SWEMF Workshop with Anna Stegmann
17th February 2024 – Thorverton Parish Church

Workshop for Recorders, Renaissance Wind Players and Strings

On a damp February Saturday 23 SWEMF members joined Anna Stegmann, international performer and recorder professor at the Royal Academy, for a workshop in Thorverton. Massed viols and recorders (both renaissance and baroque) along with a lute and curtal were carefully placed into 6 parts for a morning of Renaissance polyphony. Unexpectedly we kicked off with a Josquin des Prez chanson, Mille Regretz, read in old French by Sally and translated by Anna, a lover’s parting song wallowing in delicious melancholy. We were encouraged to articulate the tune as we would speak the text.

Thorverton Church interiorThis connection between words and music was to be one of the themes of the day and we quickly moved on to the more demanding Agnus Dei from Cristóbal de Morales’s Mille Regretz Mass. He, like other Renaissance composers, took inspiration from the famous Josquin, using expressive phrases from this secular chanson in his sacred mass. Anna showed us how Josquin’s ‘paine douloreuse’ transforms into Morales’ dotted ‘miserere me’, both answering phrases in divided parts and that knowledge invigorated our playing. The magic of a general pause after a radiant G major chord reverberated in the stones as did a strong tutti entry after dense weaving polyphony. Anna guided us to relish the harmonies and enjoy the church’s acoustic which still sports Tudor roses celebrating Henry VIII’s first marriage in 1509 when Josquin flourished.

The morning ended with Palestrina’s 6 part ‘Viri Galilaei’ where it was helpful to have the words printed under the notes. The Italian Palestrina had also studied Josquin’s music and kept polyphony alive while more direct word painting was being encouraged by the church during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century. Now alert to these textual details we could shape the rising scales illustrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the F major fanfare for celestial trumpets and the quiet solemnity of tutti chords for the word ‘Dominus’.

The lunch break was welcome, if only to put on our coats and warm up. After French, Spanish and Italian music we moved, in the afternoon, to the German baroque with three beautiful Bach chorales and their preludes arranged for recorder orchestra by Bart Spanhove. The difficulty here was sight reading the complex rhythms and many tied notes. Expertly guided by Anna we found our paths through these flowing preludes (though I have to admit to losing my place on more than one occasion). Her note to play the preludes with the sonority of an organ and to ‘sing’ the chorales proved the recorder can have more colours than is often thought. The vibrant Victorian stained glass window facing us as we played made Thorverton church a perfect setting for this musical journey through time and place.

Anna’s enthusiasm for her instrument and love of early music was palpable. We were privileged to profit from her knowledge and warm but authoritative leadership. Thank you Marilyn and Peter for organising such a rewarding workshop.

Sarah Harding