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I’ve just been a guest at the Stimmwercktage at Adlersberg near Regensburg. Stimmwerck is one of the most enterprising and creative acappella groups around, and each year they devote the first  weekend in August to one particular composer or manuscript. This year it was the Schalreuter Handschrift, a huge collection of 16th century motets and psalms, many by composers who are otherwise unknown or whose works only survive in this manuscript. The music was collected from the Protestant cantorate all over southern Germany at a time when the Protestants were seeking to create a functioning liturgical music which would rival that of the Catholic establishment. It’s extraordinarily rich stuff (some of the motets are over ten minutes long) – shades of Josquin but in a parallel universe.


Prosslbrau Adlersberg is in an idyllic spot on a hill just outside Regensburg. It’s essentially a church (wonderful acoustic) with  a large inn, the Prösslbräu  attached. Instead of the nunnery that the church supported, there is now a small brewery which has been in the Prössl family for five generations. It’s the perfect venue for a small festival – music and sustenance  straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. In fact we shared our dressing room space with a horse and a goat, both of whom were very friendly. horse

As well as joining Stimmwerck for some stunning motets and doing the occasional lute version with Paul O’Dette, I was asked to give a workshop on singing renaissance music. It was bursting with people, and there were some very courageous and receptive singers. I talked for about half an hour first, beginning with the reasons why the modern singing of renaissance music is like it is, and contrasting it with instrumental practice. Early instrumentalists generally have a much closer relationship with actual history, having the benefit of a thriving community of practice with players and makers actually having to do research (as opposed to singers rarely being able to get round the singing teacher problem). I also talked about the real life of renaissance music – the actual use to which it was mostly put (as opposed to the surviving manuscripts which had relatively little use), and Paul O’Dette and I busked a version of one of the Schalreuter pieces. Using the original polyphony as source material for doing your own thing was standard 16th century practice; we did a different version in the evening concert and had the students trying to improve on the original too.  Sometimes workshop participants are bemused by my take on early music (they’ve usually been taught the difference between renaissance right and wrong) but times are definitely changing – and this was one of those wonderful occasions when you could see the lights going on  in people’s heads.

stimmwerckA big thankyou to the Stimmwerckers – Marcus, Klaus, Gerhard and Franz (seen here with yours truly, goat and horse).  It was a  privilege to be part of it.  Stimmwerck have many enthusiastic supporters of all ages, and there was a real sense of a musical community coming together to have a great time.    If anyone fancies rolling up next year, they’re doing music from the Trent Codices – some of the most amazing music ever written – so book early to be sure of a seat. Deutschland Radio are broadcasting some of this year’s music Sunday 21st at 7.00 if you’re near a computer.


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