Sunday, April 10, 2011

Christopher Simpson: The Monthes (Sonnerie)

  • 因為幾週前去聽了有關該作曲家的音樂會,因此決定在這兒寫一篇介紹他的文章。Christopher Simpson (c.1602-1669)是早期巴洛克的英國作曲家,也是十七世紀初古中提琴音樂的重要作曲家之一。

英國在文藝復興時期,在伊莉莎白一世的統治之下,國運昌隆,更造就了文藝發展的黃金時期。文學上,有歷史上最重要的戲劇家沙士比亞。藝術上,畫家開始大量繪製貴族們穿金戴銀的畫像。而音樂上,因為女王自己本身是一位優秀的鍵盤家,所以英國的音樂文化一度興盛,有一波接一波的作曲家創作鍵盤曲,在鍵盤技巧的演進上是非常關鍵的。另外,在古提琴(viol)上,consort music(器樂合奏樂)也成了英國音樂的代表。

但在伊莉沙白女王過逝沒幾年,英國政局開始不穩,1640年開始了英國的內戰,一度廢除君主制,短暫地成為共和國,國王Charles一世甚至被處死。不過到了1660,英國歷經了Restoration(王政復辟),重新回到君主制。但這半世紀多的內亂,使得英國變成了文化沙漠。而且國會裡Puritans(清教徒)得勢,許多藝文活動下令馬上停止。劇院關的關,而宗教儀式嚴格,完全不能有音樂。也因為這樣,這時期許多英國教堂的風琴都被清教徒們大肆破壞。音樂,多轉型成為地下活動,在家中彈奏,因為也沒公眾場合讓你在那兒表演。

我們的作曲家Simpson是在這種大時代下成長的。內戰的時候,他曾參加親皇黨的軍隊出征,但他們慘敗後,他立刻逃到Sir Robert Bolles那兒寄人籬下,渡過了他下半輩子。在Bolles家中,Simpson成為他兒子的音樂老師,重要作品也都在此時所寫。

Simpson的音樂都脫離不了古中提琴。其中,他還寫了一本重要的古中提琴教學法The Division Violist,今天仍是古中提琴家所會參考的著作。這本教學法共分三部份,(一)樂器介紹及基本技巧、(二)和聲與對位法、(三)頑固低音上的即興變奏。當初所謂的division,是變奏曲(variations)形式的一種,而division viol,是一種當時在英國盛行的古提琴。

這張CD的音樂是Simpson最精心的創作,為一套十二首Fantasias(幻想曲),叫The Monthes。看到標題,顧名思議也知,是根據每個月都寫一首。這樣描寫一年裡的時間單位的音樂,最容易讓人想起的,莫過於韋瓦第的「四季」小提琴,以及海頓的「四季」神劇。事實上,Simpson同樣也寫了取名為「四季」的四首組曲。不過,Simpson的The Monthes裡,將時間劃分地更詳細。

The Monthes編制上,是給一把高音提琴,兩把division viol,以及數字低音。當初完成之後,似乎受到好評,因為同時期的作曲家John Jenkins立刻稱讚:「那寫得極好的The Monthes,每一首(月)都是繆思女神們的創意所創造出來的音樂饗宴~~」如熟悉韋瓦第那種生動趣味的標題音樂,Simpson的這些月份的性質和Vivaldi可是大大的不同。Simpson的每首幻想曲和每月裡大自然的景不見得有一定的聯想,而是比較描寫一種心境。每首幻想曲雖都是單樂章,但中間分許多段落。短暫的休止符後,節奏上立刻做起變化,是人在不同月份歷經的情緒轉折,亦是大自然每刻的瞬息萬變。

英國的這種室內樂,論風格或是樂器音色,高低起伏都較為小。習慣華麗法國,熱情義大利的大魚大肉,走入簡樸英國猶如過著粗茶淡飯的生活。但吃久了,泡的茶雖然只濃了一點,也都能立刻感覺得出來。我聽Simpson這些「月份」,起初感覺都一樣,但耐心再聽,細節會慢慢浮現出來,小小的變化的體驗也比較深。

唱片上的音樂家為女小提琴家Monica Huggett所領軍的Sonnerie,使用的樂器編制為一把小提琴,兩把古中提琴,還有室內小風琴,將高音古提琴換成小提琴演奏。其中冊子應該是有個筆誤,說Emilia Benjamin女士拉的樂器為小提琴,但上面寫的Richard Meares其實是英國有名的division viol製琴家。而且,division viol的音域,不可能是小提琴可以涵蓋的。由於Huggett女士用小提琴取代了treble viol,所以力道猛多了,以致於比重難免會偏高音部。不然,以平常聽到consort music過於沉悶的詮釋相比,Sonnerie的演奏有適當的力道,樂句動向清楚,不和諧音的處理和化解的效果也夠。雖然不是最喜歡類型的古樂,但近來沉浸在Simpson的The Monthes的洗禮下,卻也莫名奇妙地享受起來這種淡淡風情。

最後,CD多餘的空間,他們還附上了其中兩首Division Ground,以及一首D大調的組曲。Division Ground,在頑固低音上做變奏,就因為是淺顯易懂的原理,所以音樂更有一種迷人之處。

Prompted by the Hallifax and Jeffrey concert I attended earlier, I've decided to review this recording on the works of Christopher Simpson.  Simpson is one of the composers that lived between the great English composers of the late Renaissance and Henry Purcell of the mid-Baroque era.  As a flowering nation in the music and arts, England plundered into civil war in the mid-17th century.  And while the Puritans were in power during the Commonwealth era, the majority of music activity as we know ceased to exist.  Music turned underground, and was supposed only played in households.

Christopher Simpson fought during the Civil War, on the royalist side, but after a crushing defeat, he fled to the house of Sir Robert Bolles in Scampton, Lincolnshire.  Bolles was punished for supporting the royalists, and thus was reduced to living in his manor there.  Well, Simpson lived in Bolles's household and acted as the music tutor to Robert's son and other extended family of the Bolles.  It was during this time when most of his famous music was written.   

Simpson was a viol player, and all of his music had something to do with the viol.  Today, his most important contribution is a viol method he published, called The Division Violist.  Organized in three sections:  (1)  what the viol is and how to play it,  (2)  chords and counterpoint, (3) divisions on a ground bass, it is an extremely valuable resource on the performance practices of English viol music til this day.    

The music on this recording is titled The Monthes, referring of course to the monthes on the calendar.  Each month is a fantasia, written for an ensemble of a treble viol, 2 division viols, and continuo.  Compared to the vivid programmatic works of Vivaldi or Telemann, Simpson's pieces are less descriptive and do not portray anything specific of nature.  They are said to be mood pieces, and even so, you won't find a particular one associated with each month.  These fantasias are single movements but consist of multiple sections, something commonly seen in those days.  That means that each fantasia will go through multiple time signatures and contrasting emotions.  Given the nature of English consort music, don't expect violent swings in the music as you would with the late Baroque music.  However, upon repeated closer listening, I started to notice the intricacies and the beauty within the music.  It's like going from fried foods and thick sauces to a steamed dish prepared with olive oil and salt.  Nothing too exciting for the taste buds, but you really get to experience the real sweet flavor of the meat.

Monica Huggett leads Sonnerie in this recording, where Huggett plays on the violin instead of the treble viol.  In doing so, the treble voice becomes a bit more dominating, given the features of the violin.  There also seems to be a typo in the CD inserts, as Ms. Emilia Benjamin should be playing on the viola da gamba and not the violin as indicated.  I doubt that the violin could cover the musical range of the division viol.  Also, they specify the maker of the instrument, and Richard Meares was a well-respected English division viol maker.

English consort music is not my favorite genre, and despite owning enough recordings, I've still not developed an affinity for it.  That being said, I'm actually quite pleased with how Sonnerie approaches the music.  Their playing is well-articulated, has a sense of direction, leans in on the dissonances, and in doing so, are lively in their own right, in contrast to some performances which play through it more plainly and let the polyphony do its own talking.  Within the framework of consort music, Sonnerie's rendition of Simpson's The Monthes is well-crafted, where I'm starting to attain some increased enjoyment and appreciation lately.   For filler space, they've also included a suite and two divisions upon a ground.














2 comments:

John Hendron said...

I agree with you that I find English consort music more difficult to appreciate compared to the more continental music of the time. I also agree that Simpson's collection recorded her is more palatable than the music of Gibbons or Byrd. I hadn't considered the fact that Huggett is playing violin...

Still, however, I don't find the music terribly interesting in long listens. As part of a mixed grill, perhaps, it has its place.

I do like August, my own birth month, starting off with a little contrapuntal fantasy, peppered with the English mannerisms.

Despite the quality of the music, Ensemble Sonnerie does a good job.

Deadlockcp said...

Yes, August grabs your attention from the start. As for the other months, it takes time to settle and ramp up.

Been listening to some Thomas Tallis. Most of his sacred music for voices doesn't quite cut it for me. Of course, his 40-part Motet is always a gorgeous piece.

Post a Comment