Peter Sheppard Skærved Wed, 20 Sep 2017 09:51:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 10253107 Preludes & Vollenteries 1 – St Stephen Walbrook 14th September 2017 Thu, 14 Sep 2017 22:10:28 +0000  

Peter Sheppard Skærved  – Violins (Girolamo Amati 1628, Maggini? 16??)

St Stephen Walbrook (Sir Christopher Wren 1672-80)

An inspiring start to this exploration of 17th Century music, architecture and instruments. There’s so much to discover, but what strikes me most of all, the morning after the event, is the shaping of space and time, that the music, the instruments and the building, in combination demands; and, perhaps most of all, how that  develops, deepens, when the space is a listening space-when we (performer and audience) listen to each other, listening to each other, listening to the space. Even in the very centre of London, there’s no limit to how quiet this listening can take the music. For me, a revelation.


… the diversity of pieces was phenomenal and the acoustics of the space superb, ’twas really interesting to hear you manipulate that space. (Joshua Beyer – Luthier, Pittsburgh USA 14-9-17)

Rehearsal-Photo Malene Skaerved

Nothing prepared me for the personal impact of bringing this music to the first of these spaces. And, most of all, the impact of this being witnessed, shared. Malene and I arrived in the afternoon, to set up, to experiment, so that I could ease the sound in to the space. There were a few people in the building; some of the artists who exhibit their work in the space were taking pictures down, a few people stayed around for my rehearsal, or had hoped for some peace and quiet, which I disturbed.

I was immediately struck by the particular quality of sound in the building. It’s not silent, how could it be, nestled between Cannon Street, the Mansion House Interchange and Lombard Street? But, the quality of quiet, which the building induced, and this is no metaphor, was striking. The noise from outside was, somehow, transformed into a soft, warm carpet, on which the most delicate gestures can rest, shining, in relief. I would later realise that I had never played so quiet for a whole concert.

This effect was enhanced, no, transformed, once I was joined, by my listeners, or, as I see them, collaborators. I have always failed to see an audience as passive recipients of a concert. A concert, as the word instructs, needs to be concerted, and it is my happy experience, that music does not happen, from my point of view has executant, until the instruction offered by the score, of the composer, of knowledge, historical and contextual, is joined by the actuality of the rendering, the performance in time, and how that is shaped by the space, and most of all, by the very real direction of shared listening. This building, enhances that, counterpoint,
Standing looking east, it struck me, that, though Wren never visited Italy, and would have had precious little chance, if any, to witness Roman building, his understanding of the function of a public space was, is, powerfully affected by the classical sense of the relationship between sound and architecture. Christopher Wren, who began work on this church in 1672, knew his Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Vitruvius’s The Ten Books of on Architecture, returns to music, again and again. As I stood there, the first thing that struck me, as I sounded my first notes (on the 1628 Amati) in the building, was that, I was experiencing the relationship which Vitruvius demanded, between the clear sound which an architect should seek to offer in a theatre, and the ‘perfection of clearness’ sought by instrument makers. They are one and the same; an instrument is not an instrument until it meets the space in which it is sounded, and nothing sounds until it is heard. Vitruvius was very aware that listeners experienced a performance with all their senses:

‘… the spectators, with their wives and children, sit through them spellbound, and their bodies, motionless from enjoyment, have the pores open, into which blowing winds find their way.’

At some point, comparatively recently, we forgot this, and confused performance with monstrance, a showing. Close contact with an intimate group of listeners, articulating such a classical space with their bodies, disposed in various ways, but each of which offered the model on which the classical orders are based, encourages, or rather urges the musician to remember, and to be alive to all that this offers.
So I began, with music that is almost not music, Nicola Matteis’ G major prelude. As I was preparing the programme in the week before, I had a moment of doubt (well, many), as I realised that I was going to be offering so many ‘preludes’ to the audience, and perhaps no actual material resulting from all this ‘pre-facing’. As so often, I found myself falling back on Phillips’ New World of English Words :

‘Prelude – A Proem or entrance into a discourse or subjects. Also in music it is taken for a voluntary or florishe on any instrument’ (Phillips ‘New world of English Works 1658)

The 17th century prelude can be, crudely, sorted into two categories; the ideal and the human. In as much as the most ‘ideal’ prelude is always to be played by a human, with human foibles, and the most ‘human’ is by its nature, unable to escape from the classical bonds which sprung and continue to spring from the nature and action of our very frail bodies, there is never a clear divide between the two, and most of the time, they offer a ‘gyre’-like interrelationship, the one so loved by Yeats:

‘What is the explanation of it all? /What does it look like to the learned man?/Nothing in nothings whirled, or when he will./From nowhere unto nowhere nothings run.’

Matteis’ many preludes come down on both ends of the divide, but this G major prelude is all Vitruvian order:

‘Order gives due measure to the members of a work considered separately, and symmetrical agreement to the proporations of the whole. It is an adjustment according to quantity.’

Setting pitch, harmony and tessitura aside, this simple explores the division of the whole by integers of two, four, eight, and so on, and the re-bonding of various of those models into larger sub-groups, such as coupled/slurred pairs of quavers/eighth-notes, or the grouping of those 8th notes (which actually make up 1/16th of the division of the work into four-beat measures of minims/halfnotes) into bundles of 4, tied together with ‘ligatures’ (the surgical/corporeal imagery is inescapable). I will return to harmony later, but, as this most fragile series of ‘broken’ chords found their way into the space, the relationship to the building was inescapable. Look at it like this: Wren divided up the space with 16 columns. They mark out a Greek cross, with eight of the columns supporting a dome in the centure. Thus, a cross (four arms) is laid out on a square (a whole/one) exclude ng four corners, and made up of five spaces, and effectively dividing the ground plan into 9 units. Just like the music; the harder your try to confine your activities to mutiples of two and the results, the ‘perfect’ numbers, 6 (it being the product of 1:2:3) and 5, the Greek cross has five segments, implying the quincunx, emerge and dominate. It’s only the intervention of human activity, or imperfection, if you like, which can move us from this squarecirclesquared….

Nicola Matteis (fl. 1670 – after 1713) –  Prelude G Major

Henry Moore’s astonishing altar, 20 tonnes of Travertine offers illumination on the dialogue between past and present

Giuseppe Torelli (1658 – 1709) – Preludes E minor

Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632 – 1692) ‘Barabano’

It’s a real treat to hear 17th century music in the exquisite Wren church of St Stephen Walbrook in the heart of the City, tucked behind the Mansion House.

This church isn’t solemn, it’s joyful. Its dome and pillars have some of the richest decorative plasterwork in the country. The preludes resonate in the enormous space, calling to us from the time of Pepys, Hook and Newton. Peter’s commentary and delicate solos lead us to reflect on the characters who built this place and inhabited it, and the great treasure they have left us. (Louise Vale – Poet)

John Milton (1608- 1674)- ‘To Sabrina’ & Thomas Baltzar (1630 – 1663) – G minor Allemande & Variation, Corante, Sarabande

Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663 -1745) –D minor Prelude

Peter Sheppard Skærved – ‘ …voil qe’m digaz cals mais vos plaz’ ((Lombarda of Toulouse)

Thomas Strong=Font Cover 1679

Nicola Matteis (fl. 1670 – after 1713) –  D minor Prelude & Biagio Marini (1594  – 1663) – Capriccio per sonare Il violin a modo di Lira

East end of Wren’s Masterpiece

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644 – 1704) -& D major Prelude & Johann Joseph Vilsmayr (1663 – 1722) –  A Major Partita à Violino Solo Con Basso bellè imitate (Artificiosus Concentus pro Camera)

Giovanni Bassano (1561 – 1617) – G major Ricercare

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644 – 1704) – ‘Mystery Sonata XVI  ‘Guardian Angel, Companion of Mankind’ (Chaconne)

Wren’s playful lantern tower and dome 14 9 17

Welcome to the first event of ‘Preludes & Vollenteries’. This series of salons is inspired by the architecture of the Square Mile, the astonishing churches built and restored in the years after the Great Fire of 1666. Today’s concert brings together music by musicians whose careers flowered in London and works by composer/violinists published in the ‘Square Mile’ at the end of the 17th Century.

I am very grateful to the Revd Jonathan Evens for all the inspiration and help that he has offered for this first salon of the series. The next concert will be 6pm on the 29th September at St Margaret Lothbury.









September 2017 (london) Thu, 14 Sep 2017 09:19:52 +0000

Pencil and Lamplight. 13 9 17

LIstening to John Blow 15 9 17

Listening. 15 9 17

Briony Cox-Williams 15 9 17

Ole Bull in Madison, Wisconsin. A new adventure begins! Sat, 02 Sep 2017 23:24:55 +0000

‘I must go out into the world, to bring my spark to a flame’ Ole Bull
The first notes of his music to be heard in his Madison Wisconsin Home for a century. 2 9 17

Ole Bull in Madison

We arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, early on the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend.   I was very generously invited by Bob Klebba and David Vaughan to visit 130 Gilman Street, Madison, Wisconsin. This is the extraordinary 1850’s mansion which was Bull’s home in the State Capital, after he married Sarah Thorpe in 1870. Fortuitously, our hotel was situated, in the shadow of the magnificent State Capitol building, just a few blocks from 130 Gilman Street. So the walk from our hotel to Ole Bull’s Madison home was, quite literally, first left, third right and up the hill. Never was there a less onerous pilgrimage.


Here is the title page of the collected Mozart sonatas, inscribed by Bull to his second wife, Sarah, before their marriage, which I found researching in his house in Bergen


I have often asked myself what it is I am hunting for, when I try to get close to an object, a place, or a person from the past? If I were an actor, playing a role, I suspect that the answer might seem clear. Or, if my interest was that of a historian, looking for the how, the why, and the when, I might have a better idea of what it is that I do. Richard Holmes has written beautifully of his need, to put his feet in the footsteps of a forbear, if it is the young Robert Louis Stevenson that he is hunting, or to stand and look from (as well as at)the place where his subject hung his hat, if it is Percy Bysshe Shelley on the banks of the Arno. I cannot deny that these approaches are part of what I do, but it’s not the whole story.

Lysefjord seen from where I performed in Bull’s Music Room 31 5 14

Another way that I might have to look at this activity, is, doubtless, tied to my interest in instruments, in objects, owned by, of pertinent to whomever, whatever, fascinates me at any given time. If I can put my hand on something, fathom out, how does it work? – What does it feel like? – Then I have a useful tool for understanding and performing. This applies as much to a door handle as a great musical instrument. And, of course, the practical aspect of this is accompanied by the haptic (what does it feel like to hold, to touch?), the sense of quiddity, or thingness (what do I learn from the physical reality of something, practical and, if you will forgive me, intangibly?), and the mystic the ‘acqui es encerrada el alma de ….’, where an object offers understanding, meaning, even revelation which stretches far beyond logic, fact, or proof.

Bull's birthplace, the family business

Bull’s birthplace, the family business

A house, a home, is a summa of these things, as our relationship with the places where we live, work, are born, die, or merely pause, is infuriatingly irrational. Or perhaps I should say magical. If I stand on Brook Street and look up at the house where Handel lived, the vibration, the glimmer of the building is all the more, because it’s also the place that Jimi Hendrix stayed in London. Handel certainly did not know that another great musician was going to call the place home for a while. I have never seen any suggestion that Hendrix knew or cared about the earlier tenant. But, there’s no denying the fact that I, standing on the traffic island between careening messenger cycles and queueing taxis, sense a hum, like feedback, emanating from the house and the two H’s, travellers both. And I am not that interested in either of them.


I find that the impression is more powerful, for me, that is, when I am on the trail, hunting the sound, the passport, if you like, of itinerant artists. And there was no more footloose violinist than Ole Bull. So, many of my impressions are of movement. I stand on the sidewalk where ‘Svaneapoteken’, Bull’s birthplace and childhood home, stood in Bergen; the wooden building is no longer there, burnt down in one of the many fires that have plagued the city in the pasts 1000 years. But the new building is still a pharmacy, and there’s still a bronze swan over the door. And, although the building was re-orientated, and the entrance moved from the street to the corner, the stone arch is still the original. It was through this doorway that the young boy came and went, it was from here that he ‘went out in to the world, to bring [his] spark to a flame’. It was from here, that his journey began, to new homes, or which the most distant, would be the Sandstone mansion on Gilmann Street. He left one, and arrived at another and that’s one aspect of what I try to do.

Arriving at Lysoen, on my first visit, in 2012

So often it’s the walk, or the drive, or the boat ride to such a place which leaves the most indelible impression. The only way to get to Lysøen, Bull’s most spectacular residence, is across the Lysefjørd from Buena Kai, by boat. The first time I went there, it was a spectacular, golden, autumn morning. The water was millpond smooth, and the boat ride to Bull’s ‘Moorish Alhambra’ felt like some regal progress. At the same time, as this was my first visit to one of Bull’s homes, I reached for typologies, equivalencies in my own experience. My childhood summers were spent on the creeks of the Lizard Peninsula in South Cornwall, where oak trees reach down to the water, and sunsets are graced with curlew cries. So my first impression is that Bull would have liked the Gillan Creek, St Antony in Meneage. My second impression was that Bull’s ‘creek’ smelt sweeter; with under a metre of tide, there was far less Bladderwrack to oxidise, exposed, each day.

With time, I came to have a very personal understanding, one that works for me, of what Bull sought in order to work, to live, to play, to rest. Rest was in short supply in his 50 year career, so it was important that it was the kind of rest that he needed. It’s something that many touring musicians have longed for; sanctuary. Niccolo Paganini dreamt of retiring to a country mansion, where he could play chamber music with his friends, and eat food, prepared to his mother’s recipes. A home, a retreat, with elements of an idealised childhood, but shorn of its various privations. Unlike Paganini, who was stricken with recurrent health problems from his 40s onwards, Ole Bull was blessed with rude health, and, it seems to me, never sought to slow down. When a statue was proposed, at one point, depicting him with lowered bow, Bull protested: ‘No, no! I want to live!’

The view from James Madison Park, to Maple Bluff and Governor’s Island. 1 9 17

We arrived a little early at the Thorpe Mansion, so walked a little further, 2 minutes down the hill to the shore of Mendota Lake. My reaction was immediate, and vocal: “Well, of course he had to marry her! He took one look at this, and he felt at home.” It was a late summer’s morning and, to appropriate T S Eliot, ‘another day/Prepares for heat and silence.’ Mendota Lake was watered silk, and the clouds looked at their own reflections. He stood here, it seemed, and thought: this, this is another home, this I know.

Here’s our first sight of the house, built from golden sandstone, in a classical, but distinctly Midwestern Style.

The Thorpe/Bull Mansion 930 am 2 9 17

Here’s the back of the house in the 1870’s-the lower level rear section was made from wood and replaced with stone after Bull’s death in 1880

The rear of the house seen from the side of Lake Mendota, 1870s

The rear of the house, today


Decoration on the front steps

Pericles oversees the drawing roo,

The main staircase

A wonderful salon audience and the house springs into life. 130 Gilman, 2 9 17

Poul Ruders – Bel Canto Mon, 21 Aug 2017 07:39:31 +0000

Crossing the Bridge (Denmark-Sweden) 23 1 14

Poul Ruders – Bel Canto 

Peter Sheppard Skaerved – Stradivari 1698 (Joachim)

Graveyard, Skt. Petri Kirke, Copenhagen. Summer 2002

Preludes & Vollenteries – everyday things Sat, 19 Aug 2017 09:29:58 +0000

Powder Book/Calendar 1708 (Saints Days & Phases of the Moon)

Torelli-E minor Prelude (Publ. London 1705) Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1698 (Joachim)


Tartini-L’arte del arco; Variations on Gavotte from Corelli’s Op.5, No.10 Thu, 17 Aug 2017 02:05:13 +0000 Giuseppe Tartini–L’arte del arco; Variations on Gavotte from Corelli’s Op.5, No.10

(L’arte dell’arco o siano cinquanta [50] variazioni per violino, e sempre collo stesso basso composte dal Sigr. Giuseppe Tartini sopra alla più bella gauotta del Corelli)

Outtakes of Recording Day – 16 8 17 St Michaels Highgate, London

Peter Sheppard Skaerved – Violin (Girolamo Amati), Bow-copy of Tartini’s bow by Antonino Airenti

Questions and suggestions. Sat, 12 Aug 2017 20:46:31 +0000 I will post here any particular questions that come up, through E mail, Facebook, etc, if I think that they might be on interest.

12 8 17 Notation – From Composer Neil Talbot

‘I was wanting to ask you a question about all the MSS you receive (or find) for your violin alone series. How would you, as a violinist, respond to music written on two staves, the lower on an Alto Clef, the higher on a treble clef (or treble clef 8, for the octave above)? For a composer, it might be easier to notate. What would it be like for the performer?’

I am very interested in the most creative solutions to these questions. and encourage the use of multiple clefs, staves etc. A lot of the 17th Century repertoire I play uses soprano clef, and I love the solutions of say, Westhoff. Back of course, notates violin music in treble, soprano and alto clef (the Passepied from the 1st Orchestral Suite). At various times, composers writing for me use double staves (David Mattews for four-part counterpoint), Bass clef (Michael Alec Rose-for a low line) and many more. I think that the crucial point, is, as music does not need to be designed to be sight-read, then the most creative, inspiring notation solution is always the one that I like. Show me what you have in mind!

Conversation with George Rochberg. Notebook Page, Germany 2002 Sat, 05 Aug 2017 23:25:08 +0000 Conversation with George Rochberg. Notebook Page, Germany 2002

On the same page, remarks from George: ‘ Peter, you have no idea how satisfying it is, after 27 years, to be proved right. With you, the piece just FLOWS.’

‘You know, this concerto really gave Stern’s career, which was flagging, a much needed shot in the arm. But, as one friend of his said to me, after one of the first performances, in Chicago, What are you trying to do, George? Are you trying to kill him?! You know, Steinberg, who commissioned the piece said George, you know it’s just a little box with strings: it’s never going to be heard in your piece.  Sadly, as you know, Steinberg died before the premiere, But as you can see, he was wrong.’

George Rochberg to PSS, 16 3 2002 (Notebook record)

Iannis Xenakis-Mikka S Wed, 02 Aug 2017 07:50:41 +0000 On stage at the Manor House 13 6 16

On stage at the Manor House 13 6 16

Iannis Xenakis-Mikka S (with help from the Muezzin over the wall) Manor House Concert Performance 13 6 16

Wall near Hermou Street, Nicosia 14 6 16

Wall near Hermou Street, Nicosia 14 6 16

Setting up for my morning Keynote Address for the Continuum 2016 Conference

Setting up for my morning Keynote Address for the Continuum 2016 Conference

Conversation with Xenakis

Conversation with Xenakis

French coat of arms

French coat of arms

High decorated French Medieval carving

High decorated French Medieval carving

Reused French medieval capital in 19th century buiding

Reused French medieval capital in 19th century buiding

The modern world. My morning coffee 14 6 16

The modern world. My morning coffee 14 6 16

Eroded stone wall, plants and dust

Eroded stone wall, plants and dust

August 2017 Tue, 01 Aug 2017 17:45:11 +0000

an afternoon with Marius Skaerved and Henry Moore. 1 8 17

Bride of the wind. Malene Sheppard Skaerved on the terrace 7 9 17

Love & Comedy Tour in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 5 9 17

Morning coffee on the Upper West Side 7 9 17

Manhattan overnight. August 28 2017

A happy hour in the Met with Malene Sheppard Skaerved, Marius Skaervedand Cristóbal de Villalpando’s awe-inspiring Moses raising the brazen Serpent/Crucifixion (1683) from Puebla August 28t

Charles le Brun head at La Guardia. 29 8 17

Singer Heather Masse listening 2 9 17 Madison Wisconsin

Richard Kriehn and Chris Siebold rocking out, 2 9 17

Overwhelming. A perfect show from Garrison Keillor, Rochester Michigan 3 9 17

The joys of travel. Hands, feet, polyhedra, newspapers. La Guardia 29 8 17

Manhattan overnight 27 8 17

The best shooting star I or any of us ever saw. Streaking strangely slowly across Manhattan, East to West, 9pm 26 8 17

John Wilmot and Thomas Baltzar break fast on the Broadway, sober, for once. 24 8 17 NYC

John Dryden finds the Yggdrasil on the Upper West Side: Chymic flame, Northern Star 23 8 17

Path Notes 18 8 17

…post-recording daze. conversation with Malene Sheppard Skaerved and a tree. Smithfield 17 8 17

London Underground/Overground. Movement, stillness, sound , colour and girt. 14 8 17

Chalk pebbles, Dumpton Gap (Kent) 12 8 17

Conversation on Store Street. 10 8 17.

One hour after full tide, Wapping Reach, 3 8 17