Piffaro, The Renaissance Band

  • The Program
  • Program Notes
  • The Artists
  • See photos from the concert!

  • The Program

    "Tapestry of Love"

    Music from Late Medieval & Renaissance France and the Low Countries

    Fri., February 14, 1997, 8:00 p.m.
    St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 5501 Main Street


    Program Notes

    For many people the term Renaissance has become synonymous with Italian. We think first and foremost of Italian artists, architects, writers and inventors who were instrumental in the revival of Classical learning and the birth of humanism. However, during the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods, it is safe to say that the predominant amount of music written in Italy came from the pens of northerners, not native Italians. Called subsequently "oltremontani", these transalpine composers were highly sought out by the wealthy noblemen of the courts and cathedrals of Italy. and imported to fill the major musical posts. Their compositions filled as well the manuscripts and printed sources of music that emerged from Italy during the 15th and early 16th centuries. Primarily French and Flemish in origin, these composers created in Italy an international style that nevertheless reflected their native roots. Hot on the heels of these transplanted composers came northern instrumentalists who were also in great demand throughout the Italian peninsula.

    Compared to the amount of documentary evidence for Italian loud wind bands and players (the so-called alta Capella) in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, however, there is relatively less information about similar French and Flemish ensembles. Nevertheless, it is clear that these bands, whether official town, court or chapel ensembles of anywhere between three and eight players, enjoyed a period of ascendancy and prominence equal to their more visible contemporaries in Italy, especially during the period roughly between the years 1425 and 1550. However, the shawm band, composed of a consort of loud (haut) double-reed oboe-like instruments, continued to function at the French court, at least, well into the 17th century. In addition, contemporary paintings, along with literary descriptions and instrument inventories, testify to the use of the softer (bas) instruments, largely recorders and flutes, together with krumhorns and strings. Indeed, the arsenal of instruments that the members of these official bands were required to master seems staggering in our day of near total devotion to a single instrument throughout one's musical career.

    Equally as daunting, it may seem, is the wide range of repertoire and musical styles that these bands were called upon to play at various times, occasions and locations. The Medieval and Renaissance periods did not witness the same distinction and near complete separation of so-called popular and art music as has since been the case. Quite the contrary, composers ventured individually into all types of composition from the sacred mass and motet, exemplified by the Ave Sanctissima Maria and Ave Regina Coelorum of Pierre de La Rue, written for use in the daily services of the cathedrals, to the everyday secular, pop song. Consequently, the wind players needed to be conversant with radically different compositional and performance styles, as each occasion or piece demanded. Our concert this evening presents examples of most of the major genres of composition performed by the wind players in France and the Low Countries during the late Medieval and Renaissance periods, together with the style, as well as we can know it, appropriate to each.

    Some of the earliest wind repertory is represented by the French songs (chansons) produced by most all the French and Flemish composers of the day. These works appear repeatedly in 15th century manuscripts and in subsequent printed sources, especially those of the Italian Ottaviano Petrucci of Venice, both with and without texts, implying that they were conceived of as suitable for both vocal and instrumental performance. The plethora of chansons in untexted versions further suggests that this vocal form in all its variety served as the springboard of "instrumentally-conceived" composition which, as musicologists have suggested, emerges for the first time in the history of Western music during the late fifteenth century, largely at the hands of F1emish composers. The La my la sol of Heinrich Isaac, who spent the better part of his career in Florence, and the J'ay pris amours of Jakob Obrecht, who was in Ferrara for a period of time, exemplify this practice well. Based on a popular song, Obrecht composed a tour de force of instrumental writing for his time with a rhythmic complexity and wide-ranging lines that hardly seem vocally conceived or inspired, characteristics that mark Isaac's composition as well.

    The spread of the chanson and instrumental repertory was in large part due to a number of enterprising music printers, many of whom seem to have played an active musical role by arranging or collecting the pieces which they published. Foremost among them were the Italian Ottaviano Petrucci of Venice, the Parisian Pierre Attaingnant, the Flemish Tylman Susato and the Lyonnese Jacque Moderne, called “Grand Jacque” perhaps because of his large girth. Attaingnant was also responsible for the diffusion of single-impression music printing (i.e. printing music from type at one impression - straves, notes and text together rather than separately, as was previously the case). This process cut time and costs considerably, and enabled Attaingnant, and eventually all others, to produce a remarkable output ranging over all the musical genres of the day. Most popular was a series of chanson anthologies, at least one of which indicates on its title-page that its contents are suitable for playing by soft winds. The style of these so-called "Parisian" chansons, composed by such figures as Claudin de Sermisy, reveals a subtle sense of melodic line and controlled use of dissonance to highlight textual or poetic points.

    One such piece, which was so popular that its melody line served as a point of departure for other composers' settings, was Sermisy's Jouissance vous donneray, a melancholic love lyric typical of the genre. The text translates as follows:

    Pleasure will I give you my beloved, and I will lead you
    where your hope aspires. While I live, I will never leave you,
    and even in death, my spirit will always remember.

    In addition to being well-suited to our common Valentine's Day sentiments, this text shows the remaining influence of the Medieval notion of chivalric love, complete devotion to the woman who is the object of affection, that permeates these Parisian chansons of the early 16th century. We present this particular chanson tonight in other versions which span a wide range of styles, from the raucous basse dance setting that opens the second half of our concert to the elaborate five-voice setting by the Flemish Adrian Willaert, which states the tune, borrowed from the Sermisy original, successively in each part in an ornamented, polyphonic and virtuosic version.

    In similar fashion, the simple, anonymous tune that opened our concert, entitled "Une jeune fillette" in France and "La Monica" in Italy, served the playful imaginations of composers, particularly the French Eustace du Caurroy. His fantasies on this borrowed tune, heard in the second half of our concert, are a tour de force of inventive instrumental writing around the tune, which is heard straightforwardly in the top line in three of the settings, and passed around the other voices in the remaining two.

    Another important facet of the wind repertory throughout our period is represented by instrumental dances, an obviously utilitarian aspect of the wind band's overall performance responsibilities. We suspect from iconographical and documentary evidence that the members of the professional bands performed the requisite dance numbers either from memory or improvisationally, or more likely a combination of the two. As one would suspect, trends changed rather radically over time, requiring a commensurate change in instrumental performance. For instance, the very popular basse dance of the 15th century, the stock-in-trade of the early alta capella, eventually gave way to the pavane, ubiquitous in 16th century dance collections throughout Europe.

    These latter collections, published prominently by Attaignant in Paris, Susato in Antwerp, Moderne in Lyon and Mainerio in Italy, printed simple four and five-part settings of pavanes, gaillards, tourdions, and bransles, apparently aimed at a market of amateur domestic music-making, but very likely drawn in part from the practice, tunes and improvisation of the professional wind players. Attaignant even published a simpler four-part basse danse arrangement based on the melody of Sermisy's Jouissance vous donneray thus providing another example of the interplay among musical genres in this period. The bransle, the most popular in character of these newer 16th century dances, usually opened the proceedings at court and other festivities. Of its various forms, distinguished by their manner of dancing and their phrase structure, the Bransles d'Lscosse was a version which arrived in France via the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. In our concert, we perform these bransles on three bagpipes, an instrument known from documentary evidence to have been a part of the professional wind players collection, as well as a staple of more common, rustic music-making. However, we perform them in our own arrangement, reflecting the sentiment and, we trust at least in part, the practice of our distinguished late Medieval and Renaissance progenitors.

    - Robert Wiemken


    The Artists

    PIFFARO, The Renaissance Band

    Directors: Joan Kimball & Robert Wiemken

    Piffaro (formerly The Philadelphia Renaissance Wind Band) has since its inception in 1980 performed the music of the late Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque periods on a large and varied collection of early wind instruments, augmented by percussion and occasional strings. Modeled after the official civic, chapel and court bands that were the premier professional ensembles from the 14th into the early 17th centuries, Piffaro has nevertheless pursued the instruments and music of the peasantry and of rustic life as well, combining the two milieu to dramatic effect when appropriate. Under the direction of Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, the Band produces its own concert series in Philadelphia, Wilmington, DE, and the surrounding area with three to four programs per year, bringing to the Delaware Valley some of the finest talents in early music performance as their guests. Excerpts from these concerts are broadcast regularly on NPR's Performance Today.

    Piffaro tours nationally, represented by Siegel Artist Management, and has performed on many of the major early music series in the US, including Music Before 1800 in New York City, the Seattle Early Music Guild, the Concert Society at Maryland, Milwaukee's Early Music Now, and the Pittsburgh Renaissance & Baroque Society. The ensemble made its European debut in May of 1993 at Tage alter Musik Regensburg, a three-day early music festival held annually in Regensburg, Germany. They performed there again in 1996 as part of a tour of summer music festivals, and have already received invitations to European music festivals in the summer of 1997.

    Piffaro has an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Canzoni e Danze, the ensemble's first recording for DG's Archiv division, was released in the fall of 1995, and was followed by a recording of French music in 1996. A recording of Spanish wind music was made in the summer of 1996, and will be released later in 1997. In addition, the ensemble has two CDS on the Newport Classic label, which will be re-released on Sony Classical sometime next year.

    In addition to its concert performances, Piffaro has conceived and produced two stage productions: The Stadtpfeiffer of Holzweg; A day in the life of a Renaissance Town Band, and La Promitida. The latter production featured Renaissance dance, the former incorporated narration and mime into the music.

    Adam Gilbert has performed with numerous early music groups on the East Coast, including the Ensemble for Early Music, the Waverly Consort, the Folger Consort and the Baroque ensemble Artek. An active recorder soloist, he has given recitals and concerts in the New York area, in his native South Carolina, and in Israel where he has appeared on Israeli National Television. Adam is one of the founding members of Ciaramella, Israel's first Renaissance shawm ensemble. Currently he is in a doctoral program in musicology at Case Western Reserve University.

    Rotem Gilbert, a native of Israel, began her professional career in New York while still a student at Mannes College of Music. She has appeared as soloist with the Baroque ensemble Artek, has performed in Italy with the medieval ensemble Fal Musica and is a founding member of the shawm ensemble Ciaramella. Rotem holds a Solo Diploma in recorder from the Scuola Civica di Musica of Milan where she studied with Pedro Memelsdorff. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in music at Case Western Reserve University.

    George Hoyt received his BFA from SUNY Purchase, his Masters of Music at Yale University, and will be awarded a DMA from SUNY Stonybrook later this year. On sacbut he performs with Tafelmusik, the New York Cornet & Sacbut Ensemble, and other ensembles on the East Coast. As a modern trombonist, he is a member of the contemporary music group SEM ensemble, the Riverside Symphony, and the Metropolitan Brass Quintet. In addition, he performs with various New York City orchestras including The New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

    Joan Kimball, co-director and founding member of the ensemble, has performed with New York's Ensemble for Early Music, The Philadelphia Classical Symphony and The Brandywine Baroque Orchestra as well as with numerous instrumental and vocal ensembles in the Philadelphia area. Currently she teaches and coaches recorder and early wind ensembles, and is on the music faculty of The Philadelphia School.

    Robert Wiemken is co-director of the ensemble and has been a member since 1984. He is currently director of early music ensembles at the Esther Boyer College of Music, Temple University. In addition to performances with ensembles in the Philadelphia area, he has performed with New York's Ensemble for Early Music, the Grande Band, the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and the Brandywine Baroque Orchestra.

    Tom Zajac is a founding member of the New York based early music quartet Ex Umbris, and has performed with other ensembles, including the Ensemble for Early Music, the Waverly consort, the Folger Consort, Artek, Anonymous 4, and Music Before 1800 Productions. Recent projects have included a microtonal work with the contemporary ensemble New Band, and bagpipe playing on a Gatorade commercial. He is on the faculty of New York's Mannes College and has recorded for Lyrichord, Angel EMI and Virgin Veritas.


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