Musica contexta is a professional ensemble specialising in the performance of Renaissance sacred music. At its heart is a core with a particular commitment to Renaissance music.
Musica Contexta translates literally as 'music interwoven', reflecting the group's primary aim of presenting Renaissance music in the context of its original conception and function.
The group first performed in Ely Cathedral in August 1992, making its London debut at St. John’s Smith Square the following year. Since then Musica Contexta has performed throughout Britain and Europe. Sell-out Festival appearances in Britain have included the York Early Music Festival, the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester Cathedral, and the Stour Music Festival in Kent. Musica Contexta’s Wigmore Hall debut was one of a number of BBC broadcasts the group has made. In 1995 the choir made its first CD recording, of music by John Sheppard. This was followed by a highly acclaimed series of recordings for Chandos, featuring Palestrina’s Music for Holy Week: the final recording in this series was shortlisted for the prestigious Gramophone Early Music Award.
Musica Contexta released its sixth CD, William Byrd's The Great Service, in June 2012, with the collaboration of the organist Steven Devine and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. The recording of has received critical acclaim.
Bolton Abbey, 6 October 2012
Audiences always get to show their appreciation of performers with applause, but this time it’s a performer who wants to thank his audience. In France, and last week up in Yorkshire, we’ve had the privilege of presenting Byrd’s Great Service to fantastic crowds. Yes, recording the music was wonderful, and we’ve appreciated the plaudits for that effort, but there is nothing quite so direct for a performer as the response of a real, live, large and enthusiastic audience. I know I speak for the whole of Musica Contexta and our friends the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble here.
There’s no way that we are drawing a line under the Byrd Great. One of the great things about performing a musical masterpiece is that each time we have presented it the experience has grown stronger for us.
That said, we also want to move this voices-and-instruments experiment along by starting another major project. The obvious next step would be to present either the ‘great’ services by John Sheppard or Thomas Tomkins. So obvious, in fact, that I’m looking in the opposite direction. If Byrd and the Jacobean composers were familiar with wind instruments joining their singers in church, where did this practice originate in England? The answer may well lie as far back as 1520, when at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in northern France, the musicians of the English court (including Fayrfax and Cornysh) heard the French chapel sing mass accompanied by wind instruments. By 1527 we find the first reference to an English choir, at St. Pauls, singing ‘with the Kings trumpets and shalmes’. From around 1530 Canterbury Cathedral (where Tallis worked) employed two cornettists and two sackbuteers. And shortly after the Reformation, when Elizabeth visited Oxford (home to Taverner and Sheppard) she was greeted in ChristChurch by a Te Deum performed by voices and cornetts.
So, some time in 2013, we hope to give a first public airing to ‘From the Field of the Cloth of Gold’. This will probably include Fayrfax’s ‘Regale’ Magnificat, a movement from Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, Sheppard’s Te Deum, and… Tallis’s Gaude gloriosa. Can’t wait.
Simon Ravens, 12 October 2012
Arques-la-Bataille, 21 August 2012
For more information about Musica Contexta's recordings click here.