Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

Ancient styles

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 @


LeeAnn at Mrs Black's said...

A beautiful part of England, and one of my favourite places. A special church I think. I had not heard this rendition of Ava Maria before, thank you for sharing. Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday season.

Anonymous said...

The East and West Banqueting Houses both being, of course, Landmark Trust properties -

Christopher Bellew said...

The East Banqueting House was bought and restored by The Landmark Trust in 1987. I have not stayed there but it looks a lot smaller on the Landmark website than in your picture.

Hels said...

Chipping Campden was a target site for me to visit because of important connections with the Arts and Crafts movement. I love the fact that CR Ashbee set up his Guild of Handicrafts in the town - even his old workshop has been re-emerged as a museum.

Now I am thinking it was a shame that I didn't visit the wool churches.

Have a wonderful 2016.

Anonymous said...

Wool trade surely, rather than 'wood trade'...

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you: yes, of course. I've corrected it.