The Mathematical Genius of Bach

Spitalfields Festival
The Mathematical Genius of Bach
Goldberg Variations

James Sparks, City of London Sinfonia, Alexandra Wood 
Christ Church Spitalfields, 30 June 2022


The opening concert of the Spitalfields Music Festival referred back to The Spitalfields Mathematical Society, a club that met from 1717 in taverns around Christ Church Spitalfields. Its aim was to give “the public at large an opportunity of increasing their knowledge, on terms so easy, as to be within the reach of every individual, who has a taste to cultivate, or curiosity to gratify.” It educated the working-class men of the district, who included “weavers, brewers, braziers, bakers, bricklayers”. It merged into the Royal Astronomical Society in the 1840s. The Festival continued the Society’s role of educating with a talk by James Sparks (University of Oxford) on the mathematical genius of Bach, illustrated with a performance of the Goldberg Variations, while the audience had access to interactive maths puzzles.

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Enigma Fortuna: Zacara da Teramo complete works

Enigma Fortuna
Zacara da Teramo complete works
La Fonte Musica, Michele Pasotti
Alpha Classics, ALPHA 640. 4 CDs, 3h57’53


Antonio Zacara da Teramo (nicknamed Zàcara because of his short stature) seems to have been born in or shortly after 1360 in the Abruzzi region close to the Adriatic coast. Confusion over his name (his music survives under such names as Zacar, Zaccara, Zacharie, Zachara, and Çacharius amongst others), led to the assumption that he was actually several different composers. His parental family were scribes and manuscript illustrators, and his early years were in the same profession, despite being severely disabled, with several fingers and toes missing. He moved to Rome in 1391, where he sang in Pope Boniface IX’s papal choir as well as being a scriptor litterarum apostolicarum (Papal secretary). He later was part of the chapel of antipope John XXIII in Bologna during the 1414 Schism. This four-CD box set from La Fonte Musica, directed by Michele Pasotti, is a world premiere of Zacara’s complete works.

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Chineke! Voices: Vicente Lusitano

The music of Vicente Lusitano
Chineke! Voices, Joseph McHardy
St Martin-in-the-Fields, 18 June 2022

Vicente Lusitano (c1520-c1561)
Beati omnes qui timent Dominum; Hic est Michael Archangelus;
Emendemus; Ave Spes Nostra; O Beata Maria; Regina Coeli;
Quid Montes, Musae?; Salve Regina; Inviolata, integra et casta es

The latest incarnation of the Chineke! Foundation (whose aim is to champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music) is Chineke! Voices, a group of professional black and ethnically diverse singers whose debut concert at their base at St Martin-in-the-Fields was dedicated to the music of the 17th-century Portuguese composer Vicente Lusitano (c1520-c1561). Lusitano was probably the first European composer of African descent to be published in Europe (Liber primus epigramatum 1551). He was a key musical figure although, helped by a bit of fake news by another musician, Vicentino, who lost a feud with Lusitano over a complex argument on musical theory. he has largely been written out of musical history. Lusitano’s music has been researched and edited for this concert by the conductor Joseph McHardy.

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Music of Consolation: Bach, Schütz & Schein

Music of Consolation
Bach, Schütz & Schein
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
St Martin-in-the-Fields, 16 June 2022

Two days before their St Martin-in-the-Fields concert, the culmination of a seven-concert European tour, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists performed this programme in the Roman Odeon of Herodes Atticus on side of the Acropolis hill in Athens. The Romans in Britain buried at least one of their dead on the site of St Martin-in-the-Fields and, if they were around today, might recognize the Corinthian columns of the neo-Renaissance facade of James Gibb’s 1720s church, although they would be surprised at the neo-Gothic spire that he sat on top of it. The music, in contrast, was entirely Baroque from three composers born 100 years apart.

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Musica Secreta: Mother, Sister, Daughter

Mother, Sister, Daughter
Musica Secreta
, Laurie Stras
Kings Place, 10 June 2022

CD and download Lucky Music, LCKY001.

As part of their Voices Unwrapped series of concerts, Kings Place welcomed vocal group Musica Secreta and their director, Professor Laurie Stras in a CD launch programme celebrating “women’s spiritual relationships and the stories they tell” under the title of Mother, Sister, Daughter. The music revealed musically creative women from 15th and 16th-century communities of sisters, notably in the convents of Santa Lucia in Verona and San Matteo in Arcetri, Florence. It includes motets attributed to Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter, Suor Leonora d’Este, and an Office of St Clare from the convent of Galileo’s illegitimate daughter, Suor Maria Celeste Galilei, together with music by Brumel, Maistre Jhan and anonymous (and possibly female) composers. It culminated in a newly commissioned work by Joanna Marsh.

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Tallis Scholars sing Tallis

Spem in alium
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Cadogan Hall, 9 June 2022

Although I have listened to and reviewed The Tallis Scholars many times over the years, I don’t think I have ever heard them sing a complete programme of Tallis. That omission was overcome with their all-Tallis concert in Cadogan Hall. It ended, perhaps inevitably, with the famous 40-part motet Spem in alium. The rest of the concert drew on a core group of 14 singers in various formations demonstrating the breadth of Tallis choral works.

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Bach: Art of Fugue

Bach Organ Works Vol. X: Art of Fugue
Margaret Phillips
Richards, Fowkes and Co. organ, 2012
St George’s Hanover Square, London
Regent Records REGCD558
. 2 CDs. 120’58

The Art of Fugue, BWV1080
Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her’, BWV769
The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus XIV completion by Kevin Korsyn

The final volume of Margaret Phillips’ complete Bach organ works is a version of The Art of Fugue, arranged for organ. I say ‘arranged’ because there is no indication of which instrument Bach intended his monumental work – if, indeed, he ever intended it for performance at all. It was written and published in open-score, with a separate musical stave for each of the four voices. There are no orchestral instruments of the time that could play all the lines on the same instrument, leading to the assumption that it was intended for the harpsichord. Performance on the organ is common, although there are many questions to be considered, not least the choice of registrations.

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Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine

London Festival of Baroque Music
Monteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine
The Choir of Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Baroque, James O’Donnell
Westminster Abbey. 19 May 2022

A highlight of the London Festival of Baroque Music (and its earlier incarnations) is the annual visit to Westminster Abbey to hear the famous Abbey choir in the spectacular setting. This year they gave us Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine. It was directed by James O’Donnell, the Organists and Director of Music at the Abbey, in what will probably be his last appearance in the Festival before his move to Yale University after 22 years at the Abbey.

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An Adriatic Voyage


An Adriatic Voyage
The Illyria Consort and The Marian Consort

Bojan Čičić, Rory McCleery, directors
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s Smith Square. 15 May 2022

CD: Adriatic Voyage
Seventeenth-century music from Venice to Dalmatia
Delphian DCD 34260. 58’26

Music by Francesco Sponga (aka Usper), Gabriel Spona, Gabrielo Puliti,
Vicenz Jelić, Julije Skovelić, Ivan Lukačić, and Thomasso Cecchini.

It is not often that I review a concert where only one of the composers seemed familiar, and that one confused me with a different version of his name. This excellent concert (and the extended CD version) was inspired by the record of a 1575 journey by the Venetian diplomat and naval commander Giacomo Soranzo as he set sail from Venice to Constantinople. As they sailed down the Istrian coast, (present-day Croatia) they called in at various port cities, most of which were within the territory of the Venetians and subject to the continual movement of trade and people bringing different influences to the varied local culture. The concert is by composers who lived on the Dalmatian coast in the years after Soranzo’s expedition.

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Gabrieli: A Venetian Coronation

London Festival of Baroque Music
A Venetian Coronation
Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square, 13 May 2022

The 2022 London Festival of Baroque Music opened with a very welcome throwback to the 1990s and Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort’s large-scale liturgical reconstructions, here represented by a rerun of A Venetian Coronation, a musical re-creation of the 1595 Coronation Mass for the Venetian Doge Marino Grimani. This was first performed in St John’s, Smith Square and has since been recorded twice and performed many times around the world.

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The Library of a Prussian Princess

The Library of a Prussian Princess
Ensemble Augelletti
Barn Cottage
Records BCR024. 60’25

Music by J S Bach, Handel, Corelli, Geminiani, C P E Bach, and Princess Anna Amalia

The Prussian Princess of the title is Anna Amalia (1723-1787), the younger sister of Frederick the Great. Despite the brutal childhood she shared with her brother, she managed to maintain a love of music, often in secret and aided by her brother. After a failed attempt to marry her off in her early 30s, she became the Abbess of the secular Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg, a position of enormous wealth and power. Shortly after she started serious musical studies with Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a pupil of Bach and had a (still existing) organ built for her Berlin palace. She amassed an enormous library of music which is now part of the Berlin State Library. This imaginative and beautifully performed recording by Ensemble Augelletti is based on music from that library, including four pieces by Anna Amalia herself.

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Philippe de Monte: Madrigals and Chansons

Philippe de Monte: Madrigals and Chansons
Ratas del viejo Mundo
Outhere/Ramée RAM2004. 50’59

The curiously named Ratas del viejo Mundo (Rats of the Old World) take a nibble at the music of Philippe de Monte (1521-1603). Although praised in his day, de Monte is now a rather under-rated composer, at least in comparison to the many other Flemish musicians who made their name in the wider European context. Like many of his compatriots, he soon moved to Italy where he made his name in Naples and Rome. He spent a brief time in England in the choir of Philip II of Spain before becoming Kapellmeister in the chapel of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.

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Goldberg: Trio Sonatas

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Complete Trio Sonatas
Ludus Instrumentalis, Evgeny Sviridov
Ricercar RIC 426. 69’57

Trio Sonata in C, DürG 13 (was BWV 1037)
Trio Sonata in A minor, DürG 11
Trio Sonata in G minor, DürG 12
Trio Sonata in B flat, DürG 10
Prelude and Fugue in g, arranged from Dür G 5
Sonata for 2 violins, viola & continuo in C minor, DürG 14

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-56) has been overlooked as little more than the name attached to the famous JS Bach variations, rather than a respected composer in his own right. This excellent recording from Ludus Instrumentalis should help to set the record straight. Goldberg was born near Danzig. In 1737 he met Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in Dresden, a trip instigated by the art-loving Count von Keyserlingk who was impressed with the 10-year old’s musical skills. After initial studies with WFB in Dresden, he moved to Leipzig in 1746, perhaps to study with JS Bach. The Bach variations were later composed for Goldberg to play for the insomniac Keyserlingk. Goldberg died aged 29 of consumption but, despite his young age, was described by a writer at the end of the 18th century as being on the same level as Bach and Handel.

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Sestina: Master & Pupil

Master & Pupil
Exploring the Influences and Legacy of Claudio Monteverdi
Sestina Music, Mark Chambers
Resonus/Inventa INV1007. 71’18

Following a crowdfunding scheme, the Belfast based early music group Sestina have released their debut CD, Master and Pupil. The title ‘Master and Pupil’ (and yes, it is blurred on the CD cover) relates to the notion of musical apprenticeship, with inspiration passing down through the generations from master to pupil. For this recording, Sestina concentrates on the influences on, and the influences of, the music of Claudio Monteverdi both from his own teachers and on his own pupils. This approach reflects Sestina’s own philosophy, which is based on younger musicians being “placed under the wings of experienced professionals in an apprentice-like fashion”.

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ΙΕΡΟΣ / HIEROS

ΙΕΡΟΣ / HIEROS
Ensemble Céladon, Paulin Bündgen
Outhere/Fuga Libera FUG 767. 52’41

In ancient Greek, ΙΕΡΟΣ | HIEROS means ‘sacred’, a theme portrayed by the Ensemble Céladon vocal trio in this recording. It alternates medieval music with contemporary compositions (all a cappella) in an examination of “the musical evolution of the sacred”, contrasting 13th-century conductus from the School of Notre-Dame to the six works by French composer Jean-Philippe Goude (b1952).

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Krebs: Keyboard Works Vol 2

Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713 – 1780)
Keyboard Works Volume 2
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10300. 77’17

Overture ‘nach dem Franzoischen Gout’, Krebs-WV 820 (1741)
Partita in B-flat major, Krebs-WV 823 (1743)
Sonata in A minor, Krebs-WV 838 (c1763)

Steven Devine follows up his 2021 Krebs: Keyboard Works Volume 1 with the aptly titled Krebs: Keyboard Works Volume 2, again with a crustation-themed cover photo. Please see the review of Volume 1 for more background information, a crustation explanation, and a warning about the title of this 4 volume series. This second volume focuses on three multi-movement pieces, demonstrating Krebs’ diverse style over a 24-year period ranging from Baroque and Galant to Classical genres, a contrast also demonstrated by the differing styles of Bach’s sons, all of whom shared JS Bach as a teacher.

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Bach: Complete Organ Works Vol 8

Bach: Complete Organ Works: Vol 8
North German influences
Pieter van Dijk
DMP Records, DVH 140417. 2CDs 81’20+81’00

Recording, or playing, the complete Bach organ works is a milestone in any organist’s life, but the are many issues to consider. These include the choice of organ/s and the programming of individual recitals or CDs. One organist who has negotiated these issues very successfully is Pieter van Dijk, organist of the prestigious St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar, Professor for organ at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hamburg, and the artistic director of Organfestival Holland. His recorded Complete Organ Works has reached Volume 8, which is reviewed here. I understand that there will be two further double CD releases within the next year or so to complete the edition, and subscriptions are offered. I will give a brief outline of some of the earlier CDs, but I think this volume should be of particular interest to organ lovers as it deals with the early North German influences on the young Bach and includes several lesser-known works.

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Titelouze: Hymnes de l’église & Le Magnificat

Jehan Titelouze
Hymnes de l’église & Le Magnificat
Ed. Jon Baxendale
251 pages • ISMN 979-0-706670-54-6 (Hardback) • 979-0-706670-55-3 (Wire)
Lyrebird Music. LBMP–026

The latest in the enterprising range of music editions from Lyrebird Music features the only known organ publications of Jehan Titelouze (c1562-1633), organist at Rouen Cathedral and generally considered to be the founder of the French organ school. He composed his two books of organ versets in 1623 and 1626. The 1623 Hymnes de l’Église pour toucher sur l’orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant was the first published collections of organ music in 17th-century France, and the first since the 1530s. It contained sets of three or four verses for each of the twelve major hymns of the church year. The 1626 Le Magnificat ou Cantique de la Vierge pour toucher sur l’orgue suivant les huit tons de l’Église included settings of eight Magnificats in all eight church modes, each with seven verses. They both used the alternatim format with organ (odd-numbered) verses alternating with the even-numbered verses which would have been sung by a cantor or a choir.

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Vox Luminis: Schütz & Bach

Schütz & Bach
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
St John’s, Smith Square. Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022

Chorale: Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
SchützMusikalische Exequien, Op.7
BachActus Tragicus, BWV 106. Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4

Regular visitors to St John’s, Smith Square in pre-Covid days, the Belgium group Vox Luminis made a very welcome return to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) with a performance of his Musikalische Exequien, a piece they recorded around 10 years ago to great acclaim, and frequently perform. They contrasted this with Bach’s Actus Tragicus and Christ lag in Todesbanden to bring to a close the St John’s, Smith Square Easter Festival.

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Sansara & Fretwork: Pärt & White

Arvo Pärt & Robert White
Sansara & Fretwork
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 April 2022

For many years, St John’s, Smith Square has been the musical place to be in the run-up to Easter. This year’s Easter Festival was no exception. The seven-day event included regulars such as Polyphony, in their traditional Good Friday Passion, alongside the usual focus on other early music performances. The first two events rather countered that focus with the 1915 Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil opening the festival followed by Dupré’s 1931 Le Chemin de la Croix for organ. Another was the concert by the vocal group Sansara and the viol consort Fretwork, reviewed here, which contrasted music by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with Robert Wight’s Lamentations à 5.

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Fair Oriana: Divine Songs of Passion

Divine Songs of Passion
Fair Oriana, with David Wright & Harry Buckoke
St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London EC1A
13 April 2022
(and at Sands Films Music Room on 21 April)

As part of their Holy Week Mass and Music series of events, the historic church of St Bartholomew the Great in London’s Smithfield invited the soprano duo, Fair Oriana, to perform their programme Divine Songs of Passion. This well-constructed concert was based around François Couperin’s c1714 Leçons de ténèbres pour le mercredi saint, contrasted with music by d’Anglebert, Purcell, Pergolesi and Blow. The date of the concert was appropriate, as the only surviving part of the Couperin Leçons de ténèbres is the one for the Wednesday of Holy Week. The other two sets of three Leçons composed for the following two days are lost. Although the Lamentations of Jeremiah depict the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, they have long been associated with Holy Week.

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Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres

Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres
Sophie Junker,
Florie Valiquette, Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal, Stéphane Fuget
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS034. 53’03

Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres, Motet pour le jour de Pâques
Lalande: Cantique Quatrième

This recording from the prolific label Château de Versailles Spectacles contrasts Couperin’s well-known Leçons de Ténèbres with his near contemporary Michael Richard de Lalnande’s Cantique Quatrième: Sur le Bonheur des Justes et le Malheur des Réprouvés and his own Motet pour le jour de Pâques: Victoria Christo Resurgenti. One of my biggest issues with this recording is the excessive vibrato from both singers. This not only causes intonation problems but, particularly in French Baroque music, wreaks havoc with the ornaments. One of the accompanying essays is a lengthy analysis of French ornaments, so it is surprising that more effort wasn’t made to keep the surrounding vocal texture reasonably pure toned so that the ornaments could be heard clearly. As it is, the ornaments often come over as just another wobble.

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Boyvin?: Le Manuscrit Caumont

Jacques Boyvin?
Le Manuscrit Caumont Orgue
Ed. Jon Baxendale
231 pages • ISMN: 979-0-706670-18-8 (English hardback) •  979-0-706670-39-3 (English wire softback)
Lyrebird Music. LBMP–019

Le Manuscrit Caumont Orgue

This Lyrebird Music edition brings to life an important manuscript of French Classical organ music dated 1707. Its earlier provenance is unknown until it appeared in an auction in Normandy from where it passed on to an antique dealer in Amiens. It was bought from there in 2008 by the current owner, whose name has been attached to what is now known as Le Manuscrit Caumont. Very sensibly, given the quality of his other Lyrebird Music editions, the owner asked Jon Baxendale to research and edit the manuscript and produce this splendid edition.

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Amavi: works by Michael East

Amavi
Fantasias, verse anthems and vocal works by Michael East
Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort
St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico. 17 March 2022

With the financial support of the Continuo Foundation, the Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort gave a concert of music by the little-known English composer, Michael East (c1580–1648, aka, Easte, Est, Este). This was part of a short UK tour of the programme, and was preceded by a reception for Continuo Foundation supporters during which members of the two groups explained the programme and described the instruments. After a Cambridge Univesity music degree and a few years in the choir of Ely Cathedral, East moved west to spend the rest of his career as choirmaster at Lichfield Cathedral. He published seven groups of compositions, including the Fantasias for five viols performed here. They are unusual in that each of them has a name, ranging from Desperavi (I despaired) to Amavi (I loved) via Vixi (I lived) and Triumphavi (I triumphed). For this concert, they were interspersed with vocal pieces by East that reflected the mood of each Fantasia.

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Academy Choir: St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion
Academy Choir & Baroque Players, Matthew Best
St John’s, Wimbledon, 12 March 2022

Choral societies have a long and noble tradition in the UK. They provide much-needed employment opportunities for the young professional musicians brought in as soloists as well as giving the opportunity to perform for the vast body of amateur singers whose membership fees keep the shows on the road. The Academy Choir is one such. It was founded in Wimbledon in 1980 and since 2000 has been based at the church of St John the Baptist, Spencer Hill, Wimbledon. It is an auditioned choir, rather than taking all-comers, and the musical standards are obviously high. Since 2017 their musical director has been Matthew Best. My invitation to review their performance of the St John Passion promised that “our concerts tend to be ‘a cut above’ what might typically be expected to be found in a suburban church, given by a local choir”, a claim that proved itself correct.

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Programme notes: Bach recital for Early Music Day

MUSIC-AT-HILL: MIDTOWN CONCERTS
St Giles-in-the-Fields
Friday 18 March 2022

Andrew Benson-Wilson organ
Poppy Walshaw cello

Johann Sebastian Bach (1675-1750)
Pastorella per Organo (BWV 590)
[Alla Siciliana – Allemande – Aria – Alla Gigue]
Cello Suite No.3 in C. (BWV 1009)
Prelude – Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Bourrée I/II – Gigue
Partite diverse sopra Il Chorale O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767)

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Linarol Consort: La la hö hö

La la hö hö
Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world

The Linarol Consort
Inventa Records INV1005. 67’26

It is not known whether the ‘richest man in the world’, the merchant and banker to the Hapsburgs, Jakob Fugger of Augsburg (aka ‘Fugger the Rich’), actually commissioned the manuscript recorded here, as suggested by David Hatcher’s programme notes. But it was certainly in the Fugger library soon after its completion around 1535. That was ten years after Jacob’s death when his nephew Anton Fugger was head of the family and was probably also the ‘richest man in the world’. Following the reduction in the Fugger family’s power in the mid-17th century, their vast library was sold to Emperor Ferdinand where it became the foundation of the National Library of Austria. The manuscript (Vienna Ms. 18-810) contains 86 pieces of German, Flemish and French pieces, mostly by composers such as Heinrich Isaac, Ludwig Senfl and Paul Hofhaimer, linked to the court of Maximillian I, together with Pierre de la Rue and Josquin des Prez, favourites of his daughter Marguerite of Austria, then ruler of The Netherlands.

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International Women’s Day: BBC Singers

I am the World
Choral and Organ Music for International Women’s Day

BBC Singers, Grace Rossiter, Anna Lapwood
Live from Temple Church and on BBC Radio 3 and iPlayer. 8 March 2022

As part of a series of events to mark International Women’s Day, the BBC Singers, directed by Grace Rossiter, presented a live broadcast of music by leading 21st Century women composers from the Temple Church in London. It included four world premieres, one of which was commissioned by the BBC for the occasion. Alongside the vocal works were pieces played by the organist Anna Lapwood from her own new anthology of commissioned organ pieces by female composers, aimed at younger organists.

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Byrd 1588

Byrd 1588
Psalmes, Sonets & Songs of sadnes and pietie
Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner
Inventa Records INV1006. 2CDs, 78’54 + 78’20

The 1588 Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie was William Byrd’s first solo publication after the Cantiones Sacrae of 1575, a joint venture with Thomas Tallis. This recording is also a joint venture between the chamber choir Alamire and the viol consort Fretwork. It was recorded, appropriately, in the isolated church of All Saints’ Church, Holdenby, in Northamptonshire, the only surviving relic of a village that was moved by Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor and the patron of the 1588 collection, when he built (in 1583) the nearby Holdenby House, itself now reduced to a few remnants from its initial grandeur as one of the largest houses in the country.

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