On 13th April 2013, visitors to the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall were in for a surpise…
‘Les Canards Chantants’, a talented quartet currently based in York, delighted visitors by singing ‘live’ from the Eglantine table, which is delicately inlaid with wooden sheet music. Visitors were amazed to ‘hear’ the table – some demanded an encore, and others wanted to know if the Canards could get a regular gig!
For me, it was a revelatory experience. I was worried that the sound of the quartet would get lost in this immense room. Instead, their voices filled the space – an effect helped by the famous Hardwick rush floors, and the tapestries which drape most walls, creating a rich acoustic environment. When Bess of Hardwick entertained her most important guests in this room, singing would almost certainly have been part of the evening’s events – and we now know just how rich and vibrant the sound would have been. Scholars have long believed that the sheet music is ‘real’, but this is the first time it has been fully transcribed, edited, and sung in the High Great Chamber.
Hardwick is a house which celebrates music in a variety of ways, from the lovely virginal which is now in the Dining Room, to the alabaster overmantel which was originally made for Chatsworth but is now installed in the Withdrawing Chamber at Hardwick.
Though their costumes are classical, Apollo and the nine muses play Elizabethan instruments, and the quartet of singers cluster around part-books, reminding us how sociable and inter-active music-making was in Bess’s day.