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The Alehouse Sessions

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Music-making during the period of the Civil wars and Commonwealth was therefore largely divided between those who “chose to fiddle at home” (either in their own home or in the homes of the Gentlemen that could afford to employ them) and those professional musicians forced to make a living playing in taverns and alehouses. Talk to a member of staff at the auditorium entrance if you have a disability that means you can’t queue, or you need extra time to take your seat. They can arrange priority entry for you as soon as the doors open.

Famous composers like Henry Purcell part-took in these sessions, and composed lots of music for the occasions. The alehouse sessions is flexible and can be presented in many different forms and settings. It can be an enlightenment project, a music-theatre, an improvised happening, a show or an educational event – I see it is an organic, living organism that never stands still. Shakespeare refers to the poor level of catch singing in many of his plays, like in “Twelfth Night” where Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the clown Feste are singing the catch “Hold thy peace”, where, being disturbed from sleep by their “performance”, Malvolio exclaims: Anyway, in case you were wondering if we were just a bunch of males with a mid-life crisis, we also have a gorgeous cameo appearance from soprano Mary Bevan singing irresistible Purcell. On September 23, visitors to the Southbank Centre will have the chance to live through the elevated status of the tavern, and get a feel for the 17th Century Alehouses through the means of music. Image: Theresa PewalWith the re-instatement of the monarchy and Charles II in 1660, everything changed for the musicians in London. Charles was a music-lover and re-opened theatres. He re-instated church musicians and wanted his own orchestra. But the King constantly had to deal with the never-ending fights between catholic and protestant, Whig and Tory, city and court – and also with the Parliament that kept a very close eye on the country’s economy – so he simply couldn’t afford to offer full-time employment for artists, musicians, dancers, actors etc. Before 1660, the most common music-making in the pubs would be predominated by drinking songs, bawdy catches and ballads, and simple instrumental music played by fiddlers and fifers. Using their own arrangement of the tunes, these ‘Alehouse Boys’ combine this unique format with humor, an unrivalled virtuosity and flare for improvisation. This made it more difficult for musicians to bring their instruments 4, but the demand for entertainment at the drinking houses was high, so instead people started performing vocal music like part-songs, catches and canons. Post-restoration The signature of this project is the interaction on stage between the players and the audience. If it has to be put in a historical context, the project draws its inspiration from the Shakespearian theatre where there was a direct communication between stage and hall- going in-between the story that was being told and occurring events happening in the hall. This is in stark contrast to the 19th century drama with dark halls looking at the “gods” on stage. It is the latter which the classical mainstream industry has adapted fully.”

Music became enormously popular in 17th- and 18th century London, yet there were no orchestras that offered steady jobs. This meant that London was bulging with freelance musicians. Musicians, that at one time are sitting amongst beer-glasses and a loud audience playing in one of the informal and highly popular concerts in one of the many Taverns and alehouses, and the next participating in one of the large charity concerts, before rushing off to join one of the opera performances at operas like the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. Between May and September, which was outside of the opera- and theatre season, one could find these musicians playing in one of the Pleasure Gardens - huge outdoor events with music.

Before classical music became real art music and the composer had all the power, artistic freedom was a lot higher for performers. Musicians were expected to demonstrate improvisational and ornamental skills throughout the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods, but the amount of improvisation and the way in which they responded to the audience would depend on the occasion. For example, there would be a certain amount of ornamentation within the Gloria sung at church, but not any adaptation based on the audience’s response. In a tavern or on the streets, the artistic freedom would naturally be a lot higher as the musicians would be free to respond and change to whatever audience might be at hand. Eike and Barokksolistene bring the camaraderie of the period, the artistry and the connection between musicians and the audience to life in this production, filmed on location at Battersea Arts Centre and The George Inn, Southwark. Some went to the country-side serving as light entertainment for the aristocracy and tutoring their children, some joined the military³ and some church musicians stayed in London to become teachers. Then I came across a book of Playford dance tunes. The music was only faintly sketched out – just a melody with no tempo indications or harmony – which meant that musicians were expected to flesh out the harmony and adapt to whatever instruments were available. For step-free access from the Queen Elizabeth Hall Slip Road off Belvedere Road to the Queen Elizabeth Hall auditorium seating (excluding rows A to C) and wheelchair spaces in the Rear Stalls, plus Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer and the Purcell Room, please use the Queen Elizabeth Hall main entrance.

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