Samuel Scheidt plays keyboard through the 30 Years War

A post about the concert on Wednesday, June 10th at 2:00 PM,
Paulist Center Library,
by Judith Conrad. Music by Samuel Scheidt (1587 – 1654), played
on a clavichord by Andreas Hermert, after Georg Woytzig 1688, with
split sharps, triple-fretted, quarter comma meantone tuning.

It occurred to me on my way to this concert that although I
often seem like a relative expert on the clavichord even in rooms
full of very knowledgeable early music people, I’m not sure I’ve
ever heard anyone but my sister play a clavichord concert.

This is partly because very few people give clavichord concerts. Even
in its heyday, it wasn’t really a concert instrument. A lot of
organists and other keyboard players had them in their home, so
they could practice without waking the baby or disturbing their
neighbors, or needing to freeze in the cold church and organize a
bellows pumper for the organ. And they did use it for their
domestic music making. But there really weren’t concerts in our
sense, and the closest things to them used louder keyboard instruments.

But it does have other advantages over some of the louder
instruments. When you’re playing complex arrangements, you can
bring out the tune by playing it louder. Judith has been doing
this for several decades, and she gets better and better at it.

Most of the music on this concert is from a book published in
1624 called Tablatura Nova. Scheidt had studied with
Sweelinck, and would probably have been a teacher that people
flocked to from all over Northern Europe, except that the Thirty
Year’s War broke out in 1618, and made travel dangerous. So he
did a certain amount of teaching composition by correspondence,
and published this book with examples of everything a
keyboard player of the time would be expected to do.

This concert included:

  • a chant setting
  • a folk song setting
  • a
    piece of complicted polyphony on a phrase from a Palestrina
  • a Magnificat on Tone 9
  • a setting of a Lutheran chorale
  • a set of variations on a folk song
  • a fugue

All this was introduced informally, and followed by
refreshments and an invitation to the audience to play the

Judith does this kind of concert every Boston Early Music
Festival, and occasionally in between, most often in Fall River,
Massachusetts, where she lives and is the organist/choir
director of the First Congregational Church. So if you missed
this one, you can probably have another chance. I recommend you
take it.

The Exhibition

This year, the exhibition is in a different hotel, around the
corner from where it’s been the last few festivals.
Unfortunately, it’s still on two floors, so you have to take
elevators. But they work better than in the former venue and don’t have muzak.

Not everybody brought everything on their website, so there’s no alto
cornetto to try, and Andrea Breukink only brought the Eagle, and
not her Renaissance recorders.

But for most of us, hardware isn’t really the point — it’s all
about the people you can talk to. So here’s a brief summary of
what I accomplished in the first three days:

  • Bought a book of recorder exercises I’ve been playing from
  • Cleaned out all the 16th century madrigals from the AR
    Editions scratch-and-dent box, for $10 each large and heavy
  • Bought an attractive, lightweight, folding wood music stand
    at the Early Music Shop.
  • Bought an alto cornet mouthpiece that might help the tenor
    serpent fulfill its mission of playing the parts that are too
    low for cornetto and too high for serpent.
  • Discussed the state of early brass education with a couple
    of people who organize summer workshops.
  • Got an offer to have a table for Serpent Publicaations at
    the Amherst Early Music Festival instrument fair.
  • And of course saw and talked to lots of people I haven’t
    seen for some time and would like to know what they’re doing.

What you accomplish will be different, but if you’re at all
interested in anything people do at BEMF, you will find ways to
see it and talk about it if you go to the exhibition.

So if you’re reading this before the exhibition closes at 5pm
on Saturday, June 13, get over there.

Pointers to other coverage

Since I can’t possibly get to everything, or notice everything
about what I do get to, here are some
pointers to coverage elsewhere on the net:

  • The Boston Globe has a paywall these days, but if you aren’t
    out of your 5 free articles for the month, here’s their review
    of Ulisse
  • The Boston Musical Intelligencer has really broad coverage
    of the festival. Here are their reviews of Concerto
    , Philippe
    , Tapestry
    and Viriditas
    singing Hildegard, and Poppea.
  • Fuse, founded by refugees from the Boston Globe freelance
    writers’ dispute of a few years ago, reviews Poppea

Maraca solo steals show from Jordi Savall

Four or six years ago, Jordi Savall played a concert of Celtic
dance music that left me muttering about how many people I know
personally who can play better dance music than that.

Two years ago, he played a concert of Turkish music that I
didn’t go to, because I figured I’d appreciate non-danceable
Turkish dance music even less than the Irish dance music I know
something about. People told me I was wrong and that it was a
wonderful concert. One of the pillars of the recorder community
was still raving last week about the Ney player on that concert.

So apparently, what he’s decided is that if he wants to play
music he wasn’t brought up to, he should get people who were to
play it with him. Last Monday, he played Spanish and Latin
American music with the Tembembe Ensemble Continuo, a Mexican
group that connects Baroque performance practice with contemporary
Latin music.

One thing I particularly liked about the concert was that,
while there was lots of virtuoso ornamentation and improvisation,
they always played the tune straight, first. This was true even
with the simple bass lines of the Ortiz ricercars. The concert
opened with Savall playing the “La Spagna” bass line:

Ortiz bass line

It was gorgeous. Another example was in the “Differencias sobre
las Follias, where the castanets were accompanying all the
trickiest rhythms throughout. They gave the castanet player a
solo chorus, and you still heard the tune under the clicks.

Savall is still working on Celtic dance music. Someone who was
sitting closer than I was who can hear better should correct me if
I got this wrong, but I think he said that he had
switched the fourth and fifth strings on his bass viol (made in
1553) so that it would be easier to play bagpipe music. He then
demonstrated by playing a set of traditional Scottish dance music,
and sure enough, I’ve never heard a viol sound so much like a

But the Maraca solo in Jácaras – La Petanara really did
bring down the house. At the end, Enrique Barona is holding one
maraca in his hand and it’s spinning, and it spins slowly down,
decelerating and bringing the piece to a close.

The standing ovation and two encores at the end of the concert
were well-deserved. There is more detail about who played what
when in the review
at The Boston Musical Intelligencer.

Battaglia d’Amor: A Benefit Concert for Tom Zajac


Tom Zajac has been performing and teaching recorder, reeds,
brass, and percussion for at least 3 decades to my knowledge.
Very few people in this area with any interest in any of those instruments
haven’t been supported and taught and entertained by him.

Unfortunately, he’s been having a recurring medical problem,
with several brain surgeries in the past couple of
years. Insurance covers most of the medical bills, but of course
doesn’t provide income for someone who can’t work.

It isn’t really fair to criticize this performance as if it had
been a concert. It was a massive outpouring of support for a
well-loved figure in the community on the part of both the
musicians and the public of the early music community, and on that
level it was completely successful. I understand the concert and
the online appeal together raised over $50,000.

On the other hand, it was billed as a Boston Early Music
Festival Fringe concert, which sets up certain expectations. The
rules are that fringe events can’t conflict with official Festival
events, and that they should end by 10 minutes to the hour, to
give people time to get to the next event. This event started
at 6, and I have no idea when it finished, but I left at
7:35 to get to the Jordi Savall concert and there were still 5
groups to play.

There’s a review
by someone who was able to stay for the whole thing. From the
first two thirds that I heard, I agree with this reviewer in
singling out the Wayne Hanking ocarina solo and the John Tyson
ornamentation of da Rore’s Signor mio caro.

I was less impressed than he was by all the interminable
medieval multi-verse ballads in languages the audience didn’t
know with no attempt to put the story across.

As I said, it’s not fair to call this a concert, because of
course the organizers didn’t want to tell anyone who wanted to
help that they couldn’t play, or that there was already too much
of that repertoire on the concert. I do think it’s fair to
criticize performers who just started singing in a language the
audience didn’t know without saying anything at all about what
they were singing about.