One of my dearest albums follows.
There is a very simple and especially beautiful melody on it.
Take a guitar, first. You can do it, I promise. Let’s strum the chords on the strings smoothly as they come one after the other, no right-hand trick, the chords are C-G-Am-Em.
You get something like that, in a much more complicated way, after no more than 5 years learning, of course, with skilled hands and in full expansion.
Full expansion like this amount of text below.
To catch the origins, you need to go back in time a bit.
It’s the very beginning of the 1500s. Hever Castle, a huge aristocratic estate, Kent County, a collateral line of prince Howard. Big family with many children, a great kitchen, a nice garden, and an old-growth forest.
Little Anne is about 5 or 6, she’s a very vivid little girl with a delicate face. In the evenings, you can see an excited gleam in her eyes as after the nanny commanding them to bed they must wait silently for the door to slowly open and the Wrinkly-Faced to step in. He sits in between the beds and blows out the candle. This way the scary scar on his face can’t be seen. He is Earl of Emsworth, an uncle, the travelled, whacky old man who has seen many battles, and has found rest in this castle from his memories and visions at the twilight of his troubled life. Though in the daylight, the sight of him and his walking stick makes the children really scared, now everyone is listening carefully. He is telling stories.
Bygone eras come to life, dragons and witches, glorious empires, and battles, but mostly stories about King Arthur, the Excalibur, the Holy Sword, and the Knights of the Round Table. Those who defended the sick, the women, the children and the weak, struggling against the evil dragons and malicious dwarfs, but during their adventures it was but one great goal that led them to find the Holy Grail.
Of course, little Anne’s favourites were the Legend of the Fisher King and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She was so impressed by the latter one that as weeks went by she still demanded the same story over and over again, they played it several times during the day, she would also wear a green belt for ages, and at one time they even spread one of the horses with green chalk dust which ended up in a bit of scolding…
Once they also pressed great-grandfather’s old sapphire sword into a hollow tree so deep that it required three men to saw for an hour until it got loose and could be taken out. Anne explained weeping that they were just playing the story about the one who can pull the Excalibur from the stone will become the King of England, or respectively the Queen, because now it’s her who invented the game…
Everyone was grumbling as the sword having been so valuable, and even a sapphire has fallen out of it. Only Lord Emsworth was smiling and in the end, he ingeniously made things happen in a way that it was the little girl who could pull the sword out. From that time, he would call her My Gueen…
A few years went by, Anne grew up, and her beauty was stunning, whereas as for Lord Emsworth, even his eyebrows turned completely grey. But Anne’s enthusiasm remained unchanged; now she knew what Parsifal was really looking for and understood the wonderful love between Sir Lancelot, the Knight With The Ugly Face and Queen Guinevere. This is the love that ruined the realm of King Arthur.
She also learnt the Queen’s favourite song by heart with the help of which Sir Lancelot managed to kidnap the Queen’s heart. As the tune came from Franconia the song was titled The French Song which later simply became known as The French.
In 1522 Anne got to the royal court, and although not wearing a green belt anymore, the long cuff covering the blemish on her right hand was still green.
The King being a lutenist himself was also competent in music, and would always ask the stunningly beautiful maid of honour with the green sleeves what the tune she kept playing all the time was.
Anne Boleyn refused to tell him because the two countries happened to be at war, not to mention she was desperately in love with the King, Henry VIII, just like it happened in the case of Lancelot with Guinevere. That is why the King called the tune Her Ladies Greensleeves, which later became simply known as the Greensleeves.
The rest of the story is well-known. The daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII was Queen Elizabeth under the reign of whom England became a world power, the Excalibur still remained to be a legend, a few lute works of Henry VIII were balancing on the verge of oblivion, but managed to subsist, and as for the Greensleeves, it still shines in all its glory. The travelling musicians have spread it all over Europe. The original version was known in the Low Countries, and in France, of course. However, it changed a bit reaching the Iberian Peninsula, the ostinato has gotten a completely new rhythm, and the expansion has become somewhat different. In Spain, today it is known as Las Vacas.
There are several of these adventurous wandering melodies, creating an invisible, subtle network in the musical world, sometime, though, they cluster together, meet on an album, from which probably the best is Improvisando.
First, let’s have a look at the upper part of the cover. This is exactly what you get inside. Pandolfo is just standing, maybe considering something, and smiling, you can see brightly coloured little puffs coming and going around him, and you can also notice this breath of fresh air on the others, too.
Las Vacas, 2nd track: I will never forget the time when we were first listening to it. We couldn’t stop the debate about what it is till the evening. You must approach the topic very carefully as most musicians educated in Europe have a horizon filled with closed doors, it’s almost otiose to argue.
Fortunately, Pandolfo studied at Early Music Academy, his horizon is much broader, showing us a bigger slice of the skies. The title is Improvisation, the melodies are the big hits of the late Renaissance. You first realize how serious it all is when Pandolfo mentions in the booklet that contemporary classical musicians are skillful acrobats of playing modes and music reading, they can practically play anything they come across, but their improvisational skills, when they are expected to use their own way of music thinking, is shamefully low, as if it was leached from within. Together with his friends they decided to make an album to share their opinion about this phaenomenon.
Meanwhile, it is good to know that in the earlier times it was not only the ideology being so much different but the music education also, in fact, it does not in the least resemble the contemporary one. Just consider the fact that the improvisation was a basic requirement even for beginners – which, unfortunately, is not the case today. The music used in conventional education ab ovo makes it impossible. What we still have is but some kind of luxury, the privilege of the accomplished caste the members of which fear the slap of long dead composers when departing from the rail. Thus, improvisation is almost never used even if the musician was capable of doing it.
Listening to the album you begin to suspect that it is about something else, not simply rearranging the tool box in a desultory way. Looking even deeper into it you understand that this kind of improvisation is different from the concept you have in mind. Then what is it? It is rather a real-time creative activity, a realization of an intellectual content.
What does it mean? Just consider the mysticism of the Excalibur. King Arthur began with a decision, a principle, then found the knights, sat them at the Roundtable, built a room around it, built a palace around the room, a fortress around the palace, a country around the fortress, an empire around the country the greatness of which remains till the end of times. In terms of Britain during the Elizabeth Dynasty, this is rather an accurate analogy.
Considering early music, the definition is also quite accurate which is why it is said to be a purely spiritual music. The more courageous ones can now think of the first lines of John the Evangelist…
That is creating things for a place where nothing else used to be but a bass line and an ostinato frame. Like when you draw a figure in MS Word giving the contours first. Then you can use the little icons below to give the fill effects and fill colour, then you click on ‘principles’ then the drop-down list with its tools is two times longer than the page itself.
The musical implementation is done exactly this way. In bar zero, there’s a reference of live musical background which keeps sizzling and clanking in the previous state as primordial Chaos or Ancient Order, these are the analogies of each other. Then in the first bars a basic pattern is outlined, and then it calls forth all the other existing things in a way that is getting more and more complex.
Ridiculously simple basis, you could say, and it is, indeed. Yet if you imagine it like one single piece of brick with its three chords, then such a cathedral is constructed of it that you get a pain in your neck when you look up to the top. The walls are not much but three-chord bricks.
Comparing to this, what musicians do when performing a bit later music seems a desperate sawing trying to convey something of the composers’ genius. Their hands are as if bound with shackles, their eyes follow zigzagging the freedom-killing sheets written with nuclear precision controlling even their breathing.
Now, are Early musicians so much different from the other ones?
As I see, most of the times, they are. However, the situation is more complex as our language throes here, I mean at periodization. Talking about Bach you wouldn’t even think of the phenomena mentioned above, not only because his music has a different structure, but also because as time went by the accurate inscriptions practically excluded this kind of freedom. But unlike him, you can name composers with highly accurate sheets still conveying a sense of freedom, also there are early musicians that would be a loss to emerge from oblivion. So, you can find anything you want even the opposite of that. It’s not merely a slight confusion, you have to try hard to navigate. It must also be acknowledged that in the light of such music, most of the contemporary performers is like a talented child or more of a genius adult who can comprehend texts in a brilliant way, but was forgotten to be taught how to speak…
It is not worth, however, getting stuck by this, I suggest moving forward to any track, like no. 14, the Folia or Foliandalus as they called it. The other great wanderer gets an especially beautiful introduction, you can hear quite clearly how it is built up, and we get to the same place as before. Pandolfo shows a good deal of boards, only a little longer here, you can also see long wooden rods, sacks full of nails, a few barrels of tar, huge pieces of canvas, plenty of ropes and pulleys, many craftsmen sticking around, it is exactly like a giga-fair for three and a half minutes – and then the principle, the will, the wish arises to cross the sea and reach the Spice Islands, and a wonderful sailing vessel is constructed from the odds and ends parts and proudly crosses the waters. Sainte-Exupery described in a fairly accurate way what is happening.
As for us, let’s just enjoy the music, the Folia has started, hint some cinnamon on our cappuccinos, it’s so delicious, by the way at that time it cost exactly the same as gold.
Listening to this record feels really like being sprinkled with gold-dust. The ancients who could afford it are even said to have eaten it, but for us now it is enough to be listened or inhaled.
You can speculate a bit over what classical music has become, and the education of it here in Europe, or what a pity it all is, but also remember that you have this album or at least the cover of it as a remedy in your hands because the CD player lies shamelessly claiming that it has never seen such a blue disk in order not to be obliged to give it back, it wants to play the disk day and night endlessly until the Nuclear Power Plant in Paks [Hungary] runs out of its last uranium beam.
Translated by Peidl Beáta
Thank you for the pictures.