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'.

Festa fatuorum I – introduction

Posted by on 17 Oct 2019

Festa fatuorum I – introduction

It’s been a fabulously enriching and satisfyingly long journey, but in less than a month I will be ‘directing’ (at least partially) the massive final night party of Brighton Early Music Festival.   It’s the day for breaking rules Come and join the Feast of Fools! Topsy Turvy! Everything is upsy daisy! Topsy Turvy! Everyone is acting crazy! (Disney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame)         This year, the theme of the festival is metamorphosis (etymology μετά ‘with’, ‘after’, ‘between’ plus μόρϕωσις, after μεταμορϕοῦν to transform). The author whose name comes to mind is, of course, Ovid. I studied his Metamorphoses at A Level back in the day. Right now, there’s even an exhibition at a library I visit quite often, the library of the Sorbonne (where I’m finishing off a Masters), about the different ways of reading the Metamorphoses, stretching back to versions in their collections from the 15th century.   I particularly remember the story I studied all those years ago about Midas judging a musical competition (badly) between Pan and Apollo. Of course King Midas, having been rid of his cursed Golden Touch (which reminds me of a song I love from the 60s by a band my friend and colleague Bob Young loves, the Hollies) chose the wrong God – I mean CLEARLY, it’s the harpist Apollo who should win!!! You can see a wonderful illumination of this episode accompanying a work written by Christine de Pizan, the Epistle to Othea (‘L’Épître Othéa’ (ff. 95-141v)) as found in the Queen’s Manuscript at the British Library, a luxurious presentation copy given to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria (b. 1371, d. 1435) at New Year in 1414. There are several gorgeous illustrations in that manuscript of metamorphoses from Ovid’s work, retold in French as moral stories by Christine de Pizan. (Out of interest, there is also a Middle English version known reassuringly as The Boke of Knyghthode). It’s a story about being a refined artistic critic – which is the only kind of critic I want in the audience on the night!!!!   The concept for the concert came from Deborah Roberts, the festival director. Her idea about the Feast of Fools in the popular imagination as one massive raucous merry party that inverted societal hierarchies, led her to imagine how we could bring children’s views to the forefront with a particular emphasis on climate change.  ...

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The most popular (European) song of the 15th century

Posted by on 13 Aug 2019

The most popular (European) song of the 15th century

So, just how do you judge whether a song was well known and well liked in the 15th century? In the 20th century, you might count how many cover versions were made, or look at record sales in different countries. In the 21st you’d probably want data from streaming platforms like Spotify or Google play. In the 15th century though, the best way we have now to judge is by looking at the number of times it was written down.   Of course, we only have the manuscripts that have survived, so inevitably we might be missing other occasions when it was written but then lost, like in a library fire or just because it wasn’t looked after or valued (music does go quickly out of fashion!) Even so, there is one song that massively stands out in terms of just how many copies we have of it. That song is ‘O Rosa bella’ by John Bedyngham.   This song appears in 18 different copies. It was the most written out song of the whole 15th century. Not only was it copied but it was re-worked, re-made, re-envisioned and generally messed about with – musicians were doing the 15th century version of cover songs, and putting their own individualised stamp on the original, like Otis Redding in ‘Try a little tenderness’.   As a first example, there is this two voice ‘gimel’ by Ockeghem. (Gimel or gymel, maybe stemming from the Latin gemellus, for twin, simply describes a section of or an entire piece for two equal voices). It also became the basis for sacred songs, although it seems to me that there was much less separation between the two spheres, religious and non-religious, during the Middle Ages, and of course, most learned people who might have been able to write music down were probably involved in the church in some fashion. Here’s the Kyrie from the Mass ‘O Rosa bella’. Other people wrote new sacred texts for the hit tune, like “O rosa bella, o tu mi Maria” or “O diva stella o vergine Maria”. Yet other even cleverer people took the tune and added fragments of other popular songs as a ‘quodlibet’, like this two voice piece in which ‘Robinet’ is called to go and get his sheep from the woods in the quodlibet part. “Sault de gingant, je me cuidasse le pas de gingant, que mariage...

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Talking about medieval song in Britain

Posted by on 1 Aug 2019

Talking about medieval song in Britain

Back in February, I was contacted by a guy from BBC Radio 4 based in Cardiff. He wanted to have a chat about medieval song in Britain. I was a bit bemused as to how he might have ended up on my website – I mean, I think of myself as primarily a harpist though I do do a bit of singing now and then. So, on a cold day later that same month, I rang him from outside the Bibliothèque Nationale music department in Paris and we had a long conversation about different medieval song related topics. He reminded me of this lovely blog post about a concert I did in Beverley back in 2013, which had contributed to him contacting me.   I told him some stories about medieval English songs, about how ‘O Rosa bella’ is just one of those songs that seems to stick in people’s heads now, and how it was written down really often in the 15th century too suggesting its enormous popularity back then, even if the English text has been totally lost. (You can hear it here in a version played by some friends from my time at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, or you can buy my Wool Merchant CD and listen to it like that!) Both my sister and my husband have complained about it being an ear worm when I’ve had to practise it for a gig! I mentioned the Alderman of the City of London who wrote down a song with two texts, one in Middle English and one in Anglo-Norman in the middle of a big manuscript fulls of all sorts of other stuff like lists of popes and a genealogy, as well as rules and regulations relating to duties for his role in the town (Arnold Fitz Thedmar was his name, rather marvellously). You can hear his song in Middle English, ‘Ar ne kuth ich sorghe non’, on my other CD, Sacred Fragments! I also talked a bit about that marvellously English genre, the carol, and how it mixed up languages and was not just for Christmas – just think about the Agincourt Carol, a massive piece of propaganda following the victory over the French there in 1415.   This was followed by various emails with more song story ideas. How about the fact that the earliest known ‘song’ was a poem by the cowherd...

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OOPS you missed it……….(no more free postage!)

Posted by on 12 Feb 2019

OOPS you missed it……….(no more free postage!)

SORRY – you missed it! no more free postage available now…. but don’t let that put you off – it’s not that expensive even with postage and packing!     My new CD is now on sale! Only available here on my website. And for a limited time,if you buy ‘Sacred Fragments’ you won’t pay any shipping costs. You need to select the right sort of shipping at check out. Of course, if you do pay for shipping, it will further support me and my music making :) Happy listening!   Go to the shop to buy...

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Concerts coming up

Posted by on 31 Oct 2018

Concerts coming up

My Sacred Fragments programme is coming to Marks Tey near Colchester on 11th November You can get tickets from eventbrite.   I’m also really happy to return to the beautiful fragment of cloister at Worksop Priory where I played last November with Agnethe on our Secret Life of Lutheran Chorales tour:  ...

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Research trip with fun attached Medieval Music in the Dales

Posted by on 9 Sep 2018

Research trip with fun attached Medieval Music in the Dales

I’m ostensibly here to gather data for use in my doctoral thesis about the practice of improvisation – well, that’s a loaded word – or more broadly creativity in the medieval music revival. And I am in fact doing that, interviewing people and asking for medieval music enthusiasts of all stripes to fill in an online survey. But I have to say, this is a brilliant place! The venue is just astonishingly perfect – from smoke filled tavern (ok, maybe the smoke filled bit is a bit less than perfect!) to open air ruined chapel; from intimate church to fabulous great hall full of instrument makers. The view of the valley is amazing and the building, still in the hands of the descendants of the original builders, is a wonderful mix of ruined and reclaimed. The garden is also a marvel with its walled vineyard and ‘Mary garden’ full of flowers with a medieval symbolism for the Virgin Mary, and a gorgeously pruned labyrinth as just some of its attractions for me.   I played here a couple of years ago, having been really impressed by the gutsy verve behind what is a complex venture – Gill and Paul from the group Trouvere are just astonishing in their ability to make this happen, bringing people together, planning great themed weekends which appeal to a whole load of different sorts of medieval lovers – lots of reenactors, Waits groups, medieval music makers and professionals. The variety is huge, with an emphasis on workshops and participation. The tavern is full of informal music making with one or two clear leaders, as well as a series of mini concerts which are a bit more planned. But there’s also music in bedrooms and marquees and village halls….   The Friday and Saturday evening concerts are a great way to get to know who’s out there playing medieval music as they mix a selection of groups and musicians together in short sets, people who are doing longer concerts at other times during the festival. The York Waits are a long established group who this year explored the theme of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s elder brother, being connected mythographically to King Arthur (the theme of the festival is ‘The Matter of Britain’). Their loud shawming was truly wonderful but a few issues with instrument tuning precluded me from enjoying quite so fully some of their...

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