New Baroque Opera
Historically Inspired Compositions
by Andrew Lawrence-King
FROM EARLY MUSIC IMPROVISATION
HISTORICALLY INSPIRED COMPOSITION
Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione
The Contest of Harmony & Invention
[The title of Vivaldi's 1725 collection,
which includes the Four Seasons]
Composer - Performer
In repertoires before the year 1800, distinctions between the roles of composer and performer are blurred. Josquin, Dowland, Bach, Handel & Mozart were all celebrated in their own life-times as performers, whereas we look back on them as composers.
Bach, Handel & Mozart were famous for their improvisations, which displayed not only performance skills but also stupendous feats of compositorial structure and content.
Dowland, Bach & Handel reset their own music for new combinations of voices and instruments. They also borrowed, copied and imitated other composers' work - paying homage to the past, adapting to the present, and handing on to the future new masterpieces constructed on older foundations.
One of the paradoxes of modern-day Early Music is that Historical Information about period performance practices shows that the raw notes of the original score must be altered, in highly subtle and specific ways. An Ur-text is a good beginning, but it is certainly not the desired end!
Improvisation in Early Music
Throughout his career in Historically Informed Performance, Andrew Lawrence-King has been deeply involved with period practices of Improvisation. On tour with Tragicomedia, audiences and colleagues were captivated by his spontaneously composed settings of Amarilli mia Bella - a fresh work in each concert. In solo recitals audience members are invited to call out the first note, or a local musician supplies a theme in a sealed envelope, as the seed from which a new Fantasia will grow.
In Early Music, there is always freedom for spontaneous re-composition, varying from light touches of impromptu variations to creation of the entire part for certain instruments or invention of an entirely new piece. The HIP improviser needs an artist's inventiveness and inspiration, as well as a craftsman's knowledge and discipline.
In medieval song, all that survives is the bare melody line. A harp-accompanist must invent his own part, according to the rules of early polyphony.
Andrew Lawrence-King responds to the exquisite poetry and musical subtlety of this repertoire in a series of recording projects with Paul Hillier (including Hillier's masterpiece Bitter Ballads in which the duo's creativity extends to 17th and 20th-century material), in countless performances with Jordi Savall, and on his own award-winning CDs of Les Miracles de Notre Dame and a 'medieval opera', the liturgical music-drama Ludus Danielis.
In the 16th century, Diego Ortiz described three ways to improvise: melodic embellishments to a pre-extant madrigal; variations over a repeating chord-sequence (known as a Ground); creation of an entirely new Fantasia.
In every performance, Andrew adds spontaneous variations to the composer's score - carefully controlling the grammar of renaissance polyphony and sensitively matching the sung text to instrumental gestures.
He created a mini-portfolio of variations on different versions of the Folia ground for Savall's Eloge de la Folie project, and his Irish harps swirl around traditional melodies in two collections of Celtic Viol (Spanish Premio de la Música in two successive years).
Directing The Harp Consort in El Arte de Fantasía, he explores all Ortiz's three ways to create new Renaissance music for solo harp or for the entire ensemble.
Continuo-players must improvise their part from the composer's bass-line, adding appropriate harmonies, and rhythmic or harmonic embellishments. This characteristic baroque practice challenges the player to - in Vivaldi's words - a contest of Harmony and Invention.
Agazzari (1607) describes the continuo-player's dual role in this creative process, working as co-composer from a bass-line by Caccini or Monteverdi. The fundamental role is to lay down the essential harmonies and rhythms, guiding the entire ensemble of instruments and voices. Over this, one can decorate and embellish: "having fun, and playing counterpoints".
Andrew Lawrence-King is recognised as one of the worlds most skilled and inventive continuo-players, on harp, keyboard instruments etc. In hundreds of concerts and recordings, his mastery of spontaneous composition can be heard: selecting colours from the rich tone-palette of early instruments; realising harmonies with flair and finesse; adding deft counter-melodies.
For the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra's and Barocco Boreale's recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Andrew led improvising continuo-sections that brought to sonic life the vivid imagery of the original descriptive Sonnets. Directing Monteverdi's Orfeo or Cavalieri's Anima & Corpo from the continuo, his realisations drive the rhythm and the drama with powerful contrasts.
His recording with The Harp Consort of Ribayaz's Luz y Norte expands the original harp-tablature - a phrase or two to indicate the ground for each Spanish, South American or African dance-type - into an entire program of spontaneous compositions.
Bach's Bradenburg Concerto #3 has no written slow movement, just the two orchestral chords that form the ending to an improvised solo. In concert with Kymi Sinfonietta on harpsichord, in recording of a similarly improvised Vivaldi concerto-movement with Baltic Baroque on harp, and in live EBU radio-broadcast of a Handel organ concerto, Andrew spontaneously composes the entire slow movement, linking smoothly into the final orchestral cadence.
Editor - Composer
Just as Dowland, Bach and Handel adapted material for performances with new forces, so a significant element of Lawrence-King's work is editing and arranging historical scores for the particular early or modern ensemble at hand.
A missing voice-part or instrumental movement may have to be supplied. Bold changes are often required. Sometimes an intriguing fragment demands composition of almost the entire piece, so that listeners can appreciate the musical context.
A portrait of Bach's trumpeter, Gottfried Reiche, shows him holding a fragment of music, part of an ensemble fanfare or Abblasen. For Kymi Sinfonietta's Brandenburg series, Andrew Lawrence-King composed a fanfare around this fragment, as a companion-piece to Concerto #2 with its virtuoso trumpet solo.
All of these disciplines of historical creativity come together in Andrew Lawrence-King's settings of folk-poetry from his native island of Guernsey Les Travailleurs de la Mer: Ancient Songs from a Small Island. Traditional poems and new work in the island's distinctive Norman-French dialect were collected in the 19th-century, but religious prohibitions erased all musical evidences, apart from a handful of tunes passed down orally: Andrew collected, compiled and composed all the music.
Similarly in his most recent recording, Piae Cantiones with the Helsinki Utopia Chamber Choir. The single-line carol melodies in the original (1582) print are the starting-point for rich ensemble & solo performances. As in contemporary theatre, directed improvisation is moulded into a composed art-work.
21st-century Early Music
In recent years, Andrew Lawrence-King's academic research into Early Opera, and practical experience of directing stage & music in historically informed productions has crystallised into the mission of OPERA OMNIA, his Academy for Early Opera & Dance at Moscow State Theatre Natalya Sats, to present 'music of the past for audiences of the future'.
Flowing on from this activity, and from his work on Early Music with modern ensembles, Andrew has extended his composing to full-length music-dramas. When in full flow, the compositional process feels like 'improvising onto paper'. And as in CD-recording, many alternative 'takes' can be reviewed and refined, before a choice is made.
Significantly, Andrew leaves space for performers to treat his score just as they would perform an opera by Monteverdi or Vivaldi. Text and rhythm are essential, continuo realisation and added embellishments are welcome, sensitivity for style is invited, the energy of emotional contrasts is shared.
Each work engages profoundly with a literary text of the highest quality; each work is inspired by the aesthetics of a particular historical repertoire; each work invites a particular new audience to re-discover lost sound-worlds; each work represents another 'Contest' between the discipline of period Harmony and the creative force of Invention.
NEW & FORTHCOMING WORKS
by Andrew Lawrence-King
Kalevala - the Opera (2017)
Epic rune-songs - Medieval Opera
Premiere (semi-staged) with Kymi Sinfonietta & Utopia Chamber Choir,
Kotka & Kouvola, Finland.
Excerpts performed in concert in Tallinn
(Tallinn Chamber Orchestra)
and London (BBC Promenade Concerts)
Version with medieval instruments performed in Helsinki (Utopia Chamber Choir) & Freiburg (The Harp Consort)
CD in planning with Utopia Chamber Choir.
Production planning for Karelia (Russia) with OPERA OMNIA has been halted by war.
Finnish Kalevala Society award
Arianna a la recherche (2017)
Monteverdi's lost (1608) masterpiece re-imagined.
Premiere (historical staging) with OPERA OMNIA, Moscow.
Excerpts performed at Laus Polyphoniae Festival (Antwerp), St Petersburg Early Music Festival etc.
Presented at the 2018 Baroque Biennial Conference (Cremona)
CD recording in progress
Semi-staged production in Pärnu & Tallinn, Estonia, March 2023 (Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Ensemble Floridante)
Teatro a la moda (2021)
A New Baroque Comic Opera
Libretto compiled from Marcello's hilarious (1720) satire on Vivaldi's opera-theatre.
CD recording in planning
The Play of Music & Time
(work in progress)
An Explorer's Guide to Early Music
In the spirit of Peter & the Wolf and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra...
LIFE seems to be going around in circles, until MUSIC rescues TIME out of Hell.
In the Baroque philosophy of the Music of the Spheres, cosmic TIME, human LIFE, and the sound of MUSIC are all inter-dependent.
Libretto compiled from Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare etc.
(work in progress)
A New Baroque Satirical Opera
Encounters - historical & imaginary - between Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels), itinerant harpist Turlough O'Carolan and George Frideric Handel, around the time of the first performance of Messiah in Dublin.
Handel - Mezzo-soprano
Carolan - Tenor
Swift - Bass
Supporting roles including Lemuel Gulliver & Molly Malone are sung by counter-tenor & soprano.
About 'Carolan's Travels'
In Vivaldi's concerto grosso R114,
there is no written slow movement, just the final tutti cadence that would conclude an improvised solo.
Here is the Adagio spontaneously composed by Andrew Lawrence-King for Barocco Boreale. Fresh improvisations were played at each performance.
Although the 1582 book presents most of the music as a single melody line, medieval singers would have improvised organum – instrumental style – with drone basses, parallel fifths, varied melodies and standard cadence-formulae. And the 15th-century contenance angloise (English manner) offered improvising students an entirely new way to harmonise such popular melodies as In Dulci Jubilo with rich thirds and sixths.
The Renaissance art of spontaneous composition:
solo or ensemble improvisations & variations.
LISTEN HERE to El Arte de Fantasía
Dance-music from Spain, Africa & South America, improvised according to the tablature fragments in Ribayaz's (1677) book
Medieval conductus improvised
from the single-line melodies of
Gautier de Coincy's songs.
Improvised medieval conductus and songs are woven into a thrilling 'medieval opera', the liturgical drama of the Play of Daniel, in a historical production continuously developed over Andrew's 40-year career.
(work in progress)
A New Baroque Dramatic Oratorio
A modern oratorio, inspired by the drama of Bach's settings of the Passion story.
The Passion seen metaphorically in a suffering world, from Creation to Apocalypse.
Mythological & sacred images of The Garden of Eden, Temptation in the Desert, post-nuclear/climate change Winter.
The Angel - soprano 1
Gaia - soprano 2
Everyman - counter-tenor
Lucifer - tenor
The Word - bass
Chorus of Inhabitants of the World
Inspired by the passionate harmonies and sophisticated dance-rhythms of Lully's tragédies en musique.
About 'World Passion'
(concept in development)
A New Baroque Tragic Opera
17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys was a great fan of opera and theatre, and his music library includes a recitative setting of 'To be or not to be'.
Inspired by this unique historical fragment, Andrew Lawrence-King creates around it a operatic treatment of Shakespeare's
Hamlet in the characteristic Purcellian tones of Pepys' London.
Songs of the trouvères (the northern French response to the Provencal trobadors) with accompaniments improvised from the single-line melodies of the original MSS.
Andrew Lawrence-King composed music for the missing chorus in Purcell's Dido & Aeneas for Concerto Copenhagen's (2012) production.
For OPERA OMNIA's (2018) production of Purcell's King Arthur, Andrew Lawrence-King composed a song, vocal ensemble and country-dance found in the libretto, but missing from 17th-century musical sources.
A mini portfolio of spontaneously composed variations on variants (some newly invented) of the Folia and other renaissance grounds.
Yo soy la locura
Folias de la costa
Belle qui tient ma vie
Adieu mes amours