An early afternoon concert with the Early Byrds Consort

With the summer holidays looming up, the performing arts season 2014 – 2015 is drawing to a close. Not that there will be no performances; their number dwindles and their character changes. The early afternoon concert by the Early Byrds Consort would be one of the last, before the venue used switches to its usual summer organ recitals.

Another reason to attend this concert was my partiality to Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. Moreover, there was the Early Byrds Consort. The Consort numbers three musicians who met at the Utrecht Conservatory in 2010. They started taking part in the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 2012. I attended a few of their concerts during this yearly festival and hope to hear them at the Utrecht Early Music Festival 2015 as well.

The consort‘s short concert, lasting only about half an hour, was as usual impeccable. The members combined a perfect musical program with an excellent interaction with their public. Unlike too many musicians, they took time to tell their public about the composers, the selected pieces, the instruments, history.

Someone in front of me moaned “I don’t like recorders”. But the Byrds don’t play ordinary flutes. They play Renaissance flutes; traversos. Moreover, unlike our cheap wooden flutes which usually consist of two pieces screwed together, their replicas are made of a single piece of buxus – not exactly the clippings of your garden hedge.

This concert centred around Josquin who was born in present-day Belgium, but migrated to jobs at various European courts, before retiring somewhere near Lille. He was the great star performer and composer of his era. It seems he may have suffered from the usual star behaviour as some chronicler comments Josquin asked too much money and only composed how, when, where, about whom or whatever Josquin liked. In short: a bit of a handful for maecenas and princes expecting a regular dose of musical flattery, or their orders and requests to be carried out at once.

The concert started with a rendering of “De tous biens plaine” as composed by Hayne von Ghizeghem. The consort then played three variations composed by Josquin, Alexander Agricola and Johannes Ghiselin-Verbonnet.

The three musicians then treated the public to the pieces composed by Josquin and Heinrich Isaac for their battle to secure a prestigious job at the Ferrara court. As one of the musicians concluded: in Ferrara, Ercole d’Este preferred Josquin – who won the job. At this concert, the public preferred Heinrich Isaac’s “Der Hund” to Josquin’s “Ile fantazies de Joskin”.

After this contest followed four interpretations of an early Flemish or Dutch folksong “O Venus bant”. First the anonymous lament, then the interpretations by Josquin, Agricola and Isaac on this folksong theme. To be honest: Heinrich Isaac’s version pleased me most.

Ghiselin’s “La Alfonsina” was followed by Martini’s “La Martinella”. This was followed by Heinrich Isaac’s homage to Martini, also called “La Martinella”. As the Byrds explained: taking a composer’s tune and reworking or reusing it, is now considered plagiarism and an infringement on copy rights. However, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this was the greatest compliment a composer could pay a fellow composer.

The program stated the concert would end with Josquin’s “Ce pauvre mendiant” or “Pauper sum ego”. Anybody familiar with minstrel and troubadour songs and medieval poetry knows, they ensured their public was reminded to serve them drinks and pay them at each performance. “Pauper sum ego” certainly reminds a public to be generous, but the Early Byrds thought another Josquin composition might be more appropriate to the venue, an old church. So they finished this concert playing Josquin’s beautiful and touching “In Pace”.

Youtube Early Byrds Consort: Isaac’s “Der Hund”
Early Byrds Consort:
Gerrieke van Dam
Tim Veldman
Teun Wisse

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