:: News & Comment


The Book of Lost Lute Songs

photo Guy Carpenter

This coming Saturday Jacob Heringman and I will open our Book of Lost Lute Songs for the final time in the UK this year. The idea behind it is to apply 17th century performance practice to later music, and among other things imagines a counter-factual take on the early music movement which is assumed to have begun in the 1920s. It’s very much the agenda that drives our Alternative History project with Ariel Abramovich and Anna Maria Friman, and which came together in our Amores Pasados album for ECM.

The programme opens with a group of renaissance poems set by Stephen Wilkinson (originally for voice and guitar) and Peter Pope (for choir). These have been intabulated and arranged by Jake for voice and lute as his 17th century forebears would have done, but with one difference: he plays as many of the composer’s notes as will fit on the instrument and I don’t attempt to ‘improve’ the vocal line. It’s a nod in the direction of what might have happened had lute players been around when 20th century composers set renaissance verse.

Next come three of Holst’s Four Songs for Voice & Violin set to medieval texts. We miss out I Sing of a Maiden, partly because Patrick Hadley wrote the definitive version in my book, but also because I’ve improvised on the poem so many times with the Dowland Project I couldn’t trust myself to stick to Holst’s notes. Instead we’ll do Jake’s intabulation of The Thought (also a love song but of the human rather than spiritual variety). I will be doing the complete set with Milos Valent on violin in the Czech Republic next month as penance.

Then we have two short songs by Vaughan-Williams: Along the Field, also originally for voice and violin, and Twilight People, originally for voice and optional piano. The first half finishes with a group of songs by Peter Warlock. It was Warlock’s settings of 17th century verse that inspired our first forays into this imaginary neck of the woods, but two of the three we have selected have poems by his contemporaries Bruce Blunt and Hilaire Belloc. The third is Warlock’s shortest song, How Many Miles to Babylon, a lullaby which I hope to surprise my granddaughters with as it’ll be just about their bed time.

The main reason we like to inhabit the 16th and 17th centuries is not just that the composers are dead, but that the composer-performer relationship would have been completely different when they were alive. That relationship survives in many other compositional genres outside ‘classical music’, and we have been very comfortable asking jazz and rock musicians to create songs for us. The pieces by Sting and Tony Banks in the second half work in exactly the same way as a song from the 17th century: the composer provides a blueprint and our task is to realise the song in whatever way we like; although the composers own the rights, we performers in practice own the music. We’ve never commissioned a ‘proper’ composer, but Late Music asked if we’d do a new piece by Michael Parkin, and we’d already decided to perform the winning song from John Casken’s Alwinton composers competition held earlier this year. This turned out to have two winners: Patrick Gardner and Joshua Brown. So our counter-factual machinations now include assuming the early music movement hasn’t happened at all…except that the Alwinton pieces also have bass viol so we are hoping Susanna Pell will be passing by, instrument at the ready.

Of course it’s not actually as simple as that: Jake has done huge amounts of ‘proper’ music and my concert biog at one time claimed I’d done more first performances than any other English tenor.  Do come and join us on Saturday evening at York’s beautiful St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel if you’d like to hear how we get on.

 

Amores Pasados

Leave a Reply