Off the top of my head I would not be able to tell you exactly when I began work on Sight Adjusts Itself To Darkness, but I can definitely say that I finished it yesterday afternoon, crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, formatted the score and sorted out the bar numbers. It has taken three, maybe four months, maybe even more, but now it is done, and while I would never think of a piece of music as a burden to be carried, there is always some relief in having it signed, sealed and delivered, being able to put it behind you.

The process of writing this piece has been long and arduous, an ongoing series of intense struggles whose goal has been to balance different and often conflicting emotions and ideas. The initial commission to write “a cantata about the pandemic” covered a multitude, nay, an infinity of possibilities, most of which were bad, so from the start my intention was to find something that did not hide from the darkness and despair of the whole thing but which had to be optimistic at its core.

It was difficult, let’s say. Finding the texts in the first place was tricky enough, but then putting them into the correct order and hammering them into place so that they expressed a natural flow was frustrating work that sometimes left me close to despair, and I have piles and piles of virtual sketches for whole sections of the piece that were eventually excised. However, at the end the structure was not only right but also satisfying (to me, at least), which is one of the best outcomes to have.

The final session of work yesterday afternoon was to do with the first-hand accounts of front line work during the worst of the pandemic, provided to me by somebody who was there, and some of which was very, very dark indeed. How was it possible to include the reality of what we have been through without making the piece fundamentally depressing and stripping it of the light that I wanted it to carry? It took a huge amount of work, editing and cutting, caressing and cajoling, and I also changed the structure of the whole cantata multiple times in an effort to make it feel right.

However, over the past three or four days, with the cantata circling around the inside of my mind like some obsessive banshee as it has done for months, it suddenly all became clear, and, just as would happen with some carpenter’s creation, it merely required a little tapping into place. Usually when a piece is done I just let it go, but the work that has taken a toll makes itself known because Vikram Seth’s words from the introduction to his magnificent book The Golden Gate spring unbidden to mind – “And, half against my will, I’m free/ Of this warm enterprise, this heady/Labor that has exhausted me.” – and those words have been spinning around my brain for the past fortnight, which means that this was serious, proper stuff. I do not often say this, but I think that I have produced some good work here. Oh, and read The Golden Gate.