A busy week, all told, almost overwhelming at times. I have completed the orchestration of the ‘Runnymede’ version of 1215: Foundation Of Liberty, produced a performing edition of Josquin’s superb Missa Pange Lingua for a study day next week, delivered a lecture on Wagner’s Die Walkure, prepared lecture notes for Beethoven’s extraordinary last piano sonata, ploughed on with O God Of Earth And Altar and dealt with various nasty surprises my builder has uncovered in my house. As I mentioned at the top, it has been overwhelming at times. And yet on I go. If I can get through this patch of concentrated and demanding writing then things will lighten up at the beginning of March, by when 1215 will be completed and Earth And Altar will also be done.
I am acutely aware that it might sound as if I am complaining about the present situation, and I have to stress that nothing could be further from the truth. As somebody who has always striven to be a composer, it hardly seems appropriate to feel uncomfortable when the big, longed-for commission finally arrives. In fact, I have been ready for this opportunity for years – all I am saying is that it is at least as demanding as I expected it to be. At the back of my mind is that saying that if you give a man a bag of gold he will complain about how heavy it is. I do not want to be that man (complaining, that is, I’ll have the bag of gold, thank you!).
Listening to Josquin’s music in various performances, filtered through the mist of five hundred years or so, has been a wonderful thing. It is as if the efforts of previous generations, the medieval writers, suddenly focus into the Renaissance and the route to Palestrina and the like becomes clear. What is so striking for me, apart from the compositional facility, is the rhythmic verve, for these were composers and performers unrestrained by the bar line, instead dancing around in independent rhythms. Listen to bits of Ockeghem’s Missa Prolationum and you will be left in no doubt as to how accomplished these performers were.
Josquin sits just outside the focus of even interested listeners, sitting fifty odd years before the great sixteenth century writers, but, for me, he is the first of that age, personal too. The wonderful addition of O mater Dei, memento mei at the end of his Ave Maria, an extraordinary and completely unexpectedly personal addition to the text (we expect, at least memento nostri) shines through the years, as do the sentiments in his Mille Regretz, written at the end of his long and celebrated life. I also enjoy that his only autograph was discovered only a few years back, etched into the walls of the choir room at the Sistine Chapel, where he was a singer. Musicians were always the errant sort.