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Armonico Tributo — Matthew Truscott Interview

Ahead of this week’s Armonico Tributo performances, we caught up with violinist Matthew Truscott to hear more about his insights into the music we’ll be performing, and to find out what he enjoys most about working with Dunedin Consort.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started playing the violin, and how did you become interested in historically informed performance?

As a child, I was taken from quite early on by the sound of the violin on my parents’ LPs, and eventually started lessons locally when I was 6. It was at music college that I discovered historical performance properly. Its principles of engagement, investigation and curiosity coincided with a dawning sense I had of the importance of the notes themselves, of the need primarily for musical tools to give purpose to the various violinistic ones I was being plied with.

In this programme, we explore music from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries by composers including Biber, Schmelzer and Muffat. What makes their string writing so distinctive?

While the powerhouses of the era were probably Italy and France, these composers were of a generation in Germany and Austria which absorbed influences from around Europe and then forged a style very much their own: singing ballads, potent dance movements, pictorial representation and lavish virtuosity. There is also a particular density to the five-part string writing which gives it a lovely expressive intensity.

Although you’re now one of today’s foremost Baroque violinists, you’ve always remained active as a ‘modern’ performer. Are you aware of this having had any effect on your reading of this repertoire—perhaps in Biber’s Sonata Representativa, which still sounds incredibly daring even to our twenty-first-century ears!

All of this repertoire has a freshness and vitality which I think it’s our duty as performers to render as effectively and honestly as possible. While perhaps more explicitly an aspiration of the historical performance faculty, this is the case whatever equipment you happen to be using, and among performers of both disciplines. Violinistically, the Sonata Representativa is just good fun, and very satisfying. 

The composers represented in this programme are united by their respective familiarity with different regional and national styles, acquired by the journeys their professional lives compelled them to make. How might we hear this in their music?

Muffat, in particular, is very important in this respect, having spent time in both France and Italy, immersing himself with reverence and diligence in their respective musical communities. His response to this exposure is quite unique: very personal, very expressive and with the nods in either direction seeming only to enhance his own idiosyncratic style. There are beautifully restrained, elegant dance movements, rich harmonies, gorgeous Corellian walking bass lines and sequences and moments of startling beauty. A perfect example of synthesis in these divided times!

As a familiar face to Dunedin audiences in Scotland, what do you enjoy most about working with the group, and what keeps you bringing back to Scotland?

It’s always such a treat to come and play with Dunedin. It’s a special, very welcoming group of players, it’s always interesting repertoire—and John himself is obviously a huge draw! He’s very trusting, and has very particular, irresistible and revelatory ways of thinking and communicating about music.

You can hear Dunedin Consort perform Armonico Tributo at

Kendal Town Hall on Wednesday 17 October at 1:00pm
St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh on Friday 19 October at 7:30pm
– St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen on Saturday 20 October at 7:30pm
Glasgow Cathedral Festival on Sunday 21 October at 7:30pm

From frogs to fencing: Introducing the music of Armonico Tributo

Later this month we will be travelling across Scotland and the north-west of England with Armonico Tributo. Taking its title from a collection published by Georg Muffat, a Franco-German composer with Scottish ancestry, this intimate instrumental programme explores some of the most compelling string repertoire from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Not sure what to expect? We’ve made a playlist by way of introduction to this extraordinary music — by turns richly-scored, astoundingly virtuosic and even laugh-out-loud funny.

So, who’s who?

With the exception of Francesco Navara, of whom very little is known, all of the composers are united by having travelled abroad to pursue their studies and in search of employment. This resulted in them each developing innovative artistic voices, bringing together new styles and techniques from different regional and national musical traditions across Europe.

Georg Muffat

Mainly known as an organist, Georg Muffat (1653-1704) was born in Savoy and studied successively in Alsace and Paris with, among others, Jean-Baptiste Lully — one of the central musical figures at the court of Louis XIV, and one of the protagonists in the development of French Baroque Opera. From Paris, Muffat found employment variously in Vienna, Prague and Salzburg, travelling to Rome in the 1680s for a period of further study.

The Armonico tributo, which Muffat published in 1682, is made up of examples of the concerto grosso — that is to say, pieces that are based on the alternation of different solo groups, as opposed to a single soloist. This diverse range of influences resulted in Muffat’s style being extremely cosmopolitan for the time, successfully fusing French dances with the flair of the Italian school and the discipline of the German forms.

Heinrich Biber

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) was born in Bohemia, and also ended up in Salzburg. He was the leading violinist of the seventeenth century and his music explores extended techniques aimed at finding new forms of expression on the instrument. His Sonata Representativa incorporates bird and animal sounds to conjure up rich pictorial music. Listen out for his croaking frogs, squawking hens and bumbling quails…

One of Biber’s most significant influences must have been the violinist composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1620-1683), whose works formed the foundations for the Austro-German violin school in the later seventeenth century. The son of a career soldier in the the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III’s army, Schmelzer eventually became Kapellmeister (Director of Music) at the imperial court.

Fencing in the 17th century

Surely one of the most unusual programmatic works of the seventeenth century, Schmelzer’s Fechtschule  or ‘Fencing School’— renders in music the range of movements in the sport of fencing, one of the main physical activities practised by men in European courts at that time. Schmelzer renders the sword strokes with remarkable ingenuity, creating music that is more graceful than violent, before all the participants eventually come together for the Bader aria, or ‘bathing aria’.

Intrigued? Join us in Kendal (17 October), Edinburgh (19 October), Aberdeen (20 October) or Glasgow (21 October) to hear — and see — for yourself how these composers produced some of the most thrilling instrumental music of the European Baroque.

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