live | online | recorded
Ruth Cunningham, voice, baroque flute and recorder – Maria Caswell, violin and vielle – Gwyneth Davis, bass viola da gamba – Phebe Craig, harpsichord, with guest narrator Adrian Tinniswood and guest performer Ingrid Nicola (violin)
The ABC’s current program, “From Chaos to Lawes”, spans about 800 years, from the 12th to the 21st centuries, thanks to versatile soprano and chant expert Ruth Cunningham (formerly of Anonymous 4), who also joins us on baroque flute.
We will explore the relationship of music to the sciences and liberal arts of earlier times, from the musings of Hildegarde von Bingen on wisdom, through Jean-Féry Rebel’s clever depiction of the creation (beginning with Chaos, which is then separated and refined into the four elements), to a piece originally written for Anonymous 4 by 21st century composer Richard Einhorn on a text of Galileo. Ruth will also perform one of her unique improvisations on the epitaph of the astronomer Kepler. In between, we visit some of Machaut’s rhythmic puzzles and present one of the Fantasia suites of William Lawes, who in spite of his name broke many of the rules of composition. A feature particularly apt for the theme of this festival is the medieval motet “Musicalis Scientia”, a witty dialogue between Music and Rhetoric. In addition, we will examine the state of medical science in the 18th century with Marin Marais’s delightfully macabre musical picture of a bladder stone surgery, “L’Operation de la Taille”. Narrative assistance will be rendered by special guest, noted author Adrian Tinniswood (The Long Weekend, Noble Ambitions). The program is rounded out by selections from Marais’s “Pièces en Trio”, plus excerpts from Purcell’s “Hail, Bright Cecilia”.
In its usual configuration, the instrumentation of the ABC (violin, treble and bass viols, and harpsichord) is a bit quirky, even anachronistic, but we like to think of ourselves as the kind of group that would have existed in a multi-generational household in or around the 17th century, where the older members played the instruments they were used to, while the younger ones preferred the newly popular violin. (Roger North, writing in the late 17th century, described his grandfather as playing “that antiquated instrument, the treble viol”.) Unfortunately our treble viol player was unable to join us on this concert, but we are grateful to Ingrid Nicola for assisting us with the Einhorn The Scientist and the Vincenzo Galilei Ricercar.