Meet...the Lagrime Consort!
We were delighted to hear from the recorder ensemble The Lagrime Consort, whose members interviewed each other to produce this fascinating interview for Revoice!...
Who are the Lagrime Consort?
We are Verena, Sophia and Irene and we met while studying at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
Our connection lies within a deep interest in singing and we especially enjoy vocal repertoire of all historical periods. This common fascination was the starting point of our ensemble.
We like to think of Lagrime Consort as our space for the exploration of recorder idioms in connection to vocal techniques.
How are your rehearsals structured?
We meet twice a week and try to give every session a particular focus point. Each ensemble member is responsible for finding exercises for tuning or specific aspects of the piece, as well as translations for lyrics and other background information. As a warm-up, we like to start with modal improvisation on drones, to get the right atmosphere for our rehearsal. Very often we like to start with singing the pieces both with their text and solmisation syllables, instead of playing.
Why is the recorder very suitable for playing vocal polyphony?
Evidence suggests that the relation between recorder and voice was especially strong in the Renaissance. As Sylvestro Ganassi stated:
“Be it known that all musical instruments, in comparison to the human voice, are inferior to it. For this reason we should endeavour to learn from it and imitate it. (…)
I have heard that it is possible with some (recorder) players to perceive, as it were, words to their music. (…)
This should convince you that the aim of the recorder player is to imitate as closely as possible all the capabilities of the human voice. For this it is able to do so.”
(Robert Lienau translation of La Fontegara by Sylvestro Ganassi)
The direct transformation of breath into sound is possible, due to the absence of embouchure. Therefore, as with the smooth transition of breath to sound particular to the voice, tonguing and subtle differences in airspeed directly translate to the sound of the flute.
As recorder players we have access to a big family of different recorder sizes, only found in the viola da gamba consort. The use of instruments of the same type in all voices of a piece allows a blend similar to that of singer ensembles.
In which ways do we use modal improvisation?
We use modal improvisation to explore the connections between the position of each pitch within the mode and the fingerings on the recorder. Depending on the transposition and the instrumentation chosen we can find diverse timbres in relation to the function of every step in the mode.
We use a drone, a sustained note, either the fifth or the root of the mode, giving us the chance to experiment with individual sound colouring.
Playing the recorder, we get confronted with the sonic inequality of numerous fork fingerings opposing the open-hole characteristics of the instrument. We use this to our musical advantage by emphasising the different sound qualities of strong or weak fingerings in our improvisations.
Fork fingerings have a more nasal sound but are flexible by leaking or covering different holes. Strong fingerings have a more open sound and create a richer overtone spectrum. Taking these aspects into consideration we explore within our modal improvisation, which fingerings should be linked to the different timbres of the steps in the mode. The root note should definitely be a grounded fingering, whereas thirds, sixths and sevenths can be more flexible fingerings.
These exercises also improve our understanding of intonation. When playing in an ensemble of instruments with flexible pitch, you need to make tuning choices constantly. An awareness of which step of the mode you are playing and its function in the chord, helps to keep the intonation frame stable.
We always make these choices in favour of tuning in pure intervals.
How do we choose the right instrumentation?
First, we take into consideration the original clefs of the piece. Then we know the voice type and the distance between the voices. For example, if you have a bass and a superius clef, we know that in between those voices there should at least be an octave difference. In this instance we would play a c tenor and a c soprano. Thereafter, we check the range of each voice.
Our goal is to search for a balance between the instruments. The result resembles a pyramid - strong lower voices and lighter top voices.
Due to the almost conical bore of renaissance consort recorders, lower fingerings of the recorder are more grounded than higher fingerings. From experience in playing this vocal repertoire, we concluded that we have a preference for a set of instruments in consequent fifths (such as F Basset, C Tenor and G Alto). In this way, the lower instruments have less fork fingerings than the higher instruments. This in turn contributes to the natural blend of the sound.
By making use of all these steps, we find our initial instrumentation. From there on, we try different transpositions in order to find the right sound colours for each specific piece.
Why are you convinced that lyrics are crucial in conveying the music to the audience?
The melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content of music is the abstract story telling of a piece and whilst the lyrics, provide a more concrete narrative. Composers of the Renaissance period used certain musical gestures to highlight some words of the poem. These gestures reflected and accentuated the literal and/or figurative meanings of a word. Theorist Joachim Thuringus wrote about this musical “word-painting”, stating that:
“there are three categories of words that may be expressed and painted by means of music, including words of affection, words of motion and places and (lastly) words of time and number.”
(Joachim Thuringus in his Opusculum bipartitum of 1624)
Furthermore, as shown earlier with Ganassi, lyrics provide the ultimate guideline for instrumentalists regarding the articulation of notes. For instance, the phrasing and moments in which breath are directly determined by the phrases and words within the lyrics. Additionally, harder or softer consonants of the text can be made to correlate with more or less sharp articulation, the separation between the notes can be varied to suggest the inflections of the text and using our mouth cavity we can create different sound colours to relate to the vowels.
In order to make the poetry of each piece a more important part of our performances, we are performing together with solo singers as well as trying to implement the poetry in our performances by reciting it before the pieces.
What are the advantages of reading from facsimiles?
We decided to play from old notation to strengthen the connection between what the composer meant and what we see. There are many editions of pieces that freely notate alterations, which are not necessarily in the facsimile, such as musica ficta. Some other elements such as the lack of bar lines, the old time signatures and some specifics of rhythmic notation are not always reflected in modern editions.
Another big advantage is to read from parts. Most of the pieces in the Renaissance period were published in part books, which means that each singer would read only his or her part, resulting in the need to always keep the pulse in order to not get lost when having long notes or silences. Modern musicians, like us, are used to read from scores that allow us to find each other back when gotten lost by following the other voices; with a part book we deepen our listening to each other constantly.
Lastly, this approach enables us to memorise the structure of the piece quickly and we feel more comfortable with the music.
In which way does the matching airstream between the players influence tuning?
Good tuning lies in the awareness of the function of every note within both harmony and mode, but, once this first step is achieved, focusing on the matching airstream between the players is our next concern.
The importance of matching airstreams is especially obvious when playing the same instrument, for instance two C tenors, as we want to achieve the same sound produced by two different players. Playing unisons needs special attention, as even the same pitch with the same intonation should blend into one. By playing together regularly, as natural phenomenon we got used to each other in timings and small physical signs, which make it easier to play together without having specific appointments. For example, the expression and timing of the breathing before a phrase is one of the most important ways to match airstreams between the players. By these means the body automatically remembers how to react on the small cues of each ensemble members.
Vocal polyphonic music from the Renaissance period is the trademark of Lagrime Consort. Verena Barie, Sophia Schambeck and Irene Sorozábal met in the Conservatorium van Amsterdam as students of Erik Bosgraaf. The Trio has worked with singer Rebecca Stewart, recorder players María Martínez Ayerza and Hester Groenleer and the choir Capella Stella Maris.