St Christopher

The Division Lobby
Event 12
Saturday October 15th, 7.30pm 
Little Missenden Church

A celebration of 17th-century improvisation

This is an archived event from the 2011 programme.

This concert is dedicated to the memory of former Festival chairman John Buston who died in 2010 (see News page).  Bringing The Division Lobby to Little Missenden was one of his aspirations.

The group was founded to explore the colourful and varied improvisation traditions of 17th century Italy, unleashing the musicians’ imagination and rediscovering the exhilaration of music created on the spot.

"These players really were flying by the seat of their pants....It was thrilling. If only more ‘early music’ could be like this" (Ivan Hewit, Daily Telegraph)

"Particularly delightful were Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding, each goading the other on with increasingly florid passages – but always with smiles on their faces... Adrenaline-fuelled live performance without a safety net" (Tom Lydon, Early Music Today/Classical Music)

The players transform a variety of 17th century musical sketches into dazzling virtuosic performances, using richly ornamental techniques developed by the musicians working in the courts, churches, and noble houses of seicento Italy – but rarely heard today:   Examples include:

  • Improvised ‘division’ (ornamentation) pieces on 16th and 17th century ‘standards’ and ground basses (repeated chord patterns).
  • Madrigals and motets by Palestrina, Arcadelt and Croce used as harmonic frameworks for creating new pieces through elaborate ornamentation.
  • Musical skeletons (simple chordal structures or basso continuo notation) used to extemporize ensemble ‘toccatas’ and the like. 

Two of the concert’s most intriguing pieces resurrect traditional forms of vocal improvisation – including the finale, a highly embellished extemporized Magnificat as heard in the grand churches of 17th century Italy, whose sumptuous textures and profound expressivity recall the atmosphere of the Magnificat from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Extemporisation was integral to musical performance in 17th century Italy – musicians auditioning for church positions had to display their improvisation skills.  Many pieces survive as sketches on which musicians would put their personal stamp through embellishment.  

Paula Chateauneuf will explain and demonstrate their approach to extemporising during the concert, with a brief post-concert ‘question and answer’ session for those who want to know more.

The ground-breaking Division Lobby grew out of research into this neglected area of early performance practice.  Its 2009 debut concerts won enthusiastic critical acclaim, and BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show devoted an entire programme to the group.  Their first CD will be recorded just after the Festival.

"Armed with her gigantic chitarrone, Paula Chateauneuf led her fiddlers, cornettists, harpsichordists, and the brilliant tenor Mark Tucker, in a revelatory exploration of this fertile technique.  Back? Yes, but to the future" (Michael Church, The Independent)

For the The Division Lobby's website, click here. For an interview with Paula Chateauneuf, click here.  Mark Tucker's webpage is here.

Supported by the Festival’s Memorial Fund, and sponsored by the Festival Friends

Division Lobby’s research and development supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Birmingham