Clive Titmuss

clive_titmuss_bioClive Titmuss was born in Ilford, England in 1951, and came to Canada in 1955. He went to the University of Calgary as a musicology and guitar student and later studied the lute and related subjects in California, England and finally at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, studying under Eugen Dombois and Hopkinson Smith.

Clive co-founded the non-profit Society of Friends of Early Music Studio in Surrey, B.C. in 1987, and performs the masterworks of the lute and early guitar repertoire. Later he began to study lutherie and has built more than 100 period guitars and lutes on models from the 16th to 19th centuries.

Clive’s performing work has concentrated on music by Bach, Weiss and Reusner, and especially on the lute music of the 17th century by Bittner, Vallet, Dowland, Galilei and the French school founded by the Gaultiers and Charles Mouton. He takes great pride in playing music on instruments which he has built for the purpose. Even though everything that could be done with a guitar has been done and it seems pointless, he still plays it anyway.

He has established his workshop and studio in Kelowna, overlooking Lake Okanagan in southern British Columbia’s mountain desert country. Here, he builds stringed instruments, and does some restoration work on historic keyboard instruments – and he teaches a small number of dedicated lute and lutherie students in his studio and workshop. His recordings have been heard on radio in half a dozen countries, and his instruments are played by musicians around the world.

The Early Music Studio website has become a major focus for Clive, and his performing and life partner, Susan Adams. The website is a centre of early music activity and information, with hundreds of visitors every day. Clive’s CD’s, downloadable tracks, program notes and original intabulations and editions of lute music are now distributed to an international audience.

From a 2005 interview with eVent Magazine reporter Lori-Anne Charlton, who studies lute in her spare time, Clive tells us a bit more about himself…

First, tell me a bit about what you do:
I am spending a lot of time lately on the website, which makes early music which we have recorded (about six hours of material and growing) available in downloadable format. As far as I am aware we are some of the very first musicians to offer this mode of delivery independently of a major corporate presence. We’re “indies” as the music business might call us.

The major recording companies have been reluctant to market their back catalogues of art music, and have been slow to catch up with changes in demographics which make this fading market category attractive again. The costs are much higher for this music because of the labour involved and the recording standards. Things are rapidly changing, as the retail CD becomes as much of a dinosaur as the vinyl record. Despite attempts to increase the audio data and verisimilitude of recordings, they have not really caugth on.

The personal device has quickly become the growing market segment, and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, it’s delivery, not audio standards, that is really at the heart of the changes. In fact, fresh vinyl records on the right equipment sounded far more real than any of the digital equivalents. You’ve heard that before from lots of purists. . . Since most pop music is generated electronically now, it’s not really a problem, but for acoustic music, recording standards should be as high as possible. So this area of what we do is a challenge for any musician who’s concerned about the real sound of the resulting product.

What is music to your ears?
Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti, Dowland, Weiss, the Gaultiers, Mouton, Bittner, Reusner, Couperin, Milan, Mudarra, Narvaez, de Visée, Beethoven, Shoenberg, Webern, Berlioz, Schubert, Boulez, Bartok Stravinsky. I do not listen to any popular music of any kind. ‘m partial to avant-garde art music by composers of almost any era. I should have mentioned Foss, Varese and John Cage, too.

What was the first record you ever bought?
It was a three-record set of the Hungarian string quartet playing late Beethoven quartets. It took a week of washing dishes at Mr. Mike’s, a local steakhouse in Calgary. I should mention that I’m vegetarian, have been for most of my life. It was my first job. I quit and blew the proceeds on three records. It was worth it.

clive_titmuss_bio2What’s on your bookshelf?
Eliot, George and T. S., Anthony Trollope and Dickens, and also poetry and novels of the early 20th century: Joyce, Gissing, and Galsworthy are favorites. Right now I’m getting a lot out of Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, which I have read and re-read for close to a quarter-century. This work is the perfect blend of observation, characterization and philosophy. One could find a quote from it that would cover just about any situation. One could arrange one’s life according to it. It deals with the central dilemma of human life and music: what shall we think of time?

Naturally, I also read a lot of music. I have a studio stuffed with a lot of lute music, guitar music and music history books which would put almost everyone but me to sleep. Lately, I have re-read almost the complete works of Weiss, Gallot and Mouton recreationally all in a gulp, rather than working one piece at a time. Just as I said with Proust, I never tire of the guitar music of de Visée, which I particularly enjoy playing softly in hotel rooms.

I loved Christoph Wolff’s two books about J. S. Bach, and Gutmann’s recent book about Mozart. I’ve also got a pretty good collection of nice old books, especially leather-bound editions of Thackeray.

What (who) else do I like? Russel Banks, Martin Amis and José Saramago, Umberto Eco, J. M. Coetzee. I never go near detective novels, and I read about politics and investments in the newspaper.

Style tip?
Polish your shoes often, and never wear athletic clothing unless you are actually sweaty.

Most prized gadget?
My Lee Valley sharpening machine. Does plane blades in seconds, keeps hands clean and free of blood. Sharpening is a constant trial, like tuning, so anything that saves time and wear and tear on the hands is much appreciated.

I can’t stand it when. . .
People use clichés. At the end of the day, out there, bottom line, outside the box, typically, basically, and hopefully, substantively, likely as an adverb, oh, and my current favorite “noirish”. As in movie. Everyone who is conscious of good writing should be officially prohibited from removing vowels and from capitalizing internal letters within words, I wish the developers of games and software would stop the mining of Latin and Greek to lend pretentious authority to the stuff they create.

What else bothers me? Pop musicians talking about their “classical training”. They never got anywhere with it, but they’re gonna do the three chords and the chorus for you anyway.

It bothers me that children in school are not really exposed to movement and speech classes; they are not taught to swim, run, move, talk or even walk properly, and that they are not exposed to basic handwork skills as they once were.

I also hate being tailgated.

When I can’t sleep I. . .
Think of a two part invention by Bach, over and over. And over. Sometimes I imagine counterpoints. I also like symphony themes by Mozart, imagining the pitches on a staff. Just as I am drifting off, in that state between waking and sleep, I begin to hear themes, orchestrations, chords. I’m sure this is how composers got their best ideas; they’re really just taking dictation from the sub-conscious.

I’d love to spend the day with. . .
Anyone who can interestingly discuss their personal history.

Favourite restaurant anywhere. . .
A tough one… As I already mentioned, I’m vegetarian and almost every restaurant in town hasn’t yet realized how to break out of the veggie burger rut. Are you listening out there? Favourite saying on the subject: “Vegetarian, eh? . . . here’s your lettuce. . . ”

What do you drink like a fish; what’s your elixir of health?
Tea made from fifteen ingredients, never in the same combination or proportion. Rooibos, ginseng, oolong, ginger, anise, fenugreek, caraway, cumin, yerba mate, allspice, cinnamon, sencha, pekoe,
jasmine, coriander; oops, that’s sixteen. . . . My favourite is Formosa Oolong with freshly grated ginger flavoured with cardamom, fenugreek and zest of grapefruit.

I’d do anything for. . .
A big fat cigar and a snifter of brandy. But we have to grow up and loose our taste for things that are harmful to our bodies and minds eventually.

I’m easily impressed by. . .
People who enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Especially older people who are obviously aware of all the unpredictable things that can happen in life, but they still are full of joie de vivre.

Most humbling moment. . .
The numerous times I have embarrassed myself in front of an audience, every one is still as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. But it still doesn’t stop me from the next performance gaffe. . . .

Five items you can’t live without. . .
Swiss army knife, teapot, vegetable knife, 1” mortise chisel, bookmarks galore.

Least favourite household chore?
Replacing washers in the faucets, cleaning the kitchen sink, putting away the dishes. Anything to do with drywall.

The hardest thing to say is. . .
Almost anything, briefly.

Recent discovery. . .
Mount Boucherie (the extinct volcano I live in front of) is the millipede capital of Canada, and that millipedes are some of the oldest creatures whose DNA is still reproducing from 250 million years ago. Go figure. . . . The little ones just hatched, saw them yesterday, thousands of them on my driveway. . . fantastic. . . .

Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
Lee Valley Tools is one choice, but the one that really gets me is any of the publishers who handle facsimiles of lute music. Viciously expensive and utterly irresistible.

Recently bought. . .
Weiss; Dresden and British Museum Manuscripts, Jacques Gallot manuscript and a memory foam mattress and bed. I played from copies from microfilm for the last 25 years, but finally sprung for the actual edited books, which I have to say I found very expensive and kind of disappointing. At least I can sleep better at night. But the books have too many errors that were not corrected to cost that much.

Favourite magazine?
Luthier’s Quarterly.

Best sound?
A brand new .40 mm gut string just put on my lute, or one of them anyway, and yes, I know, I have way too many. . . . Maybe you saw the Chinese movie about the lute player’s last string, which I think about every time I do this. . . .

I hope one day to learn. . .
How to do any of the things I do every day without thinking I should be doing one of the other things I really should be doing. Gary Graffman, American pianist, wrote a book called “I Really Should be Practicing”, and that about says it.

I’m bad with. . .
Cookies, can’t resist, goes with the tea you see. . .

Famous last words?
The Three Laws of Lutherie: 1. It’s only wood 2. Wood moves and rust never sleeps 3. And in case you forgot the first law already, yup, it’s only wood.

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