I am back at home again for a day, my only full twenty four hours in the house for the next week, thanks to a combination of work and another jaunt to France to deal with some legalities regarding what used to be my father’s house. While I am looking forward to spending some time out there with my brother, the fact that a chapter of my life is now presumably coming to a complete close is giving me an opportunity to pause for thought, and perhaps a little breath as well.
On Wednesday I was with the Parliament Choir in London for their performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and in mighty fine they were, their guests too, for the London premiere of Anthony Ritchie’s From Gallipoli To The Somme. It was an unusual experience for me to be in the audience for once, as I was not involved in the performance itself, also because I tend to find listening to concerts (rather than participating in them) quite a nerve wracking experience.
It was interesting also to note that of all the pieces in the programme, the one that I thought was the finest in terms of writing was by that old stager Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Fantasia On A Theme Of Thomas Tallis. His other work in the programme, The Lark Ascending, has too much of that cow looking over a gate thing going on for my taste, but the Fantasia is quite the masterwork, and is one of the “moments” going into the book for which I am a consultant.
That piece has much personal resonance for me, of course, as a chorister of Gloucester Cathedral, where it was first performed, as an English composer, for which group it had such a seismic impact, as a lover of Tallis, and so on and so on, but it is the knowledge specifically of how the music works in the acoustic of Gloucester that gives it extra resonance, if you will pardon the pun. In that extraordinary building, one of the monasteries to survive the destruction of which I wrote recently, the music travels back to the choir before bouncing once more into the nave, so those distant echoes become even more ghostly and eerily lit than in most recordings and performances.
For me the work really does provide the sound of music conjured up from the past, and those ghostly echoes are as if Tallis himself reaches forwards for a few seconds, becomes part of the main string group, before retreating once more into centuries past. The arrogant composer in me (I do this so I should know!) thinks that this is the idea that Vaughan Williams was trying to communicate, but, even if not, it is what I hear, and something very similar to it kept Howells and Gurney awake all night after that historic first performance.