Whilst Brexit has become a reality, AMUZ will continue to include music from Great Britain in its programmes. Politics aside, you can’t help but admire the phenomenal musical heritage of our neighbours across the Channel. From the Middle Ages to present day, the list of master composers and performers is impressively long. The two young Belgian musicians, Lies Wyers and Pieter Vandeveire, are devoted to the English repertoire. Besides this, Lies Wyers is also passionate about the English language. In 2015, she wrote a master thesis on the English pronunciation in 17th century vocal music.
The instrument with soft, melodic tone
For this concert, aided by the Support Fund for young Belgian Artists, Wyers and Vandeveire will not be exercising their vocal cords but the strings of their violas da gamba. This instrument was very popular throughout Western Europe for several centuries. The Italian name clarifies the way in which it is played: the string instrument is rested between the musician’s legs (gamba) and the strings are then played with a bow. The viola da gamba originated in Southern Europe in the late Middle Ages. In England, the instrument appeared at the court of Henry VIII (1491-1547), where from 1526 onwards, two viola da gamba players received a monthly salary. The king even paid for a consort of Italian musicians from 1540. After that, the viola da gamba could also be heard outside the royal court. As a result, from the middle of the 16th century, the choirboys of the Chapel Royal, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were educated in the viola da gamba, and in the same period, the instrument’s use broadened across Britain. In comparison to the violin and cello, the viola da gamba’s popularity declined in Europe over the course of the early 18th century. Despite this, English professional and amateur musicians continued to devote themselves to the instrument, with its soft, lilting tone until the middle of the 18th century.
Such long-term use of the viola da gamba naturally led to a diverse repertoire. Initially, pre-existing instrumental versions of songs (polyphonic) were played, but gradually, an idiomatic repertoire developed. Composers started to take into account the technical capabilities of the instrument. Moreover, there are various sizes of violas da gamba. If you were to combine them in a ‘consort’ (ensemble), you would achieve a range of notes greater than with a vocal ensemble. The best-known composers to write for such ensembles were William Byrd (1540-1623), Tobias Hume (1579-1645), Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), John Jenkins (1592-1678), Christopher Simpson (ca. 1602/6-1669), and Matthew Locke (1621/3-1677).
John Jenkins worked primarily in London for wealthy nobility in their manors. At the beginning of the 17th century, he performed his music in the Norfolk area for the Derham family in West Dereham and the L’Estrange family in Hunstanton. The two families were well acquainted, and Jenkins used regularly to commute between both manor houses. He had no fixed salary as such, but “he accepted what they gave him”, wrote his pupil Roger North. In the period 1633-1634, he performed several times at the royal court and then continued to spend the rest of his time “at gentleman’s houses in the country”. He lived to a great age in the home of Sir Philip Wodehouse in Kimberley, Norfolk. Eight hundred of his compositions are still enjoyed today, with focus on music for viola da gamba. The two works that Wyers and Vandeveire perform are a perfect example of Jenkins’ skills. The Pavan in A is a stylised, slow, majestic dance. The composition Divisions in C is a typical English genre piece based on the improvisational technique of variations or divisions that arose in the 17th century. A pre-existing musical line, usually a ‘ground’ (bass figure) was used as a basis for improvising a new melody. The long notes of the ground were divided into shorter ones and larger intervals were replaced with smaller ones.
This process of division was elevated to an almost abstract form of art, whereby the composer could display creativity and the musician virtuosity. It is primarily Christopher Simpson who provides the best teaching method in his The Division-Violist or An introduction to the playing upon a ground (1659). Much like his colleague and friend John Jenkins, Simpson served various noble families in England, such as William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle and Sir Robert Bolles. The L’Estrange family also appears in Simpson’s biography. Sir Roger L’Estrange praised Simpson’s The Division-Violist as “one of the best tutors in the world” and learning to play the viola da gamba as “a work of exceeding use in all sorts of musick whatsoever.” In 1672, a few years after Simpson’s death, Matthew Locke honoured his friend as “a person whose memory is precious among good and knowing men, for his exemplary life and excellent skill.”
Locke himself was also known as one of the greatest composers of his generation as well as being the favourite composer of King Charles II. He composed in every genre of his time, from instrumental consort music to religious anthems to masques for the stage, and he even ventured into opera. He is most likely to have composed the majority of suites during the Commonwealth of England and the republican administration from 1649 to 1660 when the interest in domestic music was at its height. In the various suites for two bass violas, he followed a similar pattern of two fantasias followed by a dance form. The fantasia is a free composition, while the Corant (in the case of the Suite in D), is a stylised dance in a triple time.
Tobias Hume was an outsider amongst other musicians. He was first a military officer (he served for the Swedish and Russian armies), but one with a great passion for music. “My profession being, as my education hath beene, armes, the onely effeminate part of me, hath been musicke”, he wrote of himself. Loves farewell from the collection The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and others together … with pavines, galliards, and almaines (1605) is not an effeminate tune per se but shows that even a soldier can have a sensitive and melodious soul.
This project was created thanks to the donations of many music lovers to AMUZ’s ‘Support Fund for Young Belgian Artists’. Read more.
John Jenkins (1592-1678): Pavan in a
John Jenkins: Divisions in C
Christopher Simpson (1602/06-1669): Prelude
Christopher Simpson: Divisions in F
Tobias Hume (1579?-1645): Loves farewell
Matthew Locke (1621/23-1677):
Suite in d
Lies Wyers, viola da gamba & Pieter Vandeveire, viola da gamba
Following her cello studies, Lies Wyers decided to devote herself entirely to historical performance practice at the Brussels Conservatory. There she studied viola da gamba with Philippe Pierlot and baroque cello with Alain Gervreau. She also took master classes with Vittorio Ghielmi and Paolo Pandolfo. In order to further explore the performance of basso continuo, she also dedicated herself to the lirone.
Wyers plays with ensembles such as Scherzi Musicali, PER-SONAT, Zefiro Torna and Huelgas Ensemble. In 2015 she co-founded the ensemble Musae Jovis.
In addition to her music, Wyers is also passionate about the English language. She studied English Language and Literature at the University of Antwerp and achieved the highest possible distinction for her thesis which married her two fields: the English language and its pronunciation in 17th century English vocal music.
Pieter Vandeveire studied double bass with Lode Leire at the Antwerp Conservatory as well as viola da gamba, with Philippe Pierlot at the Brussels Conservatory. These studies were complemented by master classes with Duncan McTier and Franco Petracchi for double bass, and viola da gamba players Vittorio Ghielmi, Fahmi Alqhai and Jordi Savall. In 2009 Vandeveire won first prize at the international viola da gamba competition as part of the Festival de Música Antigua in Seville.
His two instruments have allowed him to explore the most diverse musical worlds: contemporary music with HERMESensemble, chamber music with Ensemble A, and jazz with Le Trio Perdu. He was part of Bel Ayre playing viola da gamba regularly at BOX (Baroque Orchestration X) and collaborated with the Belgian band Dez Mona.
Pieter Vandeveire teaches at the music academies of Lier, Lebbeke and at Ma’GO in Antwerp.