Peter was Chairman of the South West Early Music Forum from 2008-2012. Since 2000 he has been active in the UK network of Early Music Fora, running workshops covering a wide range of repertory.
With SWEMF his workshops have featured early anthems for the Chapel Royal by John Blow and Henry Aldrich, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s eight-part Requiem, polychoral masses for two and three choirs by Joao Bautista Comes, Victoria’s Missa Pro Victoria, and many other stimulating programmes.
For further details of past and present activity visit the SWEMF website.
Renaissance Musical Analysis, 2017
St Mary’s, Yatton, a few miles south of Bristol, is a venue worth revisiting; it has good facilities, reasonable parking, and is easily accessible for many members. Peter Leech is a very popular tutor on SWEMF days, but it was still with some trepidation that a day of musical analysis was offered. Did the majority of members just want to sing some good music? Would there be too much discussion of obscure musicological points?
Whether it was the attraction of Peter’s leadership, or a genuine desire to understand more about the fundamentals of Renaissance music, the day attracted more than 30 singers from a wide area of the South West. The standard of sight-reading at SWEMF events is excellent, so the group was easily able to cope with reading the musical examples that Peter had brought. This made it much easier to hear and appreciate the technical issues that he was illustrating.
We started the day with some four-part motets by Crécquillon (1500– 57). Although reprinted many times in the 16th century, they are often dismissed today as relatively uninteresting, but Peter disagrees. For a start, they demonstrate some fundamental issues of harmony. Thus the first, Ingemuit Susanna, appeared to be riddled with tritones, that uncomfortable interval between the perfect fourth and fifth which theorists like Zarlino (1558) were emphatic in banning. A style of music that emphasized imitation of phrases at different intervals would always lead to passing discordances, but in this motet the first and last sections limit the clashes. It is only in the second section, on the text incidere in manum hominum, ‘to fall into the hand of man’, that the clash between B flat, E flat and E natural cannot be resolved satisfactorily. The conclusion was that a tritone, in the right place, was acceptable to all but the theorists.
The next Crécqillon piece was Ecce nos reliquimus, which Peter had again supplied without any musica ficta. The important structural cadences would suggest sharpened leading notes, but after our experience with the previous piece, neither the natural leading notes nor even the final minor chord seemed impossible.
Peter pointed out one of the differences between English and continental music at the beginning of the 16th century: while England sustained some relatively large establishments of singers, on the continent there would often be just four men. These would be highly skilled, expected to compose as well as sing, and thus there was perhaps less need to notate the ficta decisions (which might have varied from place to place anyway).
Canons were next. Josquin’s Ave Maria Virgo Serena could almost be a student’s textbook, as it includes a succession of canons at various intervals, along with the contrast of two wonderful homophonic passages. At this earlier period a preference for open fifth chords, so without the third in the final chords, removes some of the problems encountered by Crécquillon. This piece also included a section in triple time. The proportion of three against two, with bar equals bar (sesquialtera) or bar equals old half-bar (tripla) causes much confusion amongst scholars, even though Josquin himself is said to have scorned a singer who got it wrong! On this occasion we opted for a tripla relationship, emphasizing the dance-like character of the section.
Another Josquin piece, Dominus regnavit, contained the same devices as well as word painting (even though this is an anachronistic term, as Peter explained) on elevaverunt, longitudinem etc. Often wrongly attributed to Josquin, however, was an eight-part piece by Gombert, Tulerunt Dominum meum, which itself was a contrafactum (new words, old music) of his own Lugebat Absalon. The final unavoidable minor chord was originally set to fili mi Absalon, but here to Alleluia. We experimented with introducing sharpened leading notes elsewhere, but without conviction!
The Agnus from Victoria’s mass on Vidi speciosam demonstrated the huge change that had taken place by the end of the century; but the canons were still there, and some unexpected semitones provoked discussion.
A final look at Crécquillon’s O beata trinitas concluded the day. Tritones and musica ficta had kept us on our toes even if there couldn’t be any simple rules of thumb that we could follow in future. Peter emphasized that the temperament used by singers (rarely ‘equal’), the resonance of the building, the word setting, and the overall context of the piece were as important in its time as the apparent clashes produced. Some bars, which, when played on the piano sounded appalling and which broke all the rules of the theorists, could become beautifully expressive when sung.
This type of workshop is very welcome, and I hope it will be revisited soon. Thanks are due to Simon Pickard for the idea, and to Peter for being the perfect analyst. Jonathan Tribe
Border Marches Early Music Forum, Polish baroque music, 2010
On 9th October, I gave up a walk at Westonbirt Arboretum (autumn fruits and colour) to attend a joint BMEMF/SWEMF workshop for voices & instruments – and I‘m glad I did! The setting was splendid – Tewkesbury and its 12th century abbey; the music was splendid and unusual – Grzegorz Gorczycki’s late seventeenth/early eighteenth century polyphony; and the leader of the workshop, Peter Leech, was absolutely splendid.
In the Abbey Parish Room, we were introduced to Cracow in the 1690‘s where G., after studying music and theology in Prague and Vienna, ended up as Kapellmeister for 36 years. Travelling Jesuits had brought italianate polyphony to Bohemia, and, although this style was by now ‘old-hat’ in western Europe, G. brought it back to life by adding his own indigenous flavourings and writing many fine polyphonic works.
So why had so few of us (none of us?) heard of him? The fascinating story of Poland and the Second World War emerged, ending in the very recent freedom of Poland and the discovery of G.’s music.
But we weren‘t there for a history lesson. Peter managed to give us all this background and warm us up (with some very useful tips about relaxed tongues and shoulders) and yet in no time at all voices and instruments had sight-read G.’s Subvenite Sancti Dei quite convincingly! Ceremony, bells, echoes, exciting changes of time between duple and triple … perfect for a big ecclesiastical space … (watch this space). We then read through and worked on Libera Me Domine and Salve Regina and the a cappella Stabat Mater.
Lunch time arrived quickly, after which we moved into the abbey to perform the works in the type of setting for which G. wrote them – we could almost hear the bells and smell the incense. The bars of silence in the Libera were filled with the wonderful echo that rang round the abbey. And in the final piece, the Salve Regina, there was plenty of the ‘H’ word and we really swung it.
[‘H’ word … Hemiola … “In modern musical parlance, a hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in simple triple time (3/2 or 3/4 for example) are articulated as if they were three bars in simple duple time (2/2 or 2/4)”. DUM di di, DUM di di, DA da, DA da, DA da. Just in case you didn‘t know.] Tricia Callow
South West Early Music Forum, 2008
Our chairman Peter Leech is well-known for his research on 17th Century Church composers, and he provided a fine collection of works related in interesting ways. A particular feature of the day was the use of an instrumental group of cornetts, sackbuts and curtals to support the vocal lines. Peter pointed out that while these instruments are more often associated with music of the earlier 1600s, they could perfectly well have been used in our set works. And the combination of voices and instruments was spectacular. We were provided with a feast of little-known and only recently discovered music of the highest quality. Many thanks must go to our Director for providing so much great music new to us, and to Simon Pickard and his able helpers for a comfortable and inspiring day. Edward James
Eastern Early Music Forum, Charpentier Requiem, 2007
Peter Leech’s energy never once seemed to flag, even when ours had to be restored by tea, chocolate biscuits and delicious ginger cake applied at fairly frequent intervals. Although it was hard work I feel very glad that I came on this workshop and definitely want to do another, soon. I met some old friends and hopefully some new ones, and we are all indebted to the energy, erudition and passion of Peter Leech who made the music, and the period, come so vividly to life for us. Miriam McMahon
Thames Valley Early Music Forum, Members of the Bach family, 2005
The day was very ably run by Peter Leech, who combined great musical skills and a well-tuned ear for the colour of the German language with fascinating glimpses of the local conditions in which many of these works were created. Firstly, Peter pointed out to us that Germany lost around a third of its population during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) through conflict, disease and famine, the population only recovering to its former size around the 1740’s. The ensemble was pretty tidy right from the start of the day, which earned compliments from Peter and promised well for the rest of the workshop. We managed to get through a great deal of music, and our thanks go to Peter for his excellent handling of our varied forces, his great sense of fun and his application of just the right amount of knowledge and musical wisdom. Geoff Huntingford