International Potpourri

A German Madrigal, a Spanish Salad and a Norwegian Fjord

by Thomas Axworthy

tom-axworthyThe somewhat unusual title of this article also describes a workshop I will be presenting in the San Francisco Bay Area this coming January, and the music featured will truly be an “international potpourri” inspired by a 16th-century Spanish musical genre known as the ensalada. Although ensalada means “salad” in Spanish it also refers to a Renaissance musical composition that is similar to the quodlibet. A quodlibet combines several melodies into a form that pleases the listener (quod, “what” and libet, “pleases”). In the ensalada, literary texts and languages are combined and mixed to create an extended musical work designed for entertainment and amusement, and this serves to set the theme for the January workshop as we explore the music of various countries and periods allowing us to construct and experience our own ensalada.

The workshop will begin with a selection of five-part madrigals by the late 16th-century German organist, Johann Steffens. These vocal pieces show the influence of Steffens’ contemporary, Hans Leo Hassler, and contain melodies that are quite lovely. The texts are also interesting, one telling of monastic life that drifts into the love of wonderful wine and walks in the garden with young ladies.

Next will be “La Bomba,” one of six works by Mateo Flecha found in Las Ensaladas de Flecha published in 1581 by his nephew of the same name. It is from this publication that we get the term, ensalada. “La Bomba” (“The Fire Pump”) is a Spanish “salad” that gives us a little bit of everything, including the lively story of a ship in distress as it is saved by the vessel’s pump, constant help from the Virgin Mary as honor is given to the birth of Christ, appropriately set in Latin, and all contained in a complex group of beautiful renaissance chansons with vibrant syncopated rhythms.

We will continue on to 19th-century Norway with two selections from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Edvard Grieg, “Ases Death” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” with its incessant rhythms that drive to an exiting climax. Also featured will be the beautiful and hypnotic “Våren,” commonly know in English as “The Last Spring,” one of a pair of vocal works that Grieg arranged for instruments and titled, Two Elegiac Melodies. Included with these works will be a canon that Grieg composed in his younger years.

The workshop will conclude with a musical curiosity by Victor Eijkhout, an entire symphony beginning with a rapid allegro, then a lovely minuet, a beautiful but short adagio and a snappy scherzo, all in fifteen seconds! This requires a tour de force of concentration on the part of the performers as they wind their way through the complex structure of the music in such a short period of time and will serve as an appropriate close to the day.

On Saturday, January 14, Thomas Axworthy will be presenting a workshop for the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra featuring the music described in this article. Thomas Axworthy has served as director of the Los Angeles Recorder Orchestra, the Southern California Early Music Consort, co-director for the Canto Antiguo Workshop in Early Music and Dance and is co-founder of the early music ensemble, Canto Antiguo. He has taught at Rio Hondo College and directed the Collegium for the Claremont Graduate School. He has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and can be heard on numerous soundtracks for major motion pictures and television programs. He has recorded for the Musical Heritage Society, Nonesuch, Dargason, Titanic and Word Records. The workshop will take place at Trinity Church, 330 Ravenswood Avenue in Menlo Park from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The workshop is open to recorder players from the intermediate to advanced level. Workshop fees are as follows: MPRO, SFEMS and ARS members, $50.00; non-members, $55.00. Please plan on bringing a music stand and a lunch. Snacks and beverages will be provided. Advanced registration is encouraged as space is limited. For further information, please visit the orchestra’s website at or telephone Leslie Pont at 650-941-3065. The location of this workshop is wheelchair accessible. The Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra is an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.