Galliarda: Renaissance and baroque music from Byrd to Handel

Leighton Buzzard Music Club recommenced on Saturday 21st of September with ‘Galliarda’ in concert in Leighton Buzzard Library.

The evening began with an atmospherically lit stage upon which stood a young man tuning a lute which was taller than himself. Oddly bell-like ‘dong’ sounds emanated. Strangely-shaped music cases dressed the set, together with a covey of those particularly fragile music stands. Oh yes – the first concert of Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s 68th season is most definitely underway!

The members of Galliarda are Sara Stowe, soprano and percussion; Ian Gammie, bass viol (or viola da gamba) and guitar; Wendy Hancock, baroque flute, recorder and viol, Richard Mackenzie, lute, theorbo and guitar (or cittarone). They specialise in baroque music, mainly from Spain from the 15th century up to 1800. Although Henry Purcell crept in there too. The eveing was a very pleasant meander through largely unexplored territory for me and, I suspect, quite a few other audience members. The watchword for the evening was ‘Quixote’ – if there was a Quixotic connection it was in: music from the Spain of Cervantes period in general, from La Mancha in particular, and music about Don Quixote (this is how the Purcell got in).

The instruments were fascinating. I have never seen a theorbo in the flesh, as it were, before – have you? It stood taller than Richard Mackenzie and had 14 strings arranged in 2 sets of 7. 7 is not a number I associate with a stringed instrument. The number of strings on other instruments played during the evening was equally unusual. The guitar had 10. The instrument which looked like a cello had 6, so did the one which looked like a violin. But these were instruments from earlier centuries. They are those from which the violins and cellos and guitars with which we are familiar have evolved. As there is, these days, a flourishing early music scene, ‘Galliarda’s’ instruments were all modern replicas – requiring the instrumentalists also to replicate the original method of playing. The viol, for example, was played upright on the knee (as some folk musicians play a modern fiddle). The bass viol is bowed quite differently from a cello. We were shown how.  Remember the way you were told NOT to hold your knife as a child? Like that.

The pieces were short and grouped under titles such as ‘Villanicos from Iberia’, ‘Iberian airs’, ‘excerpts from Tonadillas Escénicas‘. There were energetic dances, nonsense songs in Spanish, a mad song in English, songs of jilted lovers and a number of rollicking Christian songs. The group had thoughtfully provided a translation of the Spanish songs. There was also the incidental music to ‘The Comicall History of Don Quixote’ by Henry Purcell which I enjoyed very much. My other personal favourite was one of the ‘Iberian airs’ ‘Teresica Hermana’, a solo played by Richard Mackenzie on his lute.

While delicate instruments were changed or retuned Ian Gammie entertained us with excerpts from the diary of one Reverend Townsend on his travels through Spain. Prodigious quantities of wine were consumed by himself and his guide from a wineskin made from the skin of the guide’s deceased cat;  some of the old people he met claimed extraordinary longevity; he was sceptical regarding the protection money extorted from travellers at risk of robbers by an enterprising gang claiming to be employed by the government.

Personally I found the flute – while warm and delicious – slightly overpowered the sweet soprano voice and, indeed, on occasion the soft tones of the gut-strung instruments. The flute and recorder punched through the texture in a way which might have been more appropriate had we been at a dance, rather than sitting quietly in a concert.

However, this is to cavil. The first concert of the season was intriguing, made the toes tap, and taught me much about Spanish country music and baroque instruments. I thank you Galliarda.

Here’s a link to Gallliarda’s website, should you want to know more about them :  http://www.galliarda.org.uk/

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One Response to “Galliarda: Renaissance and baroque music from Byrd to Handel”

  1. childtasticbooks Says:

    This sounds like a fascinating evening of music, not only because of the style but also the instruments. I was treated to a tiny bit of Spanish Baroque music at uni when one of my tutors used to sing to us to bring the poetry of the era alive. Lovely review!

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