Tobias Hume was Scottish, apparently

I’ve just got back from Scotland, where I had the most fantastic time playing an all-Hume programme with Concerto Caledonia at the Edinburgh Festival. It wasn’t Hume as you know it. It was so much cooler than any Hume I’d heard or played before. Between seven of us we played four viols (two original 17c. basses, a tenor and a brand new sympathetically strung lyra), two orpharions, a cittern, flutes, nyckelharpa, theorbo and virginals. Instead of just playing the actual notes Hume wrote–which, tbh are mostly not very good–we played his tunes. There was also some virtuosic and characterful singing from Thomas Walker.

Taking this music outside the realm of the viol’s physicality, or kinaesthetic identity or whatever, and into the context of a folk band shed some really quite flattering light on the old fellow’s work. Although, it was sometimes a rather emotionally difficult experience for a viol player! I ended up mostly playing things that weren’t written, readjusting the role of the tenor viol to suit this new, quirky, magical ensemble. I’d re-voice Hume’s chords to avoid doubling the nyckelharpa in a weird register, or surrender the melody entirely and improvise a twiddly contratenor. Hume himself says there are any number of possible ensemble permutations with which one can play his music. Well, we ran with that idea. The combination of tenor viol and nyckelharpa is really quite a wondrous thing. And don’t they look so cute together?

And what’s even more exciting is that the day after our concert, we recorded an album! It felt very alive and fresh when we were doing it, and I can’t wait to hear the final result. For now, here’s a little sneak peek of the rough take of A Merry Conceit.


5 Replies to “Tobias Hume was Scottish, apparently”

  1. Totally agree with playing Hume (or any music for that matter) in any way you want, that works. This sounds great! But I do NOT agree that Hume’s notes are not that great– he keeps on growing on me over the years. It runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime, to be sure– but Capt Hume’s Pavan is way up there in the sublime regions, and the good pieces far outnumber the bad.

    1. That Pavan is absolutely sublime! I didn’t mean to suggest that Hume’s music is inferior; by notes I meant the technical element of his writing is not on a par with some of his contemporaries. But who really cares about technique at the end of the day? I’ve never really bonded with him before because I’ve been dissuaded by his lacklustre voice-leading, but that’s what was so great about this project: it dragged me out of a note-bound world and gave me a new appreciation of Hume’s Musick in an abstract sense.

      The other thing that was really striking is that I realised his stuff is way more enjoyable (for me, at least) in performance than in private. Someone with better compositional technique, like Ferrabosco for example, is really engaging to work on at home but often crumbles at first sight of an audience. Hume to me comes much more alive when there are people watching.

Comments are closed.