Thursday, August 13, 2015

Spem in Alium on 'A Very British Renaissance', visitors

We've been enjoying the repeat of 'A Very British Renaissance' on BBC4. Found Dr James Fox a bit bumptious at first, but then decided I liked him, he's only a sprig but knowledgeable, charming and not reliant on the irritating, patronising and specious modern parallels so many TV historians seem to think are a good idea. (I let Simon Schama off this judgement, Bettany Hughes I don't).

I wanted to share the bit he did on Tallis's Spem in Alium, and wondered if it was available on Youtube. As a short clip it wasn't, but in fact the whole three part series is, and in quite good HD quality. However, when it came to the section with the Tallis, though the music soundtrack had been present until then, Spem itself was removed at that point, which rendered the scene somewhat incomprehensible and pointless*. 

So I wondered if I could make my own. This took a bit of fiddling about: finding out how to download the complete video, then take a clip from it, then taking the track from the Tallis Scholars CD, then matching the section of the track with his actions, fading it out satisfactorily, and then I'm not sure it's quite synchronised perfectly, but I'm quite pleased with the result. Of course I don't really have time to mess about doing such long-winded and fiddly things on the computer, re-inventing the wheel since I haven't much of a clue what I'm doing, have to use a lot of trial and error, and will have forgotten what I've learned if I try to do it again.

Anyway, I'd recommend the series, and finding it on-line was a boon as we can't get BBC i-player here and had to miss the second episode because of our visitors.

Who have now left. It was tiring but mostly in a good, energetic, getting-out-being-a-tour-guide way, rather than in a tense and frustrating trying-not-to-be-affected-by-parents-nagging-their-recalcitrant-slug-a-bed-kids way. There was only one offspring who, when here with his sister last year, had largely dissolved into a surly adolescent blob, but now, out of her shadow perhaps, was much more forthcoming, pleasant and appreciative, not at all bad company, and we were inclined to hope that the rather original, funny, curious and chatty little boy he once was has not entirely disappeared after all.

Rather rainy and autumnal outside, nice to be to ourselves again.

(The entire Tallis' Scholars Spem in Alium is on Youtube here. You do need good sound quality, headphones, speakers, whatever, and of course I don't really need to tell you to save your sanity and not read the comments.)

*I don't know why, perhaps the recording copyright owner (I'm not sure who the artists were performing) insisted on having it removed, as happened with the Gothic Voices Dufay piece I'd used for a slideshow video a couple of years ago; Hyperion, the recording company, must have done a sweep of Youtube and pulled the video on copyright ground, along with a number of others. I know they had every right to do this, and I had no right to use it, but I found it mean-spirited and cutting off their noses to spite their faces, since more people might have heard it and been inclined to follow up links and even buy their recordings after seeing it than will now, and I never bother reading their newsletters or even think of ordering from them any more. Better I think to take the line that the Tallis Scholars do, that you can use their music for personal videos but just don't try to monetise it, the right to do so being theirs (Youtube are now very quick to pick up on and label third party content now, and give guidelines about this, which is good really). Whole massive albums of music on Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label are available on Youtube, and no one seems to worry. They are, I imagine, seen as free promotion; they make a point of making their CDs objects of beauty with abundant material included that you would want to have for its own sake, and their live performances experiences beyond the recorded music. Rant over.


Roderick Robinson said...

Spem in Alium was the first CD I ever bought; back in those days there was very little choice other than Four Seasons, Bolero, and the Hall of the Mountain King. Vaguely I imagined it would be an "improving" work but that didn't happen; within a month or so there was an avalanche of re-issues and I fear SiA went from being neglected to a state very close to discarded. I can't remember a single note and I wonder whether a contributory factor was the revelation that adding a single l to the key word in the title completely changes the field of reference.

I shall play it the minute I'm finished here and hope that the disc hasn't, in my Grannie's words, "lost its nature". To all intents and purposes (cliché but by now almost hallowed by age) I shall be hearing it for the first time.

Catalyst said...

Very nice work, Lucy.

Sabine said...

Oh splendid! Well done, thanks!

Zhoen said...

We got to see that series, it was excellent. I'm utterly in awe of Spem in alium. I would love to stand before a chorus singing that, with all my heart. Although I'd probably be in tears the whole way.

Roderick Robinson said...

Sequel to earlier comment. Shocking that I should have temporarily forgotten ownership of SiA. Blame it on the fact that we'd finally moved into the Land Of Disposable Income and this was a period when I was acquiring CDs hand over fist (another cliché, these days more honoured in the breach - which is another cliché, USW, USW).

To me this is extremely risky music. Instead of being taken gradually to a climax, you arrive there in bar one and are held there. To ensure this the dynamic range of each voice is kept narrow (though, overall, the range is widened via the difference in pitch of the different voices) and the melody is allowed full rein over the words. This being the whole point of antiphony. I've never understood just what "pure" music is but this must come close despite the "impurity" of including words with literary meaning.

The risk lies in the possibility of monotony. And of course this doesn't happen. This is music that effortlessly achieves music's potential by seeming to break compositional rules yet to be established. And there's a further effect: SiA profits from sounding like a passage taken from another work of infinite length. Music as a parallel to life itself. We are eased and uplifted by an external force that seems to fit our physiology and waves of thought. SiA ditches mysticism and wants to be part of us - like a benign blood transfusion without the tubes.

One reason SiA got lost chez Robinson is it came as part of a collection: Renaissance Masterpieces. Dating back to the time when record producers thought buyers knew little and needed a nudge. Thus it was at the end of my shelving among other collections (listed by singer, instrumentalist, orchestra, etc, rather than by composer) instead of among the Ts. Anyway its appeal is now re-fixed in my mind as it should be, since SiA is hardly an obscure work. And, of course, once I started playing it I realised I'd heard it fairly frequently from other random sources such as BBC4, soon to be sacrificed on the high altar of Murdoch.

Sorry about the back-of-the-LP blurb but I had some backsliding to correct.

Lucy said...

Thanks all. In fact his placards don't really synch with the parts of the music, or not after the first few voices anyway, but it's worth listening to the whole afterwards to see what he means. Anyway, I just rather like his presentation, he's quite whimsical.

Robbie - the extra 'l' constitutes one of the only puns I'm confident of making in Latin, a point I have made before. Indeed, the new banner, both image and sub-heading, was in fact connected to it, but that was just a bit of whimsy of my own I didn't expect anyone to pick up. The words 'spem in alium' are only the first three of a longer phrase and really make no sense on their own anyway, as I'm sure you know, the complete text and translation is readily available, if not on your CD then elsewhere, but as you say, the words aren't important; as has long been observed, the appeal of any Latin liturgy lies in not understanding much if any of it, it's just sound.

Recordings of it abound now, as do performances (including amateur scratch ones in the same spirit as those collective Messiahs that were in vogue a while back) though I've yet to see one, and as you say, it's often to be heard on telly and radio, there was a good R3 lunchtime concert recently with the Cardinall's Musick. I probably wouldn't really be able to tell any difference in a blind tasting but always tend to think the Tallis Scholars have a bit of something extra. I have it on their 'Renaissance Giants' album (which has the bonus of tasty photos of Michelangelo's David on the wrappings). I also have at least one pure Tallis album of theirs but not with SiA on. I don't think with early music in particular there's any shame in compilation albums covering a period/place/genre, rather than only one composer; Savall's albums and performances are whole tapestries and history lessons, often involving several different ensembles to boot.

Your LP blurb is marvellous, analytical yet eloquent and full of affect and personal response, I couldn't come near saying, or indeed understanding, anything so well. No wonder you were able to do that for a job. Thank you.

Ellena said...

What you put together is also very impressive if you ask me.
I had no clue what you were talking about when I first read your post, yes. Note that my ego did not get into the way admitting this.
I attached speakers to my laptop and a miracle happened. All kind of gifts have come my way lately for which I am very grateful. Thank you, Lucy.

Lucy said...

Ellena, thank you, you are a darling. I think it's quite impressive too, my ego has no trouble admitting that either! Trouble ye not on such matters as far as I'm concerned; I think you may be confusing me with someone else, I just do the tech support and the breakfasts (though not at the same time, as I often try to explain, since never having had children I have never learned multi-tasking).

So glad you got the speakers out and got the benefit anyway, it's beautiful, isn't it?

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Wonderful in every way, including your video and your diligence in putting it together. I loved the placards too. Thank you!

Zhoen said...

Am I missing something? Did you do a video?

Lucy said...

Natalie - thanks,

and Zhoen - umm, obviously it's not quite clear what I did and didn't do! The whole of the TV documentary episode was on Youtube. However, when it came to the section where James Fox accompanies Spem in Alium with commenting placards, for some reason the soundtrack goes blank. I downloaded the video from Youtube, clipped that section from it, and overlaid a recording of the Tallis Scholars singing it onto the original film (where I think it was someone else, maybe The Sixteen) then uploaded that to Youtube and then embedded it here. Hope that clears it up! If not, it's really not important...

Francesca said...

I love the Tallis xx

Zhoen said...

Oh, got it. Sorry, I assumed it was just the episode, which I'd seen, so I didn't play through.