Sigh... this weekend's project is a Monteverdi Vespers... A really nice piece from the Early 17th century, but more than a touch out of my area of expertise and comfort... a fairly low key performance, but one that is introducing more headaches (aside from child juggling problems....) than I find that the music is worth!
So, to begin with... I'm a specialist in Early Music, so mostly mid to late Baroque and the Classical eras of music on historical instruments and with an historically informed way of approaching the music (guess what, much has changed in the intervening centuries, and the regular "Classical" musicians of the present ignore that fact and assume that everything is pretty much the same as if it was printed today... which, if you look at artworks, architecture and literature... is quite an odd proposition to start as a base assumption...)
Last week brought me a last minute call to fill in as a Tenor Viola in a performance of Monteveri's Vespers... this is the sort of music that was around in the early 17th century (this piece was from 1610). So, it was composed about a century before where I start to feel comfortable with the musical language and styles of performance. However, seeing as this is a relatively low pressure performance, I took the job (how is that for foolhardy and "courageous")... as the Tenor Viola is pretty basic music, I don't need to know too much in depth about the correct ornamentation and embellishments that the VIolins will be required and expected to perform. That said, many people (not just musicians...) take jobs that they aren't suited or qualified for... and have no qualms or second thoughts about it... perhaps this will be the case for the other instrumentalists here!
Anyway, the instrumental ensemble is going to be sackbuts and a string consort... so, early trombones and stringed instruments. Unfortunately for me, that also means that the pitch will be higher accepted pitch for the early Italian music... A=466Hz, which is a semitone above the modern pitch A=440Hz and a whole tone above my usual Baroque Pitch of A=415Hz. This means that the strings need to be put under a much greater tension (you need to tighten them up...) and if I was taking this more seriously, that would mean that I would use thinner strings, so that the higher pitch is achieved without having a crazy amount of tension through them.
However, I need my Baroque Viola for other things in the week, so changing strings was out of the question... and changing pitch day to day was also out of the question (gut strings really don't like that... they tend to not hold pitch or snap under fast changes.)... In the past, when I've had to play at a higher pitch, I've just borrowed a friend's instrument and just subjected it to the higher tension... it's not really something that I like to do to my own instruments though!
This means that one of my lesser used Violas gets the job... this Australian viola (looks terrible, but plays and sounds great!) is the unlucky winner... stripping off the two top strings for pure gut, and leaving the modern steel strings on the bottom (I'm lazy... and the lower strings cost a fair bit... just for one job, it isn't worth it...). A side effect is that it is quite a large viola as well, so well suited to the low registers of the Tenor Viola part.
So, I put on the gut strings about a week ago... and have been slowly ramping up the tension on the instrument... it complains, with great creaks which are amplified by the soundboard... so, it sounds much worse than it really is... but it is still quite horrific to listen to. Today, I've got it at pitch, and it appears to be holding... just in time for the first rehearsal tomorrow!
However, there is more annoyances to come... the music from that era (early Italian 17th century...) is really a pain in the arse to read... with block printing being the norm (so, every note is individually standing by itself...) which I find to be terribly unclear and hard to read in large chunks. It is also in tenor clef (both the C clef and the transposed treble clef) which are different to the alto, treble, French treble and bass clefs that are much more the norm for later (late 17th century....) music. I've had to just write in a couple of note names... just in case... you never know at the performance when your long ingrained habits will kick in and kick you in the arse with a misreading....
... and finally.... at that time, they didn't believe in the use of bar seperators... so, everything is more like a complete stream of consciousness writing.... to my eyes, it is as if they didn't use spaces/paragraphs or any punctuations at all... BLEAH! Anyway, I've marked in a couple of main beats here and there just to aid me every now and then...
... the singer that asked me to do this job is really a Gregorian and Early Italian specialist... so, I'm hoping to completely #$%#$% things up... however, I do feel a touch out of my depth.... luckily, it is on a small and unimportant part... and I only need to survive a 2 hour performance!
All of this is much more preparation than I usually do for my performances... normally, it is pretty seamless between reading and playing... so, pretty much like reading a book for other people is the analogy that I would use... however, this time... I feel like I'm a complete beginner again! There is a definite lag between reading... brain processing... and playing... I can't say that I'm terribly fond of it!
Account banner by jimramones