OPERA OMNIA – Music of the Past for Audiences of the Future

Celebrating the European Day of Early Music and the first anniversary of OPERA OMNIA, Academy for Early Opera & Dance, Institute at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’, here is my article presented by Katerina Antonenko at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Reflective Conservatoire conference, which has become perhaps the most significant forum of its kind, for discussing new developments in tertiary music education.

 

OPERA OMNIA offers a new model for Early Music: linking Research, Training and Performance; connecting Music and Drama; and hosted not by a conservatoire, but by an opera house. We believe this model can be more historical, more accessible, more practical, and more relevant to the 21st century than the standard approach of trying to squeeze historical aesthetics into 19th-cent performance ideals and previous millenium educational structures!

 

 

A year ago we founded OPERA OMNIA, creating a formal institution and unified branding for a variety of collaborative projects developed during the previous five years. We link Research, Training and Performance of Early Music, in an evolving model adapted for the opportunities and constraints of cultural life in 21st-century Russia.

 

 

Natalya Sats was founder and director of the Moscow State Children’s Theatre, pioneering Synthesised Theatre, a combination of music and other media. In 1936, she commissioned Prokofiev to write Peter and the Wolf. Statues of characters and instruments from that story adorn the entrance to the present Theatre, built in 1979. Nowadays, her daughter, Roksana continues the Sats tradition of speaking to young audiences before each performance.

 

 

The present Artistic Director, Georgiy Isaakyan has extended the programming for young adults and multi-generational audiences: not only family favourites, but also challenging work, including new and early music.

There are two Early Opera productions, both rarely staged today. Celos, the first Spanish opera, is now in its third season. And the very first opera, Anima & Corpo, which won Russia’s highest music-theatrical award, The Golden Mask, has had 55 performances so far.

 

 

These two 17th-century operas required collaborations between the Theatre’s resident performers and guests from Moscow’s nascent early music scene. Over the last five years, the Theatre obtained specialist instruments – more are on order and planned for – and in training workshops and performance projects, teams of players acquired the necessary skills.

In cooperation with other institutions, those projects included the first performance in Russia of Monteverdi’s Vespers. More about Vespers here. Each performance was linked to public lectures, advanced masterclasses, academic seminars etc. Continuing performances of Anima & Corpo at Theatre Sats are also a training ground, with new company members each season.

 

 

17th-century music requires singers to have both solo and ensemble skills. Polyphonic vocal consorts, 2 or 3 to a part, were a new challenge to singing-actors schooled in the grand Russian tradition. Vocal ensembles in Anima & Corpo are now shared between the Small Choir (a consort of soloists who do most of the dramatic commentary) and members of the Theatre Chorus (who represent a Choir of Angels and swell the numbers to about 80 in the finale.)

 

 

As in Rome in 1600, so in 21st-century OPERA OMNIA: no conductor! Instead, there are multiple Tactus-beaters, relaying a consistent beat between separate groups of performers, so-called cori spezzati. More about Tactus here, and about how to do it here.

Anima & Corpo also provided an opportunity for final-year students from the Russian Institute of Theatrical Arts, who took part in workshops with Lawrence-King and Isaakyan, rehearsed with OPERA OMNIA continuo-players, and performed selected roles alongside professional colleagues in public performances at Theatre Sats. The best graduates were amongst September’s new intake into the professional company.

These performances involving students helped the Theatre reach out to new audience members in their late teens and twenties. But one of the delights of working at Theatre Sats is that we regularly have children, teenagers, and young adults in the audience. The Theatre has front of house staff dedicated to meeting and greeting young visitors, offering informal guidance for individuals, or a short introductory talk for groups.

 

 

Theatre Sats is also the administrative centre for the annual ВИДЕТЬ МУЗЫКУ (Seeing Music) Festival of the Association of Russian Theatres, which invites to Moscow directors and performers from all around the Russian Federation, uniting an artistic community that spans nine time-zones! The opening ceremonies last September featured an experimental production with historical staging by the young professionals and advanced students of OPERA OMNIA’s International Baroque Opera Studio: Andrew Lawrence-King’s re-make of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), composed around the surviving Lamento. More about Arianna here.

 

 

The astounding visual contrast between the famous Lament scene and the tumultuous arrival of Bacchus immediately afterwards is made audible in Lawrence-King’s work, as the ‘violins and viols’ of the Lament are blown away by ‘hundreds of trumpets, timpani and the raucous cry of horns’. More about how Arianna was re-made, here.

Although most professional ensembles in Europe substitute sackbuts for mid-range and low baroque trumpets, we were able to train up a full consort of natural trumpets, led by guest coach, Mark Bennett.

 

 

To close the Festival a month later, OPERA OMNIA provided the orchestra for a gala concert of baroque music at the Bolshoy Theatre, bringing together soloists from Sats, other Moscow theatres, and opera houses throughout Russia. This event provided a fascinating snapshot of the state of Baroque Music in mainstream institutions across the nation.

Alongside Moscow’s offering of Handel arias and the Triumph of Bacchus from Arianna, the choices from regional theatres were strongly influenced by mid-20th-century Russian anthologies of baroque favourites: Lascia ch’io pianga of course, but also arias mis-attributed to Pergolesi and Caccini.

We re-edited these, and made a clean ending with the Sauna scene from Lawrence-King’s Kalevala opera.

 

 

 

OPERA OMNIA enjoys close relations with the Moscow Conservatoire, for whom we provide conference speakers and master-classes. We also coach keyboard teachers within the Tchaikovsky School’s program of Continuing Professional Development.

Some of our best Early Music singers were initially trained at the Moscow Choir Academy ‘Papov’, emerging with a good mix of vocal, musical and ensemble skills. Our master-classes also welcome visitors from Stanislavsky, Bolshoy and other mainstream opera houses, singers with excellent voices and rich stage experience, for whom Historically Informed Performance is new territory.

Our production of Celos has led to close collaboration with the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish embassy and theatres in Spain. We also contribute musically to charitable concerts given by the ensemble of Singing Diplomats at the German embassy.

 

 

The rhythmic energy and visual appeal of Spanish baroque has attracted considerable TV and radio exposure, and internet streaming of selected performances.

 

 

What remains of the former State education system continues to produce instrumentalists and singers with dazzling virtuosity and rich knowledge of mainstream repertoire. Some baroque aficionados have managed to educate themselves in Early Music with help from visiting teachers, achieving high levels of performance and refreshingly independent academic perspectives. Others studied in Europe, returning to found independent festivals and ensembles in Russia.

With public funding, ensemble Madrigal at the Moscow Philharmonic preserves the style of communist-era Early Music, and Musica Aeterna in Perm brings in most of its players from abroad to play period instruments under a post-modernist baton, but Insula Magica does sterling work in far-off Novo Sibirsk.

 

 

In 2012, Theorbo was almost unknown in Moscow. We guided the first generation of theorbists as they transitioned from other instruments.

 

Video clip of the 2012 premiere of Anima & Corpo here

 

We are now victims of our own success, in that our theorbists are greatly in demand with other ensembles, so we have had to find a second generation of continuo-players to train up… and this is just how it should be!

 

 

Russian theatres have a traditional working practice in which members of the company or orchestra learn repertoire, by sitting-in and observing. We combine that Russian tradition with the baroque concept of apprenticeship.

New-entrant continuo-players begin their studies in a relaxed environment at open workshops. When they reach intermediate standard, they are invited to sit-in and play alongside the professionals at Theatre rehearsals, offering them real-world experience and advanced training on a show which will soon provide them with paid employment.

In the wider arena of the Russian Early Music scene, we measure success not only by absolute standards achieved by young professionals, but also by value added for keen baroque musicians at any level.

 

Authenti-City: Abandon hope all ye who enter here!

 

The much-debated question of “What is Authenticity?” requires fresh answers in the post-communist oligarchy of modern-day Russia.

In Europe, Performance Practice theories are often circulated by a system of ‘Chinese whispers’, teacher to student, director to musician, CD to listener, and in heated (rather than illuminating) debates on social media. Some performers believe it’s impossible to assimilate enough historical information. Others feel that period practice has been thoroughly worked out, and it’s time to invent something new.

 

 

OPERA OMNIA’s message to Russia (and to the wider world) is that HIP is not what some famous person says, nor is it what you hear on your favourite CD! We encourage everyone to check primary sources for themselves – most of the crucial treatises and many original scores are freely available online.

 

 

Our take on HIP focuses on practicalities. But before we look for answers, we interrogate period documents for the right questions to ask. Caccini’s (1601) priorities –

Text and Rhythm, with Sound last of all, and not the other way around!

encourage us to look beyond modern-day obsessions with pitch, temperament and vibrato, and far beyond the old-fashioned notion of ‘on period instruments’. More about the Text, Rhythm, Action! project here. The Sats orchestra mixes Early and modern instruments, the training Studio is Baroque only.

 

Whilst the training Studio works in original languages, the professional Theatre productions of Anima & Corpo and Celos are sung in Russian. Supertitles and printed translations are little used in Russia, and the gain in direct communication between our singing actors and young people in the audience far outweighs the loss of the sound of a foreign language.

We worked very carefully to unite Russian text and Mediterranean music, seeking to achieve natural language, appropriate rhythmic fit, and a perfect match of the word-painting that is so characteristic of this period.

 

 

We rehearse the interplay of Text, Rhythm and Meaning with simple but effective hand-exercises, that are themselves fundamental elements of period pedagogy.

In Early Music, Rhythm is directed by Tactus, a slow steady beat symbolically linked to the hand of God turning the cosmos, and to the human pulse.

In an exercise for Text, the hand (now palm up, in the default gesture called ‘how to act’) moves with each accented syllable – Good syllables, in period terminology. More about How to Act here.

We ask singers to think of the meaning of the word, each time they move their hand. Leading questions can then draw out more specific gestures. “Where is that?” prompts singers to connect their gesture to a specific – imagined – location. More about pointing gestures here.

Fixing singers’ attention on the particular word they are singing right now, is also a Mindfulness exercise, which – like the steady beat of Tactus – encourages a state of Flow. More about Flow here. It’s how Monteverdi composed, word by word, and it sits well within the Stanislavsky tradition of Russian theatrical education.

The famous challenge from director to actor

I don’t believe you!

cannot be answered by exaggerated histrionics, by a gesture that is more historical, or by wider vibrato! It demands profound interior work from the actor. Caccini characterised the new, 17th-century style of singing as ‘like speaking in harmony’. Too much singerly attention on The Voice must be challenged immediately with “I don’t believe you”.

 

More about Emotions in Early Opera here.

 

Daily Schedule of Performances at Theatre Sats in Moscow, in the same week that this paper was delivered at GSMD in London.

 

At Theatre Sats, permanent members of the resident company perform all the different shows in a vast repertoire, and each of these shows comes around again every month or so. Singers and musicians have an immense daily work-load, often with two or more performances on the same day, plus rehearsals to revive old shows and yet more rehearsals to prepare new productions.

A typical day might begin with rehearsals for Rimsky-Korsakov, continue with a performance of Puccini and end with 17th-century baroque. To ensure continuity and provide a reserve for any eventuality, every show is double- or triple-cast: similarly for the orchestra.

Our first rehearsal for the violin band in Anima & Corpo was a delicate moment, introducing highly-experienced modern players to an utterly different aesthetic – straight tone, open strings and first position, slow bow-strokes. By lunchtime, we’d got through most of the material, and the musicians began to feel convinced by the unfamiliar sounds they were being asked to make. The afternoon rehearsal would go smoothly, we thought… until we saw a completely different group of string-players sit down for the second session!

A subtle feeling for a different kind of music-making is not something that can be marked into the parts – it has to be acquired through patient coaching and shared ensemble experience. It takes time. But once instilled in the whole company, it can be “absorbed” by new recruits more quickly, thanks to the ‘sitting-in’ tradition mentioned earlier.

Learning new material goes very slowly at the beginning, and then the final days of stage and technical rehearsal pass all too quickly: there is almost no time available in the middle for ‘artistic’ work.

It’s therefore crucial to engage with preliminary rehearsals, assisting repetiteurs as they drill notes into the singers’ heads. What is taught in these sessions tends to become up hard-wired, so mistakes must be ruthlessly eliminated. But this is also an opportunity to build-in fundamental elements of style, so a wise director will not be too proud to do a lot of the donkey-work themselves.

 

More about learning Monteverdi’s operatic roles here.

 

 

With limited time, and performers who spend most of their time working in quite a different style, our rehearsals focus on training general principles which can be re-applied in many different situations. Teaching principles, rather than imposing the director’s personal interpretation, leaves each individual with space to add their own artistic touches, and fits well with the historical concept of Art as a organised set of rules.

Of course, 17th-century aesthetics were also acutely concerned with the beauty and mysterious power of music: this is historical Science. We teach this in workshops, but for daily rehearsals we have to encapsulate complex ideas in punchy catch-phrase1s.

Sometimes it’s helpful to contrast 19th- or 20th-century practice with earlier styles, showing respect for musicians’ normal approach and for the coaching they receive from the Theatre’s mainstream conductors, whilst empowering them to do something very different with us, in the historical context.

The long legato lines of Romantic opera are contrasted with our mnemonic,

Breathe as often as you can!

 

Long notes long, short notes short!

brings rhythmic clarity, and encourages varied articulations. Subtleties of Tactus rhythm here.

Good & bad

does the same job for text syllables. More on Good & Bad here.

Ornamentation is not always relevant, and it’s certainly not a priority. Some visiting early musicians add ornaments, or ask about them; some resident musicians are keen to try for themselves. They all receive encouragement and advice. We will be more proactive as we come to French and later operas, for which ornamentation is an essential ingredient, like spices in cooking.

 

 

There is more time available at weekend workshops, where we explore links between period philosophy and the nitty-gritty of what one actually does in performance. Workshops also offer a ‘safe space’, a chance to try something utterly new. It’s a ‘safe space’ in the sense that we don’t have to demand instant success, and suitably-cushioned failure is accepted as an inevitable part of the learning process.

This training space is essential, not only for beginners acquiring fundamental skills, but– perhaps even more so – for professionals learning a new approach. These workshops are also the experimental laboratory that complements our academic research by providing a test-bed for new ideas.

Supposedly, Early Music is always trying out new performance practice ideas, but in the real world, there is a strong tendency to stay within everyone’s comfort-zone. It is much easier for a director to implement even quite radical decisions, than to change individual musicians’ deeply-ingrained habits.

New research findings demand new skills; new skills require new training methodologies; new methods have to be optimised and applied. All of this has to happen before new research can be applied in rehearsal, and polished for performance.

 

 

Our workshop formats vary. Our teaching style is to expound fundamental historical principles, and then guide participants towards making their own choices, within the style-boundaries. We usually have a wide range of abilities. Our motto is

Everyone has something to contribute, everyone has something to learn

– and that includes the tutors!

 

More about baroque gesture and historical acting here.

 

 

Many European conservatoires host a Historical Performance department, and most of those departments have partnerships with professional HIP ensembles. But we are working the other way around. We are hosted by a Theatre, so involvement with professional productions is a powerful, built-in “pull-factor” that sets our educational priorities. The complementary “push-factor” is new academic research, which drives our training agenda.

This is quite a different, and more integrated relationship between research, training and performance than one finds in most conservatoires.

Our Early Music focus on chamber-music skills, rhythmic accuracy and empowering individual performers is also beneficial to the Theatre’s mainstream work.

 

 

In today’s Russia, public funding comes from the State of Russia, or the City of Moscow. The City is richer than the State. Our host Theatre is State funded, and we do not expect additional public funding for this new venture against the current background of annual cuts in arts budgets, international sanctions etc.

Commercial sponsorship is focussed entirely on the highest slice of elite mainstream activity: there is no tradition of small or medium businesses supporting regional or local culture. But we have found some private support from enthusiastic individuals, and there are State and City funds available for specific activities, such as travelling productions.

The funding gap is covered by informal cross-subsidies that in Europe would be managed by assigning itemised costs to specific budgets, with cross-payments between departments. Performance fees, whilst smaller than European expectations, encourage directors to spend time on blue-skies research, and encourage musicians to invest in their own continued professional training.

Theatre Sats supports the Academy by providing resources off-budget. In return, OPERA OMNIA’s activities support the Theatre’s artistic, educational and outreach aims. We are blessed with senior management who take the long and wide view of this. We are also blessed with good team spirit, powerful ‘start-up’ energy, and a strong sense of involvement from all participants.

When money does change hands, it is rigorously controlled. But we devote less time to formal meetings and paperwork than in Europe. We can get things done quickly when there is a need or an opportunity.

 

 

We don’t pretend to be a full-time educational institution, rather we try to complement the work of conservatoires with our specialist focus on cutting-edge research, new training methods, new skill-sets and professional performance. We take a pragmatic approach, trying to fill gaps in knowledge and experience for each individual, leading towards specific performances.

Our concept of training as a ‘safe space’ and an experimental lab encourages us to respond continuously to new research findings. If there is a tendency for some conservatoires to educate for the past, for the world in which teachers themselves grew up, we are training for the demands of performances now and in the future, creating skill-sets beyond the limits of today’s Early Music habits.

 

 

Making baroque music in modern-day Moscow is often challenging. But the vibrant cultural scene, the energy and talent of Russian performers, enthusiasm from young audiences, and the Theatre’s support, create unique opportunities.

Last year, Theatre Sats was honoured with the European Opera prize for Education and Outreach. We at OPERA OMNIA are excited about our plans for the next few years. And we are proud to be developing performers and audiences for the Early Music of the future.

Advertisements

The Practice of Tactus – Owners Workshop Manual

 

A Practical Guide – Part 1

There are many posts on this blog about Tactus, a key concept in Early Music. For an introduction, try Rhythm, what really counts; for technical details, Monteverdi’s Time; for inspiration, The Power of Tactus. This post is different – it is the first in a series of practical guides to help you do Tactus for yourself and with your ensembles. So I start from the assumption that you know what Tactus is, and that you are keen to put it into practice.

 

Science, Art & Use

In mainstream music, there is a conventional distinction between Technique and Interpretation. In Early Music, we avoid that binary, because many aspects of historical techniques are designed to produce specific elements of style, and because the word Interpretation is itself problematic. We prefer to talk about Style, style boundaries, and Choices within those boundaries. The historical categories are different again – Science, Art & Use – and each of these terms has a period significance that differs from our modern understanding.

Renaissance Science is the study of mysteries beyond the everyday worldly experience: according to the Science of the Music of the Spheres, our earthly music-making is connected to mysterious cosmic forces that influence our souls and bodies. That same  connection operates also within the phenemenon of Time itself. This historical Science covers some of the territory that we would nowadays call Art, the mysterious beauty of music, the power of the arts to take us beyond ourselves into some higher realm. There are many posts in this blog dealing with the Science of Tactus, e.g. Emotions in Early Opera.

Renaissance Art refines Nature according to a set of organised principles. This concept is hard for some modern-day musicians to accept, since it lays down a set of rules that guide creativity within the boundaries of a specific style. We might compare such musical ‘rules’ to the rules of grammar: they do not dictate what you want to say, but they do guide how you say it. Specifically, they offer choices between different pathways you might follow, from a given starting point. In music, these principles include concepts of Rhetoric & Poetics, as well as Harmony & Counterpoint, Articulation (i.e. short-term phrasing), Melody and Rhythm. The Art of musical Rhythm is guided by the principles of Tactus. Again, there are many posts in this blog on those principles, e.g. Tactus & Proportions in Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Period Use is the ‘down & dirty’ of what one actually does, putting the principles of Art into practice, in order to realise the beauties of Science. This post is about the Use of Tactus.

To become proficient in the Use of Tactus, it’s not enough to read Zacconi & my blog-posts, any more than reading Bassano and articles by Bruce Dickey is enough to make you an expert cornetto-player, unless you also put in many hours of focussed individual practice and ensemble experience. The 10,000 hour rule and beyond. To read about Tactus and then perform Early Music with modern conducting is comparable to researching cornetto and then performing the Monteverdi Vespers with soprano saxophones: the input is no doubt informative, but the output is not the real thing.

Like proprioception and postural balance, awareness and management of Tactus is more than a technique that you learn and practice: ultimately it becomes a quality that you have. But to have Tactus, you have to do Tactus a lot. And to do Tactus, you have to practise Tactus first. The decision to play in Tactus is similar to the decision to play in a historical temperament, say quarter-comma meantone; or for a modern string orchestra to adopt baroque bows. Ensemble members have to acquire new skills, both individually and as a group, and some rehearsal time will have to be devoted to specific training.  You have to build skills, deepen experience with progressive drills, and trouble-shoot problems in rehearsal, so as to have confidence in performance.

This post suggests a practical approach and training exercises, to get you started.

 

 

Share the Power of Tactus

This “start here” article is divided into four sections: Prerequisites; Development exercises; Maintenance exercises; Rehearsal techniques. Remember, it’s not enough to read this advice: you need to do it, if you want to make progress.

1. Prerequisites

Each member of the ensemble has to understand the fundamentals of Tactus, and be ready and willing to base their music-making on Tactus (at least, for the duration of the experiment!).

Those fundamentals are:

  1. Early Music is directed by Tactus, a slow steady beat, around one pulse per second.
  2. Tactus is practised with a slow steady movement of the hand, down for one second, up for the next second.
  3. It is the responsibility of every individual to maintain the Tactus steadily, and to coordinate it with everyone else: there is no conductor who takes precedence, no-one is allowed to change the Tactus.
  4. Shorter notes and complex rhythms have to conform to the Tactus.

Each member of the ensemble also has to agree that a certain amount of rehearsal time will be devoted to Tactus exercises: say half an hour initially, and five minutes at the beginning of the next few rehearsals. And that the following rehearsal will be run on Tactus principles.

Just like learning to play in mean-tone, you need every individual member to ‘buy into’ the experiment. You can give it a try, and review the outcome after several rehearsals. But you do need everyone’s support. By the way, it’s an infallible rule that the people who most resist doing the hand-exercises are the people who most need to do them.

2. Development exercises.

 

 

Rule 1: do NOT use a metronome.

It is helpful to have an objective reference, so that group sessions don’t degenerate into “I’m right, you’re wrong” arguments. But the sharp click of a metronome gives the wrong kind of information (this is the first practical illustration of the fact that playing Tactus is not ‘metronomic’). Instead…

Rule 2: make a simple 1 metre pendulum (a piece of string with something tied to the end to make a weight). This will “tick” at one beat per second (Mersenne Harmonie Universelle 1636)

Rule 3: do NOT use a metronome.

I hope you will find that the following exercises are not difficult. As in Feldenkrais Method’s Awareness through Movement exercises, these drills are intended to be easy, so that you can manage them without effort. But doing these simple drills, whilst keeping your concentration strongly on the Tactus, will gradually change the way your body/mind/hands/ears manage rhythm, installing Tactus awareness and Tactus skills at a deep level.

Exercise One

Give the pendulum to a person in the group who tends not to be a ‘leader’. Pass the pendulum to another person every five minutes or so. (This will encourage the ‘leaders’ to follow more, and the ‘followers’ to lead more, counter-balancing out any inherent tendencies within the group).

Set the pendulum going, and using it as a reference, everyone waves their arms down/up, with the hand palm outwards/downwards, mostly flexing at the elbow, but using the whole arm. Synchronise to the pendulum and maintain the Tactus movement. Imitate the movement of the pendulum, coming gently to momentary rest at the end of each movement, then moving smoothly away again.

The concept of arsis and thesis describes a subtle difference between down and up. Imagine that you are in a swimming-pool, holding a beachball under the water. As you push the beachball downwards, you have to give some extra effort against the buoyancy provided by the water; it comes up again by itself. Think about this, as you maintain the Tactus movement.

After a while, ask everyone in the group to close their eyes. Keep the eyes closed for ten seconds, and then ask everyone to open the eyes again. Calmly re-synchronise with each other and with the pendulum, and repeat. 10 seconds eyes closed, 10 seconds eyes open. Continue for a minute or two.

Stop and rest. Notice the atmosphere in the room. Typically, the feeling will have subtly changed. The room is quieter, people are calmer and more concentrated. You might be more aware of small background noises. This is one of the hidden benefits of Tactus – it has an almost hypnotic effect, giving you calm, concentration and heightened awareness of small acoustic signals: what a perfect set-up for making music!

Enjoy the feeling for a moment, and then repeat Exercise One, with a new pendulum operator. Give a reminder about the subtle difference between down/up.

When you feel that the whole group is ready, repeat Exercise One again without pendulum, synchronising with eachother.

Most trained musicians find this exercise easy. Nevertheless, it sweetens the atmosphere if you give some appreciative comments along the way: “Good! Well done! That went better!” etc. If people are having difficulty staying together, shorten the time with the eyes closed. If some people still don’t get it, try mentioning that one of the ‘secrets’ is that as everyone moves their arms, there are tiny sounds, and you can synchronise with those.

Exercise Two

Now you are going to use your new-found awareness of Tactus to guide the creation of different rhythms, dividing the slow Tactus beat to find the shorter note-lengths. This is crucially different from the modern practice of adding up the various note-lengths in your part to see what results as a bar-length. In mathematical theory, you would come out with the same answer, but in practical music-making, there is a crucial difference between dividing the Tactus and adding up the little notes. So this exercise practises dividing the Tactus.

Use the pendulum as a reference. Everyone beats Tactus together. Synchronising to the Tactus, say the following rhythms together, repeating each one perhaps three times.

We meet syllables on semiquavers (sixteenth notes) in Monteverdi’s Combattimento, for example. The text can be tricky to pronounce at such speed, but I hope you find the underlying concept easy to understand and practise. Here you are dividing the slow beat of a complete Tactus (down and up again) into 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 16. This is closely related to the concept of Diminutions as a way of ornamenting a slow melody: there you divide a long note into many smaller notes. In both cases, it is the slow beat that guides, and the short notes that must fit in.

Once the exercise is going well, do this variant: The whole group maintains Tactus continuously with the hand and by saying “Tea”. Each individual takes a turn to speak a divided rhythm. Enjoy changing unexpectedly from one division to a contrasting one.

The concept of Divisions is closely related to the principle of Proportional Notation. Academics disagree on precisely how the notation of Monteverdi’s period should be de-coded, but the underlying principle is clear: the Tactus remains constant across each change. However, in the slow ternary rhythm of Sesquialtera, the movement of the hand is ‘unequal’: you spend longer on the Down than on the Up, whilst the complete Down/Up cycle takes the same time as before (about 2 secs). Try these Proportional changes, at first with the whole group, and then individually, as with the previous exercise.

Once you have the feeling for these changes in your Tactus Hand, and listening ears, try the same exercise again, reading from period notation. To keep things simple, my transcription has a complete Tactus movement (down-up) for each bar. This Tactus (and my bars) remain constant. In real 17th-century notation, the bar lengths may vary, or there might not be any bar-lines at all: it is the Tactus (not any arbitrary bar-length) that remains constant.

You can download Exercise Two as a pdf here: Tactus: Divisions & Proportions.

 

You can also make up your own words and rhythms. As the text changes, the phrasing will change too, within the steady beat of the constant Tactus. In my first example, notice the difference between Pour me a large cuppa and Pour it out steadily. That’s what it’s all about – this is how Tactus is ‘not metronomic’, how we can observe subtle Rhetorical (i.e. text-based) freedoms within the steady Tactus beat.

 

Exercise Three

Take a short polyphonic piece from your repertoire, something you already know, not too difficult, but with rhythmic differences between the parts. Ideally, a short movement or section of vocal polyphony.

Everyone beats Tactus, with the pendulum as a reference if required. Part by part, beginning with the bass and working upwards, the whole group speaks the rhythms of each individual part, guided by Tactus. If the music has text, speak those words; otherwise use doo-bee-doo, like Frank Sinatra. [Doo-bee-doo has Good and Bad syllables, so it produces text-like articulations, whereas Dah Dah Dah does not]

Then repeat the exercise, with the whole group maintaining Tactus, and each individual speaking their part in turn, beginning with the bass and working upwards.

Finally, repeat the exercise, with the whole group still maintaining Tactus, combining the individual parts: first bass alone, then bass and the next part up, then a trio of the three lowest parts, and so on until everyone is speaking.

Exercise Three with music

If your ensemble is a vocal consort, now repeat Exercise Three (in unison, individually, building up the polyphony from the bass) singing, whilst maintaining Tactus with your hands.

For instrumentalists, it’s rather more difficult, because you need your hands to play. Experiment with pushing your foot into the floor (down) and releasing (up) – not a light tap, but a slow throb. As you become accustomed to this, you can minimise and internalise the movement, into a sense of sinking into the floor (down) and floating free (up). Choosing a specific, small, subtle, and somewhat unusual movement helps your subconscious mind focus on those physical sensations, and link them to the focus on Tactus. Ultimately, your sense of Tactus is fully internalised, but can be instantly externalised into a foot-tap or hand-movement or a nod of the head, whenever needed (for example, to communicate with other ensemble members, or during rests).

Once instrumentalists have found and practised their “Look, no hands!” Tactus, then repeat Exercise Three (in unison, individually, building up the polyphony from the bass) playing, whilst maintaining Tactus internally, and with the pendulum.

In your first Tactus Training session, spend about 10 minutes on each exercise, half an hour in total. If you are properly focussed, that will be demanding (and rewarding) enough. Try to run the rehearsal that follows according to Tactus principles (see #4 below).

3. Maintenance exercises

You might need to repeat the Development Exercises over two or thee sessions. After that, you can incorporate a brief moment of Tactus work into your warm-up (just as you take a moment to tune together carefully at the start of the rehearsal).

Exercise One (Beat Tactus, eyes open/shut) 2 minutes

Exercise Two (Proportions version) 1 minute

Exercise Three (Whichever piece you are working on) 2 minutes

If there is any feeling of agitation or stress, extending Exercise One will help you find calm and focus.

Run the rehearsal according to Tactus principles (see below).

4. Rehearsal techniques

The exercises above help you practise Tactus. But if you are going to have Tactus in your performance, you have to do Tactus throughout your rehearsals.

  • Use the pendulum as a reference. If you need a different tempo for a particular section, adjust the pendulum accordingly. However, the strong theory of Tactus suggests that (approximately) the same tempo should work for an entire piece, even for the entire repertoire, in this period.

 

  • Give frequent reminders to yourself and colleagues to ‘think in Tactus’. To begin with, it’s tempting to return to the modern habit of controlling each note-length as it comes along. Use some external movement, and/or the pendulum to reinforce your awareness of Tactus.

 

  • Word-accents (or musical accents) often, but not always, coincide with Tactus beats. The period terminology is not ‘accent’ (which has other meanings) but Good (for an accented syllable/note) and Bad (for an unaccented one). The Good, the Bad, and the Early Music phraseWhere you have a Good note, avoid a sharp ‘hammer-blow’ accent – rather look for a slow intensification: singers can be coached to intensify the vowel (not the intial consonant); string players can be asked to use a slow bow; anyone can be asked to make the note “slow developing” or “late blooming”.

 

  • Good/Bad should not be loud/soft. But they can be (subtly) long/short: Caccini’s terms for Good/Bad are Long/Short. More about Caccini.

 

  • The down-stroke of the Tactus will often (but not always) be associated with a slow-developing Good note.

 

  • If something is not together, resist the temptation to micro-analyse. Don’t get everyone’s minds focussed on tiny note-values. Rather check the Good/Bad notes, and then rehearse the difficult moment with everyone focussed on synchronising to the Tactus.

 

The two coaching hints that I repeat most often combine the Tactus principle (constant, steady Tactus) with the Rhetorical (i.e. text-based) concept of Good/Bad notes. In 17th-century poetry, the last syllable is nearly always Bad. Thus in 17th-century music, the last note is nearly always Bad.

Last note short! 

Hanging on to the last note results in a late entry on the new phrase, and shows the audience that the singer has lost touch with the words. After all, when you are speaking, you would not sustain the last, weak sylla-BLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE…

17th-century composers will set a Good syllable onto a Good note. Just as observance of Good/Bad syllables brings poetry to life, so observance of Good/Bad notes creates fascinating articulation patterns, in contrast to the constant legato (or consistent mezzo-staccato) of mainstream playing.

Long notes long, short notes short!

 

In the next post in this series, we’ll work on Advanced Tactus Skills, using the subtle freedoms of the Tactus principle to create the Shape of Time.

Meanwhile, this video shows a vocal consort working with Tactus principles and the Good/Bad concept. They are using two different hand-techniques: some are using a simple gesture on the Good syllable; others are maintaining steady Tactus. At the time of this project, we had not fully realised the significance of the particular movement of historical Tactus (down/up, palm outwards): some singers are beating Tactus side-to-side, or palm up. And ultimately, all this movement should be internalised, with only one singer per choir actually beating Tactus with the hand. Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy watching their work in progress, and listening to the result.  Video: Monteverdi in Tactus.

Praetorius (1620): three choirs, each with its own Tactus beater. The three Tactus-beaters face inwards, watching each other to synchronise the Tactus.

The next article in this series introduces Advanced Tactus Skills, with which you can create the Shape of Aristotelean Time.

Happy New Year 2016

 

 

 

 

2016 Happy New Year

 

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

 

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

Look Bach on 2015

ALK & Peri

 

Bach’s Prelude & Sarabande performed on baroque triple harp, against the background of a year of research, training and performance; publications, research findings; operas and concerts around the world.

Thanks to all co-researchers and musicians, friends, colleagues, participants and audiences!

 

 

Looking forward to seeing you in 2016!

 

Peri Euridice Preface vale

 

Please join me on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

 

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

 

In Memoriam Pat O’Brien: Introduction to Italian Baroque harp

 In Memoriam

Pat O’Brien, lute and guitar guru, was also a charismatic influence on the revival of historical harps. In 1986 he contributed to the pioneering Early Harp conference in Basel, and over the next few years taught at the influential Bremen Harps & Lutes events. He was a founder member of The Harp Consort, appearing in many concerts and on the CDs Luz y Norte, Carolan’s Harp and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. With the New York Continuo Collective he facilitated a creative dialogue between harpists, lutenists and singers. He also taught at the Julliard School.

Most of today’s leading early harpists and lutenists benefitted from Pat’s insightful and authoritative teaching. Many of us are privileged to have known him as a friend, a larger-than-life character whose powerful presence we sadly miss, even whilst the inspiration of his work lives on.

Pat thought a lot about Historical harp technique, and he and I discussed the subject at length over many years. This article owes much to his ideas, and is dedicated to his memory.

Pat O'Brien

INTRODUCTION TO ITALIAN BAROQUE HARP

Part I: History

This instrument is called in Italian arpa doppia, because it is very large [twice the size of the renaissance ‘gothic’ harps that preceded it], and because it has a low bass compass [as we also say ‘double-bass’, ‘double-bassoon’ for instruments with low bass notes]. It has more than one row of strings, providing strings for chromatic and diatonic notes.

Jacopo Peri

Jacopo Peri with a renaissance harp (1589)

 

The Barberini harp  (17th century)

The Barberini harp
(17th-century)

 

We see medium-size double-harps in Italy, with two rows of strings, around 1580. The ‘Este’ harp is typical, with the shape of a gothic harp, but rather larger size, and with two rows of strings.

Este harp

 

In the early 1600s, we see much larger harps with three rows of strings [two diatonic rows, chromatics in the middle row]. These are still called arpa doppia, or sometimes arpa a tre ordini [with three rows].

 

We do not know the details of the transformation from medium-size & 2 rows to large-size & 3 rows. There is comparable situation with our lack of detailed knowledge of the similar transformation of the renaissance lute to the baroque theorbo, which took place around the same time.

theorbo Confortini

The large 3-row harp was a highly successful design. It, was exported to France, Germany and England. It later interacted with Welsh harps to produce the Anglo-Welsh baroque triple harp [around 1700, more on Welsh harps here].

The primary function of the arpa doppia around 1600 was to accompany, in the new style of continuo. [More on continuo here.] The instrument is designed to play bass, with extreme low bass-notes easily available; and to play harmonies in the tenor/alto register. The playing position is optimised for this function.

In the painting,  Allegory of Music (above), the very large Barberini harp is shown leaning forwards (in contrast to the modern position with the instrument leant backwards). I’ve tried the Barberini position, and I find it plausible. I sometimes use a less extreme version of this position, with the harp leaning forwards just a little: the harp will not fall, because your hands are resting on the soundboard. Most 17th-century paintings show that harp was positioned approximately upright [where it balances], with the player on a chair of normal height.

The player is thus rather low, with the harp high above. If you turn to look at the strings, you will be looking at the “tuning A” [eg A 460/440/415, whatever]. Without turning, your normal focus is on the strings corresponding to the range of the bass-clef – the normal range of baroque bass-lines.

It is easy to reach forward and down with the left hand, to play the extreme bass notes close to the soundboard. It is more difficult to reach up and back with the right hand to play the high treble. This is consistent with the main role of the instrument, to play continuo.

Of course, players did take advantage of the solo possibilities of the arpa doppia. Monteverdi and Trabaci write solos that dramatically exploit the entire compass from d” to GGG, 4½ octaves, sometimes in a single phrase. But the normal 17th-century soprano range remains within the C1 soprano clef [a third below treble clef].

In 18th-century instrumental music, composers often write an octave higher than this. Thus some German 18th-century harps, known as Davidsharfe,  were medium-size with 2 rows [allowing easier access to the high notes]. Italianate triple harps were also played in Germany, and it is not known whether CPE Bach’s Sonata was intended for triple harp, single-action pedal harp, or perhaps even for 2 instruments (one plays the solo, the other realises the continuo). [You can read Mary Oleskiewicz’s article on CPE Bach’s sonatas here Mary Oleskiewicz on CPE Bach. See the first page of her edition here, and consult the complete edition here.]

 

The 18th-century Anglo-Welsh triple harp is very large, but has a different shape, with very long bass strings, but not extending above the player’s head and shoulders in the treble. Again, this allows easier access to the high notes. [More on Welsh triple harps here.]

 

Our Italian baroque harp, the 17th-century arpa doppia, is optimised for 17th-century music. It can play very chromatically, but within a narrow range of basic tonalities [a simple piece in a ‘bad’ key is very difficult]. The instrument is designed to play continuo accompaniments, and is also very suitable for 17th-century polyphonic music or for dramatic solos. This is precisely how it was used at the time: this is also the kind of published repertoire that survives.

Agazzari frontispiece

Part II: Technique

The modern binary of Technique/Interpretation is not the best way to consider how to play Early Music. Many teaching books from the baroque period [most famously the three great treatises: Quantz for flute (1752) here, CPE Bach for keyboard (1753 & 1762) here, , Leopold Mozart for violin (1787) here] share a common structure with three or four main sections.

18th-century teaching books

Much of what we would now describe as elementary technique is dealt with very quickly. Hold the instrument like this, play in time (read more about rhythm for Early Music here), and play in tune (for the period of the arpa doppia the default temperament is quarter-comma meantone).

After this short introduction, the first subject to be dealt with at length is Articulation. This means tonguing-syllables for wind instruments, bowing for violin, and fingering for keyboards and harps.  This section therefore links phrasing (especially short-term phrasing) to the basic technique of each instrument.

The second section teaches how to play ornaments (technique), and how to use them (intepretation). Often, certain ornaments are required for the sake of musical ‘grammar’, just as certain words require diacritical marks. What might seem to be a tiny mark, an optional extra, is an essential requirement if you ‘speak the language’ of a particular musical style.

The third section teaches Good Delivery. This is not quite the same as modern Interpretation. There is less emphasis on the performer’s Expression, or on translating the composition into some new form. Rather, the idea is to get the music across to the audience, clearly and effectively. The desired effect is muovere gli affetti to move [the audience’s] passions.

[Read more about How does it feel? A history of heaven, hearts and harps here.]

In this Introduction, I’ll follow the example of those historical teaching books, dealing quickly with the basic playing position, and spending more time considering Articulation, i.e. how musical phrasing (in period style) connects to historical technique (fingering).

2.1 Position

Find the balance-point of the harp, and bring yourself towards the instrument. You will need to sit well forward on the chair. Put your right leg forward, alongside the instrument. Draw your left foot back, so you have easy access to the extreme basses, playing the strings close to the soundboard.

Keep some weight on your feet. You can test this, by seeing if you can stand up without first adjusting your position. Stand up and sit down a few times, until you have found a seated position that still has your feet firmly on the ground.

 

Charles II, seated in typical 17th century manner. But I have flipped this image horizontally, in order to show the right leg extended, as needed for baroque harp.

Charles II, seated in typical 17th century manner. Note that I have flipped this image horizontally, in order to show the right leg extended, as needed for baroque harp.

 

For those interested in radical authenticity, you could experiment with having the instrument leaning forwards, held from falling by your hands resting on the soundboard (as we see with the Barberini harp, above.

For anyone coming from modern harp, you might need to remind yourself frequently to re-set the harp upright, since you’ll be used to its leaning backwards.

Your nose will be around the “tuning-A” string. You can easily see the bass-clef register. You can easily reach the extreme low strings. Don’t worry about the high trebles, you won’t need them yet.

It might feel strange to have the instrument ‘so high’: don’t worry! You might find it difficult to focus your eyes on so many strings: don’t look!

Zampieri 

You can watch the video here.

Introduction to Italian Baroque harp 1 Position

2.2 Hands – relaxed for delicate control

With the low-tension strings of an early harp, your fingers don’t need strength, as much as smooth relaxation and delicate control. Excess strength will tend to morph into unwanted tension in the hand. So it’s a useful exercise to re-calibrate the strength in your hands, especially if you are coming from higher-tension pedal harp.

gentle hands

You can do the following exercise with real water-bottles, but it’s even more effective if you just imagine the bottles, and let the learning go direct into your subconscious.

 

 

water bottles

 

1. Hold you hands out, palm upwards, and imagine that you are holding two large, 1-litre, plastic bottles, full of water. As the bottles lie horizontally in your hands, wrap your fingers gently around the bottles. Feel the cool touch of the plastic… are there drops of water on it? Use just enough strength to support the bottles.

2. Now pour out half of the water, and then hold the bottles again. Notice how much less effort is needed, now.

3. Now pour out the rest of the water, and hold just the empty bottles. Notice how your hands feel, now.

4. Turn your right hand so that the thumb is uppermost. Let your index finger wrap inwards a little more, and your little finger ease outwards a bit. Bring the middle and ring fingers close to each other.

Your hand will look like this:

Baroque hand

Default hand position from Burnett: The Art of Gesture

This position, with the fingers delicately curved, is the typical shape of a renaissance/baroque hand, that you will see in thousands of period paintings.

Charles II hands

The historical ideal of graceful posture was to have just enough strength in the hand to maintain an elegantly curved shape, but no excess tension. That’s an ideal starting point for historical harp-playing, too.

renaissance hands

Holding you hands out again, palm-up as before, bring your thumb into the palm, aiming towards the base of the little finger. (It varies from person to person how far the thumb wants to go. Just move it as much as is easy and comfortable for you). Then wrap your fingers around your thumb.

This is a basic human movement that we learn as tiny babies. Don’t think of it as a sophisticated “harp technique”, just keep the movement as easy and smooth as possible.

baby hands

As the last stage of this preparatory exercise, try bringing your thumb into your palm, and then wrapping the fingers around it, one by one: index, middle, ring, little. Gently, smoothly. Imagine your hands are moving through honey, not air, so that the movement is slow and sweet, like a slow-motion film.

 

1… 2… 3… 4… 5

Keep it simple!

2.3 Hands on harp

Place your hands on the harp, with the weight taken on the soundboard. Hold your fingers in a relaxed curve. As you move your fingers, let your hand remain still.

Hands on baroque harp

Place your hands on the harp, close to (but not touching) the strings. Repeat the wrap-around exercise.

This is especially valuable for modern harpists. Your long experience with the modern instrument has taught your hands an automatic response to being placed on a harp, i.e. to use your modern technique. So you have to give yourself time to learn another, different technique. At first, away from the harp; then on the harp, but not yet on the strings.

When you are comfortable with the wrap-around exercise, not touching the strings, take a short break. During a break like this, the learning you have done consciously is transferred to your unconscious mind.

Locking Attention

 

Now place your hands on the harp again, with your thumb and fingers on adjacent strings. Push gently on the strings, feel the contact. Rest your hand firmly on the soundboard, really take some weight down into the harp.

Now do the wrap-around exercise again, and let some sounds emerge from the strings. Move your fingers slowly. Focus on the smooth, easy movement, not on the resulting sound.

Most likely, the sound will be pleasant, but rather soft. To get more sound, apply more pressure on the strings, but keep the finger-movement slow.

To improve your sound, apply even more pressure, but keep the finger-movement slow. Let your fingers move through the complete range of movement, slowly. Don’t explode off the string: let your finger (or thumb) move slowly and smoothly.

More pressure. And slower. 

2.4 On the strings

It’s important to position your fingers accurately on the strings. The position is different from that for modern harp.

Place your fingers on the strings, not behind the strings. Your fingers are on the strings, and as you play, they slide across the strings. They slide slowly, with smooth pressure. The secret is to find this controlled sliding, like a violin bow sliding across the strings with enough pressure to make a sound, and with slow speed to sustain the sound.

Your fingers are on the strings applying pressure, not behind the strings and pulling. Here is an easy test for the correct finger-position:

1. Place your fingers on the strings in your best historical-harp position.

2. Push on the strings. Push firmly, and observe what happens.

If your fingers are correctly placed on the strings, you will be able to push the entire harp sideways.

If your fingers are behind the strings, when you push strongly, your fingers will slip between the strings. Whoops! Use this feedback to adjust your finger-position, and try again.

To begin with, you will need to remind yourself frequently of the basics:

  1. Rest your hands on the harp.
  2. Keep your hands still whilst your fingers move.
  3. Fingers on the strings, not behind.
  4. Slow, and with pressure.

Where does all this come from? It’s a mixture of historical information, information from historical keyboard & lute-playing (many ideas from Pat O’ Brien), and my personal experience. Period paintings and study of historical gesture shows us basic positions; lute-playing shows how to be on the string (it’s the only way to play both strings of a double course simultaneously); period violin technique shows the importance of slow, smooth pressure; keyboard, harp and lute techniques show us how to relate finger-movements to the period principle of Good and Bad notes.

2.5 Fingering

Now that you can move the fingers well, which finger should you use for which note? Period fingering systems copy the patterns of speech, so that you can play your Italian harp with an Italian accent.

Around the year 1600, Italian texts have mostly two- or three-syllable words, with a characteristic pattern of accented/unaccented syllables. The historical terms for these syllables are Good and Bad (or sometimes, Long and Short). When composers set such texts, they put a Good note on each Good syllable.

Articulation Good & Bad syllables

[You can read more about historical articulation, The Good, the Bad & the Early Music Phrase here.]

For Italian harp, thumb and middle finger are good. Index finger is bad. Patterns of two or three fingers are usually sufficient for melodies, corresponding to the two or three syllables of the most frequently encountered words.

Period melodies often move stepwise (a jump might indicate the separation between one phrase and the next). So it’s useful to practise the basic fingering for scales:

Upwards: 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 ….. and 1 at the top.

Downwards: 1 2 1 2 1 2 ….. and 3 at the bottom. Pass the thumb underneath the fingers.

A good exercise is to play a scale up and down across and octave and one note. Listen for the characteristic sound of Good & Bad notes, like Frank Sinatra’s dooby-dooby-doo.

Helpful Hints:

On the upward scale, place two fingers (3 & 2), play two notes (with your hand still), now slide your hand, and only then replace your fingers on the next two strings. Don’t let your fingers “look for the strings”. Rather, let your hand slide up the harp just the correct distance, so that when you put your fingers onto the strings again, they are in exactly the right place.

On the downward scale, let your thumb move directly from playing one string to resting on its next string (i.e. thumb jumps down a third). The index plays after your thumb has already crossed underneath. This disadvantages the index finger, helping to produce the Bad effect that we want. To keep your hand in contact with the soundboard, you need to slide your index finger down the string (towards the soundboard) as you go along.

When you come to a chromatic note, you might need to adjust the fingering. Often 2, or thumb, will be needed, regardless of the good/bad rule. Get back to good/bad as soon as you can.

E.g. D major ascending: 32 2(f#)2 32 2(c#)2

Period Principles

The principles of historic fingering are very simple.

  1. Put a Good finger on a Good note, a Bad finger on a Bad note. (If you are not sure about the notes, sing the melody Frank Sinatra-style, to dooby-dooby-doo. The doo is Good, the by is Bad. If you are still uncertain, try to reverse the Sinatra syllables: you’ll quickly convince yourself which way round is best.)
  2. Obey this principle, even when it makes the fingering complicated or awkward. Difficult fingering is better than bad phrasing!
  3. If you have a piece of stepwise movement, go up with 3 2 and down with 1 2. 
  4. When choosing between 1 or 3, put any movement of the hand where you logically want a jump or break in the music. Fingering and phrasing are totally united.

Chromatic notes

To reach a chromatic note in the inner row with the thumb, push the lower adjacent diatonic note aside and lean your thumb on this string whilst you play the chromatic. The thumb ends up hooked around this diatonic string.

 

E.g. to play F# with the thumb, push aside and lean on the F-natural, play F#, end up hooked around F-natural.

 

To reach a chromatic note in the inner row with a finger, push the upper adjacent diatonic note aside and lean your finger on this string whilst you play the chromatic. The finger ends up hooked around this diatonic string.

 

E.g. to play F# with a finger, push aside and lean on the G, play F#, end up hooked around G.

 

You cannot lift your hands up and away from the harp at the end of the note: your thumb or finger is still hooked around a string! This necessity confirms the ‘hands on the harp’ position we notice in period paintings, and which we studied earlier.

The secret to playing the chromatic notes confidently, accurately, without extraneous noises, and with a good sound, is that you leave the finger or thumb hooked into the middle row, after sounding the string.

And of course, Slow. With smooth Pressure. And your hands stay still, resting on the harp.

It’s a useful exercise to practise scales in difficult keys, and also chromatic scales.

Chords

It is difficult at first to coordinate the finger-movements when some notes of the chord are chromatic, others diatonic. Practise each note in turn to perfect the movement, before trying to synchronise the whole chord.

Try all the major and minor triads, in both friendly and un-friendly tonalities!

See the video on basic technique – fingering, chromatics, chords – here.

Introduction to Italian Baroque harp 2 Basic Technique

For a normal “good-note” chord, arpeggiate in both hands approximately simultaneously. Play “bad-note” chords unarpeggiated.

For a long arpeggio, play a low-octave bass note alone, then arpeggiate left hand then right. Play the bass-note on the beat (not before).

Continuo-playing requires sophisticated use of chord and arpeggios – this is just a beginning.

Harmonies

The first step is to learn good positions for the basic major and minor chords. Here are some guide-lines:

 

  • Third at the top, and/or doubled sounds good
  • Compact position (hands not separated, perhaps even overlapping) is good
  • Treat “tuning-A” as the upper limit for chords
  • Don’t use thirds in the bass below tenor-C, they are too ‘growly’
  • Try for big chords, at least 3 or 4 notes in each hand.

 

Introduction to continuo for Italian harp 1 Good & Bad

More about Continuo in a later posting, and forthcoming video series.

 

Tuning

Two tunings were in general use in the 17th-century: with Bb in the diatonic row [historically more common] and with B-natural [my own usual tuning]. Scordatura was frequently used.

ALK with Rainer Thurau's "Zampieri" Italian baroque harp

ALK with Rainer Thurau’s “Zampieri” Italian baroque harp

 

On my harp, the ‘extra black notes’ between E & F and between B & C are used for enharmonics. This is typical of 17th-century practice: in the 16th century, these strings were tuned to important notes like D and A, for additional resonance.

 

The standard tuning of my harp is (from the bass upwards):

 

Left hand row:

FFF GGG AAA BBBb CC DD EE FF GG AA BB          etc       to g’

 

Middle row:

CC# EEb DD# FF# GG# BBb AA# C# Eb D# F# G# Bb A# c#     etc       to c”#

 

Right hand row:

FF GG AA BB C D E F G A B c d e f g a                                               etc       to c” d” eb

I keep my harp in quarter-comma meantone (details in another posting)

Pat O'Brien, ALK & other founder-members of The Harp Consort, at the recording sessions of Luz y Norte in 1994.

Pat O’Brien, ALK & other founder-members of The Harp Consort, at the recording sessions of Luz y Norte in 1994.

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

The Triple, or Modern Welsh Harp

The Welsh Triple Harp is a national symbol, an icon of patriotic pride in the principality’s rich cultural heritage, associated with legends of the ancient druids and bards, and (from 1742 to the present day) with traditional Welsh music. But how Welsh are its origins?

In London, there seems to have been a burst of harp-related activity in the 1730s. Handel’s 1724 opera Giulio Cesare was revived in 1730 and 1732 with a new version of the harp Sinfonia, featuring higher, faster passage-work. The scene is highly dramatic:

S’apre il Parnasso, e vedesi in trono la Virtù, assistita dalle nove Muse

Cesare: Giulio, che miri? e quando
con abisso di luce
scesero i Numi in terra?

Parnassus opens to reveal Virtue enthroned, attended by the nine Muses.

Caesar: Julius, what do you see? And when
with a downpour of light
did the Gods descend to earth?

Handel’s masque Haman and Mordecai, first performed in 1718 and 1720 (probably at the Duke of Chandos’ house, Cannons), was revived in London in 1731 and reworked in the oratorio Esther in 1732; it too has a fast, high harp solo. The Israelites are first encouraged to “Tune your harps to cheerful strains”, and then to

Praise the Lord with cheerful noise,
Wake my glory, wake my lyre!
Praise the Lord each mortal voice,
Praise the Lord, ye heavenly choir!
Zion now her head shall raise:
Tune your harps to songs of praise.

According to Jeremy Barlow here, the 1732 performance was played by a Welsh harpist.

In 1732 and 1733, William Hogarth was painting the series A Rake’s Progress, which was engraved and widely published in print form a couple of years later, in 1735. The second scene shows the protagonist, Tom Rakewell together with masters of all the fashionable 18th-century arts: a dancing-master, a fencing-master, a quarter-staff instructor, a gardener, a soldier, a huntsman, a jockey and Handel himself at the harpsichord. But in the next image, the location has shifted downmarket to a notorious brothel, the Rose Tavern in Covent Garden. In the shadowy background, a harper is playing; his instrument boasts a spectacular carving, supposedly of King David playing the harp, at the top of the pillar.

Image

[By the way, this is the earliest image of a ‘Welsh Triple Harp’ that I know of. Can anyone suggest an earlier one?]

The earliest surviving instrument of this type is at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. A label inside was ‘recently discovered’ in 1968. From this, we know the harp to be the work of “David Evans Instrument Maker, In Rose Court, near Rose Street, Covent Garden, London 1736”. According to the V&A catalogue entry (1998) for “this unusually splendid triple harp”:

The finial is now missing. The neck is richly carved and gilt. The belly is decorated with gilt scrollwork that is drawn with great freedom and charm… The post is japanned black with gilt chinoiserie subjects, now largely worn away.

Image

Since Evans’ workshop was so close to the Rose Tavern, it’s tempting to speculate that Hogarth’s painting shows an earlier example of his work. And might it even give us a clue to the finial that would originally have adorned the V&A harp?

It has been plausibly suggested that Evans’ ‘unusually splendid’ harp was built for William Powell, appointed harper to the Prince of Wales in 1736. In the same year, Powell played Handel’s Bb Major Concerto for Harp, Lute, Lyrachord and other instruments in the premiere of Alexander’s Feast. The concerto shows the ‘Power of Music’, championed by the character Timotheus, bard to Alexander the Great.

Timotheus placed on high
Amid the tuneful quire
With flying fingers touch’d the lyre:
The trembling notes ascend the sky
And heavenly joys inspire. 

Just as the sound of Timotheus’ ‘lyre’ did ‘ascend the sky’, Handel’s writing for harp shows high, fast figuration in the outer movements, and extreme high notes in the slow movement.

Alexander’s Feast was revived in 1739, which year also saw the premiere of  Handel’s Saul. In this dramatic and richly orchestrated score, David’s music soothes King Saul’s anger:

Fell rage and black despair possess’d
With horrid sway the monarch’s breast;
When David with celestial fire
Struck the sweet persuasive lyre:
Soft gliding down his ravish’d ears,
The healing sounds dispel his cares;
Despair and rage at once are gone,
And peace and hope resume the throne.

David’s ‘lyre’ is represented by a solo for unaccompanied harp. The music is slow, but once again in the high register.

Image

[John Parry, painted by his son William Parry c1770; harp by John Richards]

Half a century later, Edward Jones’ historical, literary and musical survey of the Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1784) characterises the type of instrument built by Evans and by John Richards (born in 1711, and thought to have studied with Evans) as the triple or modern Welsh harp. Its shape is distinctive: where the instrument rests against the player’s shoulder, it is relatively low (much lower than Italian triple harps of the previous century). This facilitates access to the highest strings, as needed for the virtuoso style of high, fast passage-work. But at the top of the pillar, the neck swoops upwards to the characteristic ‘high head’, providing long strings for a powerful bass. The frame and ribbed back are hardwood, the belly of soft pine or deal.

Image

The strings are arranged in three rows, divided like the black and white keys of a keyboard instrument. The two outside rows have the diatonic (white) notes, duplicated on each side for left and right hands. This duplication allows certain special effects, which became a cliché of Welsh harp variations. In between, the central row has the chromatic (black) notes. The player inserts a finger between two diatonic strings to reach the chromatic string in the central row.

Jones associates medieval literature and historical documents of bardic practices with the late-18th-century triple harp, although he admits that “some of its present appendages were probably the additions of the latter centuries”. An illustration on page 41 of Relicks and the frontispiece of Jones’ second volume, The Bardic Museum (1802), depict just such ‘modern Welsh’ harps, but the 1784 frontispiece shows quite a different instrument, an older form that is much more plausible as truly Welsh, and as a genuine Relick of previous centuries.

Image

[Welsh Triple, 1802]

Image

[Welsh Triple 1784]

Image

[Old Welsh harp, frontispiece to Relicks of the Welsh Bards]

At the end of the seventeenth century, a Cambridge professor, James Talbot, made extensive manuscript notes about various types of musical instruments, including Triple harps and old Welsh harps. He describes a single-row proper Welch harp with a box carved from a single piece of holly, and an oak back. He states that these old Welsh harps have brays or cogs, wooden pins at the belly, that touch the vibrating strings to make a nasal, buzzing sound. Strings fastened at the Belly by Brays instead of round Buttons which give it a jarry sound. Such bray pins were a typical feature of renaissance harps throughout Europe.

Somewhat confusingly, Talbot calls this Welch or Bray Harp the true English harp. But I suggest that we can understand this in a similar sense to harpist John Parry’s calling his 1742 compilation of Welsh airs Antient British music… retained by the Cambro-Britons (more particularly in North Wales). Talbot’s Bray Harp is a genuine relic, an ‘antient British’ harp retained particularly in Wales. Talbot’s nomenclature also serves to distinguish this old Welsh instrument from the wire-strung Irish harp, which he also describes. He also distinguishes between the jarring Welsh Bray Harp with its single-piece holly sound-box and a lute harp without brays, constructed in the newer English form with a ribbed back and soft-wood belly.

Still today, some writers suggest that the old Welsh Bray Harp ‘cross-bred’ with the 17th-century Italian triple harp (which certainly came to London) to produce the 18th-century Welsh triple harp. But there is no trace, no DNA of the old Welsh harp in Jones’ modern triple. No bray pins, no holly sound-box, no oak back, no carved sound-box. Expert opinion therefore accepts that the Triple Harp came to Britain in its Italian form, and was imported into Wales during the eighteenth century, where (thanks in part to Jones’ alluring mix of myth and history) it then became established as the national instrument.

It would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow for anyone with Welsh blood in their veins, if the national instrument were just a foreign import, with no true connection to earlier Welsh culture, let alone to the ancient Britons. But the 18th-century Welsh triple harp does show significant differences from 17th-century Italian harps, in particular its high-head shape and soft-wood belly.

These crucial changes are already in place at the end of the 17th century, and are detailed in Talbot’s descriptions (made with the help of a Mr Lewis) of Triple Harps. Talbot describes the three rows of brass tuning pins, with as many buttons in Belly (the corresponding string pegs at the soundboard). He specifies Air-wood (high-quality maple) for the ribbed back and Cullen cleft (deal) for the sound-board. In one table, he gives precise measurements for both high- and low-headed harps

For high headed Harp      

best length of Belly 3 ft 7 inches 4 lignes

Bow with head 6ft 3 inches

Length of Belly low head 3ft 2 inches

Bow with head 5ft 0 inches           

This gives ratios of the height of the top of the pillar (bow with head) to the length of the sound-board (Belly) of approximately 1.75 (high-headed) and > 1.5 (low-headed). A higher ratio means that the harp is higher-headed, that the instrument is comparatively lower at the player’s shoulder. A high ratio makes the high notes easier to play.

Note that even Talbot’s ‘low-headed’ harp, is definitely higher ratio than early 17th-century Italian harps. I estimate the ratio for the harp depicted by Zampieri as approximately 1.25. And the harp shown by Jones in 1802 is very high-headed indeed, with a ratio close to 2.

Image

[Domenico “Domenichino” Zampieri: King David playing the harp]

~ 1.25 Italian early 17th (Zampieri)
>1.5 English circa 1700 ‘low headed’ (Talbot’)
~1.75 English circa 1700 ‘high-headed’ (Talbot)
~1.9 Welsh 1802 ‘modern triple’ (Jones)

On the authority of Lewis, Talbot states that what he calls the English Triple Harp is seldom used in Consort, though capable of Thorough Bass; and (in another paragraph) that the Triple Harp is seldom used in Consort but generally alone. This is consistent with the change of shape: the earlier Italian triple is optimised for continuo-playing, whereas Talbot’s English Triple is lower at the shoulder, making it more suitable for solos with soprano-register melodies. As the repertoire tends more and more towards high, fast passage-work, even higher-headed shapes become more and more preferable.

Does all this spell disaster for the Welsh patriot? Was the instrument imported into Wales during the 18th century an English Triple Harp?

As we have already seen, it is difficult to disentangle English and Welch in Talbot’s manuscript notes. For him, the genuinely ancient proper Welch bray harp is also the true English harp. But he clearly distinguishes the old, single-strung holly and oak Welch instrument from the single-strung English or lute harp with maple ribs and a softwood soundboard. The three paragraphs on Triple, English Triple and Triple harps do not mention anything ‘Welsh’, or ‘Italian’. The three paragraphs on Welch, Welch or Bray and Welch harps do not mention triple stringing. And according to Rimmer’s commentary on Talbot here, no Welsh source mentions a triple harp in Wales, until the 18th century.

But both before and after Talbot’s time, many prominent harpists playing in London are Welsh. For the 17th century, Peter Holman has traced here a line of court harpists, showing a clear change from Irish to Welsh names. Before the Commonwealth, they play Irish harps, but at the Restoration in 1660 Charles Evans (a good Welsh surname) is appointed his Majesty’s harper for the Italian harp. The flurry of harp-related activity in the 1730s is linked to Welsh harpers (in particular, William Powell) and to the Welsh luthier David Evans. Around this time, Welsh nobility are enthusiastic patrons of music, notably the newly- created Duke of Chandos (James Brydges, until 1719 he was styled the Earl of Caernafon), Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn (patron of John Parry from 1734), and Frederick, Prince of Wales (who employed Powell from 1736 onwards).

[Duke of Chandos]

File:Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 3rd Bt by Michael Dahl.jpg

[Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn]

[Frederick, Prince of Wales, at the cello]

To conclude, there was indeed a proper old Welch harp, but it had brays, was constructed in a different form and from other types of wood, and it was not triple. Jones’ (1784) modern Welsh harp had both similarities to, and differences from early 17th-century Italian triple harps. Crucial design changes were made during the late 17th century, so that for Talbot, the triple harp had been naturalised as English. Such triple harps made, played and funded by Welshmen came to new prominence in London in the 1730s.

In Britain, the 18th-century triple harp is certainly associated with 18th-century Welshmen. But before the mid-18th century, the triple harp was not particularly associated with older Welsh culture. It is not organologically related to the old Welsh bray harp. Its repertoire was in the fashionable Italian style championed by Handel himself. In his operas and oratorios, the triple harp represents Alexander the Great’s lyre, an Israelite harp, the Psalmist’s lyre or a vision of the Muses, but never anything Welsh.

The first printed publication of Welsh airs for the harp is Parry’s in 1742. Jones’ great flood of enthusiasm for Welsh culture and antiquarianism, attempting to link his modern triple harp to ancient bardic traditions, comes only in 1784.

So much for the instrument itself – more on its players and repertoires in a future posting.

[A painting by William Parry, from the collection of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. John Parry plays the harp, his other son David holds a copy of Handel’s coronation anthem Zadok the Priest]

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.