Leah Stuttard

Leah Stuttard is a medieval harpist, singer, composer, arranger and musicologist. She works globally with well known ensembles such as Hesperion XXI and Micrologus. In August 2019 she appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking to Roderick Williams about songs and singers in medieval Britain. Brighton Early Music Festival 2019 commissioned her to direct their last night medieval extravaganza, 'The Feast of Fools'.

In Nativitate S. Ioannis Baptistæ

Posted by on 24 Jun 2020

In Nativitate S. Ioannis Baptistæ

Today is the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ. This Christian festival was placed around the time of the Midsummer festival when the solstice was celebrated all over Europe. In Scandinavia this is still a really big deal involving family gatherings, fires, sausages and beer (copious amounts as I understand it), and in France in some places they have a big ‘feux de Saint Jean’ (when there isn’t a global pandemic). Last year I went to the one in my town and it was in the middle of a heat wave, so I honestly think the British bonfire night is a much more sensible time to go all blazey. But anyway, if the French songs about ‘La Saint Jean’ are anything to go by, it’s a time associated with wedding vows.     But this wasn’t why I wanted to post today!   I’ve been reading about sequences. It’s one of my favourite forms of gregorian chant. They have a cloudy obscure early history (who doesn’t?) and were almost entirely banned by the council of Trent in the 16th century (with a few exceptions, including one of my favourites, Victime paschali laudes, the Easter sequence, dating from the late 11th century). Sung between the reading of the epistle and the gospel, they started to be created back in the 9th century and were a focus of intense creativity for centuries. They occupied a ‘soft’ spot in the liturgy which meant there was a bit of freedom for singers in different places across Europe to modify, extend, ornament, write new words for and create entirely new sequence chants from scratch. So in different places and in different seasons there could be local sequences for a special saint which the monks or nuns of only one particular monastery might cherish as their very own. They even snuck their way out of the Mass and started appearing in processions or plays. Each strophe in a sequence is made up of a repeated tune with two lots of words, and the tune develops as the chant goes on. There tends to be an increase in intensity through use of a higher range towards the middle or end. At a certain point, they become regular and metrical, with rhyming Latin words that just feel rhythmic. A theorist from the late 13th century, Grocheo, describes sequences even as...

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Lockdown survival

Posted by on 28 May 2020

Lockdown survival

It’s been long, in some places it’s ongoing, and everywhere it’s been hard.   I have been lucky to have been stuck with my husband in a rural corner of Picardy where there are big skies and fields. As soon as the partial lifting of the lockdown here permitted, I embarked on a ‘pilgrimage to nowhere’ (or to ‘now and here’ as an Italian friend pointed out), exploring the byways, tracks, paths, roads, churches, fields, forests and villages surrounding me – amazing discoveries. Read about my journey at www.pilgrimtonowhere.org   Music making has been hard for me. The rewards of music for me always involve other people, whether that’s a live audience to share with or my beautiful and inspiring musical collaborators from across Europe. So while many of my friends and colleagues have been busy livestreaming, a-capella-ing, zoom-workshopping or filming themselves and youtubing, I’ve been cleaning and sewing and baking and sending things to people and reading and meditating and praying. I’ve been surviving.   But I haven’t been utterly musically inactive. I did a kind of meditative repetitive drone in C for Agnethe to do a livestream in Copenhagen which consisted of 8 minutes of me rhythmically playing the same notes over and over (more meditation than music to be fair!)   And I have also been working together with Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin on a project we should have performed this weekend (Saturday 30 May 2020) in St Mary’s Church in Beverley as part of the Beverley Early Music Festival which has now been postponed to 2021.   Vivien was just itching to get creative, make music, do something! So we had lots of Zoom chats and then moved on to recording separately, editing together, writing about the project, collaborating with the Heritage Officer at St Mary’s, Jennie England, putting together a funding bid (watch this space for news about that) and generally just making creativity happen.     Here are our blogs for your delight and delectation: Vivien on the project as a whole and on the ballad ‘Sir Eglamore’ in particular Jennie England, Heritage Officer for St Mary’s in Beverley on the roof bosses which have supplied some of our inspiration. me on dragons me on dragons again, medieval ones!   Wishing you all, wherever you are, tranquillity, peace, health, and the warmth of friendship. Stay...

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Fragments sacrés au Havre, 17 novembre 2019

Posted by on 19 Nov 2019

Fragments sacrés au Havre, 17 novembre 2019

Léa Stuttard à la harpe ancienne et au chant, au Conservatoire Arthur Honegger, Le Havre dans le cadre du festival Les Prieurales. Publiée par Patrick Bacot sur Dimanche 17 novembre 2019     Je suis ravie de pouvoir partager cette video de moi jouant et chantant hier au Havre, dans le conservatoire Arthur Honegger. C’est un beau souvenir qui m’est précieux, je dois dire.   C’était très belle la connexion que j’ai expérimenté avec ce publique prêt d’écouter. Je crois que la centaine de personnes présentes étaient ouvertes à la découverte avec moi de cette musique. Le répertoire que j’ai choisi est par fois inédit et rare à être interprété à cause de son état fragmentaire, ce qui ajoute au caractère poignant que je trouve dedans.     Si j’ai pu communiquer combien je suis touchée et émue par les sonorités de la musique 13e et 14e de l’Angleterre, je pense que j’ai réussi. Mon ami François Montaufray, Président de l’association Les Prieurales, qui m’a engagée, m’a assuré que c’était bien le cas, et j’en suis très reconnaissante! Quel don m’a été confié, entre les doux accords et la possibilité de les faire vivre entre mes doigts pendant ce beau moment ensemble <3     Pour en savoir plus sur le festival de musique médiévale au Havre: https://francois77.wixsite.com/lesprieurales/15-prieurales...

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Festa Fatuorum VI – the people and gratitude

Posted by on 22 Oct 2019

Festa Fatuorum VI – the people and gratitude

The whole event is a massive collaborative effort. This is an aspect of the show that I find really lovely, it’s such a collective work. I might have found the music, but I’ve consulted with people in the BREMF background like Yvonne Eddy (over a nice cold glass of white wine by Skype!) as well as Deborah Roberts to confirm it all worked. Andrew Robinson, the director of the Community Choir, also gave much needed guidance about his singers whilst we shared a love for Santiago de Compostela where his choir have performed. Jeremy Avis helped transform some Latin chants into brilliant fun memorable moments for the children before actually going to the schools and getting them started on learning the songs.   Along with Thomas Guthrie and Saskia Wesnigk we went to visit the venues back on the hottest day of the summer (I’m actually not joking, it was the day when the rails all started melting and I wasn’t sure how I’d be getting back to London!) so that the narration of the story could start to take shape. This was the day that I met the choreographer JP Omari to make sure our ideas would work for his crew of street dancers. Saskia, who also sings with the Community Choir, then wrote brilliant English lyrics for some of their songs. And I haven’t mentioned yet Maya, a stalwart of the festival, who provided several cunningly genius Latin texts and was exTREMEly patient with my bizarre requests and long gaps between emails!   Finally, I’ve been to see both Clare Salaman and Ian Harrison in their homes (in London and Germany respectively… so not your average rehearsal, especially as I live in France!) and they’ve played through some of the song accompaniments and the dance tunes to help with the instrumental shape. Having such a big diverse team is enormously stimulating and exciting.   With choirs like BREMF Consort of Voices, I wanted to have moments of beautiful polyphony as well as some pure, unadulterated plain chant as seen in my liturgical sources. The fact that Feast of Fool type celebrations happened (and were testified to and sometimes condemned) from the 13th to the 16th century meant that I could spread broad my net in looking for music. I love to mix different eras like that – it’s less tiring for the ears and the hearts of...

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Festa Fatuorum V – the drinking bit

Posted by on 21 Oct 2019

Festa Fatuorum V – the drinking bit

At the end of the liturgical action, the whole community would go to eat together, a feast in the more common sense of the word. The versus ad prandium “O crucifer” (performed in our version instrumentally for the dancers) is found at the end of the Vespers on the day of the Feast of Fools (rather than the Vespers on the eve of the Feast) in the manuscript of Sens cathedral. It was preceded by the rather more famous conductus ad poculum, “Kalendas ianuarias”. The Clemencic Consort recorded a simple version of this in 1979 (to my surprise, the New London Consort seem to have copied their way of doing it if you compare with 25:19 in this video recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0EO63vO8ig though on their commercial release it’s a bit more developed with more verses and ‘comedy’ vocal sound – I decided not to include this 10 strophe song! There was only so much space…) As it’s subtitle suggests, this led to the cup or poculum, suggestive of the drinking that would follow. There might have been rather enthusiastic carousing around town after the official liturgy had ended in some places and at some times, if condemnations of the practices around the Feast of Fools are to be believed. The fact that it is here indicated in a formal way means that the church was in control whilst allowing the enjoyment of eating and imbibing! A sensible compromise.   So speaking of drinking brings me to more inspiration for the music in the show. “In taberna quando sumus” is a text from the Carmina Burana that has a famous tune added by René Clemencic, who then published it, so that now it seems to be the tune that is set in stone for those words. Even Corvus Corax, who sing it at supersonic speed, use the well known tune (with some extra creative bits on shawms). I however decided to see if there was any tune from the Feast of Fools sources I could use and I found one in the manuscript from Beauvais! This is my favourite verse:   Bibit pauper et egrotus, bibit exul et ignotus, bibit puer, bibit canus, bibit presul et decanus, bibit soror, bibit frater, bibit anus, bibit mater, bibit ista, bibit ille, bibunt centum, bibunt mille. “A hundred drink, A THOUSAND DRINK!!”   For many years, I’ve been holding on to some arcane knowledge...

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Festa Fatuorum IV – a medieval Feast day

Posted by on 20 Oct 2019

Festa Fatuorum IV – a medieval Feast day

Having spent some time thinking about all sorts of other medieval sources I might tap into, ultimately I ended up sticking quite closely to the idea of an ecclesiastical ‘Feast day’. Any such ecclesiastical ‘Feast day’ actually starts with the night before (like Christmas Eve or Halloween) and lasts through to the following night, so I decided to split the show into sections vaguely following the shape of a full ecclesiastical day. The opening music comes from the services of the Hours. Then we move into a Mass, replete with Kyrie, Gloria, sermon (to be given by a child Bishop, an attested medieval practice – kind of like work experience, after all the pueri in the clerical family were destined to work in the Church for the rest of their lives) and Credo.   For this I really focused quite heavily on the four sources from different cathedrals in France that describe the action and include just masses of musical material, a lot of it specially created for the liturgy of the Office of Circumcision on the 1st January, the Feast day that honoured the lowliest of the clergy, the subdeacons. We associate reversal of social order with this Feast because the subdeacons were allowed to participate in the church services in ways normally reserved for those higher up the pecking order. They got to do things like reading the Gospel, or even carrying Bishop’s regalia and singing his bits of the service for example.       Central to the whole performance concept was the participation of Streetfunk, a brilliant group of young dancers from Brighton. As I was preparing for the show, I was thinking about how they could be involved – what could they dance to? what role could they have in the action of the whole? As I was reading the brilliant book by Max Harris, Sacred Folly, I came across a description of a sacred labyrinth dance with a ball that used to happen around Easter in Auxerre in Burgundy, France. This seemed just perfect as an idea that could include both solo dancers and a bigger group of children as well. As a substitute for a whole ludus or sacred drama, this central dance piece would be perfect after the Mass and the piece of chant known as the “conductus ad ludos” would lead into it. It only then required some thinking about what...

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