Viol Player Books

I am not a viol teacher.  I am a student who is just beginning who wishes to learn the rudiments of the tenor and bass.  I have a teacher but for the most part I am teaching myself the tenor and bass.  This makes having good books important.

I have a variety of books on the viol including books by Ms. Feldman, Ms. Crum and Ms. Bishop.  Your books, in my humble opinion, are the best books on the market for learning from the ground up.  The compact discs are excellent since you can hear what you are supposed to sound like.  And the books simply look good which increases marketability.  That is why I have bought so many.

In addition, your method of holding the bow is very different from what I have seen, making it a good addition to learning literature

A happy customer from USA

A Christmas Gift & Lillipops for Gambas

These two volumes of music have covers that are immediately attractive and intriguing.  A superficial comment perhaps, but their design has clearly been given a great deal of thought and there is something to be gleaned from it.  The full title of the first, all of which is written on the front cover, tells us a great deal about the contents of the book. It is:  A Christmas Gift, Pavans, Galliards, and Almains upon Christmas Aeirs or Carols goth grave, and light in five parts, for Viols, Violins or other Musicall Winde Instruments, Made by Ian Payne, Batcheler of Musick: Also two Lent and Easter Almains, called the Exodus and Hortus Christi. The spellings create an atmosphere, and a background of holly gives a Christmassy character.

Lollipops for Gambas has a completely contrasting cover: two colourful cartoon prawns are sitting on deckchairs, playing viols and licking lollipops.  Multiple puns intended!  My next thought was ‘Why write these books?’  Ian Payne has gone to extraordinary lengths to compose the pieces in A Christmas Gift, 35 in all, using carols and airs from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; he also imitates the compositional process that would have been used to create consort music at that time.  When there is such a wealth of music from the period in existence, why write more?

Payne’s extensive introduction tells us exactly why, and the most important reason is simply, for fun.  Motifs from the carols used are bracketed in the score for the reader to find more easily, but many are well-hidden in the texture, so they would not all be obvious to the listener.  Of course, making the tunes easily recognisable is not the main reason for using this form of composition, but it adds to the fun when one does pick out a familiar melody.  In the collection, Payne often includes a Pavan, Galliard and Almain on the same theme, as would have been done in Jacobean times, so that one can perform them in sets.

One could accuse Ian Payne of introspection in writing this anthology, but in including a CD of parts for viols, brass, recorders, and transposed parts for brass and strings, he makes it a very useful resource for music teachers and has given considerable thought to how the music might be used in practice.  Score-reading the pieces myself on the piano was rewarding and made me want to include some of them in my next Christmas concert at school.

Lollipops for Gambas also contributes to the already extensive repertoire of a long established chamber music combination, this time the bass viol duo.  Here, though, the emphasis is on creating something that is instantly popular and attractive, hence Lollipops!  Well-know pieces have been imaginatively transcribed and the results are delightful.  Any piece in this volume would make an excellent encore, and all of them are suitable by students of intermediate to advanced level.

Most of the music is from the baroque era – Purcell, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti and Couperin – but a complete Baryton duet by Haydn extends the range, and a version of La Cumparsita (‘the carnival goers’), a tango written in 1916 by the Uruguayan musician Gerado Matos Rodriguez, adds a humorous finale.  Bach’s Little Prelude in C minor BWV 999 is also amusing in that the players alternate notes in the same way that the keyboard player’s hands would in the original.  The parts of these pieces lie well on the instrument, as keys have either been carefully chose or the piece transposed, and the result is completely idiomatic for the gamba.  A few helpful fingerings are included.

The two viols are almost always equal partners, and this is a welcome addition to a canon of music that is often perceived, by those who don’t know it, as morose and heavy-going.  An eminent baroque musician, who shall remain anonymous, once said to me that even he thought that the bass viol duos were ‘below the musical Plimsoll Line’.  Anything that can help to dispel that myth is very welcome.  So, one book is complex and intriguing, fulfilling a self-set intellectual challenge.  The other provides popular and light-hearted material that might appeal to the non-specialist, which all goes to show you can judge a book by its cover.

Mary Pells

Two enterprising editions for recorder.

George Philip Telemann Duo in G from Der Getreue Music-Meister for descant and treble recorder arr. Manfred Harras.

Anthony Holborne Pavanes, Galliards, Almins (1599) arranged for one melody instrument and keyboard, ed. Manfred Harras.

These are two enterprising editions by Rondo Publishing, edited by Manfred Harras. Rondo Publishing was founded in 2005 by viol player Jacqui Robertson-Wade, initially to produce teaching material for the viol. It has since published volumes of different kinds of music, both period and modern, for teaching and performance, by various editors such as Tamsin Lewis and Alison Crum.  Manfred Harras is a familiar performer and teacher in the recorder-playing community; he taught for many years on the Norvis Early Music course in Durham.

The first of these two books contains a duet by Telemann (1681-1767) arranged for descant and treble recorder, from Der Getreue Music-Meister (1728).  This collection is considered to be the first musical periodical; it contains seventy small vocal and instrumental compositions.  In Der Getreue Music-Meister, Telemann explains that this piece can be played on the transverse flute and viola pomposa (a 5-stringed instrumented slightly wider that the viola, played on the arm) or violin.  Viola da Gamba players will be familiar with the version of this duet in A major.   It has four movements, headed Dolce, Scherzando, Largo e misurato and Vivace e staccato.  In this edition, the second part is written an octave higher to suit the treble recorder playing alongside a descant.  The layout and printing is very clear and all the articulation marks and octave adjustments that differ from the original are clearly displayed.

A bonus of this edition is the playalong CD that makes it very useful learning material for the solo player.  At the end of the book there is an explanation about how the CD is to be used.  At the start of the CD, there is a complete performance of the duet: in the playalong tracks that follow, the part that is being learnt is recorded more quietly than the other part.  There are two versions of each movement, one at modern and the other at baroque pitch, plus a set of slow playalong tracks for each of the fast movements.  All the tracks begin with a bar of two clicks to enable the player to get used to the speed.  Finally,  there are two tuning tracks to enable the player to check his/her pitch, making a total of 42 tracks altogether.  All of this information is supplied in a table format in a clear and concise manner.

The 1599 collection by Anthony Holborne (c.1545-1602) entitled Pavanes, Galliards, Almains and other Short AEirs both grave,and light is a favourite among viol and recorder players, and many will recognise such tunes as the almains entitled The Night Watch and The Honie-suckle and the galliard, The Fairie Round.  Holborne informs us that the original pieces are ‘in five parts for viols, violins and other musicall winde instruments’, but it is not always easy to find five players to perform them.  Harras’s edition contains a selection of ten pieces from this collection arranged for one; melody instrument (descant or tenor recorder, treble viol, violin or flute) and keyboard accompaniment.

The accompaniment is interesting in that there are two versions, one a reduction of the other four parts for harpsichord (Sally Fortino), and the other a slightly simpler and lighter version designed for the modern piano (arranged by Rosemary Robinson).  I think either of these versions would be useful as a lute accompaniment.  The choice of pieces is a fairly good representation of the different dances from Holborne’s original set.  A minor criticism from myself, a viol player very much in favour of the sixteenth-century fondness for melancholia, is that eight of the ten pieces are in major keys, while only one of the two in a minor key is in sombre mood.  Could this perhaps be rectified in another volume?  To sum-up, these are two very carefully thought-out editions that are not only useful as teaching tools but also as performance material.

Ibrahim Aziz

Passamezzo Editions

One part of Rondo Publishing’s output is a series called ‘Passamezzo Editions’ a spin-off of music played by the group Passamezzo and edited by their director Tamsin Lewis.  Broadside ballads are a core ingredient, and Tamsin’s unrivalled knowledge of them always bears rich fruit.  ‘London Mourning in Ashes’, ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ and ‘The Happy Couple’ are some of the most attractive editions I have seen, and great trouble has been taken in their presentation.  The covers show apt but unfamiliar paintings of the time, while a sprinkling of woodcuts embellish many of the pieces.  Sources for all these are documented, as are those of the music and texts, and Tamsin Lewis has taken care to record what she has added in her tasteful arrangements.  Here, then, are interesting selections for players wishing to find subjects away from the familiar, often sacred, topics, together with appropriate extract from contemporary writings which could be added as readings.

‘London Mourning in Ashes’ the first of three ballads commemorating the Great Fire of London, is set to ‘In sad and ashy weeds’, whose cheerful melody curiously contradicts the underlying sentiments.  Singers will inevitably have to adapt some rhythms to fit the text.  ‘The Londoner’s Lamentation’ uses John Wilson’s setting from his Cheerful Ayres of 1659, while ‘A Recollection of the Times’ adopts the universally known melody ‘Fortune my foe’.  This set comprises a simple two-part treble and bass scoring, leaving room for embellishment with lute or keyboard.

In Good Morrow Valentine Tamsin expands the scoring to three parts (Tr, Tr/A, B) and includes one dance from Playford’s Dancing Master of 1679. This is a very attractive group, with orginals derived in part from lute and virginal settings; it would create a bright interlude in concerts. Performances could be expanded to include some of the contemporary descriptions of gifts printed in the edition, or even the dance, using Playford’s instructions.

The Happy Couple is a much more substantial volume, with 25 pieces, and is the first of two planned collections devoted to wedding music.  It is perhaps a bold venture to provide such an anthology, away from the more usual assemblages around Christmas or other religious festivals, but there is much to enjoy here, in a wide variety of genres.  Contents are organised under three headings: ‘Preparation’, ‘Wooing and Wedding in Town and Country’ and ‘Epithalamia/The Wedding Night’. The first of these comprises four madrigals, two in six parts (East). ‘A Pleasant New Song Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Marriage’ is a complete ballad account of the wedding day, while Playford’s titles ‘The Lovely Bride’ and ‘The Happy Couple’ are an excuse to include these two dances.   William Turner’s setting of Robin’s Delight’ tells of an harmonious union with Kate the dairy-maid and is the first of nine ballads making up the second section of the book – all cheerful, rustic and jolly – the last a three-part arrangement for instruments only.

The final section is the most substantial and explores more sophisticated musical settings.  Weelkes’s five-part madrigal ‘Now is the Bridals of fair Choralis’ is succeeded by ‘An Epithalamium’ in music by both Robert King and Henry Purcell, three-part arrangements of Dowland’s ‘Welcome black night’ and ‘Cease these false sports’, Thomas Farmer’s ‘A marriage song’ and three  3-part ballads to conclude, one vocal and two instrumental.

The Consort, Summer 2019 Vol 75

Rondo Publishing is establishing itself as a publisher that contributes extremely useful editions of music and tutors, with particular focus on helping young players.

Andrew Ashbee