16 Viols small

Interactions in early music – viols and voice

The University of Huddersfield’s performance-led research into the consort of viols and its relationship to the voice has resulted in the performance of music largely unknown to modern audiences, as well as new perceptions and understandings of this area of music.

Closely associated with the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) and supported by awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the resulting public performances, lecture recitals, CD releases and radio broadcasts have raised the profile of this previously neglected area of music and performance.

The music of the past is an important part of our cultural heritage which needs to be interpreted in order to appreciate and understand the intentions of its composers and original performers. Research carried out by the University of Huddersfield has resulted in a range of innovative approaches, including iconographical, organological, archival and source-based evidence, being used alongside musical analysis. These ideas are then tested out through performance.

Creating and using replica instruments

A collaboration with the Rose Consort of Viols has allowed the use of accurate copies of historical instruments strung throughout in gut and using bows with clip in frogs. These give the player a more intimate ‘grip’ on the string than later bows allow, enabling a more articulate approach to playing.

The development of these instruments has been based on the very few surviving originals, and has led to new business for instrument makers and specialist publishing companies. The instruments have been used to explore techniques of performance alongside specialist singers using researched historical pronunciation, leading to further understanding of instrumental and vocal performance from historical periods including Jacobean (c.1610), Venetian (c.1560) and early Italian instruments based on a painting
by Costa (1497). Connections have been found between the singers’ communication of the text and the instrumental bowing techniques, highlighting the complex nature of this interaction.

Performing live to international audiences

Funded by the AHRC, the research carried out at Huddersfield has fed into a range of live performances locally, nationally and internationally, with locations including Florence’s Uffizi Palace and the BBC Proms. Collaborations with York Early Music Festival and the Dartington International Summer School have attracted diverse audiences and helped to further understanding of the new approaches to performance revealed by the research.

Reaching a wider audience through album releases and radio

In addition to live performances, the research into viol composition and performance has resulted in the release of more than 20 albums with international listening audiences, as well as broadcasts by BBC Radio 3 and German network WDR. The releases have earned critical acclaim for their novel presentation of familiar repertory, with particular emphasis on the diversity of sounds displayed within the music when appropriate viols are used.

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