AS THE festive season beckons our thoughts often turn to Christmas past – and last night at the Gatehouse we were transported more than 400 years back in time.
Tales of the Lord of Misrule, the pre-chocolate yule log and bands that could be hired as alarm clocks lit up the room alongside a feast of Renaissance music by five piece ensemble Piva, who brought us a delicious flavour of the Christmas celebrations enjoyed in Elizabethan England.
This was no ordinary concert – it was liberally peppered with fascinating facts about 16th and 17th century festive customs and many of the instruments played by musicians Eric Moulder, Anne Wride, Jude Rees, Jane Moulder and Tony Millyard were completely unfamiliar to me, such as the crumhorn, shawm and rauschpfeife.
But the music that came out of them brought smiles of recognition and the tapping of toes as we learned that popular carols like Good King Wenceslas and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen stretch back far further than Dickensian Christmases of the 19th Century.
In fact the versions enjoyed in Tudor England were far more upbeat and raucous than the Victorians would have us hear. And Ding Dong Merrily on High was set to a tune originally known as a brawl – a dance that included stolen kisses and was all too often likely to descend into the unruliness its name now implies.
They were joined by other traditional tunes, including haunting songs that evoked the harshness of long dark winters. Other highlights were a Spanish Pavane Queen Elizabeth I was documented to have danced to and jolly gavottes, pieces for skipping dances, akin to those that reputedly caused a Christmas tree in Nuremburg to catch fire because of the energetic dancers.
If you weren’t feeling Chrismassy before this light-hearted performance was the perfect tonic – and a most tuneful history lesson to boot.