On a rainy Tuesday evening, over a hundred people attended the first of three performances by the Yale Collegium Musicum in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, proving that the influence of Renaissance music is long from forgotten.
The hourlong program, titled “Water, Wind, and Waves,” featured five distinct groups of pieces centering on this year’s concert theme of the elements. The predominantly undergraduate music group features instrumentalists and vocalists and was accompanied by Piffaro, a premier professional Renaissance ensemble based in Philadelphia.
“[This program] expands us musically,” said Collegium Music Director and Piffaro member Grant Herreid.
Collegium comprises of students enrolled in Herreid’s music department course, “The Performance of Early Music.” The class, which meets once a week, has two components — an academic portion that delves into the history and context of the course repertoire and a performance requirement. The semesterlong class is open to multiple semesters of re-enrollment.
Tuesday’s program started with a lecture given by Herreid that discussed the program and history of Baroque-style instruments. Rather than performing on contemporary instruments used in most music groups, Collegium prides itself in its use of historical instruments such as lutes, harpsichords, recorders and violas de gamba.
“[The Beinecke] is a good place to play,” said viola da gamba player Aurora Asadorian ’21. Yale School of Music graduate student and fellow viola da gamba player Cat Slowik GRD ’21 echoed Asadorian when she said that the openness of Beinecke creates a “resonant space” that is “great for early music.”
Founded by 20th-century composer Paul Hindemith — a YSM faculty member from 1940–53 — Collegium was the first undergraduate group in the country dedicated to the performance of 12th through 18th–century music. The 16-year partnership between Collegium and the Beinecke, which sponsors the ensemble’s performances in the venue, highlights the library’s extensive collections of musical literature.
Each group of pieces on Tuesday’s program evoked a different scene, ranging from a Christian church to a seafaring ship.
Most of the music performed had “anonymous” composers and dates back to as early as 1490. The second piece on the program, “Pasa el agua,” reflects the variety of dialects spoken in the Iberian Peninsula during the 16th century, requiring the vocalists to weave between Spanish and French.
Halfway through the program, Collegium performed a section titled “At Sea,” which opened with a song emphasizing the rowdy spirit of drunken sailors, with such lyrics as “give us some beare, Ile drink thee.” In contrast, the following piece was an unaccompanied ballad sung a cappella by three vocalists, infused with repetitive lyrics of yearning and fatigue.
The evening took a more cheerful turn and closed with a final section titled “A Happy Return to Port,” which included cheerful ballads sailors would sing upon arriving to shore. By the end of the hourlong performance, the audience became familiar with the sound of primeval Renaissance ballads before, during and after journeys at sea.
Nick Abuzalaf ’21, now enrolled in his second semester of the course, attested to its impact on his understanding of music. Due to the class’ interdisciplinary focus on Renaissance history, linguistics and poetry, Abuzalaf considers the course a “holistic humanities experience.”
Abuzalaf, who is also a member of the a cappella group Pitches & Tones, said that the class offers a “good space for [students involved in a cappella] to get a different side of music.”
Allison Park | email@example.com
Correction, October 4: A previous version of this article stated that Nick Abuzalaf ’21 is a member of the a cappella group Shades. In fact, he is a member of Pitches & Tones.