The Brytysh Isles:
Musycke of the Toune Waytes
Import / Export: English compositions made popular on the continent, while continental musicians were brought to Britain.
Faburden: Improvisation made easy!
Cross-Relations: The English penchant for mi against fa.
Thomas Morley’s Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke.
Grab your sackbuttes, saggebuttes, sakbudds, seykebuds, sackbusshes, shackebuttes, sagbottes, shagbutts, shagboshes, or however you choose to spell it, because this spring we alight on the British Isles! Though Renaissance England is famous for its music for lute and for viol consort, the town waits were an institution throughout the period: payment records indicate these ensembles were maintained in impressive numbers, and that would not have been the case if they had nothing to play!
The fifteenth century saw the spread of English music, by composers such as Walter Frye and John Bedyngham, across the continent, which had a great influence on composers of the Burgundian court, Italy, and Bohemia. Accordingly, we will be spending some time with their compositions. Conversely, sixteenth-century Great Britain saw an influx of continental musicians, especially wind players, at the request of King Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. We will be looking at music preserved in the King’s Songbook (British Library MS 31922) as well as the instrumental collection British Library MS 31390, with works by John Taverner, Robert Fayrfax, Philip van Wilder, Robert Parsons, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and, of course, King Henry VIII, himself.
The first half of each day will be dedicated to sackbut technique and performance practice. Mornings will consist of a warm-up session, including selections for low voices from the Gyffard Partbooks (ca. 1570-80), followed by a session more geared towards early music theory and its application in performance. We will review the modes and solmization (or “solfainge”) with Thomas Morley’s Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597), discuss the cross-relation (mi against fa) found time and again in English compositions of the period, and faburden, a simple, fool-proof method for improvising, looking at examples by John Dunstaple.
Afternoons and evenings will consist of playing sessions in mixed groups of sackbuts and double reeds. Selections from all the sources will be provided in both original and modern notation, though a strong emphasis will be placed on working from the original notation. This will allow us to see the music as our Renaissance compatriots did, and leave us faced with the same musical and theoretical decisions that they would have confronted.
We hope you can join us in this exploration of the unique compositions that could only have developed in a place isolated from the rest of the Western world!