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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

LeStrange Viols, Aeternum, Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add Ms 31390


A somewhat exotic Early Music item is up for review today. The group is the viol consort LeStrange Viols and the album is entitled Aeternum: Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add. MS 32390 (LeStrange Viols PCR912 DDD).

It is a CD program of some 26 viol compositions played with all the period sonance such music demands. The music comes from a tablebook preserved in the British Museum as "Additional Manuscript 31390. Add. MS 31390." That designation is the library's shelf mark. The collection was apparently compiled in the main in 1578 and contains a mix of the latest new music by Byrd and others plus old favorites from earlier in the century. The case for dubbing this collection as representative of the Elizabethan avant garde of the time is not unwarranted. This was the cutting edge of viol consort music then. Of course we listen to this music today as venerable relics of an age long past. Yet in the end to have lived through this period as music enthusiast was as in any period to confront the new and embrace or reject it, to take a stance on its place in the continuum.

More so than that though, the liners alert us to the idea that some of this music was boldly experimental. It takes a close listen and a kind of clearing of the feeling of eerie distance that the performances and their period constancy reinforces, before you can grasp how that is. The liners put it succinctly. You can find in listening "a love of cross-relations (a striking type of permitted dissonance) and an abundance of rythmical and metrical complexity." So that is one of the fundamental aspects of the style of the period. Yet too there are marked experiments, such as a cantus firmus constructed from five-beat groupings, or fully serialized rhythm (marvelously rendered with pizzicato in Picforth's work), a three-part Byrd canon built on what were then shocking dissonances.

All this serves to remind us that even Early Music could be situated in a seething, teaming mass of flux and change.

Mind you, one at first does not drop one's coffee cup in alarm on hearing this. You must live with the music to feel gradually what it might have felt like to be knowledgeable and hear this music in the air at the time.

And in the end you revel in the marvelous sonarities of the viol consort and in this way feel after a time that this sound is quite exotic to us, "new" in ways that anything unaccustomed is for us a growing movement forward in time.

All the content aspects can be engaged in for a very lively listen. Or you can just listen and get quite a bit of satisfaction from the sheer sensual pleasure of the music. In any case this is excellent fun and a boon to any Early Music fan. It invites you to enter in the musical world as it was just then. That is a very good thing, indeed. We can get insights into our New Music world by comparing notes, so to speak! Most definitely recommended.

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