In 2021 we are celebrating the life and works of Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521); one of the most brilliant and influential composers during the reigns of Henry VII and VIII.
Central to our celebrations this year is our first professional recording, 'The Fayrfax Quincentenary' on Scotland’s Gramophone award-winning classical label, Delphian Records.
As part of our ongoing collaboration with Professor Magnus Williamson and Newcastle University called ‘The Experience of Tudor Music’, we have been working to bring back to life two great pieces of Tudor music yet to be recorded: music from King Henry VIII’s first marriage, the credo from his mass 'sponsus amat sponsam', and Ave Lumen Gracie, which until recently only survived in scattered fragments and lute tablature.
We will also record some of Fayrfax's most celebrated large-scale works with a team of ten singers, including his Magnificat Regale, Maria Plena Virtute (Seven last words from the Cross), and his setting of the Salve Regina.
This will be the first available recording including all of Fayrfax’s surviving courtly songs; giving an amazing glimpse into the Tudor royal court, complete with beautiful early English poetry.
Supporting this project does more than preserve a piece of previously fragmented British history; donating to support us directly supports the 13 young professional musicians that make up our team, after a year where nearly all music making has been lost.
WHO WE ARE
We are Ensemble Pro Victoria, a young early music vocal ensemble based in London. Founded at Cambridge University in 2015 by Humphrey Thompson and Toby Ward, the group recently won joint-first prize in the London International Early Music Festival Young Ensemble Competition (2020), and have managed to continue monthly live-streaming performances through the past year thanks to the generosity of their home venue in London; St Mary’s, Bourne St. (pictured below).
EPV sing a variety of early music (-1650) with a particular focus on the Tudor period and choirbook lectern singing, music from the Spanish Golden Age, and the early Baroque.
Sopranos: Fiona Fraser, Rachel Haworth
Altos: Elisabeth Paul, Rebecca Leggett
Tenors: Oscar Golden-Lee, James Micklethwaite, Ruairi Bowen
Baritone: Humphrey Thompson (editor & co-founder), Gavin Cranmer-Moralee
Bass: Piers Kennedy, Stuart O'hara
Lute: Toby Carr
Director: Toby Ward
ROBERT FAYRFAX (1646-1521)
Robert Fayrfax headed the lists of Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal at the funeral of Henry VII and the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509, and led the Chapel Royal to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the great meeting between France and England in 1520. He died in 1521 in St Albans, where he is buried. He was arguably the most important Royal musician of his lifetime.
Fayrfax was one of the last Catholic British composers to enjoy working in Catholic Britain, as c.12 years after his death Henry VIII broke with Rome, setting in motion changes which would affect the sound and form of British music forever.
A number of works by Fayrfax have been unrecorded and unheard for hundreds of years because they have survived through time as broken fragments. These require piecing together like a jigsaw puzzle to bring them back to life. Sometimes, the process requires informed composing to fill in the gaps; this process is called reconstruction.
One of these works is Fayrfax’s mass, 'sponsus amat sponsam', pictured here in lute tablature. This athletic music for four voices and lute is preserved in and reconstructed from lute intabulation, and is based on a previous plainsong tune, or ‘cantus firmus’ for St Catherine. The musicologist Roger Bray did much early work reconstructing this mass, and for this project, Magnus Williamson (professor of Early Music at Newcastle University) has further refined the reconstruction to give us the chance to record this Tudor nuptial music for the very first time.
With a nod to how this music was preserved in lute tablature (and possibly performed as such), we are recording this music with the celebrated lutenist Toby Carr. Watch our video to see more!
In a similar vein, the first half of 'Ave Lumen Gracie' is found in the Eton Choirbook, and only two of the four parts of the second half survive in scattered manuscripts. This glorious work for two tenors, baritone and bass has also been reconstructed specifically for this recording, and along with Fayrfax’s earlier Salve Regina will make this the only recording publicly available of this extraordinary British music.
We will also record Fayrfax's seven surviving courtly songs; songs of love and loss for two or three voices. These give us a glimpse into the soundworld of the Tudor Court and stand apart from Fayrfax’s sacred works because of their miniature form and use of early English poetry.
OUR FUNDRAISING CHALLENGE
We need to raise £18,000 to make this project a reality, of which we aim to raise £11,000 through the generosity and support of you through Crowdfunder UK.
We must contribute £7000 towards the production costs of the CD, pay our 13 freelance young artists £5000 in fees, pay our London rehearsal venue and Durham recording venue costs, and our increased travel and accommodation costs to manage distancing in the current health climate.
To help illustrate the challenge we face, each of the 500 CDs we receive at the end of the project will cost £36 to produce.
This is why we need your help.
For all donations of £30, we will send you a CD of this glorious Tudor music.
All donations of £50+ receive a CD and include automatic membership of the Friends of EPV, receiving our monthly newsletter with our singers’ blog, articles from Early Music Comment, behind-the-scenes videos and news about our upcoming concerts and projects.
BECOMING A BENEFACTOR
If you are able and minded to give significantly more, you can sponsor one of the works on our album. For this, we will name you as one of the key benefactors of the project in the CD sleeve, list you as a key benefactor on our website, and offer you an invitation to our launch concert and benefactor’s lunch in central London in October 2021. Please contact us directly if you are considering this level of support as we would love to talk with you!
Thank you from all the musicians at Ensemble Pro Victoria for supporting us and for helping us bring this piece of Tudor history back to life.