After spending another good chunk of time sketching out ideas for my next piece, I was saved from having to do any proper work by an email this morning. I had got as far as an outline structure, developing ideas I have used in my last two or three pieces, and had jotted down a few very rough ideas, but it now looks as if that work will have to go on hold for at least the next few days. Instead I need to shift focus to something more pressing, namely writing an orchestral version of – you’ve guessed it – Sweet Was The Song.
As regular or semi-regular readers of these ramblings will know, this piece has taken on something of a life of its own in the past couple of months, especially since I decided to throw caution to the winds and actually send it out to people, rather than waiting at home for the phone to ring. I have lost count of the number of performances it might have, and I can remember six that it will have, although I am sure that a couple have slipped by the wayside in my memory. Also, it is apparently being prepared for other performances not on my list of those notified to me. One shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but it is in my nature to wonder whether it is shaping up to be the one-hit of my one-hit-wonder career. Fortunes have been built on as much, granted, but rarely effective careers. I shouldn’t be too picky, really, as other pieces are also being performed here, there and everywhere, it is just that at Christmas, well, Christmas pieces rise to the top of the list.
This orchestration is for the Parliament Choir’s concert at Westminster Central Hall next month, and this work will therefore fall under the umbrella of my position as Composer-in-Residence. This will be the only work of mine to be performed at the concert, but it will be in front of 2,000 punters, should we sell out, and many more on Christmas Eve, when Classic FM are to broadcast the concert.
We are also looking at doing a tiny bit or re-orchestration on Of All Persons And Estates, which I wrote for the Parliament Choir last year, and was performed in Westminster Hall, in front of a large and rather important audience, including archbishops, peers of the realm and my mother. This work, a setting of the prayers said in Parliament every day, but before the Palace is open to the public, uses a rather strange orchestra, which lacks upper winds (no flutes, oboes or clarinets), but instead has the darker hues of three trombones, basset horns and bassoons, with only trumpets and strings to lighten the texture. Savvy readers will think that this sounds identical to the orchestration for Mozart’s Requiem, and this is indeed the case, for Estates was the curtain-raiser for Mozart’s fragmentary last work, thus using the same instruments.
Next April we will be performing Estates in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, alongside the Lobgesang by Mendelssohn, which has a rather different and more conventional orchestra. Most pertinently for Estates, Mendelssohn’s work does not have basset horns, and so there is the option of rewriting the work for a brighter palette. I am in two minds about this, for I think that the first version of Estates is the ‘proper’ one, but a second version, more conventional in its orchestration, might make the work easier to perform and make it more likely to travel. Having said that, it is hard to see who, apart from the Parliament Choir, might want to perform those texts. My feeling is to leave it as it is, with its autumnal colours, and simply to rewrite the basset horn parts for clarinets and/or horns. An MP recently came to me to say that he now viewed the text in a new and entirely unexpected light after getting to know my piece, and that kind of re-examination of a text is something I strive for in my music for voices. Somewhere in the Classic FM archive is a recording of that Westminster Hall performance, and I really should be more active in seeking out a copy.
In the form of this new patch of work something has, at last, arrived on my plate. It will only take a few days to get this done, but they may well be the days needed to let the ideas for a new piece to coalesce in the back of my errant mind.
I spent part of yesterday at the V&A, and most of that particular part of yesterday was spent gawping at one of Leonardo’s notebooks. I doubt that the packs of 10 notebooks that I buy from Poundstretcher will ever end up in a museum, nor will my scrawls ever be as elegant and fascinating as Leonardo’s. Only two tiny pages were open to view, but so many aspects of that mind were there – the backwards codified writing, some kind of diagram representing a rainbow, perhaps, or some hair, the hints of what was written on the next page. No doubt further on there would have been a diagram for a helicopter or water pump or a sketch of a horse jumping or a self-portrait or…
When the word ‘genius’ is tossed around with such abandon, it is worth reminding ourselves of what it really means. I have read extracts from his notebooks, even set some parts (Animals Of Vinci), but even the very shortest span of his writing is a rich seam of ideas, the display of a mind constantly on the move. Rather pretentiously, seeing that notebook put me in mind of Blake’s “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand”. No such lofty ideals for me today, sadly. I shall hold my computer mouse in the palm of my hand and begin painting Sweet Was The Song in a little more colour, and then go and do some teaching.