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The calendar may have read March 17, but nary a note of an Irish gigue was to be heard in the sanctuary of Christ Church in Greenville, Delaware.
Rather, there were plenty of bransles, courantes, bourees galliardes and voltes as Piffaro joined with viol consort Sonnambula to present “Dancers’ Delight,” a celebration of Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore.
I was unwittingly — and quite happily — introduced to those sunshine tunes via the 1967 pop hit Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead which incorporated La Bouree (32) as a musical interlude. Of course, there was no Internet back then to help me research what that sparkling tune was. It wasn’t until I got to graduate studies in Musicology that the mystery was solved.
Terpsichore — which takes its name from the Greek muse of dance — is a compendium of more than 300 (312 to be exact) dances collected, arranged and published by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1612. Most of the entrees are French dances — and Praetorius strives to include all varieties — but some come from elsewhere in Europe, for example, England and Spain.
This is not particularly profound music; most Renaissance composers directed their serious energies toward the church. But it is eminently listenable. Crisp, short and punchy, these dances deliver a certain impact with the distinct sounds of the instruments, the varied rhythms and the sheer tunefulness.
The program featured about 30 representative selections, grouped according to the type of dance.
The Terpsichore provides scant information about which instruments should play which parts but the resources available for this concert drew on a wide assortment of strings, harpsichord, percussion and winds, including shawms, recorders, krumhorns, dulcians, sackbuts and bagpipes. The resultant sound was wonderfully colorful and at times, delightfully coarse. The lively spirit of the performances — there was even an exuberant jam session on the Bransle de la Torche — made the entire experience feel authentic.
The musicians were clearly having a ball. Priscilla Herreid was magical as always on recorder and both she and Joan Kimball were soothingly mesmerizing on bagpipes. The Renaissance brass was also superb — you’d swear you were listening to modern valved instruments so robust and secure was their tone.
The concert also introduced to the Wilmington audience Fiona Last, inaugural participant in Piffaro’s Renaissance residency program designed to identify and cultivate professional players who are interested in pursuing period double reeds and brass.
For anyone wanting to experience this rarely performed work again, the program will be repeated when Piffaro guests with Sonnambula, ensemble-in-residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Met Cloisters on June 1 at 3:00pm in New York City.