hat to do when a trained trumpet player has no job? Why not sign on with a ship? Signaling was the official function of the trumpeters on board in the 15th century. But apparently, playing up for the dance was part of the job along the way. This shows the personal signature of the Venetian-Greek ship trumpeter Zorzi (George) Trombetta, to whom this program is dedicated. Even polyphonic chansons were in Zorzi’s repertoire, for which he apparently played together with other loud wind players as “Alta Capella” – a fixed ensemble line-up of shawm, pommer and (slide) trumpet. Zorzi’s traces can be followed to Venice, where he and his sons became members of the famous “Piffari del Doge”.
Ann Allen – pommer | Hanna Geisel – shawm, pommer, bagpipes | Nathaniel Wood – slide trumpet, trombone
Ann Allen – baroque oboist and shawm player
Thomas Christ (TC): The inclined concert-goer will notice that none of the early instruments made it into the world of classical music without major changes. Many listeners may even be unfamiliar with the names of some string or wind instruments. How did you get into the shawm or dulcian as a young musician?
Ann Allen (AA): Although I have been playing the recorder since I was five years old, like many colleagues I have “worked my way back” in time. As a child, the modern oboe was my instrument, but looking back I realize that early music was to become my destiny.
I still remember my great enthusiasm when we played Handel’s Fireworks Music in the youth orchestra, or how I didn’t want to put the instrument down that weekend of the first Baroque sonata. Of course, at that time I hardly knew anything about the world of Baroque music, let alone that of the Renaissance or the Middle Ages, but I felt that these pieces touched me in a special way. As I got older, my passion for early music became more serious, and at university I traded the modern oboe for the baroque oboe. At the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis I finally got acquainted with the shawm and the dulcian – and I stuck with it.
TC: Can you please tell us something about the origin of the shawm? When did it have its heyday? Are there places where it is still played today in a non-historical context?
AA: Like many instruments that became popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the shawm had found its way to Europe via the musicians of the Near Eastern cultures but also of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean regions. Illustrations of shawm-like instruments are already available from the 13. and 14th century, but the wind instruments of the August concert “Winds and Waves” are from the 15th to 17th century. The shawm became very popular at that time and in the Alta Capella it could be heard in every town, village, court and even – as our concert shows – on the ships.
The sound of the instrument is essentially produced by the vibration of two pieces of wooden reed (double reed). Shawm-like instruments can be found all over the world. So last year during my vacations I met a shawm duo of a Thai orchestra – with great pleasure we exchanged our experiences and compared our instruments – thanks to “Google translate”! But also in France, Spain and Italy, shawm-like wind instruments are still an integral part of traditional music today.
TC: Baroque music has enjoyed great popularity for several decades, and all major opera houses have included operas by both well-known and unknown composers in their programs. At ReRenaissance, we find that curiosity and interest in the even earlier music of the 15. and 16th century is large. Does Basel, with its Schola Cantorum, play a pioneering role, or do you notice this trend in other European cities as well?
AA: Although we still have to speak of a niche interest especially in medieval and Renaissance music, the early music repertoire as well as historical performance practice seems to be moving towards an established genre of classical music. This trend is evident throughout the Western music world. I have lived in a few European cities, but none of them live this trend in the professional depth and performance frequency as Basel. Of course, different preferences and trends can be found in different countries, but through the charisma of the Schola Cantorum, Basel has become a kind of epicenter of early music and thus also a breeding ground for coming generations and new ideas about practice and research.
TC: The visualization of the musical experience is very close to your heart; you stage baroque operas and are well versed in the art of medieval dance. Are you concerned with a holistic musical experience?
AA: Yes, I’ve always had a visual connection to the music. When I listen to music or sit in a concert, images of dance scenes often appear to me, or I imagine how a transformation of the music might be designed into an expanded viewing and listening experience. Although the experience of music alone can be pure joy to the ear and mind, I am convinced that a concert or live performance should appeal to all the senses of the listener(s), making it an aural and visual experience.
TC: You also love music experimentation and stage so-called crossover projects, in which elements of medieval music merge with modern melodies, early and free music meet. Tell us about this historical liberation: do the folksong-like melodies of the early period lend themselves particularly well to this game?
AA: As a native Londoner, I grew up in a multicultural environment and delighted in the pleasure of interplay and experimental mixing, whether it was cuisine, clothing, or even the arts. Looking back, I realize that it was similar for me when dealing with early music. I had the good fortune to direct the festival “Nox Illuminata” for ten years; there, experimentation was in demand: early works were confronted with modern musical styles or combined with dance, theater or video interludes. Thus, even opera creations were not free of new influences; Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” appeared in jazz dress as “Play it again Dido”. What I particularly enjoyed and cared about at the time was the interplay of early dance tunes with modern jazz rhythms, adding familiar secular Renaissance or courtly medieval sounds to a jazz or rock trio of bass, guitar and drums. It was a great experience to see musicians from different artistic backgrounds transforming these melodies and rhythms – and inspiring a new audience to dance to adapted melodies that had been danced to hundreds of years ago.
One of the great events that took place in my lifetime was the salvage of the Mary Rose – Henry VIII’s prize ship, which had sunk unexpectedly in full view of everyone during the naval battle of the Solent in 1545 with 500 sailors on board, in the presence of Henry VIII and his court. Finally, in 1982, the technology to lift the ship was available; and its state of preservation was such that many amazing details came to light.
Among the items recovered were two fiddles, a bow, three one-handed flutes, a drum and a “silent” shawm – all apparently necessary for a warship defending England against a French invasion. Only a year earlier, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson had published his article on a British Library manuscript that none of us had previously taken particularly seriously because it made such a chaotic and arbitrary impression. It was the manuscript of the Venetian sailor Zorzi Trombetta, now found under the signature Cotton Titus A.xxvi. Leech-Wilkinson showed that the musical parts of the manuscript were quite simply written down for an ensemble on board a ship sailing from Venice; and it seemed, and still seems, that most of the music is probably arrangements for an ensemble of shawms and slide trumpet, that is, what we call an alta capella. For my part, I have returned to this manuscript time and again for various releases over the years, but have never heard the music played by an Alta Capella. That is why I will be there.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
1st Ave maris stella – Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
Bologna, Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica, Q15, fol.321v
2. o Maria maris stella – Johannes de Lymburgia (before 1400to after 1431)
3. vergene bella – Guillaume Dufay
4th Basse danse “Souvent mes pas” ( “ttenor souvent mes pas”)- anonymous
arr. from Hanna Geisel
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta: London, British Library, CottonTitus A.xxvi, fol.7r
5. una ballatina franzese (“ttenor d’una ballatina franzese”)- anonymous
arr. by Nathaniel Wood
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.5r
6. bel accueil – Antoine Busnoys (1430-1492)
Mellon Chansonnier: New Haven, Beinecke Library for RareBooks and Manuscripts, 91, fol.1v-2r.
7th tenor “Gie se far danser le dames” (“je sais fait danser lesdames”) – anonymous
arr. Hanna Geisel
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.8r
8. ma belle dame souveraine – Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
Codex Oxford: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Canon. Misc. 213,fol.140v
9. puisque m’amour – John Dunstable (1390-1453)
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.7v
Other Contratenores: El Escorial, Palacio Real, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, V.III.24, fol.4v-5r,
Trento, Museo Provinciale d’Arte, MS 1375, fol.84v
Basel, Contratenor by Nathaniel Wood
10. je me recomande – anonymous
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.5v
Une fois avant que mourir – anonymous
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.4v-5r
12. en ce printemps (“ttenor en ce printemps”) – anonymous
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.7r
13. qu’en puis je mais – anonymous
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.4r
14. basse danse “Avignon ” – anonymous
arr. by Ann Allen, Hanna Geisel, Nathaniel Wood
Brussels Basse Danse manuscript: Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale Albert,
I Ms. 9085, fol.9v
15 Jour à jour la vie/quand avoir – Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)
Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta, fol.3v
Codex Faenza: Faenza, Biblioteca Comunale, MS 117, fol.43r-v
Codex Reina: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, NAF6771, fol.66r
16 Triste plaisir – Gilles Binchois (1400-1460)
Codex Oxford, fol.56v
17. basse danse “Triste plaisir ” – anonymous
arr. from Hanna Geisel
Brussels Basse Danse manuscript, fol.15r
18th Tandernaken – Jacob Obrecht (1457/58-1505)
Ottaviano Petrucci: Harmonice musices Odhecaton A, Venice 1501 (print), fol.69r
Historical Museum Basel