In 1993, Eric Hartley — an Englishman living in Luxembourg — persuaded a few fellow singers in the Grand-Duchy to join him in setting up a sextet whose original aim was to sing works from a very specific repertoire: 16th century church music from England and Scotland. In this he was enthusiastically encouraged by historian and music-lover Jamie Reid-Baxter. With the line-up Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass, there was a prospect of being able to sing a worthwhile amount of this repertoire, although with the notable exception of works requiring two sopranos. Composers whose music was regularly featured included Taverner, Tallis, Byrd, Fayrfax, Carver, Ludford and Sheppard.
The original members were Eric Hartley (baritone and director), Nicki Crush, Ria Favoreel, Marita Thomas, Mick Swithinbank and Edward Seymour. The first to leave, in the event, was Eric himself, when his personal circumstances required him to move back to England. As a singer, he was replaced by Jim Foulkes (1996–2006) and then Alan Carlisle (2008–2020). Mick took Eric’s place as director. After 2000, when Nicki Crush left the group, she was succeeded by several other sopranos over the next 10 years: first Ann Ramsay, then Baiba Rozenbaha and Mireille Wagner. Since 2010, when the Art of Music recruited two sopranos simultaneously, both Jennifer Schofield and Magdalena Mateńko have been members. The alto region has been occupied by Ria Favoreel (1993–2013), Marita Thomas (1993–2006; 2013–present) and Nigel Heavey (2008–present). Baritone Fabian Cini and Bass-baritone Danijel Stanković joined in 2017. Founder members Edward Seymour and Mick Swithinbank are still with the group, which currently has eight members.
Other singers who have performed with the Art of Music on occasion include: Teija Immonen, Barbara Hall, Colin Buckland, Henry Wickens, Horatiu Dragan, Jeannot Goergen, Tom Osborne, Nancy Coons, Karin Muller, Ian Kent, Kristina Mascher, Miguel Turrión, Jonathan Grocock, Chris Vigar, Boris Adlam, Raluca Jorz, Pavla Kolarova and Catriona Gillham. The ensemble has at various times performed jointly with a group of viols directed by Michel Igisch, with the Elysian Singers of London and with the Ensemble Ad Libitum directed by Rosch Mirkes. The concerts that had to be cancelled in March/April 2020 because of the Covid lockdown were to have included a joint performance with the St Michel Choir of Luxembourg, directed by Gerry Welter.
At a fairly early stage, the group’s repertoire was diversified to include more plainchant than previously and also some medieval works. The initial geographical limitation was soon abandoned, throwing the doors open to music from anywhere (in practice meaning from anywhere in Europe). There have even been a few forays into the 19th and 20th centuries (Bruckner, Carlo Hommel, Roland Wiltgen …) and into secular repertoire, but the insufficiently explored and inexhaustible repertoire of Renaissance religious music remains the group’s true raison d’être.
It was in October 1997 that Josy Peschon first recorded an Art of Music concert, since when he has recorded every concert that the group has given in an acoustic of which he approved, the most successful from this point of view being the Eglise St-Jean in Luxembourg City (until 2015), the Eglise St-Alphonse in the same city (since 2015) and — elsewhere in the Grand-Duchy — Soleuvre and Olingen churches. Thanks to Josy’s work, the Art of Music won first prize in the classical section of the first ever ‘Prix musique en ligne’ competition organised by the French performers’ rights organisation Adami in 2001, the criteria being a combination of performance quality and recording quality/mixing. The winning entry was a recording of Josquin’s ‘Tu solus qui facis mirabilia’.
The main concerts are usually given in March and September/October. As a rule, each concert is organised thematically. The most recurrent themes have been Lent/Holy Week and veneration of the Virgin Mary, for both of which a vast repertoire is available. Others have included the Renaissance tradition of lamenting the death of a specific, named composer; the Office and Mass for the dead; All Saints (including Victoria’s Gaudeamus Mass); Advent and Christmas; music from England and Scotland; music from Spain and Portugal; the Song of Songs; the life of Jesus; music for troubled times; the frescoes in Rindschleiden church; Catholic and Protestant musical traditions in the 16th century (a programme consisting entirely of settings of psalm texts, but as musically varied as any other programme, if not more so); Josquin, Willaert and the Franco-Flemish school (including settings of Virgil texts); Renaissance music from the German lands; Cristóbal de Morales, ‘The light of Spain in music’; 20th anniversary concert, including an arrangement of Tallis’s ‘Spem in alium’ for 11 voices.