Friday 13 April 2018

Into the musical melting pot again - Ensemble Tempus Fugit at Tara Arts

In 1690 the East India Company was granted a trading licence by the Nawab of Bengal for three villages on the East bank of the Hooghly river. By 1780, the company had transformed the villages into Calcutta, a small English city. Musicians travelled from London to India, bringing the music of Handel, Corelli and others, whilst others played their harpsichords with Indian classical musicians and transcribed Indian music into European notation.

It is this musical melting pot which Ensemble Tempus Fugit, director Katie de la Matter, explored in their programme Calcutta at the 2017 Brighton Early Music Festival in a sold-out St. Bartholomew’s Church — and will bring to London's Tara Arts Theatre on 21-22 April (just 10mins from Waterloo by train). The material is completely fascinating, including Western transcriptions of Hindu and Bengali music (done often at the behest of the wives of English residents), as well as local Indian versions songs. The video above is of Paradevate - a setting of Ap shenkin, a Welsh folksong, by Muthuswami Dikshitar c.1800 (performed by Ensemble Tempus Fugit, Debipriya Sircar (vocals), Jamie Akers (theorbo) & Katie De La Matter (harpsichord)).

Indian music and dancing groups were invited into some British-Indian homes, and mainly female colonials would transcribe the songs (or have the songs transcribed) using a harpsichord or pianoforte, this all being part of the greater European 18th-century trend to collect ‘national airs’ — in the same vein as collections of Scots tunes, for example. One of these women, Margaret Fowkes, described the process:

‘I have often made the Musicians tune their instruments to the harpsichord that I might join their little band. They always seemed delighted with the accompaniment of the harpsichord and sung with uncommon animation, and a pleasure to themselves, which was expressed in their faces.'

Another woman, Sophie Plowden hired the musician John Braganza to transcribe songs and had the results put into a beautifully illuminated manuscript with illustrations of Indian musicians by local artists (which contain some of the earliest depictions of some Indian instruments). This survives in the Fitzwilliam Museum as MS380 and forms the basis for Ensemble Tempus Fugit's project.

The performers include James Hall (counter-tenor), Debipriya Sircar (Indian classical vocalist), Jonathan Mayer (sitar), Jamie Akers (lutes), Emily Baines (early wind), Lucia Capellaro (viola da gamba) George Clifford (violin) Katie De La Matter (harpsichord & creative direction), and Peyvand Sadeghian (puppets). And the ensemble will meld this unusual combination of instruments and traditions, with period music, Indian song, puppetry and drama to tell the story of music melting pot on the streets and at the soirées of Calcutta

The ensemble has just received Arts Council support to tour to SAMA Arts in London, Brighton’s Refugee Week, and the Left Bank Opera Festival in Leeds.

Further information from the Tara Arts website, or from the Ensemble Tempus Fugit website.

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