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Tobias HUME (c1579? - 1645): "Passion & Division"

Susanne Heinrich, viola da gamba

rec: April 23 - 25, 2009, Toddington (Gloucestershire), St Andrew's Church
Hyperion - CDA67811 ( 2010) (70'44")

A French Ayre (61); A Jigge (88); A Souldiers Galliard (48); A Souldiers Resolution (11); Captain Humes Pavan (46); Deth - Life (12/13); Harke, harke (10); I am Melancholy (106); Loves Farewell (47); Loves Pastime (103); Now I Come (28); Rossamond (35); The Duke of Holstones Almayne; The Spirit of Gambo (4); Tickell, tickell (34); Tinckeldum, twinckeldum (22); Touch me Lightly (38)

The lesser is known about people, the more myths are woven around him or her. Tobias Hume is an example of someone we hardly know anything about. And it doesn't surprise that this had led to many speculations about his life and even his character. It is because of the forewords in his two collections of music and the titles of some of his pieces that he is assumed to have been a rather arrogant and rude character. This was probably reinforced by the fact that he was also a professional soldier, travelling through Europe as a mercenary to find a place to fight.

In the programme notes of her recording of pieces from Hume's first publication Susanne Heinrich more or less dissociates herself from all speculations about the man's character. She believes his statements can be interpreted in a different way and are not necessarily evidence of him being arrogant or uncivilized.

Hume is also often considerd a dilettante, but his music suggests he was a very skilful players of the viol. He certainly played a considerable role in the development of viol playing in England. He published two collections with music. The First Book of Ayres, also known as Musicall Humors, was printed in 1605 and was the first publication of music for solo viol (with some additional songs). It was the second in which the viol was presented as a chordal instrument which was to accompany the voice, as an alternative to the lute. The first composer to do so was Robert Johnson in his First and Second Booke of Songs of 1601. In this collection Johnson notated the viol part in French lute tablature. He referred to these accompaniments as being "after the leero fashion". As the title of Hume's publication indicates, he also wrote his pieces for the 'lyra-viol': "for the Leero Viol to play alone". One of the features of the 'lyra-viol', or - more correctly - the viol played the 'lyra-way', was the possibility to play in chords.

Susanne Heinrich believes that what is interpreted as arrogance just shows that Hume knew very well that his music was quite different from what was common in his time. He was driven by the wish to elevate the viola da gamba to the same position as the lute. He also emphasizes the originality of his music, in comparison to other pieces which were transcriptions or arrangements of "others inventions", as he wrote. In contrast, he described his compositions as "mine own Phansies".

Susanne Heinrich's view on Hume's music and character may well have influenced her performances. These are probably less 'theatrical' than other interpretations which are available on disc. Could the reason be that she doesn't feel the need to emphasize Hume's eccentricities and extravagance? It is not unlogical to suspect that what most people seem to think about the man has a considerable influence on how they play his music.

The fact that Susanne Heinrich approaches Hume's music from a somwhat different angle makes this disc interesting. But there are some issues which need to be mentioned. First of all, I am not sure whether Ms Heinrich's approach also calls for tempi which are considerably slower than in other recordings. For instance, only recently I reviewed a disc by Simone Eckert who also plays Deth and Life, which are a pavan and a galliard. Whereas Ms Eckert takes 5'46" and 1'39" for these pieces, Susanne Heinrich needs 7'30" and 1'51". That is a pretty big difference. In comparison Simone Eckert's performance seems to deliver a greater amount of intensity and expression. But others may feel that Susanne Heinrich's tempo is just right.

Hume was also one of the first composers to ask for the strings to be plucked, and to make use of the technique of playing col legno (with the bow stick). He played an essential role in inventing and promoting these techniques which were to become standard in English lyra-viol music. But does that mean that the technique of plucking the strings should be applied so frequently as on this disc? The last item, Loves Farewell, for instance, is plucked all the way through.

I'm a bit puzzled by the performance of A Souldiers Resolution. The track [08] starts with a soft noise which slowly increases. Then the viola da gamba enters, and at first it seems two different parts are played simultaneously, probably the result of overdubbing. I don't think recordings of early music need this kind of technical tricks.

Lastly I like to refer to interesting remarks by Susanne Heinrich about the instrument. "Hume suggests stringing the viol with nine strings (doubling the three bass strings), claiming that it is 'to be plaide on with as much ease as your Violl of sixe stringes'. Perhaps the next generation of viol players will have the 'guts' to try this out. Our modern ears are still quite used to the sleek and refined sound of metal winding on gut strings, which was not invented until later in the seventeenth century. Many players are now making an effort to string their instruments appropriately for the music to be performed, which often produces a rougher and grainier sound than some would think is tasteful. Hume's idea seems to suggest that either gut strings were of a better quality in his lifetime (although excellent efforts are being made nowadays to make useable quality gut strings at a thicker gauge), or that a rougher sound was thought of as acceptable. I used strings without the metal winding for this recording, but find it impossible to imagine how to get two of those rope-like bass strings going at the same time, as Hume suggests."

I don't know what kind of strings are used in other recordings. But from this quotation one may conclude that there is still some work to do.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

Susanne Heinrich


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