Musing on music in the Essex Sound and Video Archive

The Essex Sound and Video Archive contains a wide range of musical recordings relating to Essex musicians or Essex venues. Here our You Are Hear Project Officer, Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, reflects on the research value of some of the pieces she has enjoyed discovering.

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
(Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.91-7)

At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we hold a large collection of music recordings, covering a range of genres. We have a particularly strong folk collection, from amateur recordings of folk club evenings to professionally released albums. We also have classical, choral, pop, rock, and songs that defy classification.

Listening to these recordings is a pleasure. The songs can be uplifting, amusing, inspiring – or merely nice background music to help while away the hours. But does the entertainment value of this music justify long-term preservation in climate-controlled conditions? Maybe, but the recordings fulfill other purposes as well.

For starters, they showcase the talent of Essex musicians – or, in some cases, of musicians performing in Essex. We should preserve their work in the same way that local art galleries collect, commission, and display visual art. While we could rely on record labels to keep copies of everything they produce, not all musicians make it that far: a tentative performance at a folk club may be the only time an artist’s work has been captured.

Brentwood Cathedral in c. 1930 (I/Mb 52/1/21)

Brentwood Cathedral in c. 1930 (I/Mb 52/1/21)

Then, listening to this music in Essex adds extra meaning. What inspired the musicians? What is it about Brentwood that moved Chris Jones to write ‘Brentwood Gavotte’ (Acc. SA140) and Tino Moreno to compose his piece for Brentwood Cathedral Boys’ Choir (SA 19/1/64/1)? Do you hear something different in the music if you listen to it in Brentwood than if you listen in, say, Brentford?

In some cases, we hold oral history interviews recorded with Essex musicians, so you can listen to their life stories alongside their music. For example, you can listen to an interview with Peter Searles (SA 15/1/4/1/1), then listen to music by his band, Mark Shelley and the Deans (SA 15/2/1/4/1). How does this change how you perceive the music?

Lyrics can also give insights into social customs, culture, and working practices of the time in which they were written – not to mention showcasing the transient Essex dialect.

The song ‘Owd Rat Tailed Tinker’ reveals attitudes of Essex ploughmen towards Londoners, who misused their horses and looked down on their country neighbours (SA 24/221/1). Have attitudes changed since this song was recorded in the early twentieth century?

 

The folk song ‘John Barleycorn’ describes the process of harvesting barley and then brewing it into beer (SA 6/305/1). Beneath the personification of the barleycorn, the song reveals what harvest looked like before mechanisation, including men using scythes, pitchforks, cudgels, and millstones.

 

Chris Jones’ song ‘Rayleigh Good Christmas’ describes a typical Christmas scene in Rayleigh in the late twentieth century (Acc. SA140). Among other things, the lyrics mention the shop Woolworth’s, which disappeared from our high streets in 2009. He also refers to people ‘at the bank… queuing for money’. How long before this, too, is a thing of the past?

 

Future researchers might be puzzled by references to ‘The Sally Army’, but the lyrics will preserve cultural references and informal language less likely to find their way into written documents.

And then, perhaps music goes some way towards preserving the essence of a culture. Would it be too much to claim that the music in our collection presents the spirit of Essex? We will leave you to muse on this question over a motet by sixteenth-century composer Thomas Tallis, possibly written while he was organist at Waltham Abbey, performed here by The Walk Fair Singers in 1993 (SA 1/1287/1).

 

Some of the music mentioned above cannot be put online for copyright reasons, but it can be played in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office. Find out more about visiting us, or get in touch for more information. You can also order a copy, so you can listen to your favourite song while doing the housework or driving to work. Search Essex Archives Online for your favourite composer or Essex artist and see what you can discover.


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Music in the archives


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For this year’s Heritage Open Days we are celebrating creativity in the archives, including a chance to experience the sound of the music that would have been enjoyed at Thorndon Hall and Ingatestone Hall in the sixteenth century.

Thorndon and Ingatestone Halls, both near Brentwood, were owned by the Petre family. A number of surviving sources tell us about the musical instruments owned by the family and the music being performed in the household. Visitors to ERO on Heritage Open Day will be treated to something of the experience of the Petre family and their guests with live performances throughout the day.

Old Thondon Hall Walker map

Map showing Thorndon Hall by John Walker, 1598 (D/DP P5)

Ingatestone Hall

Drawing of Ingatestone Hall (undated) (I/Mb 196/1/30)

We are fortunate to have two music books from the household of John, 1st Baron Petre (1549-1614), which include sacred church music and secular music such as songs and dances. They are known as part books, as they only show one part of the composition, in this case the part for the bass singers.

John, 1st Lord Petre

John, 1st Lord Petre (1549-1614), owner of the music books Gaudeamus will base their performance on – from the Ingatestone Hall website

In this post we will share some sneak previews of some of the choral music which will be performed at our open day, and in another post soon we will investigate the musical instruments owned by the family.

John Petre music book

Both books have the name John Petre embossed in gold on their front covers (D/DP Z6/1 and D/DP Z6/2)

The sacred music included covers the whole Tudor period, from the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) all the way through to the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1601) and beyond into the early Stuart period. This music is all in Latin, the language of the Roman Catholic Church. This perhaps reflects the fact that the Petre family remained staunchly Catholic throughout the upheavals of the English Reformation (and somehow all managed to keep their heads). Despite writing in Latin, several of the composers featured in the part book served as Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, the sovereign’s own choir. Despite being a Protestant, Elizabeth I is known to have a fondness for Latin church music.

To give you a little taster of this beautiful music, we thought we’d share a few previews of some of the pieces that Gaudeamus will be performing:

Ne irascaris Domine is by William Byrd (c.1540-1623), the best known composer associated with the Petre family. Like several other pieces which will be performed, it is a motet – a piece of choral music with several parts to it. Dating from 1589, its Latin title means ‘Be not angry O Lord’. The piece may have contained a political message for Protestant England, as it turned away from the Catholic church. (Read more about this motet here.)

William Byrd

Byrd was born in London, but his family had origins in Ingatestone. He was a pupil of the great composer Thomas Tallis, and became a major figure in the world of Elizabethan music. From the 1570s he became increasingly involved in the world of English Catholics, and at times was suspended from his position at the Chapel Royal, his movements were restricted and his house subject to search.

Byrd moved to Stondon Massey in Essex in about 1594, apparently to be nearer his patron, Sir John Petre. He lived the last 30 years or so of his life there, and it is thought he was buried there alongside his wife in 1623. His motet Ne irascaris Domine is included in the Petre part books, and was performed for a special recording for us a few months ago by Southend-based chamber choir Gaudeamus:

Ave Dei Patris filia is by Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), one of the foremost composers of the early Tudor period. Its title means ‘Hail, daughter of God’, is typical of music before the Reformation, made up of complex, interweaving parts. You can get a little taste of it by listening to the extract from track 7 here.

Fayrfax played an important role in the music of the royal court, as well as in noble households. He was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal by 1497, and led the Chapel Royal in Henry VIII’s state visit to France in 1520 known as the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’.

 

Lamentations is by Robert White (c.1538-1574), much of whose music was probably written for a young Elizabeth I. The 5 part Lamentations is a good example of the sort of intellectual Latin music that appealed to Elizabeth, a substantial composition lasting 22 minutes in all (Gaudeamus will be singing the first and last parts only).

White was probably born in Holborn, London, and was the son of an organ builder. As a child he was a chorister at Trinity College, Cambridge, and he stayed there as an adult singer. He took a Bacherlorship in Music from the University of Cambridge, before becoming Master of the Choristers in Ely and then at Chester Cathedral. In 1570 he was appointed organist and master of the choristers in Westminster Abbey. He died aged only about 36, along with the rest of his family, during an outbreak of plague in 1574.

Join us for our Heritage Open Day on Saturday 10 September 2016, 10am-4pm, to enjoy performances of all of these pieces and lots more, including a chance to see some of the treasures of our art and photography collections, and for fun family activities. You can find all of the details here.

In search of Mars

Our newest Archivist Lawrence Barker pins down where composer Gustav Holst wrote his famous Planets suite…

It was about a hundred years ago that the composer Gustav Holst started work on his masterpiece, The Planets suite, and at the same time, to spend weekends at Thaxted.  He started with Mars “The bringer of war” shortly before the First World War broke out, and much has been made of the coincidence.  However, apparently Holst always denied that he had had a premonition of the horrors of war that were to ensue.

Like many I am sure, I had assumed that the house in the middle of Thaxted, identified now by a blue plaque, was where he wrote The Planets. But, as the plaque confirms, he only moved into that house in 1917 after he had completed the work.  Before then, he rented what his daughter Imogen described as a ‘three-hundred-year-old cottage on the top of a hill…two miles from Thaxted’[1] in the small hamlet of Monk Street, which had been previously occupied by the writer S.L. Bensusan.  It was there that he wrote Mars.

Sadly, the cottage no longer exists but a photograph does exist of the interior (which you can see here) showing Holst’s wife Isobel sitting by the fire and possibly taken by Holst himself.  The grand piano also visible in the left foreground is recognizably the same as that which Holst bought for the cottage which now takes pride of place in the Holst birthplace museum at Cheltenham, with a score of The Planets placed on the music stand and a note claiming that it was composed on that piano.  Holst bought it because it had a very light action which suited his neuritis.

At the time, Holst called himself Von Holst as is confirmed by his entry in the 1911 census.  Imogen describes how he helped out with the music in the church and was affectionately called ‘our Mr. Von’ by singers in the church choir.  However, with the onset of the First World War, neighbours became suspicious of him walking around the district and asking questions about the history of the area.  He was reported to the local police who carried out an investigation under the terms of the Aliens Restriction Order; and you can read the outcome reported below in a book of police investigations of those with German associations (J/P 12/6, 1914-18) kept by the ERO.  Usefully, you can see that the book states his address at the time as ‘Hill House, Monk Street, Thaxted’.

JP-12-6 watermarked

Holst later took steps to have ‘Von’ formally removed from his name and paid for a change in the deed poll.  However, ironically, as Imogen relates, he was not entitled to call himself ‘Von’ Holst in any case as the title was initiated as an affectation by his father in the 1880s to increase his kudos by advertising himself as a German music teacher.

As the cottage has disappeared, I thought I would try and find its exact location by carrying out a typical house-history search.

Imogen Holst described the cottage in a small pamphlet about her father and Thaxted published in 1974:

The cottage dated from 1614; it had a thatched roof, and open fire-places, and a wonderful view across meadows and willow trees to the church spire in the distance.[2]

The NW volume of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments for Essex has an entry for such a cottage on the Dunmow Road, East side:

(37). Cottage, about 1½ m. S. by E. of the church, was built apparently in 1614, and has a modern wing at the back and a low modern addition at the N. end.  On the W. font are three gabled dormer windows; the middle window is dated 1614.

The map shows it to be located on the right going towards Thaxted just before the road bends to the left into the hamlet of Monk Street.

The cottage was owned by Bensusan, and this is confirmed on the 1910 Finance Act map based on OS 25″ 2nd ed. sheet XIV.16 (ERO reference A/R 1/3/14), which shows the cottage to be plot 743 (79 on OS map) with the ownership of Bensusan confirmed in pencil on the map; that is, the second cottage past the turning to Sibley’s Green to the South and just before the left bend into Monk Street to the North on the Thaxted road (now the B184).  The accompanying reference book (A/R 2/5/10) shows on pg. 72 that assessment no. 743 was a vacant cottage (extent 1/3 Rod) owned by Samuel Bensusan (of The Brick House, Gt Easton) in Monk Street.  This was the only cottage in Monk Street belonging to Bensusan.

Armed with the name of the cottage, I carried out a search on Seax for any other documentation that might survive about it and found two bundles of documents.  The first (D/F 35/8/308) concerned ‘Hill Cottage’, Monk St., which underwent repairs, including the thatch, in 1924.  It was leased to Mrs Kennedy and correspondence contained in an envelope dated 1924 referred to the ‘Monk St property belonging to S. L. Bensusan Esq.’.  The other bundle (D/F 35/8/342) includes an agreement between M. Kennedy and L. Mackinnon re. the let of Hill Cottage, Monk St. in 1926 which identifies the plot as No.79 on the OS map (see the 1879 edition below).

Holst's cottage Monk st - no 79

So, there can be little doubt that the cottage in which Holst worked on Mars, the bringer of war, just before the start of the First World War, was on the right just past the right turn to Sibley’s Green and before the road bends round the left.  The cottage was still there in 1948 according to 25″ OS map but by 1977 on the OS map TL 6128 it had disappeared, although the plot still seems to be intact despite road widening and the building of new by-pass to Monk Street, now a left turn off the road.



[1] Holst, Imogen (1938). Gustave Holst: a biography. London: Faber and Faber

[2] Holst, Imogen (1974). Gustav Holst and Thaxted. Thaxted: Thaxted bulletin (later published as a separate pamphlet)