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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On ornaments, New Year and the Malvern Hills,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Well, here it is, the blinking New Year, though I actually think that Jewish people have got it right (or is it the Chinese?) in putting the New Year in autumn. To me there's always a sort of renewal and freshness in the air in autumn -- the time of new classes and integral change -- whereas, plumb smack in the middle of a most disappointingly mild winter, there seems nothing at all ... even the Spring would feel miles newer than January, but then, Spring always does feel new, so who's counting??

Of course, I feel fatter -- and therefore riper for any serious effort at New Year's resolutions -- but that would have happened any other time of year when there was so much food and socializing around. In fact, the only conceivable reason for having New Year's Eve so close to Christmas is to stave off the sense of anticlimax -- but, as that's itself so intrinsically inevitable, I still don't see the point. Perhaps there's some historic reason of which I am ignorant!!!!!!!!!!!

However, my New Year's languor was improved by this note, from the mysteriously-entitled E69, which read as follows:

J9's problem with ornaments

I am not surprised at J9 worrying about ornaments in Baroque and earlier music. If you look in a book by Arnold Dolmetsch called The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries (Dover Books on Music) you will find an enormous chapter on ornaments quoting various authors from 1535 through 1766 or later. (The book is available from Amazon.) This reveals that at different times in different countries the same ornament was represented by different signs, and the same sign may also in fact represent several different ornaments.

In those days some composers just used the same one (or two) signs for all ornaments (usually a cross) and relied on local fashion for their interpretation. I strongly suspect that some modern editors do the same, rather than do all the research required into dates countries and styles.

Incidentally I have not come across a ^ in this context even in Dolmetsch's book.

My advice is to ask the leader of the ensemble how he/she wants the ornaments played, or try several different ones to see what sounds best.

Alice's comments on early music players are very much to the point. Thank you.

From E69, long time from the UK.

Many thanks, E69!!!!!!

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I read with interest your article about Vernon Handley and the English Symphony Orchestra during last summer's Elgar Festival. Sorry about where the cellos were sitting!

But I am really curious about what's happening to the ESO. You said:

The English Symphony orchestra is in deep trouble -- such deep trouble that its continued existence must be doubtful -- but he lifted up an orchestra traumatised by the last few months into a sound and unity I'd never heard in it before ... And all at VERY short notice: Tod basically stepped in to save the day, when the whole festival was in the balance.

Could you enlighten me?

CvP Wright, pianist, writer, mother

Dear CvP,

Thanks for your interest AND your commiserations with regards to the cello seating!!!

In answer to your question, the ESO, of which I am a member, has been suffering the usual fate of most orchestras in this country PLUS. In other words, loss of financial backing, doubts as to long-term availability of funding, at least one ill-fated experiment (the 'royalties only' recordings of the Mozart piano concertos with Jeremy Menuhin -- which the players may or may not ever get paid for), and competition (in the ESO's case this comes from the City of Birmingham -- a pretty hot local rival!!) The retirement of its founding force, William Boughton, could have been the final blow ... but a fantastically big-hearted businessman with a vision for its resurgence may still allow it to carry on, though probably in a reduced format.

Some people believe that the orchestra overstepped it's mark by changing, over decades, from a tiny baroque-sized orchestra to (at the peak, when touring Germany etc under Yehudi Menuhin) a full-sized symphony orchestra. However, I really enjoyed the Elgar festivals we've done (with even larger forces) in Elgar's birthplace, and will always remember them with particular affection. For any UK-based music lover who HASN'T done the Elgar trail, walked over the Malvern Hills or explored this underrated but marvellous slice of Englishness, all I can say is that -- however many times I've driven there -- I never see the Malvern hills over the horizon without a special lifting of the heart.

Anyway, with regards to the ESO's future, stay tuned and many thanks for your kind interest,

Copyright © 5 January 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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