Gambist  Mary  Springfels

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Mary Springfels is an American player of the viola da gamba, a highly respected professor, and director of early music programs.

When the New York Pro Musica visited her high school, she was hooked on early music. While attending UCLA, she purchased her first viola da gamba and began studying with the Pro Musica's Judith Davidoff. She went on to join the New York Pro Musica herself, then studied with Belgian Baroque gambist Wieland Kuijken for a year.

At the suggestion of the Chicago musicologist Howard Mayer Brown, she was appointed in 1982 as musician-in-residence at the Newberry Library and given the task of organizing an early music concert program. This led to her co-founding the Newberry Consort in 1986, one of America's best and most versatile Renaissance music groups, which has become ensemble-in-residence at the Newberry and at Northwestern University.

She has also played with the Waverly Consort, as well as many other U.S. and European ensembles, and is a founding member of the ensembles Elizabethan Enterprise and Les Filles de Sainte-Colombe.

She has recorded for the Harmonia Mundi USA label as member of the Newberry Consort, as a soloist in a set of Stradella solo cantatas (with Christine Brandes and Paul O'Dette), and in solo instrumental works with recorder player Marion Verbruggen. She has also appeared on the Decca, Columbia, Nonesuch, Centaur, and Titanic labels.


Springfels believes in getting close to the audience by performing in smaller venues, and also by teaching and educating them about the music and theories behind performance of early music. Therefore, she is frequently found at workshops and conferences. Academically, she has taught at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Chicago, and the Northwestern University School of Music.

After 25 years of program research, essays, lectures, and performances, Mary Springfels decided to retire from the Library, and in 2007, Consort member David Douglass took over direction of the ensemble. Mary moved to the mountains of New Mexico, where she is active in the formation of an intentional community called the Wit's End Coop. She continues to teach and perform extensively.


Being someone who has spent all of his life in Chicagoland (as we call the metro area), I have had the privilege and pleasure of attending world-class performances by the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera.  But the people attracted to those organizations also demand first-rate chamber music, as well as outlying areas of both new and old.  The interview you are about to read presents another of the top-flight performers who graced our city, Mary Springfels.

She spent her life building a reputation on solid musicianship, as well as scholarship in the Early Music arena.  With the Newberry Consort, her performances and recordings gave listeners an ever-growing array of pieces steeped in research and joy.  The research allowed for understanding, and the joy burst forth in exuberance.  She was truly a treasure for us.

After so much time here, she moved to New Mexico, where she continues her artistry unabated.

In July of 1989, we got together in her apartment for a conversation.  She was pleased to find my interest and basic knowledge, and knew that her ideas and enthusiasm would translate well to a radio broadcast.  Now, in 2021, after using portions of the encounter a couple of times on WNIB, Classical 97, it pleases me to present the entire conversation on this webpage.  Since many of the composers, performers, and styles mentioned are little-known today, I have included brief biographies, images, and information as they come up.

As we were setting up to record our conversation, she was holding one of several instruments in the room . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   So, why baroque cello and not regular cello?

Mary Springfels:   Actually, this is a viola da gamba, so it’s a much easier question to answer.  There is music written for the viola da gamba that you can’t play on any other instrument, and it’s a great instrument.

BD:   What is it that really attracted you, and what makes the viola da gamba so great?

Springfels:   To use the current term, it’s
user friendly.  It’s an easy instrument to learn.  It’s hard to get good at the viola da gamba, but it is very easy to learn the basics.  It’s a fretted instrument, like a guitar with six strings, and it’s about the size of a cello.  Its a little tiny bit smaller in the body, but the string length is about the same.

BD:   Is the range the same?

Springfels:   The range is a little larger on the gamba.  It has a string that’s a fourth higher.  The bow is held underhand, not overhand, so the manipulation of the stick is very much like when you hold a pencil, or chopsticks, or a fork.  It’s a very ancient way of manipulating a bow and very, very easy, as I say, to learn the basics.

BD:   What is the difference in sound between a standard cello that Rostropovich or Starker would play, and the gamba?

Springfels:   It’s a little bit the same as the difference between a harpsichord and a piano, even though in that case the sounding mechanism is very different.  A gamba gives a more immediate sound.  It speaks a lot faster, and the sound is a lot more focused and less loud.  It is constructed like a guitar with a flat back, so the back does not push the sound forward in the way that the curved back of the cello pushes the sound forward.  The back doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the sound production.

BD:   Have they tried making gambas with rounded backs?

Springfels:   Yes, there was experimentation.  The gamba solved certain problems for certain musical periods, and when needs changed, the instrument fell out of fashion.  As it turns out, it didn’t completely disappear.  It was played almost continuously in the nineteenth century as an amateur instrument.  The revival of it is as a professional instrument.  But to go on with the comparison, I would say a cello has a less focused sound, and takes longer to get going.  You have to work harder on getting the sound going, but then there’s a great deal more of it once it goes.  So, it’s quite different.

BD:   Like starting up a Ferrari, or starting up a Mack truck?

Springfels:   Yes, exactly.  As to the sound, if you want to use subjective terms, the sound of the cello is darker.  However, the actual range is virtually identical.

BD:   Is there a lot of literature for it?

Springfels:   There are masses of literature, and some of it is still a little too hard for even the best of us to play.  We haven’t had enough people playing seriously.  It will take the first person who starts as an eight- or ten-year-old to get absolutely on top of the instrument.

BD:   [Surprised]  Were they writing more difficult things years and years ago???

Springfels:   Yes.

BD:   But that seems to go contrary to the current thinking, that instrumentalists have actually gotten better over the last hundred years, and are now technically more proficient.

Springfels:   Yes.  That’s an interesting comment.  This particular repertoire, like the lute repertoire, was very, very, very highly developed, and we don’t know what the standard was like.  It was probably high, but different than what we’re used to.  We’re used to having no shifting problems, no bowing glitches, and no intonation problems.  We do those things admirably now on the violin, and the cello, and the piano.  The lute and the gamba had a polyphonic or pseudo-polyphonic repertoire.  It did not involve huge amounts of physical strength, but lots of technical agility, and the ability to play chords, and to pick out polyphonic lines with the bow rather than with the fingers for that part of the gamba.  There were great German writers...

BD:   Such as?

springfels Springfels:   Bach wrote three sonatas [image of BWV 1027 is shown at the bottom of this webpage], and CPE Bach, his son, wrote three very, very great sonatas, none of which have been recorded because they’re too hard.  They’re early Classical pieces.

BD:   Is that a goal for you?

Springfels:   [Smiles]  I’d love to someday lock myself up in a practice room for a few years.  They’re wonderful pieces.

BD:   You mentioned intonation problems.  I would think the frets would almost eliminate those considerations.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, the vocal soloists are soprano Ellen Hargis, and countertenor Drew Minter.]

Springfels:   I’m not saying there are no intonation problems on the instrument.  The instrument has two lives.  There is the fretted part, which only really goes up to A above middle C, and is the part that plays continuo and does most of the chords.  You have to have absolute intonation with the other instruments you are playing with.  As a matter of fact, the frets are removable so that you can temper.  You can tune and even split frets for playing quarter tones and half with organs or harpsichords that are tuned in absolute pitch.  It was expected to match.  Then, once you’re above the frets, you’re basically playing like a violin or viola, so you simply learn good intonation just like everybody else has to.  The instrument is much more melodic in its A to high A above that range, which is used with a certain amount of calmness.

BD:   Is there any comparison between this and the baryton?

Springfels:   Yes.  The baryton is a fancy gamba, and the music for baryton can be played on the gamba, but without the sympathetic strings in the back.  That’s the addition.  There is a basic gamba-like instrument, with the addition of an octave of sympathetic strings that you pluck with your thumb from behind the fingerboard.  It’s a very, very wide fingerboard while you’re playing.  [For more information, and some photos of the baryton, click HERE.]

BD:   [Surprised]  I thought they were merely sympathetic strings.

Springfels:   No, they’re plucked, and you really have to get the technique.  You basically realize figures, and you pluck your own accompaniment.  It’s quite an eerie sound.  The gamba comes in sizes, just like members of the violin family.

BD:   Is it a violin or a member of the viol family?

Springfels:   The viola da gamba is its own family.  They existed side by side.  Both the gamba and the violin came to be in the 1490s, for reasons that we don’t understand.  The families were developed almost simultaneously, and existed side by side for many hundreds of years.  They only split seriously at the end of the 17th century.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell what a gamba is and what a violin is.  This one has kind of an 18th century-style bow for playing Bach.

BD:   [Viewing the bow in her hand]  It has more of a point at the end.

Springfels:   Yes, and this [picking up a different bow] is a 17th century style bow that should be a clip-in frog.  It’s very, very different.  The other bow is a fast bow, and it’s for playing English music, the kind of music that’s on the record.

BD:   What do you hair them with?

Springfels:   Horse hair, just the same as modern ones.

BD:   Do you rosin just the same?

Springfels:   Yes.  [Pointing to another instrument, which she picks up]  This is an 18th century German instrument.

BD:   I love the scroll.

Springfels:   Isn’t that pretty?  [Plays the instrument using an underhand grip on the bow]

BD:   Could you could play this bow overhand as well?

Springfels:   You could.

springfels BD:   [While basking in the sound]  There’s no endpin.

Springfels:   No endpin.  You just sit it there like this [with the instrument cradled in the lower part of her legs, just above her ankles].  As you see, the body is a lot smaller than a cello, but the string length is not shorter.  This one is a little bit short, but it’s a small instrument.  I have another enormous instrument that’s quite a bit larger.  [Playing again]  It
s all in the hand.  You hold the bow like so.  [Demonstrating]  You grab the stick rather as you would grab a pencil, then you use one finger to add a little balance.  The other finger goes right on the hair, and that controls articulation.  Its a real relative of the guitar.  It has a flat back and frets like a guitar, which does indeed give you a little more ring than you would have without them.  It also allows you to have guitar fingerings that are a little tough without the frets.  [Continues playing as we chat]

BD:   Are there normally six frets?

Springfels:   Seven.  You have the melodic element of the instrument...

BD:   ...and six strings?

Springfels:   Yes, six strings.  French 18th century instruments have eight strings, so they have this enormous kind of double bass-y quality.  They were very, very large, and were built for resonance rather than volume.  They can be very, very specialized.

BD:   It’s a beautiful instrument, with a very beautiful sound.

Springfels:   Yes.

BD:   [Examining it closely]  It seems like the bridge is awfully high.

Springfels:   This has a little bit to do with the fact that all of them are very different from one another, and the bridge simply goes with this particular man’s reconstruction of the neck.  The scroll is original, but most of these instruments came in the 1970s with cello necks.  People in the early part of the century didn’t quite trust them to be themselves, and tried to cello-ize them, and wound up making them sound worse rather than better.  One of the more technical fun bits of the early music revival has been the tendency was to assume that an 18th century maker, or a 17th century maker, knew what he was doing, and we would see if we could figure out what he was doing, and trust him to have a sound ideal of his own.  Then we needed to see if we could recreate that sound ideal, and then see if we could learn anything about the music from what we’ve learned about the instruments.  We’ve learned a lot, even in the last decade, about how old string instruments were put together, and it turned out to be quite different from the way we thought they were put together.

*    *     *     *     *

BD:   How different is the playing technique now than you thought it was a few years ago?

Springfels:   We’re learning a lot more about left-hand technique...

BD:   That’s on the fingerboard?

Springfels:   Yes.  So, we realize it’s very guitar-like rather than cello-like.  The hand position is slightly different.

BD:   More around to the back?

Springfels:   Yes, it’s more on the back.  The fingers are much closer to the fingerboard, so you can grab the chords.  Indeed, what all the Viol Tutors are saying
and we do have a few from the 17th centuryis to never let your fingers go very, very far from the fingerboard.  Always just scuttle along, and you build strength through the little isometric exercises, rather than brute strength.  You never use your shoulders.  Everything is very relaxed, and everything comes from the elbows forward in both techniques.  People have played interestingly well, now, for a number of years.  The pioneer was August Wenzinger, who is now in a glorious retirement in his late 70s or early 80s.  He was playing gamba in the 1930s beautifully.  There are records of Wenzinger, and they’re interesting.  They’re very cellistic, but they’re interesting.

August Wenzinger (November 14, 1905 – December 25, 1996) was a prominent cellist, viol player, conductor, teacher, and music scholar from Basel, Switzerland. He was a pioneer of historically informed performance, both as a master of the viola da gamba and as a conductor of Baroque orchestral music and operas.

wenzinger Wenzinger received his basic musical training at the Basel Conservatory, then went on to study cello with Paul Grümmer and music theory with Philipp Jarnach at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. He then took private cello lessons with Emanuel Feuermann in Berlin. Wenzinger served as first cellist in the Bremen City Orchestra (1929–1934) and the Basel Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft (1936–1970).

By 1925 Wenzinger had mastered the viola da gamba, an instrument then usually considered obsolete. He joined the Kabeler Kammermusik (Kabel Chamber Music), a circle of musicians interested in authentic Baroque performance, sponsored by paper manufacturer Hans Eberhard Hoesch in Hagen, Germany. In 1930 he and flautist Gustav Scheck also founded the Kammermusikkreis Scheck-Wenzinger (Scheck-Wenzinger Chamber Music Circle), considered the leading early music ensemble until the 1950s.

In 1933 Wenzinger assumed the leadership of the Kabeler Kammermusik, but the group was soon phased out under political pressure. Wenzinger moved to Basel the same year to accept an appointment to teach cello and viola da gamba at the newly founded Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.

Wenzinger was one of the first musicians to make recordings with the viola da gamba. In 1968, together with the noted Swiss viola da gamba player Hannelore Mueller, he founded the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis viola da gamba trio. He taught many acclaimed violists, and also taught at Harvard and Brandeis universities in the United States. In 1960 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel.

Wenzinger was also an acclaimed conductor. From 1954 to 1958 he led the Capella Coloniensis, the baroque orchestra of West German Radio in Cologne. In 1955 Wenzinger directed this orchestra in one of the first recordings of the opera L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi. He led performances of Baroque operas at Herrenhausen in Hanover, Germany, from 1958 to 1966.

Wenzinger’s publications include Gambenübung, a method book in two volumes for the viola da gamba (1935, 1938), and Gambenfibel, a primer for the viola da gamba (1943). He edited Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites in 1950 for Bärenreiter, an edition which remains a best seller for the publisher and among the most widely used by performers, and several Baroque operas.

BD:   Did the revival of the gamba come at the same time as the revival of the harpsichord with Wanda Landowska?

Springfels:   Yes, that was the beginning.  The actual beginning of all of this was with the pre-Raphaelite movement.  There was a fascination with old instruments as objects of art.  The arts-and-crafts movement gave it another push.  There were people like Arnold Dolmetsch, who was a craftsman and from England, worked for Chickering, and at one point had a booth on the Midway of the World
s Columbian Exhibition here in Chicago in 1893.  He was there making gambas and lutes.

Eugène Arnold Dolmetsch (24 February 1858 – 28 February 1940), was a French-born musician and instrument maker who spent much of his working life in England, and established an instrument-making workshop in Haslemere, Surrey. He was a leading figure in the 20th-century revival of interest in early music.

The Dolmetsch family was originally of Bohemian origin, but (Eugène) Arnold Dolmetsch, the son of Rudolph Arnold Dolmetsch and his wife Marie Zélie (née Guillouard) was born at Le Mans, France, where the family had established a piano-making business. It was in the family's workshops that Dolmetsch acquired the skills of instrument-making that would later be put to use in his early music workshops.


He studied music at the Brussels Conservatoire and learnt the violin with Henri Vieuxtemps. In 1883 he travelled to London to attend the Royal College of Music, where he studied under Henry Holmes and Frederick Bridge, and was awarded a Bachelor of Music degree in 1889.

Dolmetsch was employed for a short time as a music teacher at Dulwich College, but his interest in early instruments was awakened by seeing the collections of historic instruments in the British Museum. After constructing his first reproduction of a lute in 1893, he began building keyboard instruments. William Morris encouraged him to build his first harpsichord. He left England to build clavichords and harpsichords for Chickering of Boston (1905–1911), then for Gaveau of Paris (1911–1914).

During Dolmetsch's time at Chickering, he resided in a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, partially of his own design, with the aid of architects Luquer and Godfrey. It was through Dolmetsch's work in Cambridge that a wealthy benefactress, Miss Belle Skinner, was able to restore a number of rare instruments, including a spinet owned by Marie Antoinette, which today comprise the founding collection of Yale's Collection of Musical Instruments.

He went on to establish an instrument-making workshop in Haslemere, Surrey, and proceeded to build copies of almost every kind of instrument dating from the 15th to 18th centuries, including viols, lutes, recorders and a range of keyboard instruments. His 1915 book The Interpretation of the Music of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries was a milestone in the development of 'authentic performances' of early music.

In 1925 he founded an annual chamber music festival, the International Dolmetsch Early Music Festival, which is held every July at Haslemere in the Haslemere Hall.

Dolmetsch was active in the cultural life of London, and his friends and admirers included William Morris, Selwyn Image, Roger Fry, Gabriele D'Annunzio, George Bernard Shaw, Marco Pallis, Ezra Pound, George Moore, whose novel Evelyn Innes celebrates Dolmetsch's life and work, and W. B. Yeats.

He was responsible for rediscovering the school of English composers for viol consort (including John Jenkins and William Lawes), leading to Sir Henry Hadow's tribute that Dolmetsch had "opened the door to a forgotten treasure-house of beauty". He was also largely responsible for the revival of the recorder, both as a serious concert instrument, and as an instrument which made early music accessible to amateur performers. He went on to promote the recorder as an instrument for teaching music in schools.

In 1937 he received a British Civil list pension and in 1938 he was created a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French government.


Arnold Dolmetsch was married three times. On 28 May 1878 he married Marie Morel of Namur, Belgium (a widow, ten years his senior) but was divorced in 1898. His second wife, to whom he was married on 11 September 1899, in Zürich, was Elodie Désirée, the divorced wife of his brother. This marriage ended in divorce in 1903. Thirdly, he was married on 23 September 1903 to Mabel Johnston, one of his pupils.

Dolmetsch encouraged the members of his family to learn the skills of instrument-making and musicianship and the family frequently appeared together in concerts, playing instruments constructed in the Dolmetsch workshops. Following the death of Arnold Dolmetsch at Haslemere in 1940, his family continued to promote the building and playing of early instruments.

  • Mabel Dolmetsch (1874-1963), his wife, was a noted player of the bass viol. She wrote "Dances of England and France 1450 - 1600" which includes tunes set by Arnold Dolmetsch.
  • Cécile Dolmetsch (1904-1997), his daughter, was a soprano and specialist of the pardessus de viole.
  • Nathalie (31 July 1905 – 14 Feb 1989), his daughter, was born in Chicago to Dolmetsch and his wife Mabel. Nathalie continued her mother's tradition of early dancing and specialised in playing the Viola de Gamba. She founded the Viola da Gamba Society in 1948 and edited music and wrote on the viols. Her publications include Twelve Lessons on the Viola da Gamba, with Advice by Christopher Simpson (1659), Thomas Mace (1676), Marin Marais (1686), Jean Rousseau (1687), and Hubert Le Blanc (1740) (Schott & Co., London, 1950), and The Viola da Gamba: its Origin and History, its Technique and Musical Resources (Hinrichsen, London, 1962, Hinrichsen No. 759).
  • Rudolph Dolmetsch (1906-1942), his son, was a gifted keyboard player, gamba player, and composer, who died in the sinking of the SS Ceramic in 1942.
  • Carl Dolmetsch (1911-1997), his son, was a noted recorder player and took over his father's instrument-making business.

dolmetsch      dolmetsch

BD:   Was all this considered a freak, or just an oddity?
Springfels:   It was considered a part of the bohemian life to embrace these instruments.  Actually, it was that really up until the 1970s.  You had to be just a little bit weird to play the gamba or the recorder in this country.

BD:   [With mock horror]  You don’t have to be weird now???

Springfels:   [Laughs]  Now, you don’t have to be weird.  In Europe, things are very different.  It’s an accepted conservatory instrument.  A friend of mine, who is now studying with my teacher, said there was a weekend workshop recently, in which forty professional level gamba players showed up.  These were people who played gamba for a living.

BD:   Are they in period-instrument groups like the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, and the Academy of Ancient Music?

Springfels:   No, just gamba players.  This is not an orchestral instrument.  It’s a chamber instrument.  What’s really amazing is that there are that many people who can, over there at least, make a living playing this instrument somehow.  Here, I would say there are about five of us who literally make a living at it.  It’s a different place entirely.

BD:   Are you making a living, or eking out a living?

Springfels:   It’s a little bit of an eking, but it’s not what one would call really making it.  It’s somewhere in between.

BD:   Is it fun, though?

Springfels:   It’s lots of fun.  Never a dull moment.  It’s really fun.

BD:   Is there enough work for the good gamba player?

Springfels:   There’s enough.  I would say not lots, but it’s getting better all the time.

BD:   Is Anner Bylsma one of the gambists who is making it?

Springfels:   Bylsma (1934-2019) is a cellist, though he does play a little bit of gamba.  Wieland Kuijken (1938 -  ) is the great living gamba virtuoso, and there are a few other good ones.  A fellow named Jordi Savall (1941 -  ) is quite wonderful.  Jordi is Spanish.  Wieland is Belgian, and was the guy I studied with.  They’re still the biggies.  They have some wonderful stuff on recordings.

BD:   Hopefully there is a lot of it also by you.

Springfels:   Not a lot of it, but some.  I’ve done a few little things, but because I’m an American I am much more an ensemble player than a soloist.  I haven’t tackled big solo works yet, but I’m beginning to think about it a little bit.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Are there different sizes of gamba?

Springfels:   Yes.  Besides the larger one, I play the treble a lot, which is a violinish-range instrument.  [Picking up yet another instrument]  This is an English instrument I have played relatively recently.

bd BD:   It is played between the legs, rather than under the chin?

Springfels:   Yes, played between the legs.  It
s a lovely little instrument made not too long ago.

BD:   It
s a reproduction?

Springfels:   Yes, a reproduction.  I have no trouble playing with reproductions.  For one thing, they’re all that’s affordable, and often they’re wonderful instruments.  [Noting that BD had placed his right hand on his left shoulder, and was using that arm as a cello fingerboard, (as shown in the 2021 photo at right)]  Are you a string player?  It looks like you are.

BD:   I have had enough lessons to get around on it, but I assume that I’m positioning my fingers like a cello rather than a gamba.

Springfels:   That’s right.  There is a lot of difference in the way cello players play, but for Gamba playing you still keep the hand around.  It’s virtually the same shape...  [as she gently re-forms BD
s left hand and fingers]

BD:   ...but you hit the strings with a different part of the finger.

Springfels:   That’s it, just slightly different.

BD:   Is there a sound post inside the body of the gamba?

Springfels:   Oh yes, always.

BD:   Weren
’t there some instruments that didn’t have a sound post?

Springfels:   Very, very early ones, and that’s actually a point of controversy.  I’m also very interested in medieval music and instruments, and a batch of us are going to the big international Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo.  It
s held every year, and a lot of scholars are there to help answer our questions.  We look at a lot of pictures, and theres fighting, and screaming, and carrying on.

BD:   Are there ever too many loud discussions of, “Well, I guess it was this,” and, “No, it was that,” back and forth?

Springfels:   For the general audience there is, but it’s something we have to go through.  One of the questions I always ask is how much of that do people need to know, and how do you balance that with the intrinsic worth of the performance.  A lot of what we discuss is just for our sakes.

BD:   The performer should understand everything that’s going on, but how much should the public understand about all this or should they just go and enjoy the music?

Springfels:   That is an interesting question, because it can lead into all kinds of literary criticism.  How much do you need to know about Shakespeare to enjoy Shakespeare?  As time goes on, we need to know a lot more about Shakespeare than we did.  We have to know what was Popular Theater, not just High Theater.  We have to know a little bit of something about the history of the language, a little bit about the jokes, a little bit about something else, but a lot of people disagree.  It’s a thing where people think that an art object
be it a musical performance or a playshould be timeless, and without its critical apparatus.  Obviously, somewhere in between there’s something that’s useful.  My feeling is that people do need a little bit of historical information to get some feel for what they’re hearing.  I think it helps to fire the imagination a bit.

BD:   You feel that the Shakespeare plays were popular?

Springfels:   Popular Theater, yes.

BD:   In the musical performance that we’re talking about, where do you come down regarding the balance between the artistic treatment and the entertainment value?

Springfels:   Let’s take an example.  If we’re talking about music from the 18th century, let’s say Messiah, we all now know that we can hear a lovely 18th century style performance and it will be satisfying.  We can also hear a boring 18th century style performance.  We learn a lot from the proper disposition of voices and instruments.  On the other hand, we can still listen to that wonderful Beecham recording [which is very much augmented and Romanticized] and have a great time.  However, if you’re talking about Machaut, you’ve really got to hear that in some form that resembled a Medieval performance.  You can, I suppose, perform Machaut on three clarinets and it will be a reading, but there’s so much more that’s going on.  Machaut was a very complex person.  We’re just beginning to find out about his poetry and its value, and about 14th century poetry in general.  He was dismissed as a poet until a few years ago, and we’re finally figuring out why he was beloved by people in his time.  For one thing, he was hysterically funny, and it’s very hard to reconstruct Medieval humor.  It’s not our own humor.  We can barely reconstruct the humor of the 1930s and
40s, let alone six hundred years ago.  We need a little bit of extra information about how the pieces were performed, the performance milieu.


Guillaume de Machaut (French: [ɡijom də maʃo]; also Machau and Machault; c. 1300 – April 1377) was a French poet and composer of late Medieval music who was the central figure of the Ars Nova style. Immensely influential, Machaut is regarded as the most important composer and poet of the 14th century and is the first significant composer whose name is known. Daniel Leech-Wilkinson called him "the last great poet who was also a composer", and well into the 15th century Machaut's poetry was greatly admired and imitated by other poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer.

One of the earliest composers on whom considerable biographical information is available, his surviving works substantially outnumber those of his contemporaries. Machaut composed in a wide range of styles and forms, and was crucial in developing the motet and secular song forms (particularly the lai and the formes fixes: rondeau, virelai and ballade).

Machaut survived the Black Death that devastated Europe, and spent his later years living in Reims composing and supervising the creation of his complete-works manuscripts. His only surviving sacred work, Messe de Nostre Dame, is the earliest known complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass attributable to a single composer.

BD:   Is this need for information always on the shoulders of the performer rather than the receiver?

Springfels:   Yes, but we could help with good program notes.  I don’t know whether an audience needs to know that there were differences between a 1300 vielle and a 1400 vielle.  [More about the vielle in the box below which presents the fiddle.]  This is something we’ve got to cope with, but they do have to know something about the language, something about the images and things that were important, and maybe even something about the notation of the music, and the fact that it was a visual notation with many jokes and arcane things going on.  You just have to have some little bit of information to help you enjoy it.

springfels BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  So then, Augenmusik [music for the eye] is not something that just modernists are doing?

Springfels:   [Laughs]  It was something that everybody was doing.  Almost with the beginning of polyphony, people realized that notation can be a phenomenon for its own sake, and were doing weird things with it.

BD:   Should composers today be writing for these ancient instruments?

Springfels:   They can and they do.  It’s hard to write good music for old instruments, but some people have succeeded.

BD:   Why is it difficult?

Springfels:   Because we have different ears and different expectations.  We can accept what they do on their own terms, but sometimes it’s hard to listen on new terms.  I did hear a Japanese viol concert group do a piece in style of Messiaen, and it was dynamite.  It was a great piece.  The tuning of the instrument was built-in.  They really understood the instruments very well.  There were incredibly difficult rhythms, and wild combinations of rhythms and sounds, and it worked beautifully.  So, it can be done.  On the much more conservative end, there are things like Britten’s Gloriana dances, which are good music written to sound like old music.  But it’s totally different approach.

BD:   Of course, that opera was set in that period.

Springfels:   So he set it in that style.  I thought they were kind of cute when I first listened to them years and years ago, but I recently heard a broadcast
probably on your stationand I thought, “Wow, that’s great music.  That is really charming music,” and there’s a lot more new music for old instruments out there.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me follow up just a little bit.  What are some of the things that contribute to making something a great piece of music?

Springfels:   [Thinks a moment]  There are so many different kinds of great music.  One reason I’m glad to have gotten into old music is that it expands your idea of what great music is.  Music can be great in its form, and that is something I would never have understood if I’d only listened to symphonies.

BD:   [Surprised]  Even though symphonies are very formal pieces???

Springfels:   Yes, but in the Medieval sense, there can be another kind of formal greatness.  Music can be great without being
expressive’, like the conductus repertoire, or the Notre-Dame repertoire, in which the performer has to stay completely out of the way of and just let it happen.  A good performance is a very anonymous performance, but the outcome is spell-bindingly wonderful.  It is fantastic music, though it can be very simple, such as the single-line music like the wonderful Cantigas de Santa Maria, or the whole Spanish Medieval repertoire.  On the other hand, there are great pieces from the Ars subtilior repertoire of the 1390s.  These are pieces of unbelievable complexity.  There’s one in our own Newberry library called the Harpe de Melodie [shown in the box below].  It’s a wonderful piece, a great song by a man named Senleches, who was a harpist himself.  There’s just so much great music out there that it’s hard to say what is great music, and it’s all so different.  Perhaps it is music that can be played a million times.  That’s the simple-minded answer, but the good one is that if you can play it over and over and over and over and over and over again and still be delighted by it, then it is great.

The conductus (plural: conducti) was a sacred Latin song in the Middle Ages, one whose poetry and music were newly composed. It is non-liturgical since its Latin lyric borrows little from previous chants. The conductus was the northern French equivalent of the versus, which flourished in Aquitaine. It was originally found in the twelfth-century Aquitanian repertories, but major collections of conductus were preserved in Paris. The conductus typically includes one, two, or three voices, while a small number of the conducti are for four voices. Stylistically, the conductus is a type of discant (i.e. note-against-note polyphony). Its form can be strophic or through-composed. The genre flourished from the early twelfth century to the middle of thirteenth century. It was one of the principal types of vocal composition of the Ars Antiqua period of medieval music history.

The Notre-Dame school or the Notre-Dame school of polyphony refers to the group of composers working at or near the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris from about 1160 to 1250, along with the music they produced.

The only composers whose names have come down to us from this time are Léonin and Pérotin. Both were mentioned by an anonymous English student, known as Anonymous IV, who was either working or studying at Notre-Dame later in the 13th century. In addition to naming the two composers as "the best composers of organum," and specifying that they compiled the big book of organum known as the Magnus Liber Organi, he provides a few tantalizing bits of information on the music and the principles involved in its composition. Pérotin is the first composer of organum quadruplum—four-voice polyphony—at least the first composer whose music has survived, since complete survivals of notated music from this time are scarce.

Léonin, Pérotin and the other anonymous composers whose music has survived are representatives of the era of European music history known as the Ars Antiqua. The motet was first developed during this period out of the clausula, which is one of the most frequently encountered types of composition in the Magnus Liber Organi.

While music with notation has survived in substantial quantity, the interpretation of this music, especially with regard to rhythm, remains controversial. Three music theorists describe the contemporary practice: Johannes de Garlandia, Franco of Cologne, and Anonymous IV. However, they were all writing more than two generations after the music was written, and may have been imposing their current practice, which was quickly evolving, on music which was conceived differently. In much music of the Notre-Dame School, the lowest voices sing long note values while the upper voice or voices sing highly ornamented lines, which often use repeating patterns of long and short notes known as the "rhythmic modes". This marked the beginning of notation capable of showing relative durations of notes within and between parts.

Ars subtilior (Latin for 'subtler art') is a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered on Paris, Avignon in southern France, and also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century. The style also is found in the French Cypriot repertory. Often the term is used in contrast with Ars Nova, which applies to the musical style of the preceding period from about 1310 to about 1370; though some scholars prefer to consider Ars subtilior a subcategory of the earlier style.


La Harpe de Melodie is a musical composition by Jacob Senleches (fl. 1382/1383 – 1395) in the Ars subtilior style.

It has been transmitted via two sources. The first source dated c. 1395 is the manuscript Chicago, Newberry Library [shown above], Ms. 54.1, f. 10r (RISM siglum US-Cn 54.1, also known under the siglum Chic). In this source, the work is transmitted anonymously, i.e. the name of the composer is not given. The virelai is notated for two voices, cantus and tenor. The voices are notated on what appears to be the strings of the harp, on four "staves", the first of ten lines the other of nine lines. (That would be 37 strings, but only 22 tuning pins are depicted.) However, notes are only placed on the drawn strings or lines and not between them, forming a pseudo-tablature that is somewhat difficult to read in the first instance. A separate rondeau, explaining how to derive the canonic third voice from the cantus, is written on a banner wrapped around the fore pillar of the harp.

BD:   [Momentarily taking the opposite viewpoint]  I assume there’s a lot of music that you can play two or three times, and know that’s about enough.

Springfels:   Yes, that’s about enough.

BD:   When you’re looking at pieces of music, how do you decide if it’s something you’re going to include in  your repertoire, or something you’re going to pass on, or maybe just use as an exercise?

Springfels:   That’s tough.  You use trial-and-error a little bit.  Because I’m the primary program at the Newberry, but not the only one, other artists who participate also help in the programming.  Sometimes pieces prove a point for a given evening, but are not good enough to prove many points.

BD:   You
ve got to be economical, and only use pieces that prove many points?

Springfels:   Yes, but I also feel that in a situation where you’ve got a lot of concerts, you can take some chances.  I’ve certainly picked some dogs by accident.  You often don’t know how things will work until you perform them.  You can’t just stare at them.  You have to give them a try.

BD:   How many concerts does the Newberry Consort give per year?

Springfels:   So far, five.  We hope we can expand a little bit.  We also do a lot of touring, so we get a chance to perform things more than once.  We’re beginning to tour nationally in a serious way.  The series is called Early Music from the Newberry Library, because we mostly perform items that are there either in original editions or in scholarly editions, which we often have to use.

BD:   Does the scholarship ever get in the way of the performance?

Springfels:   Oh, absolutely.

BD:   Then do you just get rid of scholarship and play it?

Springfels:   Yes.  As a matter of fact, sometimes even get rid of the editions and go back to original notation when it’s possible.  Usually that is possible up to the 14th century, but then we have to rely on scholars because the notation is too complex for us.

BD:   Is it in square-note notation?

Springfels:   It can be in square-note notation of various kinds, or neumes of various kinds.  For Troubadour songs, that’s fine.  Then, when you get into the 15th century, you can read the music again, and it’s in various different kinds of diamond notations.  Then it becomes much more readable as society allowed music to become part of popular culture.  It became something that simple people like us can read.  We need scholars, and we use them all the time, but it doesn’t mean we have to be them ourselves.  It simply means that we need to learn how to ask the right questions of people who have spent their lives coming up with the answers.  Around here, the scholarship is fantastic, and tends to be very helpful.  In addition to Howard Mayer Brown at the University of Chicago, who is a great friend of performers, and always has been, there are Medievalists who are working at the Newberry Library and all over the Midwest, which is a great place for Medieval studies.  They have helped us with translations, performance practice questions of one kind or another, and seem to be delighted to pitch in.

BD:   When you’re playing these works now, are you trying to have them sound exactly as they were heard hundreds of years ago?

Springfels:   The best we can do, yes.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  Yet you’re playing them with all this experience of several hundred years.  Also, we’re listening to them with ears that have heard new music, upheavals, and changes to everything in our lives.

Springfels:   That can’t help but affect the interpretation.  We can only say that this is what we know today, in July of 1989, and that we’re going to change our minds in July of 1990.  What is important is to maintain a sense of excitement over the music without manipulating.  We don’t have to be in search of novelty all the time with the music, but with Medieval music, for example, we’re still learning a lot every year, as we are about all Medieval culture.  It’s just something that takes a long time to figure out.

BD:   So, you’re not saying we should adopt this culture, but rather just accept it and enjoy it?

Springfels:   Right, exactly.  One of the things that we’re slowly learning to do is accept early cultures on their own value.  It’s part of how we’re looking at every culture
not just old cultures or dead cultures, but other living cultures that are still with us today.  We’ll never completely be able to do it.  There’s a very, very interesting article by a scholar named Richard Taruskin, who takes a very dim view not of the early music movement, but of the current feeling that we, in the 20th century, are the only people since the 18th century who can do justice to this music.  Obviously, we aren’t.  We are absolutely and deeply influenced by Stravinsky and Hindemith, and people like that in our approach to these pieces, whether we know it or not, and it colors our purist approach.  This is a very 20th century idea.  We can never pretend to be anything but creatures of our own time.  [In addition to his wide-ranging research, Taruskin (born in 1945) played viola da gamba in the Aulos Ensemble from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.]

BD:   Do you think it would completely surprise the people who wrote this music several hundred years ago to find it being performed today?

Springfels:   Yes, they’d be shocked.  They’d say, “Why are you doing that?  Why aren’t you playing your own music?”  I think that they would be very surprised that it’s being played, because up until the 17th century, polyphony was really considered something that you played for maybe thirty to forty years, and then you’d go on to something else.  That kind of music was completely integrated into life in a way that we don’t understand.  We don’t have that kind of comfort with living artists and music.  They’re not stirred in now in the way they were then.  We’re not comfortable with our High Culture in a way that it appears that people were comfortable with High Culture up to the Baroque.

BD:   Were Minnesingers [German poet-musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries] High Culture?

Springfels:   They were, but they were people who used bits of Popular Culture.  They used bits of everything.  They were not quite as removed from society as our composers are today.  More of the society listened to its new music through Beethoven’s time, and more people were comfortable with the new music of their day than we are.


BD:   As an old music specialist, are you encouraging people to go to new music concerts?

Springfels:   Sure, of course.  I listen to a lot of jazz, and a lot of new music.

BD:   Do you think the audience should try and catch your series, and also the Kronos Quartet or the Arditti Quartet [both of which specialize in new music]?

Springfels:   Oh, absolutely.  Sure.  Definitely.  It makes me nervous that people would prefer to hear 19th century music to 20th century music.  I don’t know what it says about our culture that we’re not so comfortable with our own new music, or that the new music we produce is something that does not speak to us.  
For instance, we know a lot about how Dufay lived his life, and even though he was a fabulous composer, and everyone of the time knew it, his main job for the cathedral where he worked was to revise the chant books.  The liturgical music was the real music.

BD:   The music that he wrote was a sideline?

Springfels:   Yes, it was a sideline.  I think he expected it to have a generational lifespan.  He was not concerned with people hundreds of years later hearing his music.

dufay Guillaume Du Fay (/djˈf/ dew-FY, French: [dy fa(j)i]; also Dufay, Du Fayt; 5 August 1397 – 27 November 1474) was a Franco-Flemish composer and music theorist of the early Renaissance. Regarded as the leading European composer by his contemporaries, his music was widely performed and copied.

Du Fay was one of the last composers to make use of late-medieval polyphonic structural techniques such as isorhythm, and one of the first to employ the more mellifluous harmonies, phrasing and melodies characteristic of the early Renaissance. His compositions within the larger genres (masses, motets and chansons) are mostly similar to each other. His renown is largely due to what was perceived as his perfect control of the forms in which he worked, as well as his gift for memorable and singable melody.

During the 15th century he was universally regarded as the greatest composer of his time, an opinion that has largely survived to the present day.

[The other composer on this postage stamp is Gilles de Binche (called Binchois; also known as Gilles de Bins; c. 1400 – 20 September 1460). He was from the Low Countries, one of the earliest members of the Burgundian school and one of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century. While often ranked behind his contemporaries Guillaume Dufay and John Dunstable by contemporary scholars, his works were still cited, borrowed and used as source material after his death. He eventually retired in Soignies, evidently with a substantial pension for his long years of excellent service to the Burgundian court.]

This stamp, issued in 2006, was one of a set of five recognizing polyphonic composers of the Renaissance.  Used separately, they also appeared as a souvenir sheet, or booklet, which can be seen HERE.

BD:   Composers today seem to be thinking they’ve got to write music that will last through the ages, and that is the wrong approach.

Springfels:   Right.  I was talking with friends the other night about the idea that early European culture had a much more participatory role in music-making and art-making.  In other words, art was not a separate function.  It was something that everybody did, to a point, and we’ve lost that a lot.  That was even true in the 19th century.  Most of the great string quartets were written for amateurs, or written for an amateur market as well as professional market.  It’s very easy to be curmudgeonly, but if anything disturbs me about the 
80s, it is that very few people get the chance to play music themselves.  What is wonderful about early music is that it is playable by amateurs, and most of the summer is spent by us all teaching amateurs to play.  There are workshops all over this country, and all over Europe.  It’s interesting that most of the attendees are people in the sciences, honking away on recorders and viols, and having a great time.  There are not very many literature people, but I took a survey at the one I just did in California.  We had a library cataloger, a math teacher, a chemist, and four or five computer people for my viola class.

BD:   I bet they had a great time.

Springfels:   They had a fantastic time.  The music is so well-written.  There is a literature of amateur music for the viol from the 17th century which is designed to be easy to play.  It is great music, so the people who are not musicians can have this incredible experience.

BD:   It’s really good, but not technically difficult?

Springfels:   Right.

BD:   But the performers
both professional and amateurare still responsible for making it music?

Springfels:   Absolutely, and that’s very difficult.  It’s very difficult music in terms of its rhythmic organization.  It’s very subtle.  Linear organization is very subtle, but you don’t have to play a lot of notes to do it.  I’d love to see more of that on all levels, including more amateur string quartets.


BD:   How much of music should be from the mind, and how much should be from the heart?

Springfels:   Wow...  That’s something which is a 20th century problem.  Obviously both.  These things were all wrapped up together in a very wonderful way.  There is also an equal measure of just the joy of playing, which is just the physical fun of making a sound out of an instrument.  There
s nothing like it.

BD:   How long have you been playing string instruments?

Springfels:   Since I was eighteen.  I did a little cello before that, but I started the gamba when I was eighteen.

BD:   Do you ever want to go back to cello?

Springfels:   No.  I have my hands full because I play the gamba and the medieval instruments.  In a way, I’m responsible for four hundred years of music.  That’s a lot of music, and I feel that I have to struggle a bit to keep up with those instruments.  There’s still a lot to learn about these instruments, so no, I don’t miss the cello.  I do love to hear other people play the cello...

BD:   Are the gambas in the fiddle family?

fiddle The medieval fiddle emerged in 10th-century Europe, deriving from the Byzantine lira (Greek: λύρα, Latin: lira, English: lyre), a bowed string instrument of the Byzantine Empire, and ancestor of most European bowed instruments.

The first recorded reference to the bowed lira was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911). In his lexicographical discussion of instruments, he cited the lira (lūrā) as a typical instrument of the Byzantines, and equivalent to the rabāb played in the Islamic Empires.

Lira spread widely westward to Europe. In the 11th and 12th centuries, European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments.

Over the centuries, Europe continued to have two distinct types of fiddles: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, which became known as the viola da braccio (arm viol) family and evolved into the violin; and the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, was the viola da gamba (leg viol) group.

During the Renaissance the gambas were important and elegant instruments, but they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) viola da braccio family


The vielle /viˈɛl/ is a European bowed stringed instrument used in the Medieval period, similar to a modern violin but with a somewhat longer and deeper body, three to five gut strings, and a leaf-shaped pegbox with frontal tuning pegs, sometimes with a figure-8 shaped body. Whatever external form they had, the box-soundchest consisted of back and belly joined by ribs, which experience has shown to be the construction for bowed instruments. The most common shape given to the earliest vielles in France was an oval, which with its modifications remained in favor until the Italian lira da braccio asserted itself as the better type, leading to the violin.

The instrument was also known as a fidel or a viuola, although the French name for the instrument, vielle, is generally used. The word comes from the same root as 'fiddle'. It was one of the most popular instruments of the medieval period, and was used by troubadours and jongleurs from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The vielle possibly derived from the lira, a Byzantine bowed instrument closely related to the rebab, an Arab bowed instrument. There are many medieval illustrations of different types of vielles in manuscripts, sculptures and paintings.

Starting in the middle or end of the 15th century, the word vielle was used to refer to the hurdy-gurdy, as a shortened form of its name: vielle à roue ("vielle with a wheel").

Springfels:   The gambas are their own family.

BD:   But they go well with the fiddle?

Springfels:   They go well with the fiddle.  There’s a lot of repertoire written for the big gambas and fiddles, but not so much for little gambas and fiddles.  They don’t quite mesh.  They’re both fine, just different repertoire.  The big gamba-fiddle repertoire comes from about 1650, and there’s a very rich fifty years of yummy, yummy music.  It
s mostly Northern European, actually.  Theres a wonderful piece by Couperin for that combination, plus lots of English music.  [François Couperin (1668-1733), whose final publications were Pièces de violes (1728).]

BD:   Is it because that’s what they had?

Springfels:   Yes, and it’s what they preferred.  They had other things, too.  They could have done things with all their instruments.  There was music for fiddle band, but they had this choice that we don’t have, which is neat.  We don’t have two different strings sonorities to play with, which they did.  Composers like John Jenkins and William Lawes in England, used the chordal qualities of the gamba and melodic qualities of the fiddle in very interesting ways.  Henry Butler, who lived in Spain, and others, like possibly Biber, Schmeltzer, and Muffat, wrote for combinations like that.  So did Buxtehude, and all the North German people.

BD:   I have always liked Buxtehude
s organ music.


Springfels:   Yes.  Buxtehude wrote many sonatas for violin and viol [as shown in the box above].  It is wonderful music in combinations performed by people like Reincken [almost certainly at the harpsichord in the painting above] who was one of the guys that Bach admired.  He was an organ virtuoso who wrote mostly quasi-church music, or music for church concerts both in England and in Northern Europe for the period up to about 1700.  At that point, the all violin-viol-cello band took over England.  Gamba, after 1700, had a huge solo repertoire which functioned, especially in North Germany, as the tragic voice of cantatas.  The St. John and St. Matthew Passions gamba obligatos came out of the 150-year tradition of using the gamba to write about tragedy.  All of Bach’s predecessors used it in that way.

jenkins John Jenkins [image shown at right] (1592 – 27 October 1678), was an English composer who was born in Maidstone, Kent and who died at Kimberley, Norfolk. Jenkins was a long-active and prolific composer whose many years of life, spanning the time from William Byrd to Henry Purcell, witnessed great changes in English music. He is noted for developing the viol consort fantasia, being influenced in the 1630s by an earlier generation of English composers including Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger, Thomas Lupo, John Coprario and Orlando Gibbons. Jenkins composed numerous four-, five-, and six-part fantasias for viol consort, almans, courants and pavanes, and he breathed new life into the antiquated form of the In Nomine. He was less experimental than his friend William Lawes. Jenkins's music was more conservative than that of many of his contemporaries. It is characterized by a sensuous lyricism, highly skilled craftsmanship, and an original usage of tonality and counterpoint.

Little is known of his early life. The son of Henry Jenkins, a carpenter who occasionally made musical instruments, he may have been the "Jack Jenkins" employed in the household of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick in 1603. The first positive historical record of Jenkins is amongst the musicians who performed the masque The Triumph of Peace in 1634 at the court of king Charles I. Jenkins was considered a virtuoso on the lyra viol. King Charles I commented that Jenkins did "wonders on an inconsiderable instrument."

When the English Civil War broke out in 1642 it forced Jenkins, like many others, to migrate to the rural countryside. During the 1640s he was employed as music-master to two Royalist families, the Derham family at West Dereham and Hamon le Strange of Hunstanton. He was also a friend of the composer William Lawes (1602–1645), who was shot and died in battle at the siege of Chester.

Around 1640 Jenkins revived the In Nomine, an archaic form for a consort of viols, based upon a traditional plainsong theme. He wrote a notable piece of programme music consisting of a pavane and galliard depicting the clash of opposing sides, the mourning for the dead and the celebration of victory after the siege of Newark (1646).

In the 1650s Jenkins became resident music-master of Lord Dudley North in Cambridgeshire, whose son Roger wrote his biography. It was in these years, during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, in the absence of much competition or organised music-making, that Jenkins took the occasion to write more than 70 suites for amateur household players.

William Lawes [image shown at left] (April 1602 – 24 September 1645) was an English composer and musician. He was the son of Thomas Lawes, a vicar choral at Salisbury Cathedral, and brother to Henry Lawes, a very successful composer in his own right.

His patron, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, apprenticed him to the composer John Coprario, which probably brought Lawes into contact with Charles, Prince of Wales at an early age. Both William and his elder brother Henry received court appointments after Charles succeeded to the British throne as Charles I. William was appointed as "musician in ordinary for lutes and voices" in 1635, but had been writing music for the court prior to this.

Lawes spent all his adult life in Charles's employ. He composed secular music and songs for court masques (and doubtless played in them), as well as sacred anthems and motets for Charles's private worship. He is most remembered today for his sublime viol consort suites for between three and six players, and his lyra viol music. His use of counterpoint and fugue and his tendency to juxtapose bizarre, spine-tingling themes next to pastoral ones in these works made them disfavoured in the centuries after his death. They have only become widely available in recent years.

When Charles's dispute with Parliament led to the outbreak of the Civil War, Lawes joined the Royalist army. During the Siege of York, Lawes was living in the city, and wrote at least one piece of music as a direct result of the military situation – the round See how Cawood's dragon looks, a vivid and defiant response to the Parliamentarian capture of Cawood Castle, about ten miles from York. He was given a post in the King's Life Guards, which was intended to keep him out of danger. Despite this, he was "casually shot" by a Parliamentarian in the rout of the Royalists at Rowton Heath, near Chester, on 24 September 1645. Although the King was in mourning for his kinsman Bernard Stuart (killed in the same defeat), he instituted a special mourning for Lawes, apparently honoring him with the title of "Father of Musick."

Henry Butler
[no image] (born in England, died 1652 in Spain) was an English composer and viol player. From 1623 until his death he lived in Spain, serving as a musician in the chapel of Philip IV, under the names Enrique (or Enrrique) Botelero and Enrico Butler.

Butler and William Young, an English viol player working at the Austrian court in Innsbruck, were the first English composers to call their works sonatas. Young published 11 sonatas in 1653, whereas all of Butler's works survived only in undated manuscripts. His three sonatas were for violin, bass viol and continuo.

William Young
[no image] (died 23 April 1662) was an English viol player and composer of the Baroque era, who worked at the court of Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Austria in Innsbruck. The details of Young's origins are unknown. By 1652 he was a chamber musician at the Innsbruck court, where "the Englishman", as he was called, was a highly regarded viol player and composer. The design of his English-made viol influenced that of some of the viols built by Jakob Stainer, the Austrian luthier. Young's 11 sonatas for two, three, and four parts and continuo, published in Innsbruck in 1653, are known to have reached England. In modern times, the 11 sonatas were rediscovered by William Gillies Whittaker. He found them in manuscript in Uppsala University Library in Sweden, and published them in 1930. He is not to be confused with William Young (died 1671), another musician, who played violin and flute at the court of Charles II of England from 1661.


Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber  [image shown at right] (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (now Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked in Graz and Kremsier (now Kroměříž) before he illegally left his Kremsier employer, Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn, and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. Biber also wrote operas, sacred music and music for chamber ensemble, and one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the Mystery Sonatas. During Biber's lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber's music, especially the Mystery Sonatas, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.



Johann Heinrich Schmelzer [image shown at left] (c. 1620–1623 – between 29 February and 20 March 1680) was an Austrian composer and violinist of the middle Baroque era. Almost nothing is known about his early years, but he seems to have arrived in Vienna during the 1630s, and remained composer and musician at the Habsburg court for the rest of his life. He enjoyed a close relationship with Emperor Leopold I, was ennobled by him, and rose to the rank of Kapellmeister in 1679. He died during a plague epidemic only months after getting the position.

Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of the period, and an important influence on later German and Austrian composers for violin. He made substantial contributions to the development of violin technique, and promoted the use and development of sonata and suite forms in Austria and South Germany. He was the leading Austrian composer of his generation, and an influence on Heinrich Ignaz Biber.

Schmelzer's Sonatae unarum fidium of 1664 was the first collection of sonatas for violin and basso continuo to be published by a German-speaking composer. It contains the brilliant virtuosity, sectional structure, and lengthy ground-bass variations typical of the mid-Baroque violin sonata.


muffat Georg Muffat [image shown at right] (1 June 1653 – 23 February 1704) was a Baroque composer and organist. He is best known for the remarkably articulate and informative performance directions printed along with his collections of string pieces Florilegium Primum and Florilegium Secundum (First and Second Bouquets) in 1695 and 1698.

Georg Muffat was born in Megève, Duchy of Savoy (now in France), son of André Muffat (of Scottish descent) and Marguerite Orsyand. He studied in Paris between 1663 and 1669, where his teacher is often assumed to have been Jean Baptiste Lully. 

After leaving Paris, he became an organist in Molsheim and Sélestat. Later, he studied law in Ingolstadt, afterwards settling in Vienna. He could not get an official appointment, so he travelled to Prague in 1677, then to Salzburg, where he worked for the archbishop for some ten years. In about 1680, he traveled to Italy, there studying the organ with Bernardo Pasquini, a follower of the tradition of Girolamo Frescobaldi; he also met Arcangelo Corelli, whose works he admired very much. From 1690 to his death, he was Kapellmeister to the bishop of Passau.

Georg Muffat should not be confused with his son Gottlieb Muffat, also a successful composer. Gottlieb Muffat [no image available] (April 1690 – 9 December 1770), son of Georg Muffat, served as Hofscholar under Johann Fux in Vienna from 1711 and was appointed to the position of third court organist at the Hofkapelle in 1717. He acquired additional duties over time, including the instruction of members of the Imperial family, among them the future Empress Maria Theresa. He was promoted to second organist in 1729 and first organist upon the accession of Maria Theresa to the throne in 1741. He retired from official duties at the court in 1763. It is well established that Handel borrowed copiously from his contemporaries, including Muffat. It is not known with certainty whether Handel and Muffat had any personal knowledge of each other, but their positions as leading musicians in major European capitals might imply at least a mutual awareness. There is a copy, in Muffat's own hand, of Handel's Suites des pieces (1720) which Muffat supplied with numerous ornaments along with a few variants of his own design.


 Johann Adam Reincken [image shown at left] (also Jan Adams, Jean Adam, Reinken, Reinkinck, Reincke, Reinicke, Reinike; baptized 10 December 1643 – 24 November 1722) was a Dutch/German organist and composer. He was one of the most important composers of the 17th century, a friend of Dieterich Buxtehude and a major influence on Johann Sebastian Bach. Unfortunately, very few of his works survive to this day.

Reincken received primary music education in Deventer in 1650–1654, from Lucas van Lennick, organist of the Grote kerk (Lebuinuskerk). In 1654 he departed for Hamburg to study under Heinrich Scheidemann, a pupil of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, organist of St. Katharine's Church (Katharinenkirche). In 1657 he returned to Deventer and became organist of the Bergkerk on 11 March. However, after only a year he left for Hamburg again, this time to become Scheidemann's assistant. When the older composer died in 1663, Reincken succeeded him at St. Katharine's. In 1665 he married one of Scheidemann's daughters, and their only child Margaretha-Maria was born three years later.

The composer kept his position at St. Katharine's until his death in 1722, although in 1705 some of the church elders attempted to appoint Johann Mattheson as Reincken's successor. Unlike many other contemporary organists, Reincken died wealthy. In his lifetime he was heralded as one of the best organists in Germany. He knew Dieterich Buxtehude closely, and influenced Vincent Lübeck and Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was evidently deeply impressed by Reincken's music, arranging several of the works from Hortus musicus (as BWV 954, 965 and 966). In 2006, the earliest known Bach autograph was discovered in Weimar: a copy of Reincken's An Wasserflüssen Babylon, which Bach made for his then teacher Georg Böhm in Lüneburg in 1700.

BD:   Do you see the future of gamba playing going upward?

Springfels:   It’s very hard to say.  At this point, in this country, it’s a little bit grim.  There don’t seem to be any 20-year-olds playing the gamba well, which is what you need.  However, that’s not true in Europe.  There are young people playing, and playing beautifully.  So, hopefully, they’ll keep it going.  It depends on what happens with our educational system.  How many people get exposed to music at all, let alone something as specialized as this?

BD:   That’s on the performing side.  What about in those who receive it?

Springfels:   I think that audience is picking up.  I hope so.  Statistics are not clear to me.  Our subscription audience has gotten higher.  City Musick has done very, very well, and the Harwood Ensemble has gone very well.  There is a good listening audience, but we definitely do need more performers.


 CHICAGO TRIBUNE  March 29, 1988

Far from being an esoteric/fringe organization, the City Musick has in a very few seasons come to occupy a valuable role at the center of Chicago musical life. A growing number of discerning listeners regularly turn to director Elaine Scott Banks` 18th Century orchestra as a historically informed alternative to the more traditional performances of Baroque and classical music presented by local modern-instrument groups.

What Banks gives them is akin to the careful modern restoration of paintings by the old masters. In both cases, centuries of yellowed varnish and grime are removed, revealing as if for the first time the original colors, textures and designs. I don`t think it an exaggeration to say that City Musick`s performances now compare favorably with those of the very finest European and domestic early-music ensembles.

Chicago Community Trust recently recognized the rapid artistic growth of this group by awarding it a $20,000 grant. It is money spent in a noble cause, as City Musick`s concert Sunday in Old St. Patrick`s Church proved.

The program of rarely heard French vocal and instrumental works of the 18th Century represented a clear labor of love for Banks and her musicians, several of whom had spent long hours transcribing the parts to one of the works-Jean-Philippe Rameau`s tragedie lyrique, ''Abaris, ou Les Boreades"-from a facsimile of the score. This was said to be the first United States performance of the instrumental suite. The music abounds with fresh and surprising invention and is filled with pictorial touches, the most delightful of which employ martial drums, tambourines and wind machine. Banks and friends relished every delicious effect, every dissonant clash.

But the focal part of the program was a pair of cantatas, ''Pan et Sirinx'' by Michel de Monteclair and ''La Muse de l`Opera'' by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault, as sung by soprano Julianne Baird. Both works are loosely derived from Greek mythology and celebrate the pleasures, admittedly fleeting, of love.

Baird chose to embellish the vocal line profusely. Unfortunately, the lively church acoustics tended to blur the edges of her ornamentation, rendering about a third of the words unintelligible despite her excellent diction and projection. For all that, she remains a marvelous Baroque stylist- it was a pleasure to hear singing so confident, expressive and beautiful. Her flutelike tones were radiant with the innocent joy of the music, matched by the rhythmic elan of the instrumentalists.

Banks (a conductor of skill as well as commitment) also joined with colleagues Mary Springfels, John Rozendaal and David Schrader for a suite by Marin Marais for viols and continuo. They invested the intersecting lines with robust tonal energy and subtle inflections, although again the acoustics proved a drawback, blurring crucial timbral distinctions of the three viols.

BD:   What advice do you have for someone who wants to take up the gamba?

Springfels:   Do it.  If you do it well enough, you will make a living.  It can be done.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.

BD:   That’s encouraging.  Thank you for all of your work and research, and for speaking with me today.

Springfels:   It was fun.  Thank you very much.


© 1989 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on July 19, 1989.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB two months later, and again in 1996.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.