Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus

John Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus
Alamire, David Skinner
Resonus/Inventa INV1003, Digital EP. 16’30

There is an interesting back story to this 16-minute downloadable EP of John Sheppard’s famous Media Vita in Morte Sumus (In the midst of life we are in death). Much performed and recorded, this piece can last up to 30-minutes in length, making it a complex prospect for recording and concert programming. This recording is based on recent research that reassesses the structure of the piece, reducing it to this entirely appropriate and more manageable shorter version. Continue reading

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8-20 Parts

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts
Alamire, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
David Skinner, Stephen Farr
Resonus: Inventa Records. INV001. 2 CDs: 57’46 + 42’39 

I have waited years for a comprehensive recording of Hieronymus Praetorius and this one ticks all the boxes. I first got to know his organ music many years ago, finding in him a very rare example of a North German organ composer from before the generation of Sweelinck students that dominated Hamburg and North German musical life in the 17th century (of which his sons were a key part). That progression eventually led to the peak of the North German Baroque, Dieterich Buxtehude. Although there were indications of the post-Sweelinck style, his musical language was distinct, if occasionally rather impenetrable, and clearly represented an important late Renaissance style of organ composition and performance. The joy of this double CD set is that several organ pieces are included, along with some of the magnificent multi-part motets, with up to 20 independent voices. Continue reading

Tallis: Songs of Reformation

Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

WP_20170415_18_59_25_Pro.jpgAfter the Holy Week Festival showcase Good Friday afternoon St John Passion came a concert focussed on one of England’s finest composers, Thomas Tallis. Living though the reigns of five monarchs (from Henry VII to Elizabeth), and composing in the latter four of them, Tallis managed to negotiate the complex religious twists and turns of Tudor life. The highlights of the evening came at the end, with the first modern performance of David Skinner’s reconstruction of a piece composed by Tallis  (an early version of the famous Gaude gloriosa Dei mater), but with new words (See, Lord, and behold) added by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s eighth and final Queen. Continue reading

Laus Polyphoniae 2015 – Antwerp

Laus Polyphoniae – Antwerp

WP_20150825_19_32_43_ProThis year, Antwerp’s annual Laus Polyphoniae festival, now in its 22nd year, celebrated one it can claim as its own (at least for a period): the music copyist Petrus Alamire, creator of some of the most extraordinary music manuscripts in the decades around 1500. Born in Nuremburg, Alamire (a musical alias of Peter Imhof: A-la-mi-re)  soon moved to the Low Countries and quickly established himself as compiler of beautiful scores of music of Franco-Flemish composers, then at the peak of their importance. His clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe. His choirbooks contain more than 800 pieces, composed over a period of around 70 years, with the emphasis on masses, motets and chansons. Collectively they represent the development of the important Renaissance polyphonic style in the Low Countries and northern France. Continue reading

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook
Alamire, David Skinner
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 13 Sept 2015

Having recently dusted off ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’, a manuscript by Alamire in the British Library, David Skinner and Alamire have now turned their attention to a manuscript that (arguably) belonged to Anne Boleyn, currently in the Royal College of Music (MS1070). The inscription ‘Mistres ABolleyne nowe this’ indicates the link to Anne, the ‘Mistres’ suggesting that the songbook was started before she became Queen in 1533 – and, I suggest, also before she became Marquess of Pembroke in 1532, and possibly before 1525 when her father was elevated to the peerage as a Viscount, or 1529 when he was created an Earl, both ranks giving Anne a courtesy title. ‘Nowe thus’ is her father’s motto.

David_20150916_154853 Skinner’s informative and user-friendly chats between the pieces of the concert explained his reasoning that this was indeed Anne’s songbook, not least on the basis of the contents of the book. The suggestion is that the book was started in Anne’s youth, during her time at the court of Margaret of Austria (Governor of the Haspburg Netherlands) in Mechelin, or when she was in the household of the Queen of France. Composers such as Compère, Brumel, Mouton and Josquin were all Franco-Flemish composers that Anne would have been familiar with during these times. A second layer of the book has clear references to later incidents in Anne’s complex life, not least to the early relationship between her and Henry VIII. One such example was the song Jouyssance vous donneray with the words ‘I will give you pleasure, my dear … everything will be good for those who wait’ – there is a suggestion that this is a song that Anne herself sang to Henry – who (we were gleefully told) she apparently pleasured “in the French manner” before their marriage. Continue reading