Wednesday 21 February 2007

Its better with a Horn

I forget now why I wrote my cantata, Memorare for the combination of choir and solo French Horn. My previous cantata, Vocibus Mulierum - Womens Voices was written (in the early 1990's) for unaccompanied choir and mezzo-soprano solo and premiered by FifteenB in 1994. That piece dealt with women and the church and for the follow up (Memorare) I decided to cover AIDS and the church. I was nervous at writing for too big an instrumental group - too difficult to fix up a performance. Also a friend of mine played the instrument and I knew that there would be no balance problems.

I showed the score of Memorare to Malcolm Cottle of London Concord Singers, who had already premièred another of my choral works (Three Prayers) and he came up with the idea of doing a concert for World Aids Day. We did Memorare, for choir and French Horn, Malcolm Williamson's Requiem for a Tribe Brother and Richard Rodney Bennett's And Death Shall Have No Dominion in 1995 in the presence of Malcolm Williamson (who said nice things about my piece and quizzed me about my opinions on the Pope, all while messily eating a large piece of chocolate cake). The concert took place at the very end of November amidst a positive storm of colds and flu; a number of ringers had to be brought in to make up numbers in the choir and the soloist in the Williamson had had to learn her part in under a week, singing along to a tape as she commuted to work daily (she lived in London and was working in Birmingham I think).

The Bennett piece was a setting of Dylan Thomas's poem for male voice choir and french horn. It is a wonderful 8-minute long piece which was written for New York City Gay Men's Chorus. It is quite tough in style, certainly not the user friendly/easy listening type of music that they typically do. Certainly NYCGMC has a commissioning policy but Bennett's piece is not run of the mill. It was written in 1986 and his publishers were never able to tell me whether NYCGMC actually did première the piece. Chester Novello's website says that the work was written for NYCGMC but the list of commissions on the NYCGMC website fails to mention Bennett. If so, it must have sounded wonderful as they number far, far more than the 8 to 10 men that we mustered.

London Concord Singers have performed Bennett's piece a couple of times and it has remained in the back of my mind, even though I don't actually possess a recording of it. So when I came across Dylan Thomas's poem Do not go gentle into that good night and started to have ideas for a setting of it, it was almost inevitable that these would involve a French Horn. As ever, with me, my ideas arose from hearing the melodic/harmonic outline of the opening phrase and sort of developed from there; the initial thought giving me my melody and the general feeling of the work. I am now well through with the first draft and simply need to set the closing line of the piece. There's no particular première arranged, but its written for SATB choir and French Horn, very, very manageable if someone's looking for Dylan Thomas settings!

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