Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
Sometimes a few notes, or a particular quality of sound, can do it: a memory is summoned and I am somewhere else entirely. Listening on the radio to an extract from a new recording by British vocal group Stile Antico the other day, I was transported back a few years year to a concert given by the same group in the late-medieval church of St James in Chipping Campden. The building is one of the Cotswold “wool” churches, built, that is to say, using the proceeds of the wool trade in this part of England. These churches have tall bell towers (without spires), big windows, and spacious interiors with flattened arches and roofs not very steeply pitched. Campden church is a particularly graceful example of this style – known to architectural historians as Perpendicular, for its marked vertical emphasis. The bands of stone running right the way up the faces of the tower are an example of this trait, as are the windows with their long vertical glazing bars that extend from the top of the frame to the bottom.
The rather box-like proportions produced by the shallow pitch of the roof work well both visually and acoustically, in my opinion. Churches like this have clear acoustics that are not too echoey and this quality is put to good effect in Chipping Campden when the church hosts a summer music festival. And it was a concert in one of these festivals in which I remembered this group singing. Stile Antico is a small group – just twelve singers I think. They perform early vocal music – mostly written before the 18th century, and mostly the kind that interweaves several different lines: Italian masters such as Palestrina and Monteverdi, English stars like Tallis and Byrd, out of the way composers such as the Slovenian Jacob Handl, whose extraordinary harmonies caught my ear on the radio the other day. They sing this complex polyphony without a conductor.
For the English Buildings blog, some English music: here they are in a piece of music by William Byrd. It’s his setting of the Ave Maria, from a recording of English music for Advent and Christmas. This Ave Maria is two minutes of grace indeed. Renewed wishes for a Happy Christmas to all my readers.
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Stile's Antico's website is here.
The photograph at the top of this post shows the tower of St James’s church, Chipping Campden and the East Banqueting House (part of the largely vanished Old Campden House.
Image by Saffron Blaze, used used Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 unported license and attributed to: W. Lloyd MacKenzie, via Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/saffron_blaze/