22 Dec 2015

Medieval Christmas Carols

Anonymous carols of the Middle Ages are a ubiquity of the festive season. In his selection of recordings of particularly notable ones, Edward Breen focuses mainly on the latter part of the period - the 15th century.

Christmas carols and associated traditions of carol singing offer medieval music an annual opportunity to penetrate the national subconscious. Alongside the sound of tolling bells and monks singing plainchant there are a few carols which now stand as aural emblems for the Middle Ages.

For the full text of text of this article please visit: www.gramophone.co.uk Christmas issue: December 2015.

12 Nov 2015

Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart.

Ralph P. Locke
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
April 2014.

Ralph Locke’s latest survey Music and the Exotic (2014) is essentially a prequel to his earlier Musical Exoticism (2009). Venturing backwards in time, this new volume explores how portrayals of the exotic and Otherness—or as cultural historians would have it, ‘alterity’—operated in music before the turquerie of the late 18th century.

Despite shifting to earlier times, Locke retains his core-concern for the completeness of musical performances. His study reaches beyond analysing harmonies or identifying folk-tune quotations; he considers as many facets of a performance as possible from costume, staging and instrumentation alongside social and political context. This approach he calls the “‘All the Music in Full Context’ paradigm for studying musical – or music-assisted – representations of exotic Others” and contrasts it with the “Exotic Style Only” paradigm more traditionally concerned with the contents of musical scores. And as with Musical Exoticism, this broad view allows for ambitious but nuanced explorations characteristic of post-Edward Said scholarship. Exoticism as explored by Locke thus ranges across a dazzling swathe of historical material from the appropriated dance styles of folk-culture to the choruses of Handel’s Old Testament oratorios.

For the full text of this article please visit: www.gramophone.co.uk
Gramophone November 15

Nicolas Gombert : Motets

BEAUTY FARM (Bart Uvyn [countertenor], Achim Schulz [tenor], Adriaan De Koster [tenor], Hannes Wagner [tenor], Joachim Höchbauer [bass], Martin Vögerl [bass])

Fra Bernardo FB 1504211

Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-1560) was a significant composer of the post-Josquin generation and a singer disgraced from the Emperor Charles V’s court chapel when accused of molesting a choirboy. Sentenced to the galleys he composed ‘swan songs’ which won him the emperor’s pardon. He is chiefly remembered for his 160+ motets, nineteen of which are handsomely represented on this double-album debut from the aptly named Beauty Farm.

For the full text of this review please visit: http://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/gombert-motets
Gramophone November 2015

Brazilian Adventures

Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore (conductor)
Hyperion CDA68114 

Jeffrey Skidmore is not the first musician to be charmed by the cultural riches and musical heritage of Brazil, and he won’t be the last, yet his visit has culminated in an unexpectedly touching and beautiful portrait of Brazilian early music that is sure to surprise even the most intrepid musical explorers. Brazilian Adventures is striking not only for its tender approach but also for the focus on later historical styles than one normally associates with these performers. The two masses are contemporary with late Haydn works and yet incorporate many late-baroque features whilst also harkening towards a softer, more intimate early-romantic sound. The movements of both masses are framed and separated by a selection of motets hinting at the huge variety of Brazilian music that still awaits modern performance.

 For the full text of this review please visit http://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/brazilian-adventure

Gramophone November 2015

18 Sept 2015

Composers' Intentions?

Composers’ Intentions? Lost Traditions of Musical Performance Andrew Parrott

The Boydell Press, 2015.
Book review for Gramophone Magazine.

Many ensembles, such as Parrott’s own Taverner Choir, Consort and Players, turned forty recently and their performance legacy has enabled young ensembles raised on a diet of historically informed performance to impatiently push boundaries of baroque-and-beyond. Parrott’s writing stands out sharply from this joyful, mushrooming HIP-fest for its zealous, conservative scholarship. The writing is buoyant, urgent and enjoyable. I dubbed Parrott an éminence grise, yet he is perhaps more the Al Gore of early music: a harbinger of inconvenient truths.

For the full text of text of this article please visit: www.gramophone.co.uk
Awards issue: October 2015.

27 Aug 2015

Gothic revival

Early Music Today magazine. September 2015.

Gothic Voices 


The re-emergence of Gothic Voices earlier this year proved just the tonic for those of us mourning the retirement of The Hilliard Ensemble. Considering that both have produced chart-topping discs featuring medieval music—itself no mean feat—there is a pleasing symmetry to such a recalibration of the medieval vocal scene.

Gothic Voices enjoy a well-earned reputation as trailblazers in performance practice, having recorded over 300 pieces of music each with exquisite thoughtfulness, precision and poignancy. Such collective history is neatly encapsulated in their tag line: ‘unaccompanied close medieval harmonies’, and for those unaware of the musicology synonymous with this ensemble, allow me to indulge in a quick recap.

(The full text of this article is available from www.earlymusictoday.com)

17 Jul 2015

Planctus: muerte y apocalipsis en la edad media

Review for Gramophone magazine. August 2015.

Planctus: muerte y apocalipsis en la edad media
Capella de Ministrers / Carles Magraner
CdM 1536

Marking the 500th anniversary of the Council of Constance (1414-18), which ended the Papal Schism, this fascinating new programme of laments from Capella de Ministrers explores ‘Death and Revelation in the Middle Ages’ through sources as diverse as court entertainments and the apocalyptic sermons of the Dominican Friar Vincent Ferrer. The result is a musical setting of the Officium Defunctorum recovered from ancient Hispanic liturgy including ordinary movements from the Misa de Barcelona and Misa de Notre-Dame de Kernasceléden interwoven with a varied selection of late medieval works on similarly eschatological themes.

For the full text of this review please visit: www.gramophone.co.uk

19 May 2015

Thurston Dart and the New Faculty of Music at King's College London

Written for King's College London: A new biography looks back at the department of music's founding year.

The world’s first music degree was awarded by Cambridge University in 1463, but it was not until 1903 that degrees in music were given at London University, and not until 1908 that a part-time King Edward Professor of Music was appointed at King’s College, London. The chair was endowed by a gift of £5,000 from Trinity College of Music in 1902; sufficient to draw a salary from the interest. There were no teaching staff and no faculty but, rather, a Board of Studies in Music overseen by the Faculty of Arts. In 1964, that Chair became a full-time position and the Faculty of Music was created. Thurston Dart was appointed as Professor and he began teaching with just three other staff. It was no coincidence that this development happened in the wake of two groundbreaking reports on education—The Newson Report and The Robbins Report—which questioned the very foundations of the British education system and, in the case of the latter, called for an immediate expansion of the number of universities. In turn, these reports ignited a long debate over what constituted a university music education and with this in mind Dart was keen to situate himself and his new faculty as different from a music-college education.

The influence of Dart’s faculty was not limited to King’s College since he had to plan on a London-wide basis because his Chair oversaw music examinations across the whole university. Any change to the existing regulations would affect all music exams including those taken at teaching colleges, and as such the idea of a new approach was not met with universal acceptance. Dart understood this challenge as an opportunity to renew the entire music degree and its regulations ‘from bottom to top’. Change was swift: by 1967 the new Faculty had a full quota of sixteen undergraduates, and Dart could report that fifteen candidates applied for every position offered. Ten postgraduate students were also present as well as over forty students from London music colleges who attended faculty-lectures on a part-time basis. At this point, the entire operation was still run out of 34 Surrey St, a building of just 1300 sq ft  (121 Sq M) originally intended to house the new faculty for a single year but which continued in service until 1969 when the Music Department was moved to a converted shop-building on The Strand. 

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the faculty of music at King’s College, London this essay offers an overview of Thurston Dart’s life, his development as a musicologist and his appointment to The King Edward Chair in Music. It outlines his ‘newlook’ approach to music education for the University of London and explores why it was so different from the traditional approaches taken by other faculties.

To read the full text of this article please visit:

or visit the King's College music department webpage here: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/music/index.aspx

1 May 2015

David Munrow (of the Early Music Consort) and Folk Music

Guest Blog for Semibrevity: A blog about early music pioneers

David Munrow (1942-1976) was one of the most widely-known early music ‘personalities’ of the 1960s and 70s. He was a woodwind specialist and director of the Early Music Consort of London and also a prolific broadcaster. As a regular BBC presenter many knew him through his long-running radio series Pied Piper which was aimed at a younger audience but enjoyed by listeners of all ages. Over the course of five years and 655 programmes he discussed a huge range of music themed in four weekly installments that ranged from folk dances to the works of Berlioz.
Having studied Munrow’s recordings, broadcasts and writings over the past few years I have become interested in what first sparked his interest in folk music and folk instruments, and how, in turn, this influenced his performances of medieval music. The following blog-post is offered as an overview of his activities and connections in this area.

For the full text of this article please visit: http://bit.ly/1HWXxN3

27 Apr 2015

Icons: Robert Thurston Dart

Edward Breen pays tribute to an early music pioneer - a highly regarded musician, recording artist, musicologist and lecturer who left a legacy that we are still enjoying today.

(Gramophone, May 2015)

Robert Thurston Dart (1921-1971) was one of the great autodidacts of the twentieth century. In the days when opportunities for performance or study of pre-Classical music were rare, he—like so many pioneers—travelled his own idiosyncratic route.

A choirboy at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court, Dart caught the attention of the redoubtable Edmund H. Fellowes, arguably the leading expert on early English choral music of his time. In the 1930s he sang for children’s hour broadcasts and later studied with Arnold Goldsborough at the Royal College of Music before reading Mathematics at Exeter University. In 1942 he was called to wartime service with the RAF where, post D-day, he survived crash-landing in a mined field outside Calais. Recuperating in hospital he met the young violinist, Neville Marriner, and one of the key musical partnerships of the early music revival was ignited. Dart left the army on the understanding that he would pursue postgraduate statistical research at Cambridge University but instead travelled to Belgium to study with the Flemmish musicologist Charles van den Boren. Returning to England with a dazzling keyboard technique and keen research acumen he worked at Cambridge University when he was appointed a Professor in 1962. 
For the full text of this article please visit http://www.gramophone.co.uk/

29 Mar 2015

Music for Holy Week

Edward Breen recalls buying George Malcolm's disc of Victoria's Tenebrae responsories as a teenager and encountering 'a disc of Renaissance music like no other...It shocked me but I couldn't tear myself away.' For this month's Specialist Guide, he has chosen recordings suitable for Holy Week 'which similarly capture arresting penitential atmospheres'.

(Gramophone, April 2015)

Holy Week is the period from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday spanning the seven days immediately before Easter Sunday. It is a time of penance for Christians who believe that the suffering and sacrifice of Christ and His subsequent resurrection symbolises the hope that mankind will be redeemed from sin. In the Catholic liturgy, these events are expressed and commemorated through a complex, nuanced re-enactment and meditation for which there is a vast and fascinating musical repertoire, particularly so from the late medieval and renaissance periods. 

To read the full text of this article please visit: http://www.gramophone.co.uk/