Monday, July 17, 2006

Revenge of the double-reeds

I just finished my first day at the Amherst Early Music Festival. I am one of only two cornettists here, not counting the teacher (Douglas Kirk). Thus I am being worked hard. Today I played in two sackbut-and-cornett ensembles, two mixed "loud" ensembles (cornetto, sackbuts, curtals, and shawms), and a Charpentier mass with choir, recorder ensemble, vielle ensemble, organ, cornetto, curtal, and sackbut. The mass just about killed me, both in terms of technique during a very fast section of the Sanctus and in general endurance. A baroque violinist is supposed to join me, since the second cornettist is singing instead of playing. Hopefully the violinist will make things easier.

I also attended a great lecture by a musicologist who is teaching at the festival (I can't remember his name, I will add it laterAdam Gilbert). He talked about the progression of compositional technique in the 15th century, starting with an excellent paraphrase from The Eternal Lightness of Being. The book describes the advent of 12-tone serialism as being analogous with the demise of the monarchy system after World War I. The tonic is the king who is overthrown, allowing equal weight/vote to all notes/people. Our lecturer re-used this analogy for the 15th century, where the king was the Tenor and the Queen was the Cantus. He then showed how these royal musical features were sublimated by the end of the 15th century, just as the Medieval notion of monarchy was revised by such figures as Louis XI. The culmination of this change to the Tenor and Cantus was Heinrich Isaac. As I pointed out to Adam afterward, this made a great circle to the 12-tone quote from the beginning of the lecture, since Anton Webern was a musicologist who specialized in Isaac as well.

Well, now I must go to my room and massage my tired fingers before bed. (The post title refers to the fact that shawms are frickin' loud.)

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