musical landscape out of a mixture of sacred motets and secular madrigals, which they intersperse with instrumental pieces and consort songs. The five small voice books with beautifully set music on five red staves are not only a reflection of the musical taste of the time, but also turn out to be a personal diary of Robert Dow: a pleasure for the eyes and ears.
Monika Mauch – soprano | Brigitte Gasser – alto viola da gamba | Randall Cook – alto viola da gamba | Tabea Schwartz – bass viola da gamba | Caroline Ritchie – bass viola da gamba | Elizabeth Rumsey – treble viola da gamba; direction
From “Paper, Ink, and Pen” – The Five Voice Books of Robert Dow
O sacrum convivium – Tallis
From “Paper, Ink, and Pen,” February 2021
Monika Mauch – singer and renaissance specialist
Thomas Christ (TC): Can you briefly tell us what or what experience led you to discover early music?
Monika Mauch (MM): Somehow I have always been fascinated by medieval, renaissance and baroque music. When I was 17, I was allowed to sing Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers in the choir. This music fully inspired me then as it does now. At the beginning of my vocal studies in Trossingen, in Germany, I didn’t even know that you could study early music.
In my second year at university, a fellow student took me to lessons with Richard Wistreich, then professor of early music in Trossingen, with whom I began to study a short time later. I was fascinated by how immediately the rhetoric of the text in early recitatives, together with the continuo part and the corresponding harmonies, triggered images in me that I could then convey to the audience. For many years I also sang medieval music, and later I sang Renaissance music again and again. Over the years, I was mainly into early Italian and German Baroque. The older I get, however, the more I am now fascinated by the classical and early romantic periods. It’s just wonderful to be able to perform the music from earlier times, delve into the sources and theories, and then as a modern person create an informed yet original interpretation. A task that always remains exciting. When I moved to the German environs of Basel in 2009, I was naturally aware of Basel’s wide-ranging opportunities through the Schola Cantorum and the excellent musicians who had settled there. It is wonderful to now be able to join the ReRenaissance series.
TC: There are great differences between the compositions of the classical and baroque periods, not only in the instrumental, but also in the vocal area, so corresponding fears of contact are quite understandable – how do you see this in the music of the Renaissance? Is every baroque interpreter also a Renaissance singer?
MM: That’s a very good question! I find that a great deal is demanded of the modern early music singer if he is to be stylistically equally entrenched in Gregorian, ars subtilior, consort, lute song, opera, motet, cantata, and lied. In my opinion, this is impossible. It is not only a question of being informed and knowledgeable, but one of body tension and muscle strength. A singer who interprets Renaissance music well, that is, who blends optimally with the instruments and adds, as it were, only the text to the overall interpretation, cannot necessarily stand out as a soloist in the Baroque period and develop his or her own cadenzas and ornamentations that bring to the fore not only the meaning of the text but also the possibilities of the individual voice. However, there are singers who are good at both related styles. The term “baroque” (= crazy) in music was finally created only in the 19th century. Before that, the distinction probably didn’t seem necessary to us.
TC: Vocal ornamentation, that is, the art of ornamentation over the basic melody, is part of the little basics of vocal art in both Baroque and Renaissance music – I have heard that they have many admirers in this discipline. Can you briefly explain how free or unfree one is in this non-notated improvisational art?
MM: The decorations of any era and any country are unique and usually clearly defined. That is, it is based on a more or less well known set of rules. So the more you move in a single style and practice in it every day, the freer you can act in it and improvise “freely”, so to speak. I always need some time, even if I am already familiar with the particular style, to feel at home in it again. In my opinion, we still cannot come close to the abilities of the singers or the female singers in the Renaissance, who were allowed to remain almost exclusively in the style of their time. Even if research and the range of courses offered in Basel have brought very great progress in this direction.
TC: Baroque music has enjoyed great popularity for several decades, and we are finding in our young Renaissance series that the relatively unknown music between 1400 and 1600 is also finding a large curious audience. Do you have an explanation for this?
MM: As just mentioned, Renaissance music stands on a fixed set of rules that evolved from the already extremely sophisticated and complicated ideas of the Middle Ages. Just as we can grasp the Renaissance style in literature, visual art, and architecture, so in every piece of music there is an architecture, a play of dissonances and consonances, a texture with multiple layers of interpretation that can touch us on such a manifold level that even the modern listener cannot close his mind to it. In our Dow program, for example, the gamba consort uses counterpoint to create an overtone spectrum that moves me, and I’m sure many others, to tears. In addition, there are the wonderful old English, French and Latin texts that I have just translated for the program booklet. At the moment, I’m getting coached in old English pronunciation to provide the soundest interpretation possible. I believe and hope that an audience can always feel and in some way grasp such expert preparation, grounded in years of specific study. Whoever gets involved should not be ashamed if he should be deeply touched.
TC: Of course, experiencing a live concert will never be replaced by digital livestreaming, yet the Corona circumstances force us to look for new forms of cultural mediation. Do you see digital offerings as more of a threat or an opportunity for the artistic and material advancement of the music scene?
MM: Again, a good and difficult question. At the moment, livestreaming is often the only way to make a concert happen at all. This is vital for us musicians. Without a concert, a musician is useless. So I must not even ask the question whether I think a livestream is good or not. It is simply necessary. The dangers for the music scene, as in other areas such as homeschooling or home office, are that some may not want to return to the traditional form after the end of the Corona pandemic. I think that would be a real loss in the music business. As beautiful as a concert experience in a livestream may be, in my opinion it cannot replace the physical, auditory and emotional manipulation in a live concert on the part of the musicians but also on the part of the audience.
Whenever five viols get together these days, one of them will inevitably pull out the Dow tuning books. There are many good reasons for this. One of them is the magnificent color facsimile published just 10 years ago. Another is that the handwriting is so wonderfully legible: Robert Dow, a lawyer by profession and also a member of All Souls College, Oxford, was actually employed as a teacher of calligraphy. Every single page of his part books is a feast for the eyes: black ink on pre-printed red staves. And the latter are a strange phenomenon: meanwhile, great diligence is being put into researching and recording printed music paper from the 16th century – and there is a lot of it; the Dow partbooks seem to be the only known case with red staves. Perhaps Dow had commissioned the paper specifically for himself.
The main reason for the popularity of the partbooks today, however, is that they contain an absolutely fantastic compilation of music from 1580s England: much by Robert White, some by Tallis, Parsons, Tye, and Strodgers; strangely, only one piece by Taverner, but he had died by 1545; also a few works from across the Channel, including three pieces by Lassus and two by Vincenzo Ruffo; But above all others, Byrd stands out with over 50 pieces dating from the first 20 years of his compositional career – a small reminder that even if he had died at the age of 40 rather than 80, he would still be considered one of the most brilliant and imaginative composers of all time.
Latin motets dominate much of the partbooks: only a few church music compositions in English are included, a few Consort Songs and 13 purely instrumental pieces. In the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, composers produced numerous Latin motets, because the music written for the Anglican Church at that time was for the most part rather plain. The crucial point here, however, is that Dow’s track selection is drawn exclusively from the top drawer of first-rate works.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
Miserere*– William Byrd (c.1539/40 or 1543-1623)
“Cantores inter, quod in aethere sol, bone Birde:
Cur arctant laudes disticha nostra tuas?”
(Good Byrd, [who are] among singers as the sun [is] in the aether,
Why do our couplets confine your praises?)
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen – William Byrd
Ut lucem solis sequitur lux proxima lunae
Sic tu post Birdum Munde secunde venis.”
As the moon’s light follows next after the sun’s light,
So you, Mundy, come second after Byrd.)
Sive vigilem – William Mundy (c. 1529-1591)
“Musica capitur omne quod vivit si naturam sequitur.”
(Everything that lives is captivated by music if it follows nature).
Though Amaryllis dance in green – William Byrd
Browning*- William Byrd
Maxima musarum nostrarum gloria White,
Tu peris, aeternum sed tua musa manet.
(Greatest glory of our muses, White,
You perish, but your muse remains forever).
O lord of whom / In nomine – Anon.
In nomine*– Robert White (c1538 – 1574)
“Qui tantus primo Parsone in flore fuisti,
Quantus in autumno ni morerere fores?”
(Parsons, who were so great in your first flowering,
How great should you have been in your autumn, had you not died!)
In nomine*– Robert Parsons (c1535 – 1571/72)
“Musica mentis medicina moestae.”
(Music is the medicine of the sad mind.)
Ah, alas, you salt sea gods – Richard Farrant (c1525 – 1580)
“Talis es et tantus Tallisi musicus, ut si
fata senem auferrent musica muta foret.”
(Such and so great a musician are you, Tallis, that if
the Fates took you off in your old age, music would be mute).
O lord, how vain – William Byrd
O sacrum convivium*– Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585)
“Non est harmonice compositus qui Musica non delectatur.”
(He is not harmoniously compounded who does not delight in music)
My mind to me a kingdom is – William Byrd
“Galli cantant Itali caprizant Germani ululant Angli iubilant”
(The French sing, the Italians bleat, the Germans howl, the English
La Deploration de Jehan Okenheim – Josquin de Prez (c1450/1455 – 1521)
Historical Museum Basel
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Schmiedenhof; Rümelinsplatz, Basel
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