I have finished the cello piece in its first incarnation, which gives me precious little time to tidy up the edges and get it sent off for its competition. Having said that, I gave it a test drive yesterday through my computer’s speakers after I had dropped in the middle section, and it hangs together quite well, at least to my ears. Deciding to write in a style with which I am comfortable has clearly been a positive step, and the piece is, I think, better as a result, and might even have a life beyond the competition in the likely event that it does not progress there, and living beyond competitions is something my experimental pieces rarely do. Keeping the technical work to the composing desk might not be a bad idea after all.
What is good about sticking to a known style is that, voice apart, I am fairly comfortable writing in that kind of area, so the act of composition is more likely to be a pleasure than the rather unnerving sensation of splashing around in a sea of notes with nothing familiar to grab onto.
In a couple of weeks the Missa Sancti Nicolai will be performed at Christ Church, Hampstead, so I shall need to get my fingers working, for I shall be on the keys for that performance, and I think I shall take the opportunity to wheel out the Festive Voluntary for after the service as well. The Agnus Dei from the same Mass is being performed by Cantores Salicium in April, so that piece is starting to gain some currency.
Meanwhile we are getting towards the final countdown for a couple of new pieces, both of which are slated for first performances at the start of April. Having had the chance to listen to Flyht again, I think that it stands up well, and the style is very strongly Leightonesque, a comparison which has been made with many of my other pieces, including the MSN. I am going to come straight out and say that I find the comparison a very comfortable one. I adore Kenneth Leighton’s music, and think him one of the most underrated and unjustly ignored composers of the last fifty years. He was an immaculate writer with a strong and distinctive style, and quite why his works are not more often performed is a source of bafflement to me. Quite apart from having written the best setting of the Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis out there (his Second Service, on which my own Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis on G is strongly modelled), there are undiscovered gems almost everywhere you look, from the magnificent Fantasy Octet on Themes of Percy Grainger to the monumental piano and organ works. Having people say “Sounds like Leighton” is a very real compliment, and if that is my style, then I have no problem with it, as I feel strongly that I am part of that area of writing.
Yesterday morning I conducted the music at a funeral, and had the opportunity to direct the Funeral Sentences by William Croft and Henry Purcell, simply and beautifully performed. There is something deeply emotional about performing the Purcell Funeral Music for Queen Mary, as always at the back of my mind is the knowledge that, barely a year after it was first aired for Mary, it was heard again at Purcell’s own funeral. We barely know the man, and there is nothing, I think, of him which survives – letters and so on. However, we know from what was said and written about him that, unlike his rather self-absorbed near contemporary Pelham Humfrey, Purcell was a charmer and a real gent. The accounts of the shock as the news of his untimely death spread still bring a shudder just over three hundred years later, and, of course, the beautiful word setting of the Funeral Music is the exquisite made audible.
I finished yesterday by listening to some of the latest Vinyl Cafe stories by Stuart McLean. For some reason the BBC seems to think that David Sedaris is the raconteur par excellence de nos jours, but I just cannot listen to him intoning on and on, added to which I simply do not find him very amusing. McLean, though, is sheer joy to listen to, often cryingly funny but also sometimes very moving indeed, such as in the story of the photo of the old soldier. I could (and sometimes do) listen to his stories all day, and feel that I know his characters – Morley, Arthur the Dog and, lest we forget, the terminally inept but good hearted owner of the Vinyl Cafe itself, Dave. Toilet Training The Cat is a great starting place if you fancy finding a new pleasure and it might just become one of your favourite things as well.