Hartley Newnham – countertenor
Ruth Wilkinson – recorders, viols
Ros Bandt – recorders, psaltery
John Griffiths – lute, vihuela, guitar
La Romanesca formed in Melbourne in 1978, for historical performance of music from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. This site brings you La Romanesca’s story, concerts and recordings since the group’s foundation. It is an archive of images, recordings, concert programs and performances.
La Romanesca was formed in Melbourne in 1978 by countertenor Hartley Newnham, and instrumentalists Ruth Wilkinson, Ros Bandt and John Griffiths. The group has enjoyed a high level of success throughout Australia and made it mark on early music performance nationally throughout Australia, as well as internationally particularly in the group’s first twenty years. La Romanesca has never disbanded, but now only comes together occasionally when circumstances permit and when opportunity arises. In over thirty-five years together, the group has never changed personnel, although many guest artists have shared their platform.
The thing that made La Romanesca special from its inception was the combination of enthusiasm, virtuosity and scholarship that came together in a way that was rare and inspiring and, in many parts of Australia, completely unknown in the field of historical performance practice. Here was a group who were experts in historical performance and who could not only sing and play their instruments with virtuosity and confidence, they could also improvise and ornament whatever they played, and they also brought to the task a deep understanding of a large range of medieval, renaissance and early baroque musical styles, languages and poetry. La Romanesca was indeed a special ensemble and its member, collectively as well as individually provided the inspiration for a future generation of performers. Many leading historical performers in throughout Australia today have been their students.
In the early years La Romanesca’s main concert activity centred around a series of self-promoted performances that the group offered as an annual subscription series. These usually comprised three concerts each year with repertory that ranged from troubadour song to music from the court of Louis XIV. Their inaugural 1978 series set the pattern and comprised Amor e Guerra (Spanish and Italian music of the 16th and early 17th centuries), Ballades, Chansons et Complaintes (music of 15th-century Burgundy) and Medieval romance (centred around songs of the troubadours and trouveres.) The 1979 series was similar: The Albigensian crusade commemorated the 750th anniversary of this gruesome civil war in France, Il flauto dolce: featured the recorder and Italian & French baroque music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Canciones, Cantigas and Cantatas presented unknown Spanish music across various centuries.
For more, visit the CONCERTS page.
Success lead to increasing numbers of engagements for La Romanesca in Melbourne, and around Australia, including performances at virtually all the major capital city festivals, inclusion in Musica Viva’s main capital city series, many regional performances, including tours for Musica Viva. In 1982, La Romanesca embarked on its first European tour including concerts at the Wigmore Hall in London, and in festivals and other venues in Spain, Portugal and Germany. One of the spin-offs from this tour was the decision by the Portuguese Ministry of Education to purchase hundreds of copies of La Romanesca’s second recording, Medieval Monodies, which was distributed to all Portuguese schools to be used in the teaching of Portuguese medieval culture. This was the first of four tours. Others included concerts in the USA in conjunction with the Melbourne-Boston sister city arrangements, and to Hong Kong to represent Australia in the Festival of Asian Arts, on this occasion combining medieval music with the music of postmodern dancer Nanette Hassall. La Romanesca’s last European tour took place in 1985, principally focussed in Italy and Greece. On this occasion, Ruth Wilkinson was replaced by Lloyd Fleming. After that time, La Romanesca preferred to limit themselves to performing in Australia as it was much more compatible with employment and family responsibilities.
One of the enduring contributions that La Romanesca made to the performance of medieval music was through the Fourteenth Century Recording Project that was that conceived by our musicological colleague John Stinson. It was shortly after his move to Melbourne to take up a post in the music department at La Trobe University that Stinson enlisted John Griffiths to form a team with him to apply to the Australian Research Council (ARC) to fund a program whose aim was to record and document French and Italian music of the Fourteenth Century. The ARC approved the project which was funded from 1984-1993 with funding from the ARC, La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne of $289,000. This was the first time that performance based research won competitive funding in Australia. La Romanesca formed the basis of the Ensemble of the Fourteenth Century that produced a total of five CDs
Lidia spina del mio cuore