It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, thanks to some decorations and some music, and I hope, wherever you are, it might be feeling at least a little that way for you too. I know some of you have had real sadness and sorrow this year...so I would never underestimate what a challenge it all might be, and we are keeping you in our thoughts. As always I will keep posting as and when over Christmas and replying in comments, because I know not everyone is surrounded by friends and family and company...so if you are passing by please do stop and scribble something if you want to.
I always add some new music to my listening in the run up to Christmas, and this year it has been a bit of a splash out on a single boxed set, Love Has Many Faces by Joni Mitchell, a four CD collection of her songs, digitally remastered and reorganised with a connecting thread of a story running through them. This was a bit of a shall-I-shan't-I purchase because obviously, being a Joni Completist, I probably have all these tracks on other albums if I look closely, but it's the Completist bit that gives the game away. How could I not, and I am not disappointed. The box set includes a booklet by Joni Mitchell explaining the thinking behind the collection, interesting reading in itself.
I know the albums so well, Blue takes me back to the sixth form common room in a flash, but I know the order of the songs too... All I Want, My Old Man, Little Green, Carey, Blue... so it is quite refreshing to suddenly find River sandwiched between two different songs and not followed by A Case of You, in fact it changes the song completely, so this is like listening to a new and rather exciting set. And plenty of songs that I had almost forgotten too, tucked away on albums I don't listen to very often. Having ordered this weeks ago, one lost in the post and finally the replacement arrives, I really should have handed it over to the Christmas Present department for saving and wrapping, but sadly that was more than I could manage.
I read about Petrus Alamire on the BBC website, heaven knows how because it is not a regular haunt of mine, but I was intrigued, and with the serialisation of Wolf Hall to mentally prepare for, what better than some music from Henry's Court.
'Petrus Alamire, from Bavaria, was a man of many talents - a renowned merchant of manuscripts, a scribe, mining engineer, instrumentalist, composer and diplomat carrying letters between humanists of the time such as Erasmus.
The "gorgeous", illustrated choir books he created in his scriptorium were highly sought after by the wealthy while his work as a musician also gave him access to Europe's royal courts.
He was the ideal candidate to be tapped as a spy.'
The manuscripts are kept in the British Library, 'sumptuously illuminated choirbooks' and clever clogs Alamire had apparently changed his name from Peter Imhoff to Alamire as a marketing ploy, A-la-mi-re, referencing the pitch 'a' within the hexachord system (thank you CD notes). Well connected around the Royal courts of Europe, letters exist which reveal that Alamire acted as a spy for Henry VIII against Richard de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and 'the last member of the House of York who openly sought to claim the English throne.' Currying favour everywhere, it would seem his music manuscripts were bound to please...
...except there were suspicions of duplicity and double dealing too, and letters to Cardinal Wolsey suggest that, with trust lost, Alamire wan't even thanked for his gifts. The musical scribe never returned to England, which seems like a wise decision.
Presumably no one was cross enough to throw the choirbooks in the bin, for which we must be grateful, because to listen is to be transported. Thirty-four motets over two CDs, including some thought to have been collected together for Catherine of Aragon, whose symbol the pomegranate is included on Alamire's manuscript. Many hold particular poignancy given her attempts to produce a male heir for Henry. Particularly pertinent to Henry's Court perhaps Fama Malum, a setting by Josquin of text by Virgil...
Fama, malum quo no aliud velocius ullum;
mobilitate viget virisque acquirit eundo,
parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras
ingrediturque solo et caput inter nubila condit.
Rumour, an evil than which no other is more swift;
she thrives on movement and acquires strength by movement.
Small at first, out of fear. soon she raises herself into the airs,
steps on the earth and hides her head among the clouds.
Whilst complex and layered (just like rumour) the chant is doleful, with voices seeming to enter and depart before reappearing together and emphasising the theme, the final note left hanging in the air as if waiting for someone to hear it.
Oh yes, bring on Wolf Hall...I'm ever so tempted to read it again for a refresher course...
Meanwhile do you have any more good Christmas listening to recommend....