The Musical Legacy of Charles V: Piffaro Founders’ Finale

Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemkin with instruments at Episcopal Cathedral. Photo by Héloïis Degrugillier.

Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken have maintained their stringent research standards for the their Founders’ Finale concert. That research is inspiring – and nothing short of miraculous to this music fan and former librarian. Bob and Joan and their fellow Renaissance Band members not only research with punctilious accuracy, but they also let their imaginations fly to make the connection between the information they glean and the music it represents.

An earlier Piffaro research trail led me to the Free Library of Philadelphia to see the sixteenth century manuscript, the Lewis E 211, a gift from Anne Baker Lewis. The meager little booklet was tiny, five centuries old, and written in sixteenth century French with simplistic pictures of musicians and lyrics. From this small booklet, the Piffaro Renaissance Band envisioned a concert. To take a modest little pamphlet as a seed for a feast of musical pageantry is nothing short of magic.

That magic is the result diligent study, refinement, polish, and recruitment, which Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken have pursued since 1984. They now have established a band of musicians devoted to historically accurate performance. Those musicians possess an innate sense of Renaissance music and an intangible spark, which energizes their musical performance.

The Founders’ Farewell concert was planned around the musical legacy of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who was born into a royal family where music was essential. The composers of the court’s music were the finest in Europe and many of them were employed as permanent members of the Court Chapel. In true Piffaro tradition, the program book was both a guide to the music and the history of the era in which it was created.

Since Charles V was born in Flanders, the concert began with a processional of Flemish tunes – bagpipes, recorders, guitar and percussion. The bagpipes played by Priscilla Herreid, Joan Kimball, and Fiona Last were melodic and light enough to blend with the recorders (played by Greg Ingles and Erik Schmalz) and the guitar played by Grant Herreid.

Pierre de la Rue, also called Peter van Straten, (c. 1460 -1518) composed for Charles’ aunt Marguerite of Austria and was one of the most significant composers of his time.. His Pourquoy non and Ave regina caelorum had such a delicate and poignant sound with the smooth shawm, sackbut, and dulcian. La Rue’s music was the highlight of the concert.

The spectacular Trumpet Fanfare played by Greg Ingles and Erik Schmalz was so in tune it was awe-inspiring. What it is like to take such a long trumpet out on stage and blow and hope for the best?

Piffaro The Renaissance-Band. Photo by PLATE3.

Should anyone be inattentive, they might be startled by Grant Herreid tossing a tambourine from one side of the sanctuary to the other for Bob Wiemken to deftly catch and put it straight to good musical use. Hard act to follow, but it is this very playfulness which makes Piffaro performances so much fun to experience.

On Friday, however, the ensemble’s trademark lightning transitions were not as smooth as usual. It took more time to regroup for changes of instrument and music – perhaps because there were so many instruments and musicians.

Héloïse Degrugillier’s pure and free flute playing was quite moving as she and Grant Herreid performed Tabulation for Arigot in Mode III, from the dance manual of Thoinot Arbeau. It was a haunting evocation of a fife and percussion on the battlefield.

To complete the tour: a trip to the New World. Charles’ influence was felt as far off as Mexico and his death was commemorated there in 1559 with music by Cristobal de Morales. As composers in Europe discovered New World styles, they incorporated them into their work. Piffaro demonstrated this by ending their concert with a lively New World dance form, a chacona, in a treatment by Spanish composer Juan Arañes.

Next year, Piffaro the Renaissance Band will be under the artistic direction of Priscilla Herreid, and this wonderful hortus musicalis, so solidly established, will no doubt continue to flourish.

Performances of Founders’ Finale: Piffaro the Renaissance Band: Friday, May 13, 2022 at 7:30 pm at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 23 S 38th St, Philadelphia; Saturday, May 14, 2022 at 7:30 pm at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, and Sunday, May 15, 2022 at Christ Church Christiana Hundred, 505 E Buck Rd, Wilmington, DE. For tickets:

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