Six months ago I wrote that The Fitzhardinge Consort was cancelling all events. The collapse of the performing arts seemed imminent at the very time when we needed them most. I ended, if I recall, on a note of hope, however. I said that music has always survived times of trial, and always will.
I’m now delighted to say that The Fitzhardinge Consort is resuming its performing schedule. We couldn’t be more excited to be singing together again, but this excitement is tempered with anxiety: suspended by a thread, the Damoclean sword of lock-down hangs threateningly above the heads of all musicians. We daren’t look up. For now, however, the question is no longer when can we sing again, but rather how are we to use music to take account of and deal with the extraordinary shifts of the last six months? Music is, after all, a therapeutic, even cathartic means of dealing with difficult truths.
I wish I had these answers – answers are reassuring things – but I fear nobody does. All I can say is how I have endeavoured to explore these questions in my choice of programme for our first concert back (click here for the event page). The repertoire is a mix of the solemn and the celebratory, and, while we will be ‘making up for lost music’, I have chosen deliberately not to perform any of the music that we should have sung during the season-that-wasn’t – we mustn’t simply pretend that the last six months never happened.
The most intriguing piece we will sing is Ben Byram-Wigfield’s “Evolutions” edition of the Miserere Mei by Allegri. The editor has stripped this familiar favourite back to its bare bones, returning to the earliest known manuscript of the work from 1661 (which includes no high C). As the piece continues, however, he incorporates snippets from later manuscripts – 1731 and 1840 – until he reaches the entirely inauthentic but very beautiful and justly famous top C. Rather than ignoring 400 years of change in pursuit of an ‘authentic’ expression, he has imaginatively explored and integrated each stage of the piece’s evolution, to create a work of art that reflects what is to him the ‘truth’ of the piece.
Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Mr Byram-Wigfield’s book. If we’re to understand what’s happening around us, we must look back, look forward, and be honest in our art.
Peter Wagstaff, September 2020