Tobias Hume & Charterhouse Chapel. A sense of place

Posted on August 8th, 2019 by


Tobias Hume (1579-1645) – Captaine Humes Musicall Humors / The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and Others (1605) – Selections

Peter Sheppard Skærved – Violin (Scordatura EBFsharpCsharp) Anonymous/Brescia ca.1570 (all unwound gut)

Concert performance – Preludes & Vollenteries 23. The Chapel Charterhouse (where Hume lived the last 20 years of his life and is buried) – September 18th 2019.

Recording Courtesy of Colin Still/Optic Nerve

Captain Hume’s Pavan
Duke John of Polland his Galiard
Harke Harke!
I am falling
Loves Galiard
A Merrye Conceite
My hope is decayed
A Pollish Ayre
Question, Aunswere
Tom & Mistresse Fine

Preparation: The material below, is from the run up to the concert.

‘To the understanding Reader.

I Doe not ftudie Eloquence, or professe Musicke, although I doe love Sence, and affect Harmony: My Profession being, as my Education hath beene, Armes, the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; whiche in mee hath been alwayes Generous, because never Mercenarie. To prayse Musicke, were to say, the Sunne is Bright. To extolle my selfe, would name my labours vainglorious. Onely this,my studies are far from servile imitations, I robbe no others inventions. I take no Italian Note to an Englishe dittie, or filch fragments of Songs to stuffe out my volumes. These are mine own Phansies expressed by my proper Genius , which if thou dost dislike, let me see thine. Carpere Vel noli nostra, vel ede tua [ Leaue off to carpe at mine, or put out thine. – Martial] ….

The friend of his friend, Tobias Hume

I am fascinated by what music teaches us about ourselves. I am fascinated by what music teaches about each other. I am fascinated by what music teaches us about space. I am fascinated by what music teaches us about time. I am fascinated by what music teaches us about place. I am fascinated by what music teaches us about instruments. I am fascinated what music teaches us about how we live.

But all of this can be inverted. I am fascinated by how we live can teach us about music. I am fascinated by what instruments can teach us about music. I am fascinated by how place can teach us about music. I am fascinated by how time can teach us about music. I am fascinated by what space can teach us about music. I am fascinated how we can teach each other about music.

And with all this, what is clear to me, is that there is no limit to what we can learn, from each moment, space, place … and that sometimes we are given particular opportunities to witness this process. Today was one of those.

The Washhouse Courtyard. Charterhouse

On the 19th September, I will bring my ‘Preludes & Vollenteries’ series to the astonishing chapel and environment of Charterhouse. I had long dreamt of working in this space, most particularly, because the extraordinary soldier and viol virtuoso Tobias Hume (1569/79-1645), was a ‘poor brother’ there in the last two decades of his life, and has a memorial in the chapel.

Little is known about Hume’s life, save that he was a professional soldier in Northern Europe, upset John Dowland with his advocacy of the viol over the lute, and complained about the food at Charterhouse. I think that, were he to be a ‘brother’ today, it’s unlikely that he was would be upset, as there are four meals a day offered in the splendid galleried dining hall. But I am not here to talk about any of that.

The Treasury Tower, that is, the former vestibule to the Priory chapterhouse with treasury at first-floor level. C14 with additions of c.1512, including the vaulting of the former treasury, and the upper stages of the tower, including bell turret and cupola, of 1613.

Today all that I hoped to do, was to see what happened, when I played Hume’s music in the place he knew so well, and which, I soon found, knew the music so well. I took along the 16th Century Brescian violin, which has become central to this project, and spent an hour playing, four or five of Hume’s ‘Ayres’ next to Thomas Sutton’s elaborate tomb (1615) at the east end of north aisle.

The Cloister Walk Otherwise known as the Norfolk gallery. Built in 1571 by Thomas Howard as a covered way and terrace leading to a tennis court, incorporating part of the western alley of the Great Cloister. 

Malene, my wife came to read and to discuss ideas, about the place. She has an extraordinary sense of how people inhabit, in the deepest sense, homes, buildings, spaces, and her divination of figures from the past, around us still, help me so much.

So what did I learn. Well, you can listen to the extract above, just taken from the camera microphone. There’s a particularly stillness, to the airspace of the chapel. I am not sure that I could even think of using the word ‘acoustic’ as the presence of the sound in the room was nothing to do with hearing. Perhaps more to do with holding, or even cradling the sound. The building encourages the player to wait, to feel, to observe the music finding it’s way from you, and back again. And there’s no sense of time passing, of the rush of the city just outside. Ornaments, divisions, reprises and most of all, quietnesses, which I had not though before, came to me, and now I must learn from what Hume was whispering to me, but whispering forcibly, with a soldiers hand on my shoulder.