Ripping up the early music rulebook

Musica Poetica perform in Bath

This August saw the first full-length outing of Baroque Tales at Bath’s historic Old Theatre Royal. Musica Poetica’s Kate Conway (viola da gamba) gives a performer’s perspective on this hugely successful event which shrugs off any preconceptions of unapproachable concerts and stuffy venues…

Early Music often suffers from a slightly staid image, yet Musica Poetica’s Baroque Tales – an evening of baroque music combined with cocktails and canapés – turns the traditional concert format on its head, presenting music from the 17th and 18th centuries in a manner more akin to a jazz club night.

As performers, this presents a number of interesting questions. How should we enter the stage? Should there even be a stage? How should we address the audience? What should we wear? Should we bow? Shouldn’t we bow?

Through music college and beyond, we’ve been trained to follow the rules of the concert hall, and to stick to them to the letter. But in this setting, the rules are much more fuzzy. In fact, slightly scarily (at first), there are no real rules at all.

We were fortunate that Saturday’s venue was the Old Theatre Royal in Bath, with its atmospheric auditorium and conveniently-located bar (on the approach to the hall for optimum cocktail distribution). We were also able to perform in the round on the arena floor, with the audience almost able to read over our shoulders.

The crowd in Bath

The crowd in Bath

While the instrumentalists needed to remain fairly static, singers Gwendolen Martin and Christopher Webb were able to move freely around the auditorium walking amongst the audience and spontaneously responding to the music as they were performing.

One of the key aims of Baroque Tales is to remove barriers between those performing and those listening, so that the music becomes more immediate and inclusive. Consequently, the musicians talk to the audience throughout, and we’re very keen for the audience to talk to us too!

During the interval, we mingled with the capacity crowd over drinks. Interestingly, a large proportion were not regular concert-goers or early music fans (yet!). Also, the demographic was more wide-ranging than at many ‘standard’ performances.

Many people had been attracted by the combination of cocktails and music, and by the unusual venue, choosing Baroque Tales as ‘something different’ for a Saturday evening.

 The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We were particularly delighted by the number of early music ‘first timers’ keen to find out about further concerts.

When putting together the concept and programme for Baroque Tales, we were adamant that the music shouldn’t be compromised as a result of the format. Musically, the only real difference from a ‘regular’ concert is that each item is kept relatively short, with a pick ‘n’ mix selection of composers, national styles and instrumentation.

Kate Conway

Kate Conway

The famous Rejoice greatly from Handel’s Messiah, for example, is juxtaposed with lesser-known works such as the gorgeous An Wasserflüssen Babylon by Franz Tunder – one of our favourite discoveries from our Tunder series. And the delicate French nuances of Rameau and Clérambault are contrasted with Biber’s pictorial and brash Sonata Representiva, and again with Leveridge’s bawdy Comic Songs, which wouldn’t be out of place in a modern pub!

These pieces were originally written to be played in a huge variety of venues, from church to theatre to drawing room, but the one backdrop that few of the composers could have envisaged was the modern purpose-built concert hall, with its rules, regulations and conventions. Sometimes, this setting can inadvertently create an unwelcoming atmosphere, and act as a barrier to the transmission of the music that we’re so passionate about.

With Baroque Tales, Musica Poetica is trying to redress the balance, and to rip up the rulebook. By all accounts, that rulebook never really existed anyway!


What is the Tunder Project?

Franz Tunder

The Spring edition of Early Music Today featured a fascinating interview with Music Poetica’s Oliver John Ruthven. Here are some of the edited highlights from this interview in advance the final three concerts as part of the lunchtime ‘Tunder World’ series in the heart of London.

So why the focus on Franz Tunder?

2017 is the 350th anniversary of his death in 1667. His music is not widely performed, especially in the UK, and we wanted to use this anniversary as an opportunity to share his works with more people.

In addition, Tunder’s music personifies the ‘musica poetica’ style after which we are named. This was a school of thought in which musical rhetorical devices were defined and linked back to those of classical literature and art. Tunder was therefore paving the way for the masters of the high Baroque, most particularly Johann Sebastian Bach.

What are you performing as part of this concert series?

We are performing all 17 of Tunder’s surviving vocal works ranging from miniature solo cantatas for one singer, one obbligato and basso continuo, to grander chorale cantatas for vocal consort and strings. Although these were published in 1901, a newer edition of all the vocal works doesn’t exist – so we are taking this opportunity to create a comprehensive new edition together with recordings of all of Tunder’s 17 vocal works.

And what instruments and voices are needed to perform Tunder’s music?

As organist and director of music at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, Tunder had a team of very capable instrumentalists at his disposal. These included violinists, viola da gambists and at least one lutenist. This was in addition to trained singers, capable of singing as a choir and as soloists.



In our concert series, almost every performance involves a string consort of violins and viola da gambas, underpinned by a basso continuo team of violone, chamber organ and lute. For the larger chorale cantatas this dense string texture provides a luxurious bed of sound for the choral movements, as well as intricate interplay with single voices in his smaller solo cantatas.

And from where did Tunder draw his musical influences?

Tunder, like any composer of his day, was writing music to accommodate the tastes of his audience. A vogue for all things Italian may well explain the italianate-ness in much of his music. We know that as a young man Tunder travelled to Italy and may have studied with Girolamo Frescobaldi. His music certainly shows a distinctly Italian influence and there are similarities in the scoring of some of his work with the music of Monteverdi.

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Girolamo Frescobaldi

But in terms of the texts he set, the inherent piety of his North German world, derived from its Lutheran roots, meant that the words are all taken from (and inspired by) the Bible, some in German and some in Latin.

So what have we got to look forward to this Autumn?

We have some real highlights to look forward to this Autumn when we will be performing Tunder’s larger scale cantatas. These clearly prefigure Bach’s own cantatas, whilst still retaining an antique quality which harks back to Schütz and Lassus. We look forward to seeing you at our forthcoming lunchtime concerts at the exquisite church of St Sepulchre’s without Newgate.

Composer Feature: Nicolaus Bruhns

Nicolaus Bruhns

Organist and composer Nicolaus Bruhns was born near the port of Husum on the German/Danish borders in 1665. The town was also the birthplace of novelist Theodor Storm, who coined the epithet ‘the grey town by the sea’.

The harbour at Husum

The harbour at Husum

Despite this less than illustrious start, Bruhns, in his short life was to become one of the most prominent musicians of his generation. His life began in the little village of Schwabstedt just outside Husum where he grew up in a family of musicians and composers. His grandfather was a professional lutenist to the ducal court at Gottorf and to Lübeck town council. His father, Paul was the local organist – possibly having studied with Franz Tunder.

The Bruhns' family home in Schwabstedt

The Bruhns’ family home in Schwabstedt

When he was 16, Nicolaus and his brother Georg went to Iive with their uncle in Lübeck where he learnt the violin and viola da gamba, and then organ and composition with the great Dieterich Buxtehude, who was so impressed with his talents and progress that he recommended him for work as an organist and violinist in Copenhagen. It was here, mixing with Italian musicians – and other nationalities – where his musical and stylistic awareness was undoubtedly broadened.

Dieterich Buxtehude

Dieterich Buxtehude

Bruhns was now in demand and was offered jobs simultaneously in Husum and Kiel – but he chose his home town as they increased his salary to win him over. The decision to appoint him was unanimous, ‘since never before had the city heard his like in composition and performance on all manner of instruments’. He remained in Husum until his untimely death in 1697, at the age of just 31.

The composer Johann Mattheson who was a contemporary of Bruhns wrote:
“Sometimes he [Bruhns] took his violin up to the organ loft and played with such skill that it sounded like two, three or more instruments at once. Thus he would realise the upper parts on the violin while his feet played an appropriate bass on the pedals.”

Bruhns’ surviving works are unfortunately small with just 12 vocal and 5 organ pieces having survived. His three sacred madrigal cantatas are said to represent a direct link with the next century and the work of JS Bach. As for his organ works, one of his two E minor praeludia is often cited as one of the greatest works of the North German organ tradition.

Example of Nicolaus Bruhns' surviving manuscripts

Example of Nicolaus Bruhns’ surviving manuscripts


Out of the Deep

Works by Franz Tunder and Nicolaus Bruhns form the programme for the next concert in Musica Poetica’s Tunder World series of lunchtime concerts at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the heart of the city of London.

Franz Tunder

Franz Tunder

The concert features perhaps Franz Tunder’s most evocative work, O Jesu dulcissime in which two violins weave a chromatic pattern around a bass vocal soloist. This is an impassioned prayer to Christ, typical of Tunder’s chorale fantasia style. In addition to being the main organist at Lübeck’s main church, the Marienkirche, he also became the administrator and treasurer there from 1647.

Two Violins

This cantata is paired with an extensive and virtuosic work by Nicolaus Bruhns, De profundis clamavi. Although he only lived to the age of 31 this Danish-German organist, violinist, and composer was one of the most prominent organists and composers of his generation. Bruhns’ music was heavily influenced by Tunder and his son-in-law, Dieterich Buxtehude, whose lovely keyboard Suite will also be performed.

Musica Poetica’s free lunchtime concerts at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate are inspired by the work of Franz Tunder who instigated the ‘Abendmusiken’ tradition of free concerts at the Marienkirche in Lübeck from about 1646 onwards.

Originally, the Abendmusiken were a series of organ recitals for the businessmen who congregated at the town’s stock exchange, but they soon grew into elaborate performances – especially at Christmas. These concerts continued through the 17th and 18th centuries and were unusual with their policy of free admission through being financed by the business community.



Franz Tunder
O Jesu dulcissime (O sweetest Jesus)

Dieterich Buxtehude
Suite in E minor BuxWV 236

Nicolaus Bruhns
De profundis clamavi (Out of the deep I call to you)

Join us for ‘Out of the Deep’ at 1.10pm  on Thursday 29 June in the tranquil setting of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the heart of the city of London.

More information

Composer Feature: Franz Tunder

Diagram from the International Astronomical Union showing the orbit of 7871 Tunder

On 22 September 1990 the Belgian Astronomer Eric Walter Elst discovered a minor planet at the La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. Read the fascinating story of the name he chose for Asteroid 7871…

Diagram from the International Astronomical Union showing the orbit of 7871 Tunder

Diagram from the International Astronomical Union showing the orbit of 7871 Tunder

Elst is credited with being among the top 10 discoverers of minor planets including asteroids and with 3868 to his name. Many of his discoveries he named after famous composers such as 3784 Chopin, 3910 Liszt, 4492 Debussy and 4344 Buxtehude. But this one he named 7871 Tunder after the German composer and organist of the early to middle Baroque, Franz Tunder.

Eric Walter Elst

Eric Walter Elst

Franz Tunder was born in Lübeck in 1614 and at the age of 18 was appointed as court organist to Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp in Gottorf. It is thought that he had been studying in Italy with the great Italian keyboardist, Girolamo Frescobaldi in Florence. By 1641 he had been appointed as the organist at Lübeck’s main church, the Marienkirche, a post he held for the rest of his life after which he was succeeded by Dieterich Buxtehude – who married Tunder’s daughter, Anna Margarethe, in 1668.

Chris Webb from Musica Poetica tells us more about the group’s interest in Tunder’s music…

“We first came across Tunder’s music almost by accident. We were looking for German music written for the same forces as a piece we were performing by Buxtehude for 2 violins, continuo and five voices. Tunder’s Dominus illuminatio mea fitted the bill perfectly. But it quickly became apparent that this was more than just a ‘programme filler’ – it’s a great piece, full of colour and creative word-setting – a fascinating fusion of Italian and German styles. So this is when our love affair with Tunder’s music began. In fact he even gave our group its name as he was a key exponent of the musica poetica style. His is music full of dramatic word-painting and often daring harmonic experimentation.”

Da mihi Domine - an example of OJ Ruthven's new Tunder edition - currently being prepared for publication

Da mihi Domine – an example of OJ Ruthven’s new Tunder edition – currently being prepared for publication

Chris explained the background to developing the Tunder World 2017 series of free lunchtime concerts at St Sepulchre’s in the City of London…

“We were drawn to the Abendmusiken tradition and Tunder’s 17 surviving vocal works, which fitted nicely into a 9-concert series. These works are also varied in terms of style and forces – some for solo voice and small string ensemble, some for viol consort and as many as five or six singers. We think they provide an excellent overview to the stylistic developments of early Baroque in 17th century Germany. This year is a Tunder anniversary year too – he died 350 years ago in 1667 – so it seemed a good time to make him our focus. 

Franz Tunder

As we make our way through our year of Tunder, we are discovering that the way he uses instruments to support and decorate the vocal line is ingenious and often very subtle, certainly on a par with Buxtehude and Matthias Weckmann. He must have had some very good singers at his disposal in Lubeck, as the vocal writing is very challenging and explores the extremes of vocal range. It’s exciting music, music ‘in transition’, playing with the conventions of the time and musical innovations from all over Europe.”

So from the German early baroque to the asteroid belt, the music of Franz Tunder has certainly been on a celestial journey. Be sure to catch some of his fascinating music this years as part of the Tunder World series of concerts by Music Poetica.

Performer Feature: Christopher Webb

Christopher Webb

Tell us a bit about yourself, your instrument and your training to date.

I live in Ealing in west London and I work freelance as a professional bass-baritone singer. I had a slightly roundabout route into professional singing. I read Classics at Girton College Cambridge, where I held a choral scholarship, and then I worked for two years at Clare College Cambridge and sang in the choir there. When I first moved to London I worked in arts management and fundraising, but that wasn’t really for me and I finally started doing what I love – performing full-time – in 2014. I’ve just completed the ‘Opera Works’ training programme with English National Opera, and I learn singing privately with Alex Ashworth.

My voice sits quite low, which is good for the music we’re focusing on with Musica Poetica. The bass cantatas of Tunder and his contemporaries have a large range, often taking me down to Ds and Cs below the stave. The music can also be fast moving with lots of coloratura. It’s a great challenge for me – Tunder must have had some fantastic bass singers at his disposal!

Christopher Webb

Christopher Webb

How long have you been involved with Musica Poetica? 

I first became aware of Musica Poetica in 2014, when I sang Giove in a production of Cavalli La Calisto for Hampstead Garden Opera. OJ Ruthven was the musical director and Musica Poetica the orchestra. Over the next year or so OJ and I worked together a lot more, and started talking about his ambitions for Musica Poetica. Eighteen months after La Calisto I became a co-director of the ensemble, and we “re-launched” Musica Poetica together in early 2016.

What other music ensembles/orchestras are you involved with?

I love choral singing and I’m lucky to work with groups such as the Monteverdi Choir, London Voices, and the London Choral Sinfonia. I’m a Lay Clerk at Southwark Cathedral, and I deputise for some of the professional London church choirs too. I’ve done plenty of touring in Europe as well, mostly with the Blenheim Singers and the Zürcher Sing-Akademie, which is based at the Tonhalle in Zurich.

My opera roles to date have included Dulcamara (L’Elisir d’amore) as an Emerging Artist with Westminster Opera, Colline (La boheme) with Merry Opera, and Sarastro (Magic Flute) with Opera Anywhere. I’m looking forward to covering Leporello (Don Giovanni) with British Youth Opera this summer.

I’m also excited to be appearing as a soloist with Stephen Cleobury and the Orpheus Sinfonia in Mozart Requiem next month, as part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival at King’s College Cambridge.

Christopher Webb

Tell us some of the highlights of your career to date.

When I was at university, I sang in an a cappella group called Over the Bridge. The legendary John Rutter took us under his wing, and as well as producing two CDs for us, he invited us to sing in some of his Christmas Extravaganzas! The group were also asked to sing at some events in New York City, where we shared the bill with the likes of Stephen Fry and the late Sir David Frost.

Going back a few years, I once sang as a backing singer for The Temptations and shared a hotel with them. I remember jamming with them at 4 a.m. after one performance. More recently, I got to sing on the soundtrack for the remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – true, I was part of a forty-strong male voice choir, but I’m still in there somewhere!

What are your ambitions in music (or any other field). 

It sounds cheesy, but I just want to continue developing as a singer and artist and working in the industry I love. The bass voice can take a long time to mature properly, so there’s plenty for me still to learn. I’d Iike to do more operatic and oratorio work in addition to my choral singing. I’m very excited by the progress Musica Poetica has made in the last year, and I think the group can establish itself at the “top table” of UK early music ensembles in years to come.


Performer Focus: Oliver John Ruthven

One of the founding members of Musica Poetica, Oliver John Ruthven tells us more about his musical life and career…

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your instrument and your training to date?

My musical life started with the violin, and until I was at University, my heart was set on becoming a professional violinist – but this wasn’t to be. At the age of 7 I became a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and this was really the catalyst for what I do now – the training at the Abbey was of the highest standard, and, even at a very young age, I was expected to deliver professional performances on a daily basis. It was the rigour and discipline of this early training which has enabled me to become a professional musician.

I first encountered the harpsichord when I was in my teens which I studied alongside the violin as my second study. By the time I reached the end of my time at Manchester University, I realised that I was also passionate about conducting, particularly in the field of early music.

On returning to London as a freelance musician I became Musical Director of Hampstead Garden Opera. During a production of Blow’s ‘Venus & Adonis’, one of the cast asked me to accompany her for a coaching session with John Eliot Gardiner. John Eliot subsequently asked me if I’d be interested in the Monteverdi Choir Apprenticeship. For a year in 2010, I was their keyboards apprentice playing harpsichord and chamber organ in the English Baroque Soloists. Without a doubt, this was the most challenging and exciting experience of my musical life.

Oliver John Ruthven

What other music ensembles/orchestras are you currently involved with?

I continue to work with John Eliot Gardiner and as a member of English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir. I also played continuo with His Majesty’s Sackbuts & Cornetts, the Little Baroque Company, the London Mozart Players and the Orpheus Sinfonia. I’m very excited to be playing continuo with Stile Antico in 2017, including a concert at the Wigmore Hall in May.

Tell us about some of your more memorable performing experiences…
This has to be during my first time at the BBC Proms in 2010. I was playing harpsichord and chamber organ in the Monteverdi Vespers with John Eliot and the EBS and it was televised and broadcast on the radio. All was going well until I had to leave the stage to climb up the many stairs to the top of the Albert Hall. Up there was placed a small chamber organ and the boys choir of Cardinal Vaughan School. This was for one verse of the Ave Maris Stella, a matter of seconds, but the small organ was to be the only instrument accompanying the boys choir – my presence up there was fairly crucial!

Having got to the allotted door with plenty of time to spare, and went to open it and found that it had been locked. After a lot of frantic searching, I managed to find an open door on the opposite side of the circular gallery. Taking off my noisy wooden heeled shoes so as not to disrupt the performance, I raced around the gallery and made it to th
e organ in the nick of time. There were some bemused faces amongst the Prommers in the gallery as I weaved my way through them in my tails and socks!

And finally, what are some of your ambitions in the musical world?

I am delighted with the progress Musica Poetica has made over the last couple of years. My ambition is that we establish ourselves as an early music ensemble of renown and quality, which stands the test of time. It is a great inspiration to see several superb early music groups making great waves in the musical world – I hope we can do the same.

Hear Oliver John Ruthven and Simon Lloyd perform music for keyboards from the early Baroque as part of Tunder World 2017 on Thursday 27 April at 1.10pm


Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

In the next free concert in the 2017 series the Musica Poetica Consort present a beautiful programme of a cappella vocal music. Join us at 1.10pm  on Thursday 30 March in the tranquil setting of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the heart of the city of London. 

Crown of Thorns

Music by two exact contemporaries will be showcased in this event: the all-but-forgotten Johann Christoph Demantius and the never-to-be-forgotten Claudio Monteverdi, both composers living from 1567 to 1643. 

Demantius’ music represents a transitional phase in German Lutheran music from the Renaissance to the Early Baroque. His St John Passion is a fascinating example of the German “motet Passion”, and his motet for six voices Und wie Moses in der Wüsten (And like Moses in the desert) nods to the Italianate style which so inspired Tunder.

In contrast, Monteverdi’s immense output and musical influence through his instrumental and vocal works have placed him as a towering transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque in the annals of musical history.

Nowhere is this transition from the older polyphonic style to the new concertante style displayed more clearly than in his glorious Missa in illo tempore for six voices. Dating from 1610, this was dedicated to Pope Paul V. 

Join Musica Poetica and six of the UK’s best consort singers for this atmospheric Lenten programme as part of the Tunder World 2017 series.


Composer Feature: Johann Christoph Demantius

450 years ago in a little town in what is now the Czech Republic was born the characterful composer and poet, Johann Christoph Demantius. But who was this fascinating composer? We find out more…

Johann Christoph Demantius was born in Reichenberg, now Liberec in the Czech Republic. He married four times, yet living through the upheaval of the Thirty Years’ War he lost many of his children to its hardships. Demantius was actually a direct contemporary of the great Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi – both living from 1567 to 1643. So this year we mark the 450th birthday anniversary of both composers. Yet Lutheran Germany at this time went through a fascinating transition in musical history from Renaissance polyphony to the early Baroque style of composers such as Franz Tunder. 


From 1607, Demantius was Kantor (Director of Music) at Freiburg Cathedral – a post he held for most of his adult life. In addition to a school music textbook entitled Forma musices which was published when he was just 25, he also wrote the first dictionary of musical terms in the German language. He was an influential figure, and it is very likely that Franz Tunder and his contemporaries would have known of Demantius’ work.

In the forthcoming Crown of Thorns on 30 March Musica Poetica will be performing his St John Passion. Dating from 1631, this beautiful work for six voices a cappella is similar to the ensemble of two sopranos, alto, two tenors and bass much used by Monteverdi. 

Although Demantius is known to have been a prolific composer, only a few pieces survive – and it is easy to see why the Passion was one of them. This is probably the last of the so-called ‘Motet Passions’ of the Lutheran church, with later composers responding to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in a larger-scale, more dramatic style and culminating in the famous settings of JS Bach. This concert will also feature one of Demantius’ motets from his collection Corona Harmonica from 1610: Und wie Moses in der Wüsten.

As for the style of Demantius’ music, it could be described as a successor to that of the great Flemish composer Orlando de Lassus. Und wie Moses certainly bears the hallmarks of a Lassus motet. Yet Demantius created a highly original musical language very different from that of Tunder who was more interested in the latest Italian Baroque innovations, or from the all-pervasive ‘Palestrinian’ polyphony of the period.

Hear the music of Johann Christoph Demantius alongside his contemporary Claudio Monteverdi in Crown of Thorns on 30 March.



Musica Poetica’s free central London lunchtime recitals

Following the success of their 2016 Highgate concert series, Musica Poetica will be relocating to central London. They will be based at the historic  location of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn for a series of nine free lunchtime concerts throughout 2017 entitled Tunder’s World.

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

In this series, the focus of the concerts will be to explore the magical world of Franz Tunder – a composer from 17th century Germany who lived and thrived through a period of great musical change – and he even has an asteroid named after him!

Franz Tunder 1614-1667

Franz Tunder 1614-1667

During his lifetime opera had recently been developed in Venice by Monteverdi, choral singing was becoming more engaging and complex, the organ was fast becoming the dominant instrument in church music and surrounding all this was the flowering of the German Baroque style of architecture.

Schloss Charlottenburg near Berlin

Schloss Charlottenburg near Berlin

Tunder’s world saw the development of a unique German Baroque musical style which paved the way for the music of JS Bach. Tunder’s complete vocal works will be performed in this concert series alongside music by his contemporaries and those he influenced including Claudio Monteverdi, Dieterich Buxtehude and JS Bach.

Here’s a sample of what will be on offer with Tunder’s Ach Herr, lass deine liebe Engelein (O lord, let Thy dear angels) performed here by Lucy Knight and Oliver John Ruthven from Musica Poetica. 75 years later Bach was to rework this text for the closing chorale of his St. John Passion. In a partner project Musica Poetica will be recording Tunder’s complete vocal works in Autumn 2017.

26 January 2017 will see the launch concert in this series of free one-hour lunchtime recitals opening with a sequence of miniature cantatas for the bass voice including Salve coelestis pater by Franz Tunder and his near contemporaries Nicholaus Bruhns and Dieterich Buxtehude.