Repertoire

Pellingmans’ Saraband specialise in circular music and polyphony of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Circular Music

In all music there is a fine balance and interaction between predictability and surprise, repetition and variation, familiarity and novelty. Some music inclines more in one direction, and some in the other. But throughout musical history runs a thread of "circular music", music based entirely on a repeated pattern of some sort, whether that pattern be a repeated melodic line around which is woven other material, a repeated harmonic progression on which melodic variation is improvised or composed, or an entirely circular canon – i.e. a round which returns to the beginning when it reaches the end.

In our programmes we explore three main areas of circular music: firstly, divisions on grounds (i.e., variations on repeated harmonic progressions); secondly, with guest singers, songs which have grounds as their accompaniments; thirdly, canons and rounds, again with guest singers, by composers such as Thomas Ravenscroft. All of these types of circular music are represented on our album Twenty waies upon the bels, with Faye Newton, John Potter, and others. Our first album, Division-Musick, highlights the first category.

Polyphonic Music

Throughout the sixteenth century (as well as before and after), polyphonic music is a dominant force, chiefly because of the importance of church music. Masses and motets, instrumental fantasias and secular songs—almost all of this material is polyphonic and contrapuntal. Surviving instrumental books and manuscripts show that instrumentalists made constant use of this material, by adapting sacred music for their instruments and performing it purely instrumentally but also by composing and performing instrumentally conceived music which mimics vocal polyphony. Inspired by this historical practice, we have in performance explored our own instrumental settings of the great contrapuntalists of the time, from Josquin des Prez to William Byrd.

In addition to our Division-Musick and 20 waies programmes mentioned above, we have also devised and performed a programme entitled The Lion and the Unicorn, which explores the musical rivalry between John Dowland, England’s greatest advocate for the lute and Tobias Hume, champion of the viol. Additionally, we offer a programme of earlier renaissance music based around the tenor La Spagna and the many fine settings of divisions on that ground. Finally, we create bespoke programmes for particular events, such as the programme O Sweet Woods, with singer Faye Newton, based around renaissance views of the natural world, currently in preparation for the Stoke Newington Early Music Festival.