- November 2, 2019
Gawain Glenton is an absolute master of Baroque ornamentation. It’s as natural to him as breathing. His hands, almost absentmindedly, ripple across the finger-holes of his cornetto. I’ve know loads of Monteverdi. I thought I understood what this was all about, until about five minutes into this illuminating and mysterious masterclass.
What did the strange notation of ascending and descending scales mean? The treatises of Zenobi, Rognoni, Scaletta reveal an entire vocal technique, that’s best learnt from childhood until it’s as unself-conscious a part of singing as voicing a note. Alas, printed pages cannot produce any audible examples.
Fortunately four brave BREMF LIVE! alumni, Hannah Ely and Lucinda Cox (sopranos), Laura Lopes (mezzo-soprano), and Sebastian Maclaine (tenor), were on hand to sing very creditable examples of accenti, tremoli and the different kinds of trilli. This being a workshop, their initial attempts were exposed to scrutiny and we heard them improve, refine and perhaps enjoy the effect their newly acquired skill was having on some simple polyphonic phrases. Modern singers may be excellent at reading complex rhythms, fussy decorations and elaborate abellimenti, but only when they are premeditated, written down, composed. For these exercises, our courageous quartet were extemporising to new rules, singing on the fly, blasting holes in the texture of innocently pure polyphony, just so a 16th century scholar wouldn’t mistake them for yokels. Their efforts, way out of their comfort zone, were fascinating and the results beautiful and new to our ears. Maestro Glenton then pointed out that they had achieved stage 1 and were now singing at a basic level (according to the learned tracts), no longer a mortal embarrassment to themselves and their families!
This has opened up a whole new way of singing and listening to music that I thought I already knew so well.
Friends’ Meeting House,
2 November 2019