The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes celebrates winter this weekend with two performances of Medieval and Renaissance British vocal music.

January 14, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be performing British sacred choral music from the Medieval and Renaissance eras in two performances – one FREE and one with admission — this coming weekend.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Here is a press release from the group:

“Titled “A British Winter,” the performances will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; and again on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), 302 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park.

Admission is free on Saturday at the Chocolaterian; tickets are $15 ($10 for students) on Sunday, sold at the door.

For more information about the concert, please visit the website of Eliza’s Toyes at toyes.info, or its Facebook page at facebook.com/elizastoyes.

Gates of Heaven

In this program, Eliza’s Toyes revisits its founding mission of a cappella early music. The musicians who will perform are sopranos Deb Heilert and Chelsie Propst; Sandy Erickson, alto; Peter Gruett, alto/tenor; Jerry Hui (below), tenor/bass; and Mark Werner, baritone.

Jerry Hui

A vocal sextet will perform music with Latin and English text composed by William Byrd, Robert Fayrfax, Peter Phillips, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, and Christopher Tye. A few anonymous pieces likely of British origin are also included.

The choice of composers spans at least 200 years, and highlights the development of polyphonic British music. Tallis (below) in his early age took works of Fayrfax as a model for his own Latin sacred music; Byrd studied with and worked for Tallis; and both Tomkins and Philips were students of Byrd’s.

Thomas Tallis

Here is the complete program of “A British Winter”:

Anon.: Regina caeli (chant)

Anon.: Regina caeli à 3

William Byrd (1540-1623): Memento salutis auctor

Byrd: O magnum mysterium (sung in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521): Magnificat “O bone Jesu”

Peter Philips (1560-1628): O beatum et sacrosanctum Diem (1612)

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585): O sacrum convivium (1575)

Christopher Tye (1505-1573): A sound of angels

Tallis: O nata lux (1575)

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656): Music Divine (1622)

Anon.: Tidings True

Anon.: There is no rose

Byrd: Sing Joyfully (1641)

Among the selection of music is a rarely heard piece, Magnificat “O bone Jesu” by Fayrfax. Likely composed around 1500-1502, it is a setting of Magnificat text whose musical material is based on Fayrfax’s own motet (survived only in fragments). The piece is a fine example of English choral music of its time: polyphonic settings are only written for the even verses, while the odd verses remain as plainchant; and much of the piece features a trio texture, with intricate rhythmic interactions among voices.

Eliza’s Toyes is a Madison-based early music ensemble specialized in performing vocal and wind music from before 1700. Its creative concert programs often feature geographical or narrative themes, partnering with both music and non-music academic fields. Now in its fifth season, Eliza’s Toyes has been performing at least twice a year, in various venues including UW-Madison Memorial Library, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Gates of Heaven. It has also been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” concert series.

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