Apt for Voyces or Vialls: Developing Understanding of the Cultural Contexts and Performance Strategies Appropriate to Renaissance Music for Viols and Voices

Submitting Institution

University of Huddersfield

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies

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Summary of the impact

The University of Huddersfield's performance-led research into the consort of viols and its relationship to the voice has resulted in familiar repertory being heard in new ways and the performance of music largely unknown to modern audiences. This work has earned international recognition through public performances, lecture-recitals, commercial CDs and radio broadcasts, influencing instrument makers, performers, concert promoters and audiences. Its importance is further evidenced by a close association with the National Centre for Early Music, advising on and leading events and the award of a £268,000 AHRC grant for the project The Making of the Tudor Viol.

Underpinning research

The music of the past is an important part of our cultural heritage. Before such music can be fully appreciated and understood, however, it must first be interpreted in sound. Practice-led research by the University of Huddersfield has played a leading role in investigating music for viols and voices, resulting in new insights into their relationship and performance of their repertory.

Professor John Bryan (Principal Lecturer, 1994-2007; Professor of Music, 2007-present) has developed a range of approaches, including iconographical, organological, archival and source-based evidence, alongside musical analysis (particularly of texture and tessitura), to underpin his international reputation in the performance of renaissance music, demonstrated through concerts, lecture-recitals and teaching on courses for amateur performers in the UK, Europe, Israel, the USA and Canada. Working primarily with the Rose Consort of Viols (of which he is artistic director), an ensemble distinctive in its use of accurate copies of historical instruments strung throughout in gut and using bows with `clip in' frogs, Bryan has explored techniques of performance informed by close association with specialist singers using researched historical pronunciation, leading to a particularly `vocal' approach to the consort repertory and a growing refinement in terms of specific instrumentation and technique in repertories from different geographical/cultural centres and historical periods.

The research has followed a number of discrete but inter-related strands:

1. Development of an instrument collection using historically appropriate sources (1994-2002)

Based on the (very few) surviving instruments, together with evidence derived from apposite iconographical sources, makers have been commissioned to provide sets of instruments and bows appropriate to different periods, cultural centres and repertories. These include `Jacobean' (c.1610), `Venetian' (c.1560) and `Costa' (c.1500) viols, each with their own distinctive sonorities and response that inform performance, articulation, dynamic inflections and pitch levels and tuning systems. Research into how makers and players may have conceived of the `Elizabethan' viol is now being developed in the continuing AHRC-funded project The Making of the Tudor Viol (2009-2014).

2. Investigation into the relationship between vocal and instrumental performance in renaissance music (1994-2008)

Working with expert singers (e.g. the ensemble Red Byrd, Catherine King, Clare Wilkinson), this research has been based on the exploitation of evidence for `period pronunciation' and the effect this has on vocal production and the transmission and reception of text. Close connections have been found between singers' communication of text and the techniques of bowing and articulation on `accompanying' viols, illuminating the interrelationship between the different performance elements. Research has focused on repertory specifically composed for voice(s) and viols (consort song, verse anthem), `mixed' repertories (madrigals, motets) and the application of `vocal' techniques to purely instrumental genres (fantasias, In Nomines).

3. Re-examination of the connections between native and continental repertories in 16th-century English sources and the implications this may have for their performance (2002-2013)

This research has involved source study, the making of editions and the application of different performance approaches and instruments (derived from 1 and 2 above). For example, the innovative use of `Costa' viols in early Tudor repertory (justified by the research published in ref. 6) has opened listeners' ears to a previously unheard sound world.

References to the research

1. Audio CD: Word Play: Virtuosic instrumental settings of madrigals and chansons from 16th-century Italy, Musica Antiqua of London, Signum SIGCD031 (2001)

2. Music edition: Three chansons by Philip Van Wilder from York Minster, MS M 91 (S), Viola da Gamba Society Music Editions 201 (2004)

3. Audio CD: Madame d'Amours: Songs, dances and consort music for the six wives of Henry, Musica Antiqua of London, Signum Records SIGCD044 (2004)

4. Journal article: ``Verie sweete and artificiall': Lorenzo Costa and the earliest viols', Early Music (OUP), Vol.XXXVI/1 (February 2008), 3-17


5. Audio CD: Four Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, Rose Consort of Viols & Clare Wilkinson, Deux-Elles DXL 1129 (2008)
Goldberg, Vol. 53, August 2008
International Record Review, July/August 2008
www.musicweb-international.com, August 2008]

6. Journal article: `Extended Play: reflections of Heinrich Isaac's music in early Tudor England', The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 27, Issue 2 (Winter 2011), 118-141


Awards received:
£268,000 AHRC grant for the project The Making of the Tudor Viol. (2009-14)
£10000 private donation for making CD (Nov 2012)
£4000 private donation for making of CD (May 2013)

Details of the impact

Huddersfield's practice-led research into the consort of viols and its relationship to the voice has impacted on a variety of specialist and non-specialist audiences around the world.

1. Concert promoters and live audiences

Bryan's work has featured in 52 live public performances, many of them during the past few years. These include appearances before non-specialist audiences in Boston and New York (February 2010; audience of 250), Florence's Uffizi Palace (October 2011; 200) and the BBC Proms (July 2012; 450, plus Radio 3 listeners). Concert programmes related to the research have been performed at venues throughout the UK, including London's Cadogan Hall, Aberdeen (November 2009 and March 2011), Belfast (November 2009), Sheffield (October 2013), Bristol (January 2013) and Cheltenham (May 2012); across Europe, including Magguzano (October 2009) and Cuenca, Spain (March 2013); and in several other countries, including the USA (Boulder, October 2009 and Boston and New York (February 2010).

In particular, continuing involvement with York Early Music Festival and, until 2011, the Dartington International Summer School has provided a valuable platform from which to develop audiences' understanding of the new approaches to performance revealed by the research. Bryan's association with the National Centre for Early Music, which he helped to start and for which he still serves as artistic adviser, has engaged audiences through programme planning (e.g. the sell-out series of concerts curated by Bryan in 2011 to reflect the early music content of the 1951 Festival of Britain), programme-book articles and notes, lectures, concerts and workshops.

2. Wider listening public

Bryan has been involved in the release of more than 20 albums since the research began. Several of these have emerged during the impact period and, like their predecessors, have been distributed internationally. As well as introducing the wider listening public to the insights derived from Bryan's work, they have earned critical acclaim for their novel presentation of familiar repertory. Early and Baroque music magazine Goldberg commended 2008's Four Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal for reflecting "the diversity of performance methods possible for English music of this period", while International Record Review observed: "Four Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal explores the flexible way in which various musical genres intersected."

Concerts have been broadcast by national radio networks in the UK (BBC Radio 3), Germany (WDR), and the USA, with additional contributions to BBC Radio 3's The Early Music Show (July 2009), Spirit of the Age and In Tune (September 2009). In November 2011 Bryan was interviewed about viol construction on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight (audience of 1.7m). Invited lectures have been given at the Pan-Pacific Viola da Gamba Gathering (Hawaii, 2008), Beverley and East Riding Festival (May 2008), York Early Music Festival (July 2009) and the Viola da Gamba Societies of America (Boulder and Tucson, October 2009; Boston, February 2010) and Great Britain (Chichester, June 2011), as well as at performance courses in the UK, the USA and Italy.

3. Other performers

Bryan's research has influenced the performance approach of the many ensembles and singers he has worked with, including the Rose Consort of Viols, Musica Antiqua of London, the Consort of Musicke, I Fagiolini, Red Byrd, Stile Antico, Dame Emma Kirkby, Catherine King and Clare Wilkinson. In turn, these artists have drawn on their experience of newly researched performance in their own collaborations.

In particular, this has led to increased interest in using different types of viols in vocal repertories — as evidenced, for example, by Alessandro Striggio: Missa Ecco si beato giorno (I Fagiolini, Decca 478 2734), for which Bryan acted as an adviser. In 2011 this CD won the Gramophone Early Music Award and the Diapason d'or de l'année. France's Tutti Magazine described the album as "an essential recording and an all-too-rare example of risk-taking". The research has also influenced amateur players and singers through Bryan's coaching at summer schools and workshops, including Dartington and the Viola da Gamba Societies of Great Britain and America.

4. Instrument makers and music publishers

Increased interest in the `renaissance' viol has created business for instrument makers. The likes of Richard Jones have been able to establish careers dedicated solely to the building of `Venetian' instruments, as opposed to the later and more familiar `Jacobean' pattern, to satisfy demand from amateur players in the UK, the US and Europe. The development of `Costa' viols was based on collaboration with students on the early instrument-building course at West Dean College, Sussex, led by Roger Rose, while the AHRC-funded project The Making of the Tudor Viol has facilitated Bryan's collaborative research with Dr Michael Fleming (Research Fellow), a maker of English viols.

Specialist publishing companies have increasingly turned to producing performance editions of music suitable for voices and viols or `vocal' material aimed at viol players. Both the Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain and Particular Music have published material initially performed on CDs resulting from the research or introduced to prospective performers at related workshops and lecture-recitals.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Delma Tomlin MBE, director, National Centre for Early Music/York Early Music Festival
  2. Gavin Henderson CBE, former director, Dartington International Summer School
  3. Klaus Neumann, former director of production of early music programmes, Westdeutscher Rundfunk)
  4. Richard Jones, independent instrument maker
  5. Roger Rose, former director of instrument making, West Dean College