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Maurice Duruflé, Requiem (1947). Programme notes and editing for a concert featuring Duruflé’s Requiem, along with pieces by Louis Vierne and James Orford’s performance of Duruflé’s organ masterpiece Prélude, adagio et choral varié sur le thème du ‘Veni Creator’ (1930). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 7 July 2019.
From Duruflé’s Requiem and Gregorian Chant: The Requiem, which was completed in 1947, was dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father, who died in 1945, shortly after the liberation of Paris. Its exquisite emotional colouring surely also bears witness to Duruflé’s tender feelings for his second wife, Marie-Madeleine. Based on the Missa pro defunctis, the Gregorian mass for the dead, the work turns on the delicate fusion of the original chants (varied and elaborated) with twentieth-century harmonies. Gregorian chant, named after its legendary originator, St Gregory the Great, is in essence a vast corpus of melodies, categorised into eight modes (known as the church modes), according to the eight scales on which the melodies are based. In a deeply personal way, Duruflé integrates this modal writing with harmonies redolent of Debussy and Ravel, two modern composers he particularly admired.
Misreading Beethoven. Festival O/Modernt, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 14–19 June 2019, directed by Hugo Ticciati. Programme notes and general editing for the festival booklet (132 pages). Concerts and related events on the theme of Misreading Beethoven, an overarching concept that draws on Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and A Map of Misreading (1975). Notes by Paul Williamson (approx 10,000 words): Misreading Beethoven, Mozart’s Spirit from Haydn’s Hands, Immortal Beloved, Dreams of India, Convalescent Souls in the Lydian Mode, Moonlight, Fallen Heroes.
From the introduction, Misreading Beethoven: The leap from literary history to the ‘strife of Eternity’ may seem surprising, but it arises from the nature of poetry as Bloom conceives it. Consider the history of art more generally as a history of influence, traced back through a dominant line of strong exponents into the mists of time. Where does it all begin? Prosaically, in evolutionary biology and the emergence of human consciousness; but every mystical tradition would flatly deny this. Eternal strife is conceivable because of the belief that the human spirit is capable of rising above earthly constraints to discover transcendent values. Formulated by Bloom, this is a version of the doctrine known in early Jewish and Christian circles as Gnosticism, which, simply explained, believes that inside every human being is a divine spark, held in bondage, that can and should be released. Accordingly, as Frank Kermode superbly puts it, ‘Bloom in full splendour is the last romantic’, and his ideas of artistic creation and influence reverberate in many-splendoured ways with characterisations of Beethoven as the paragon of romanticism. There is the faith in the exalted nature of the human spirit and the capacity of the artist to achieve special insight into its potential, as well as the struggle unavoidably faced by the successors of great artists, and the idea that artistic creations are not fixed objects but dynamic interactive events.
Beethoven and Bowie: Where Beethoven expresses a sense that the human spirit is animated by a divine spark, Bowie places his faith in the enigma of change, repeatedly asking a question that is central to modern western thinking: how can continuity be built on the shifting sands of unfixable identities? Accordingly, the heroism he celebrates in ‘Heroes’ (1977) is transient, ‘just for one day’; and the epitaph he left behind in ‘Lazarus’ (2015), from the album Blackstar, is delivered with a poignant sense of melancholy, poised on the edge of despair: ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven; I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama can’t be stolen; everybody knows me now.’
Joshua in the Eighteenth Century. Programme note (1,650 words) on Handel’s Joshua (1748), which focuses on the eighteenth-century ethos of the piece. The programme includes an edited text of the 1748 wordbook. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 17 March 2019.
The most salient example of the overhaul of Old Testament values is found in the love scenes between Achsah, the daughter of the tribal leader Caleb, and Othniel, Joshua’s successor, who went on to become the first biblical ‘judge’ (Judges 3:8–11). The few hints given in the Book of Joshua present the relationship between Achsah and Othniel as essentially a dynastic union. The oratorio works up these scant strands into rich pastoral interludes that show all nature participating in the couple’s idealised love. John Ruskin evocatively described the conception that human feelings can exist in a state of unqualified harmony with nature as the ‘pathetic fallacy’, and this is perfectly exemplified when Achsah gorgeously sings of the linnet and the thrush filling the grove with their love songs. Extolling the birds, Achsah inescapably evokes herself and Othniel as their human counterparts.
O/Modernt and Hugo Ticciati, From the Ground Up: The Chaconne. Fifty-two page CD booklet with main liner notes (3,400 words) written by Paul Williamson. Other edited contributions include Irving Finkel on the trumpets of Pharaoh Tutankhamun and Hugo Ticciati on ‘Ground, Breath, Being’. CD released by Signum Classics, May 2019.
From the press release: From the Ground Up explores the history of the chaconne in Spain and Italy, and its acceptance into high musical culture. In England it became a chief inspiration for Purcell, while in Germany it triggered the sublime achievement of Bach’s ‘Ciaccona’ from the Partita in D minor for Solo Violin. Also springing from this fertile soil are works by contemporary composers Johannes Marmén and Dušan Bogdanović, and three sets of improvisations – ‘Ground’, ‘Breath’, ‘Being’ – in which themes from Purcell are interlaced with overtone singing. Returning to the chaconne’s Renaissance roots, readings from Shakespeare by actor Sam West inspire extempore reflections by beat poet Baba Israel.
W.A. Mozart, Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, 1780. Programme note (1,600 words) on Mozart’s 1780 vespers, detailing his problematic relationship with Archbishop Colloredo, the Munich premiere of Idomeneo and his eventual dismissal from the archbishop’s service in Vienna in 1781. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 9 December 2018.
Henry Purcell, Come Ye Sons of Art, 1694. Discussion of Purcell’s Come Ye Sons of Art in the context of the Restoration and the peculiarly English genre of the royal birthday ode. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 9 December 2018.
Clay: Themes and Variations from Ancient Mesopotamia. Casebound, 340 x 260 mm, 210 pages, 131 illustrations. Designed by Esterson Associates. Paper by Fedrigoni. Published by O/Modernt, Cambridge and Stockholm, 15 October 2018. ISBN: 9780992891268.
From the press release: Clay: Themes and Variations from Ancient Mesopotamia imaginatively reworks sixty ancient texts in a multiplicity of styles, reflecting the marvellous variety of the source materials and their inextinguishable relevance in the modern world. The first part of Clay includes several tales that have become familiar from other sources: notably two creation narratives, the Mesopotamian flood story and an epic of self-discovery. The second part explores themes of sexual love, marriage, birth, death and atonement. Witty, illuminating, entertaining, and suffused with human feeling, this spectacularly designed book is inventively written in a mix of verse and prose. Clay also includes 129 original images by artist Debbie Loftus, as well as an Afterword, a Who’s Who of characters, a map of ancient Mesopotamia and illustrations of two key cuneiform tablets from the British Museum. Reaching back across five millennia, Clay creatively invites the reader to revisit ideas and customs from ancient Mesopotamia and to consider their ongoing importance for the way we live now.
The Children of Cats Catch Mice: Puccini in Lucca 1858 to 1880. Programme note (2,000 words) on Puccini’s early life in Lucca with special emphasis on the Messa di gloria (1880) for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 1 July 2018.
The problem faced by composers of sacred music in Italy in the nineteenth century was the absence of a mediator between austere sacred music and changing modern styles in other kinds of music. In Britain the English oratorio tradition initiated by Handel had been sustained by a string of subsequent composers and found a popular outlet at the flourishing Three Choirs Festival, devoted to contemporary choral music. In Germany the Lower Rhine Festival, which ran from 1817 to 1958, performed a similar function. In Italy no such national forum existed, with the result that sacred music, written very often for the feast days of local saints, was not usually heard outside the town or city for which it was intended. Puccini’s mass is a case in point. It disappeared from view for approximately seventy-five years until it was published in 1951 by Dante del Fiorentino, a priest whom Puccini befriended when Dante was a young curate at Torre del Lago near Viareggio in the province of Lucca.
Sacred Verdi. A thousand words on Verdi’s sacred works, including Pater Noster, written in the manner of Palestrina, with a text wrongly attributed to Dante, for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 1 July 2018.
When asked to advise on the reform of the music curriculum in the Italian conservatories during the early 1870s, Verdi made a famous pronouncement: ‘Torniamo all’antico, sarà un progresso’ (‘let's return to the past; that will be a step forward’). The process of renewal through historical rediscovery, known as revivalism, affected all the arts: the republication in 1840 of I Promessi Sposi in the Tuscan dialect, the basis of modern standard Italian, was regarded as a key moment, as were the celebrations held in 1865 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the birth of Dante. In music the focus was on the Roman composer Palestrina (1525–94), conceived of as the father of Italian music in the same way as Bach had come to be regarded as the prime mover of music in Germany.
Purcell: From the Ground Up. Festival O/Modernt, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 15–20 June 2018, directed by Hugo Ticciati. Programme notes and general editing for the festival booklet (134 pages). Nine concerts and related events on themes relating to Purcell and the ground bass. Notes by Paul Williamson (approx 10,000 words): Purcell: Restoration and Revolution, Grounds (the history of the ground bass), Mining Fantastical Grounds (on fairies, fantasias and folklore), Unforgettable Characters (on The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono), Ecstatic Sorrows (on the descending tetrachord as the emblem of lament), Affirmation and Transcendence (variations on the chaconne), The Ultimate Goal of Art (Brahms, Fauré and French twentieth-century chansons), A Place that Never Was (British music), Self-Discoveries (for a concert including Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and music from the Harry Potter films).
On L’Eraclito amoroso by Barbara Strozzi (1651): Barbara Strozzi’s L’Eraclito amoroso (‘Heraclitus in Love’) is brilliantly built on a twofold conceit that is both conceptual and musical. The protagonist of the piece is the pre-Socratic Greek philospher Heraclitus (fl. c.500 BCE), a native of Ephesus, whose philosophy is usually summed up in one memorable quotation that was handed down to posterity by (among others) Plato: ‘You can’t step into the same river twice.’ Whether ascribed to personal identity or to flowing streams, Heraclitus suggests, permanence is an illusion. Nothing stays the same; the only reality is change. The first irony in Strozzi’s L’Eraclito amoroso is that the sage who taught that the world and everything in it exists in a constant state of flux, and who was sometimes known as the ‘weeping philosopher’, bitterly laments his lover’s lack of constancy. What else did he expect?
Festival O/Modernt at Wigmore Hall. Programme notes for four concerts, part of Festival O/Modernt's Purcell weekend at Wigmore Hall, London, 7–8 April 2018. Concerts: Lament and Consolation: Fourths Down and Up, 7 April at 7pm; William Rapped, Henry Sampled (Shakespeare, Purcell and hip hop), 7 April at 10pm; Transforming Spanish Sexuality: The Chaconne, 8 April at 3pm; and Fairest Isle (a programme of British music), 8 April at 7.30pm.
From Transforming Spanish Sexuality: The Chaconne: The Saturnalia, which Catullus called the ‘best of days’, was the occasion for all sorts of topsy-turvy goings-on, including masters waiting on their servants at table. But far too many good parties result in a hangover, and Saturn was also the the god of melancholy – that dark, cold humour linked with contemplative winter nights and hopeless love. It is no accident that Hamlet – arguably the single most individuated character in the entire canon of western literature – is plagued by melancholy. Cloaked in saturnine gloom, he engages in self-scrutiny to an extraordinary degree, which, thanks to the device of the soliloquy, is shared with the listening audience. Hamlet’s pain is our theatrical pleasure, however, just as the lament of Dido and the eyes of the unattainable beloved that embody the je ne sais quoi of love are the cue for one of the great paradoxes of art – pleasurable melancholy. This is the context in which we should understand ‘Yo soy la locura’, in which, as the music makes clear, ‘locura’ might be best translated as ‘melancholy’, filling the world with ‘pleasure and sweetness’. Whether Saturnalian or saturnine – laughing or weeping – the chaconne is a vehicle for self-discovery. As such, it ranges from the fun and games of a good night out to the grounds of Purcell, to the intense contemplation of human tragedy undertaken in Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor. As vigorous today as it was in the seventeenth century, the ‘lamento bass’, as Alex Ross calls it, re-emerges in the walking bass lines of the blues, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and many other recent exponents of the musical art of the self.
Mendelssohn’s Elijah. ‘The Story of Elijah’ and ‘Why Elijah?’ Programme notes (1,600 words) outlining the narrative of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (1846), discussing the genesis of the work and explaining its theology. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 18 March 2018.
From ‘Why Elijah?’: ‘I want to write some more sacred music soon, especially as I see no chance of being able to compose an opera.’ This is from a letter written by Mendelssohn in April 1837 to Karl Klingemann in London, a year after the première of his earlier sacred oratorio, St Paul. Searching for a biblical subject that was full of dramatic incident, Mendelssohn could have done little better than the story of Elijah, told in the two books of Kings. What the story lacks from a quasi-operatic point of view is not stirring incident, but the dramatic foil of quieter, more reflective moments. These were found in other Old Testament texts, notably the Book of Psalms, from which twenty-three verses were interpolated, including the final chorus. As Mendelssohn explained in December 1838 to Julius Schubring, the eventual librettist of Elijah, it was the human drama of the piece that interested him, and this must be expressed by showing not telling.
Pearls | The Blessing of the Light. Two choral songs with words by Paul Williamson and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones performed at the inaugural concert of vocal group Seraphim, directed by Robert Mingay-Smith, The Swiss Church, 79 Endell St, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DY, 9 February 2018.
Six London Preludes. Six short narratives by Paul Williamson and 317 photos by Debbie Loftus created in response to the contemporary London scene. Words and pictures tell the same stories in different ways, mixing genres, tones of voice, viewpoints and frames of reference. The design by James Lunn showcases and complements the content by including a range of Fedrigoni papers and page sizes, and using assertive typography to achieve a provocative urban feel characterised by edgy glamour. The result is a graphic novel that’s also an artist’s sketchbook, a luxury brochure and an unorthodox city guide. Combining street art with classical motifs, the subject matter and design of Six London Preludes reflects the ‘Un/Modern’ ethos of its publisher, Festival O/Modernt. The eclectic contents are designed in a contradictory fusion of styles, with short-page inserts at the beginning and end of each chapter adding tangible variety. The debossed gold foil cover titles enhance the discordant luxury feel, and the book is section-sewn and Otabound. Exploiting digital technology, the exclusive first edition of 175 is numbered, and each copy has a unique cover image. Produced with generous sponsorship from Fedrigoni UK. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 1 December 2017. ISBN: 978-0-9928912-5-1. Chapters: 1. Albertopolis, 2. Ajax, 3. Illustrated London News, 4. Olympia, 5. No Waiting, 6. Requiem.
From the back flap: So many. Who knew a phone could hold so many photos? More than 300, selected from thousands, arranged in six parts. Six London Preludes. Preludes to what? What’s the main event? Surely, there must be one. But could anyone in this age of crisis – fake news, broken politics, the economy, the health service, housing, transport, social exclusion, pollution, ageing populations, immigration, refugees, IT, IP, TTIP and all the rest of it – seriously be expected to supply a main event? No. Do it. Keep doing it. That’s all there is – the end in itself. Six London Preludes, with 317 images fished out from the brown Thames rankly running, and six slivers of narrative, each with interpolated leaves of verse. A sixfold perambulation in words and images, images and words – parallel but interconnecting, as the case may be – that ranges through London’s unreal cityscape, venturing even southwards to the deep salt swell. Six London Preludes. The book. Don’t venture out without it.
‘Highly Commended’. Fedrigoni Top Awards 2019. Featured in the Berlin exhibition of award winners, Radialsystem, Berlin, 8–10 May 2019.
Joseph Haydn, The Creation (1797). Four-part programme note (3,000 words) for Sloane Square Choral Society’s performance of The Creation, using the Carus score with the original English text. Programme sections: 1. Origins, 2. The Words, 3. Ethos, 4. The First Performance. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 10 December 2017.
Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer: A Song for Miss Mounsey. A thousand words on Mendelssohn’s celebrated anthem, commissioned in 1844 by William Bartholomew for Ann Shepherd Mounsey’s Crosby Hall concert series. Programme note for the Chelsea Arts Club Singers, directed by Oliver Lallemant. Chelsea Arts Club, 143 Old Church St, London SW3 6EB, 25 and 26 November 2017.
Schubert’s Annus Mirabilis. Programme note (1,500 words) on Schubert’s 1815 Mass in G major (D167) and his sixth setting of St Thomas Aquinas’ hymn Tantum ergo, completed in October 1828 (D962). Chelsea Arts Club Singers, directed by Oliver Lallemant. Chelsea Arts Club, 143 Old Church St, London SW3 6EB, 25 and 26 November 2017.
Now is the Time. A celebratory anthem with words by Paul Williamson and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones: ‘To celebrate artistic collaboration in Havering and to mark milestone anniversaries of Havering Music School and Havering Arts Society. Generously commissioned by The Arts Society on its 50th anniversary.’ September, 2017.
Rocking Horse Bay | Cavendish Square. Two vintage oddities for an album of commercial tracks, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones and words by Paul Williamson, Summer 2017. Published by Cavendish Music, Derbyshire House, St Chad’s Street, London WC1H 8AG.
William Blake: Walking Through Eternity. A thousand words on William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ (‘And did those feet’), from the preface to Milton (1804–10), including a discussion of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea’s visit to Britain. Illustrated with Blake’s Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion (1773; 1810) and Joseph of Arimathea Preaching to the Inhabitants of Britain (1794–6). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 2 July 2017.
Sunlight through Stained Glass: An Interview with John Rutter. In this wide-ranging interview, composer John Rutter talks to Paul Williamson about his Mass of the Children (2003), a piece that has its origins in Rutter’s experience of being a member of Highgate School boys’ choir, which sang on the renowned 1963 Decca recording of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, conducted by Britten. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 2 July 2017.
JR: It was, in a way, quite a life-changing experience, because we were allowed to be at any of the recording sessions we wanted to, including the bits we weren’t singing in. And so, I and my school chum, John Tavener, and a cluster of others of us sat around with those black and white Boosey & Hawkes scores in our hands and watched the work unfold, which was quite remarkable.
Joseph Haydn, Divertimento ‘St Antoni’. Published by Breitkopf in 1782, the Divertimento ‘St Antoni’ provided Brahms with the cue for his Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn (1873). Although the piece was included in Anthony van Hoboken’s 1957 edition of Haydn’s works, the Divertimento was probably not composed by Haydn. Usually now arranged for the standard wind quintet, the piece was originally scored for two oboes, two horns, two bassoons, obbligato bassoon and serpent. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 2 July 2017.
Infinities. Introduction to Galileo 24 by Debbie Loftus, with a preface by Professor Ian Stewart. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 17 June 2017. Paperback with wrap, 235 x 320 mm, 44 pages. Designed by Dmitriy Myelnikov. Paper by Fedrigoni. ISBN 978-0-9928912-4-4
Vivaldi and the Art of the Return. Festival O/Modernt, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 16–21 June 2017, directed by Hugo Ticciati. Programme notes and general editing for the festival booklet (144 pages). Notes by Paul Williamson include ‘Vivaldi and the Art of the Return’, ‘The Music of Madness’, ‘Once Upon a Time: Two Films by Lotte Reiniger’, ‘Re/Conceptions’ (Vivaldi, Tavener, Pärt), ‘UnModern at O/Modernt: The Three Bs’, ‘The O/Modernt Seasons’ (Vivaldi and Glass), ‘Bobblestones: Creative Education’, and ‘Return to the Roots’ (Bach's Goldberg Variations, Osvaldo Golijov, and Joseph Tawadros).
From ‘Once Upon A Time: Two Films by Lotte Reiniger’, Sunday 18 June 2017: ‘Faraway and long ago in the city of old Baghdad it was the Caliph’s birthday, and jugglers and dancers were doing their best to entertain him…’ So begins The Magic Horse, as narrated in Lotte Reiniger’s 1953 film for Primrose Productions, a company founded in London by the son of Reiniger’s early supporter, Louis Hagen. The story is loosely based on a tale from the Arabian Nights, but Reiniger’s treatment takes a very different path from that followed in the original. For one thing, Reiniger moves the setting of the tale from Persia to ‘old Baghdad’. Was this perhaps because Persia was very much in the public eye in 1953? This was the year in which British and American intelligence agencies planned and executed a coup in Iran that overthrew the elected government and strengthened the rule of the Shah, who held power for the next twenty-six years. Concerned with the marriage of princes and princesses from the region’s ruling houses, the story told in the Arabian Nights interweaves fairy tale elements with evocations of dynastic intrigue. By contrast, Reiniger’s Magic Horse does away with all such complexities, replacing them with a fantasy journey, undertaken by Prince Ahmed (a generic name, changed from the original), who flies on the magic horse to an exotic wilderness. There he meets and woos a wonderful princess, who owns a bird dress that enables her to fly as well. Won over by the prince’s charms, the princess says goodbye to her attendant ladies (all equipped with flying dresses), leaves her natural paradise behind, and returns to Baghdad on the magic horse in order to marry Ahmed and live happily ever after. Reiniger’s charming short film is, in every sense of the word, a flight of fancy!
The Late Emperor: After St Ephrem the Syrian. Fifteen-minute oratorio for unaccompanied choir with words music by Malcolm Bothwell. The piece is based on St Ephrem the Syrian’s encounter with the corpse of Julian the Apostate in Nisibus in the year 363.
From the programme note: Ephrem encounters Julian’s dead body lying in its coffin beneath the city ramparts. Above, flying from a watchtower, he sees the Persian flag, a token of the fall of Nisibus. The scene inspires in Ephrem a mixture of violent emotions and swirling ideas that he resolves with reference to his Christian faith. In his characteristic synthetic manner Ephrem sees the dreadful loss of Nisibus in the context of the gratifying demise of Julian and the joyful return of a Christian emperor – Jovian, the true successor of Constantine and Constantius. The death of Julian is, he says, ‘a miracle of justice’.
Church Music in France 1789–1853. A thousand words on the development of sacred music in France from the French Revolution to 1853, the date of the foundation of École Niedermeyer, concluding with a brief discussion of César Franck (1822–90). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 26 March 2017.
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924): Dolly Suite, op. 56. Programme note for a performance by Oliver Lallemant and James Orford. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 26 March 2017.
This Little World. SATB choral anthem on the theme of tolerance, based on UNESCO core values, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Published by Banks Music Publications, Wath Court, Hovingham, York YO62 4NN, Spring 2017. First performed by The Arcubus Ensemble, directed by Julian Collings and accompanied by Russell Hepplewhite, Helmsley Arts Centre, York, YO62 5DW, 2 July 2016.
Many Realities. Review article (1,750 words) on Picasso Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 6 October 2016–5 February 2017; Museu Picasso, Barcelona, 17 March–25 June 2017. Curated by Elizabeth Cowling. The London Magazine, February/March 2017, pp. 31–7.
The Christmas Road. Christmas carol, linking the Lukan travel narrative (Luke 9:51–19:10) with the Christmas story. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Christmas 2016.
Born on Christmas Night. Unaccompanied Christmas carol on themes taken from Ecclesiastes. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Shean Bowers for the Advent Service, Bath Abbey, December 2016.
Dawn Breaks, Night Falls. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Summer 2016.
Heading through the Night to Christmas Day. Christmas song with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. December 2016.
Camille Saint-Saëns, Oratorio de Noël (1858). Programme note (1,400 words) for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 4 December 2016.
Saint-Saëns offers a distinctly reassuring vision, worlds apart from the rigours of Bach’s Lutheranism, and this raises an interesting question that anyone hearing the piece will answer in his or her own way: how exactly does the Oratorio de Noël interpret its Christmas subject matter? Is the focus primarily on the sacred mystery of the occasion, the beauty of the Latin words, the sensibilities of those listening, or the sumptuous warmth associated with the Christmas season?
Eine Kleine Mozartgeschichte. Programme note for the Chelsea Arts Club Singers’ ‘Magnifizent Mozart’ Concert, directed by Oliver Lallemant. Chelsea Arts Club, 143 Old Church St, London SW3 6EB, 19 and 20 November 2016.
Elegy for MJB. Requiem for musician, musicologist and calligrapher Malcolm J. Bothwell (1958–2015) with music by composer Vincent Bouchot. The structure of the text derives from Tuba Sacra by Philippe de Vitry (1291–1361). Memorial service, Temple du Foyer de l’Âme, 7 Rue du Pasteur Wagner, 75011 Paris, 19 November 2016.
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924): Cantique de Jean Racine, op. 11 (1865), Pavane in F-sharp minor, op. 50 (1887). Programme note (1,400 words) for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 3 July 2016.
It is not only because it is a beautifully crafted piece of religious music that it remains a favourite to the present day, however. It is because music and words combine to make Fauré’s setting of Racine’s text a heartfelt expression of his own sensibility – bright optimism and youthful intensity, couched in seductive melody, are infused with an overriding sense of serenity. As a whole it manages to seem both muscular and delicate at the same time – a public expression of established faith that is also very personal in tone. Twenty-five years later Fauré’s genius for song achieved another of its peaks in his breathtaking, magical and melancholy Claire de lune, op. 46, no. 2 (1887), his setting of a poem by Paul Verlaine (1844–96). The capacity to take a text and make it his own by responding to it with sympathetic intelligence is already in evidence in the Cantique de Jean Racine.
The Art of Borrowing: Or How One Thing Leads to Another. Edited book. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 2016. Paperback with flaps, 190 x 265 mm, 160 pages, 73 illustrations. Designed by Teresa Monachino. Paper by Fedrigoni. ISBN 978-0-9928912-3-7
Contents: Paul Williamson Introduction: The Spider and the Bee | Teresa Monachino Eduardo Paolozzi and the Borrowing of Art | Robin Simon Hogarth’s Borrowings | Edward Baker A Venetian Ode to Borrowing | Catherine Pickstock Airs | Lorenz Kienzle It’s Still There: Döblin’s Alexanderplatz | Debbie Loftus Harvest | Alessandro Scafi Borrowing Sex: Speaking of Divine Love | Simone Kotva Borrowed Gods | Paul Williamson Organic Wholes: Ralph Vaughan Williams and G. E. Moore | Hugo Ticciati Borrowing from Silence: Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel.
From the introduction: Shakespeare, as Jonathan Bate writes, was probably ‘the first writer in Western high culture to be praised specifically for his artlessness’. This was a change in aesthetics on an unprecedented scale. Suddenly, the paragons of artistic excellence belonging to the classical past could seemingly be ignored altogether, to be replaced by ‘genius’, defined as an ‘instinctive and extraordinary capacity for imaginative creation, original thought, invention, or discovery’. In England the idea of ‘original genius’ as the basis of poetry took hold in the middle of the eighteenth century; as Bate says, it was ‘at the heart of the “Romantic” aesthetic which dominated the following century’. And there, to put the matter simply, began the long love affair with originality that raged for about 200 years, starting in about 1750, and which – for better or for worse – remains a motive force in western aesthetics.
Organic Wholes: Ralph Vaughan Williams and G. E. Moore. The Art of Borrowing, Chapter 9, pp. 130–43. On the relations between the early music of Vaughan Williams, notably the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), and Moore’s philosophy up to the publication of Principia Ethica (1903).
Illustrated London News. Viv is giving a talk on the Victorian attraction known as Mr Wyld’s Model of the Earth. Her alter ego, Genie, steps in to liven things up. Semi-dramatised performance, illustrated with 50 photos by artist Debbie Loftus. First performed by Kristina Leon and Ingela Lundh of The Stockholm English-Speaking Theatre, with music by Hugo Ticciati and Evelyn Glennie. Festival O/Modernt, Handel and the Art of Borrowing, Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 12 June 2016.
Handel and the Art of Borrowing. Festival O/Modernt, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 10 –15 June 2016, directed by Hugo Ticciati. Programme notes for the festival booklet (130 pages): 10,000 words for ten concerts and related events on a wide variety of topics, including ‘Yo soy Maria’, ‘Getting a Handel on the Past’, ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’, ‘O/Modernt Messiah’, ‘Not-Modern at O/Modernt’ and ‘The Harmonies of Judgement’, available online at www.festivalomodernt.com.
On Handel’s Concerto Grosso, op. 6, No. 7 in B-flat major: ‘If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.’ Thus spake the great Groucho Marx, but how many composers might in all seriousness be tempted to say something remarkably similar? Music is, in one important sense, a flower that springs from the seed of repetition – borrowing from itself in order to propagate itself. Nowhere is the principle more playfully elaborated than in Handel’s Concerto Grosso, op. 6, No. 7 in B-flat major (1739). The second movement opens with a fugue that is built on a single note, repeated over three bars, in which ‘melody’ is achieved through rhythmic halving: two minims, four crotchets, eight quavers. It is, says Richard Taruskin, ‘a famous joke … mindless jabber, “put on” like a comic mask’. Handel’s aim was to break the mould of expectation and startle his listeners into attentiveness – to defamiliarize the all-too-familiar. But is this reductio ad absurdum mere mindless repetition or artful self-borrowing? The interest paid on the loan is (to beg an adjective from Taruskin) ‘whimsical’ amusement, a quality that is explicitly showcased in the final movement of the concerto, where Handel introduces an animated hornpipe – an English dance, also called the ‘whim’ or the ‘delight’. It began as a solo dance for sailors, but by Handel’s day had been appropriated by the urban gentry, who performed it in long lines at their fashionable assemblies. Full of syncopated rhythms, Handel’s hornpipe surprises and delights not in equal measure (as the saying goes) but with stylized whimsy.
Good Education. A sequence of nine themed songs for children’s choir, orchestra and baritone soloist. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Shean Bowers for Bath Abbey and the Melody Makers choir. Premiere 7 June 2016, with Craig Bissex (baritone) and Shean Bowers (conductor).
Song titles: A Hedgehog on the Beach, Reproduction in Flowering Plants, Poor Binky, Amadé, The King’s Wedding, I Scored a Goal!, Snowingham, Welcome the Summer, Fire Drill.
From the programme note: Imagine some prehistoric troglodyte children (cave-dwellers), outside their cave, playing a game called Bobblestones. Each child rolls a stone across the ground (no throwing allowed!) and the one whose stone rolls furthest is the winner. One of the children (her name is Dawn) selects the roundest, smoothest stone she can find and launches it across the dusty earth. Yes! Dawn is the winner! Dashing off to retrieve her champion bobblestone before her brother gets to it, Dawn catches sight of her parents, wearily plodding home, struggling with a heavy burden of meat. Suddenly, Dawn stops fighting with her brother. ‘Hmm,’ she thinks, ‘imagine if I could roll like my bobblestone does! Imagine if my parents and my brothers and sisters and me (and the meat!) could all roll along together just like a bobblestone!’ And in a flash of inspiration worthy of the greatest genius in human history Dawn invents the medium-sized family car.
Handel’s Messiah: An English Oratorio. Two-part programme note (2,500 words), including Operas and Oratorios and The Plan of Messiah. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 20 March 2016.
Panathenaia: Live from the British Museum. Live recording of the UK premiere performance of Panathenaia in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum released on iTunes on the Vivum label, 14 December 2015.
Ralph Vaughan Williams and English Music. Programme note (1,500 words) on RVW’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 6 December 2015.
Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901). Twelve hundred words on Rheinberger’s Missa St Crucis, op. 151. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 6 December 2015.
A Golden Tree. Three-minute Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd, London 2015.
Review: ‘A meditation on Isaiah 11.1 … a mystical text, evocative of William Morris.’ Rebecca Tavener, Organists’ Review, June 2016, p. 66.
The Miracle of Christmas | Born in Bethlehem. SATB versions of two Christmas carols, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned by Shean Bowers for Kingswood Preparatory School, College Road, Bath BA1 5SD. Published by The Royal School of Church Music, RSCM Music Direct, Salisbury 2015.
On Christmas Morn. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by Banks Music Publications, Wath Court, Hovingham, York YO62 4NN. Featured composition at the Association of British Choral Directors, 30th Annual Convention, 28–30 August 2015, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.
Come to the Stable | Where is the Child? | On Christmas Morn | A Child that Cries | Dream Carol. Five Christmas carols, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by Banks Music Publications, Wath Court, Hovingham, York YO62 4NN, Autumn 2015.
The Miracle of Christmas | Born in Bethlehem. Two Christmas carols, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, for a choir of sixty Year 5 children (aged 9) at Kingswood Preparatory School, College Road, Bath BA1 5SD. Commissioned by Shean Bowers of Bath Abbey. First performed at Kingswood Prep, December 2015.
Dream Carol. Christmas carol, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Jane-May Cross, July 2015.
Review: ‘An attractive and atmospheric arrangement of a poem by Paul Williamson that relies on imagery from a northern-hemisphere Christmas for its effect.’ Gordon Appleton, The Royal School of Church Music Reviews, December 2016.
Esquissateurs. Review of Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market, National Gallery, London, 4 March–31 May 2015, The London Magazine, August/September 2015, pp. 11–17.
Dvořák’s Mass in D Major, op. 86. Programme note (2,000 words) on Antonín Dvořák’s original version of his Mass in D with organ accompaniment (1887). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 5 July 2015.
Brahms: Back to the Future. A discussion of Brahms’ place in the nineteenth-century debate about ‘absolute music’ vs Zukunftsmusik, with a special emphasis on Brahms’ Geistliches Lied (1856). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 5 July 2015.
And here, in a radically simplified form, is the fundamental divide that separated two schools of musical thought in the second half of the nineteenth century in Germany, Austria and beyond (the so-called ‘War of the Romantics’). On the one hand, Zukunftsmusik or programme music offered composers a nonmusical stratagem that would free them from the burden of the past; on the other, represented here by Hanslick, Joachim and Brahms, was the idea of pure or ‘absolute music’ (a term coined, ironically, by Wagner), which embraced the music of the past as the source of what Taruskin describes as ‘timeless values’. Timeless it may be, but the music of the past also provides a potent source of inspiration. As we hear exemplified in Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, the art of the present may spring from a creative return to the art of the past.
The New Potato Eaters: Van Gogh in Nuenen 1883–1885. Edited book. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 13 June 2015., Price £50, Paperback with jacket wrap, 272 x 240 mm, 136 pages, 100 illustrations. Designed by Teresa Monachino. Paper by Fedrigoni. ISBN 978-0-9928912-1-3
Contents: Paul Williamson Introduction: Before Nuenen | Ton de Brouwer Van Gogh in Nuenen, 1883–1885 | Paul Williamson Vincent and the Gospel of Work | Colin Wiggins Head of a Peasant Woman | Laura Prins Towards The Potato Eaters: The Long-Awaited Genesis of a Masterpiece | Stephen Hackney Van Gogh’s Colour | Simone Kotva Fields: Vincent to his Brother | Martin Huxter Self-Portrait with the Pastor’s Boy | Catherine Pickstock In Many Places | Stephen Hackney Van Gogh and the Camden Group: Reflections and New Directions | Robin Simon The Trouble with Rembrandt: British and Dutch Portraiture in the Eighteenth Century | Amal Asfour Bacon and Potatoes: A Marvellous Vision of the Reality of Things | Hugo Ticciati Afterword.
From the press release: In December 1883 Vincent van Gogh went to live with his parents in the Dutch town of Nuenen where his father was the pastor at the Dutch Reformed church. Having spent three and a half years struggling to forge a viable career for himself as an artist, Van Gogh arrived home hungry, impoverished and emotionally spent. His immense efforts had so far yielded nothing of substance, and the retreat to Nuenen was intended to give him time to repair his health, improve his finances and calmly pursue his art. When he left Nuenen two years later in November 1885, he had amassed a large body of work, including The Potato Eaters, his first masterpiece, but his time there had been fraught with incident. The New Potato Eaters looks back at Van Gogh’s Nuenen period, tracing his artistic development and setting his work in a broad historical context. Two pieces in verse and a set of new portraits of present-day Nuenen residents reflect creatively on Van Gogh’s achievement. Innovative, original and beautifully designed, The New Potato Eaters takes a fresh and distinctive look at Van Gogh in Nuenen.
Anamorphosis. A semi-dramatised piece for two voices, performed by Kristina Leon and Ingela Lundh of Stockholm’s English Speaking Theatre, including a new setting by Malcolm Bothwell of ‘Take o take those lips away’ from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Act IV, Scene 1. Performed as part of Dubbelspel, the literary event at Festival O/Modernt 2015, curated by Paul Williamson, with further contributions from designer Teresa Monachino and artist Martin Huxter. Festival O/Modernt, Confidencen, Ulriksdals Slottsteater, Stockholm, 13 June 2015.
About Dubbelspel: A game of doubles! That’s the theme of Festival O/Modernt’s 2015 literary event. But this isn’t a game of snap where the aim is noisily to slap a hand on two identical cards that appear in succession. What’s at stake in Dubbelspel played O/Modernt-style are familiar notions of sameness, difference and identity. The new instantiation is not a straight facsimile of a given original but a creatively varied counterpart. To borrow some terms from a revered French philosopher, this is non-identical repetition: finding inspiration in the difference between old and new and thus shedding light on both.
Twofold. Book coauthored with Simone Kotva. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, June 2015. Paperback with flaps, 270 x 210 mm, 48 pages, 13 illustrations. Designed by Dmitriy Myelnikov. ISBN 978-0-9928912-2-0
Contents: Paul Williamson Don’t Read this Book! (After D.H. Lawrence), Anamorphosis, Two Ledas | Simone Kotva Devices, The Twofold, Endpoints.
From the back flap: Twofold is an anthology of new works in verse and prose, by Simone Kotva and Paul Williamson, inspired by themes of binaries and doubling. Published under the auspices of Festival O/Modernt 2015, Twofold includes eight drawings from George Levantis’ Leda and the Swan suite (2008) and two specially commissioned images by Debbie Loftus, Etruscan and Miwoks (both 2015). The book also contains a new setting by composer Malcolm Bothwell of ‘Take, o take those lips away’ from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Scarlatti and the Twofold. Programme booklet notes prepared by Paul Williamson and Hugo Ticciati. Festival O/Modernt, Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 12–17 June, 2015.
The New Best Tour of Bath with Songs. Seven songs for children’s choir and baritone soloist, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Shean Bowers for Bath Abbey and the Melody Makers choir. Premiere in Bath Abbey, 9 June 2015.
Song titles: The Ballad of Bladud, The Roman Temple, The Alderman’s Ball, The Portrait Gallery, It’s Not That Kind Of Circus, Little Acorns – Mighty Oaks, Children of The Light.
From the programme note: There may be no clowns in Bath’s famous circus, but did you know that the architect who built it believed in druids? And tonight, possibly for the first time anywhere (drum roll!), especially for your listening pleasure (more drums!), we will reveal the time-honoured wisdom of the oak tree. Finally, take to the skies with the angelic children of the light who will transport you to empyreal realms. Our primary concern at the New Best Tour of Bath with Songs is your comfort and safety … No, it isn’t! (Important though those things undoubtedly are!) … Our primary concern this evening is to entertain and delight you, to fire your imagination and to touch your heart. So settle back (or sit up, whichever you prefer) and enjoy the journey!
Panathenaia. UK premiere, live in the Duveen Gallery at The British Museum, 4 June 2015. This special event was preceded by a lecture from Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, and interviews with composer and librettist. The event was staged in the context of the museum’s major exhibition: Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art, curated by Ian Jenkins, 26 March–5 July 2015.
Review: ‘Powerfully moving … The swaying shadows of the musicians played against the frieze like dancing bacchantes.’ Huon Mallalieu, ‘Bodies Beautiful and Music of Time’, The London Magazine, August/September 2015, pp. 97–102.
St Pantaleon Mass. The premiere recording of Malcolm Bothwell’s a cappella mass, sung by Liturgical Voices of London, directed by Oliver Lallemant. Engineered by Alex Barnes, produced by Thomas Hewitt Jones. CD booklet written by Paul Williamson, designed by Dmitriy Myelnikov with new artwork by Debbie Loftus. Recorded on Wednesday 22 April 2015 at Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London SW1X 9BZ. Released 15 May 2015. Executive producer: Paul Williamson.
Leonardo 1452–1519. Exhibition at Palazzo Reale, Milan, 15 April–19 July 2015. Audioguide written and read by Alessandro Scafi. Edited English version by Paul Williamson.
Panathenaia. Broadcast on Sveriges Radio, P2 Live, Musik från festivalen O/Modernt, produced by Evert van Berkel, 8 April 2015 at 7pm.
Nelson, Haydn and the Nelson Mass. Three-part, illustrated programme note (3,100 words) on Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis, known as the Nelson Mass. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 22 March 2015.
Insanae et Vanae Curae | Sudò il guerriero. Programme note on two pieces deriving from Haydn’s oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia (1774–5): the choral motet Insanae et Vanae Curae, a parody of a chorus from Tobia, and Sudò il guerriero, an aria from part one of the oratorio sung by Tobit’s wife, Anna (performed by Benjamin Williamson with Oliver Lallemant on piano). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 22 March 2015.
This Joyful Eastertide. Programme note for the publication of an Easter anthem with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones and words by George R. Woodward (1894). Published by The Royal School of Church Music, RSCM Music Direct, Salisbury 2015.
Pleasing People Seriously. Review essay of Benjamin Britten, War Requiem, Royal Albert Hall, Remembrance Sunday, 9 November 2014 at 3.30 pm, with Evelina Dobračeva (soprano), Stephan Rügamer (tenor), Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), The Royal Choral Society, Trinity Boys Choir directed by David Swinson and The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Cooke. Introduced by Angela Rippon. The London Magazine, February/March 2015, pp. 41–7.
Things that Go Bump in the Night. A song for six-year olds, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned by Nicola Coldstream for Balfour Primary School, Balfour Road, Brighton, BN1 6NE.
Hear the Angels Sing. Christmas carol, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd, London 2014.
One Voice: The Calypso Carol. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by The Royal School of Church Music, RSCM Music Direct, Salisbury 2014.
A Golden Tree. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned by Manvinder Rattan and the John Lewis Partnership Music Society for first performance at the society’s annual Service of Nine Lessons, Westminster Cathedral, 23 December 2014. Premiered by The Cavendish Singers, directed by Manvinder Rattan.
The Gift That I Receive. A three-minute Christmas anthem with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. A Christmas song with a humanist ethos, commissioned for the wedding of actor Sarah Winter (An Adventure in Space and Time, 2013; Versailles, 2015), Bath, 12 December 2014.
Come to the Stable. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones for a choir of sixty nine-year-old children at Kingswood Preparatory School, College Road, Bath BA1 5SD. First performed at Kingswood Prep, 9 December 2014.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, 1734: An Introduction. Three-part, illustrated programme note (3,600 words) on J. S. Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium BWV 248. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 7 December 2014.
Hear the Angels Sing. World premiere concert performance of the Christmas carol, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, given by The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, St Marylebone Parish Church, 17 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LT, 6 December 2014.
Verbum Caro Factum Est. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Recorded at Tewkesbury Abbey on 4–5 February 2014 by Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, directed by Simon Bell, for inclusion on a CD engineered by Gary Cole: Christmas From Tewkesbury: Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, Regent Records, 17 November 2014.
Chop chop! English version of the lyrics of Kopf ab! from the German musical Alice im Wunderland by Shay Coen (music) and Mathias Weibrich (German words), commissioned by Bettina Migge-Volkmer, Managing Director, Gallissas GmbH, Berlin, October 2014.
Bilbao’s Other Serras. Essay on Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time (1994–2005, Guggenheim, Bilbao) and Pere Serra’s two paintings, St Peter Preaching and St Peter and St Paul before the Judge, here retitled The Fall of Simon Magus (c. 1400, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum), The London Magazine, August/September 2014, pp. 35–45.
The Lindley Bell | Small Sacrifices. Two songs from Wildflower Meadows with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones (see below), performed at Oakham Castle by a choir of thirty schoolchildren under the direction of Peter Davis, Director of Music at Oakham School, to celebrate a royal visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, 28 July 2014.
Glendower! School song with piano accompaniment for Glendower Prep School, 86/87 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5JX. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Sarah Knollys (Head), Jill Walker (Deputy Head) and the Parents’ Association. First performance at Glendower Leavers’ Assembly, 10 July 2014.
Carmina Burana and the Third Reich | Circling Round Carmina Burana. Two programme notes on Carmina Burana. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 29 June 2014.
Isn’t it peculiar that nobody saw any irony in the fact that the message of the medieval words Orff had chosen to set could be subversively applied to the regime itself? Didn’t anybody realise that the stomping feet in the opening chorus are heard marching to meet their own destruction? One man who did perhaps have an inkling of this was Goebbels.
Witold Lutosławski, Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1941). A note on Lutosławski’s Variations, performed on two pianos by Oliver Lallemant and Peter Foggitt. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 29 June 2014.
Ekphrasis: Serra. A book in blank verse on the sculpture of Richard Serra, with an introduction, Drawing Out, by Simone Kotva, and an afterword by Paul Williamson. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 2014 (16 June). Paperback with flaps, 270 x 210 mm, 72 pages, 18 tritone illustrations. Designed by Dmitriy Myelnikov. Distributed by Gagosian Gallery online and in Gagosian Shop, 976 Madison Avenue, New York. ISBN 978-0-9928912-0-6
From the press release: In ancient times the word ‘ekphrasis’ meant the oratory of vivid description, a style of speaking that addresses itself to the listener’s imagination. Over many centuries the term acquired a narrower focus: ‘the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art’, runs one influential modern definition. Famous instances of such depictions in poetry are Homer’s description of the Shield of Achilles in Book 18 of the Iliad, John Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn and W. H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts. Pursuing classical threads through four major works by Richard Serra that were shown at Gagosian Gallery in London in 2008, Paul Williamson’s Ekphrasis sets itself the ambitious task of using blank verse to create a vividly poetic and thought-provoking addition to a literary tradition that is at least three thousand years old.
Pyrrhics! Afterword to Ekphrasis (Cambridge & Stockholm 2014, pp. 65–8), discussing the use of the pyrrhic, the metrical foot with two unstressed syllables, in English blank verse.
It sounds like it should be a mild imprecation. ‘Two small drops of dark brown coffee the size of pennies seeped into the fabric of his fresh white shirt. Pyrrhics! he breathed, with muted exasperation.’ On the contrary, despite its naturally explosive phonics, the term ‘pyrrhic’ describes two weak sounds – a metrical foot of two short or (in English) unstressed syllables.
Wildflower Meadows. Seven Songs for children’s choir and baritone solo, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, written to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Running time thirty minutes, with piano accompaniment. Commissioned by Peter Davis and Oakham School, Rutland, in association with Arts for Rutland, with funding from The Arts Council and Rutland Music to as part of the Rutland Remembers 1914 series of events. Produced in partnership with the British Army. First performed as the massed choral finale for the World War I commemoration, Mobilisation, at Kendrew Barracks, Cottesmore, Rutland, 15 June 2014. At Peter Davis’ request I prepared some teaching materials to go with the piece. These became a thirteen-page illustrated booklet, Notes on Wildflower Meadows.
Song titles: The Lindley Bell, Autumn, Over the Top!, Hold Hard!, Remember Me, Small Sacrifices, Wildflower Meadows.
An Etruscan Acrobat. Dramatic monologue in blank verse (320 lines), commissioned by Festival O/Modernt 2014 for distinguished Swedish actor and director, Björn Granath (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009; The American, 2010). Due to a last-minute change in his filming schedule, Björn was unable to read the piece, which was performed as a duologue by Kristina Leon and Ingela Lundh of Stockholm’s English Speaking Theatre, with music provided by Hugo Ticciati. Ulriksdals Slottsteater Confidencen, Stockholm, 16 June 2014. Published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, 2014, in a limited edition, edited and hand-sewn by Simone Kotva, accompanied by a specially commissioned illustration by Martin Huxter.
From the back flap: A recipe for verse: mix together a phrase from Henry James with a little bronze statue from Etruria, a mention of Keats, and some exasperation. Now add a clever woman, a sprinkle of hard words, a children’s bear, and a few notes from an air by Bach. When all of that is thoroughly combined, place the resulting compound in a receptacle made of Roman streets, the Spanish Steps and the Borghese Gardens. Leave to rest in a warm place for an unspecified amount of time (you’ll know when it’s ready). Serve viva voce, with improvised accompaniment if desired.
Panathenaia. Cantata in eight movements for soprano, mezzo-soprano, choir and string orchestra, including solo violin, oboe and harp, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Hugo Ticciati for ‘Gluck and Neo-Classicism’, the 2014 edition of Festival O/Modernt, Stockholm. World premiere performance 15 June 2014. The premiere was preceded by a lecture, The Parthenon Frieze: A Symphony in Stone, given by Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, The British Museum. The concert was accompanied by a rock-balancing exhibition by sculptor, Michael Grab. Performers: Mary Bevan (soprano), Karolina Blixt (mezzosoprano), Alon Sariel (theorbo), Mark Simpson (clarinet), Bram Van Sambeek (bassoon), Johan Bridger (percussion), Henrik Måwe (piano), Nicolas Dautricourt, Matthew Trusler, Hugo Ticciati (violins), Andres Kaljuste (viola), Martin Rummel (cello), Knut-Erik Sundquist (double bass), Will Kunhardt (conductor), and vocal ensemble, VOCES8.
List of movements: Prelude (instrumental), The Temple (choir), The Weaver’s Song (soprano), Lyric Suite (instrumental), Prometheus (soprano, mezzo-soprano), Shadows in a Dream (choir), The Birth of Pandora (mezzo-soprano, joined by choir and soprano), and Coda (instrumental).
From the programme note: When John Keats saw the Parthenon reliefs he was moved by their tranquillity, a quality which he memorably transferred to his Grecian urn, the ‘foster-child of silence and slow time’. Wary of what Ian Jenkins calls ‘Periclean propaganda’, and again reflecting the spirit of O/Modernt 2014 as a whole, Panathenaia sets out to stress other, perhaps less obvious aspects of the classical example: its creative dynamism and its commitment to human values.
All for One and One for All. School song with piano accompaniment and optional orchestration for Dulwich Prep London. Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Michael Roulston (Headmaster) and Philip Brooke (Director of Music). First performance Dulwich Prep London, Alleyn Park, London SE21 7AA, June 2014.
Daydreams. A volume of six children’s songs, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, published by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd, London 2014.
The Ship of Theseus. Review essay of Repetition and Identity by Catherine Pickstock (Oxford University Press, 2013), The London Magazine, April/May 2014, pp. 58–62.
Developing her thesis in response to Kierkegaard, Pickstock rhetorically asks (p. 147) whether ‘human identity, and the identity of all things … is secured through the historical reduplicating, and so continuous representation of the atonement achieved by the God-Man?’
Here by this Spreading Tree. Additional stanza for a funeral setting of Shakespeare’s Under the Greenwood Tree, with music by Malcolm Bothwell, 14 April 2014.
In Search of Franz Danzi, 1763–1826. Programme note to accompany Danzi’s Wind Quintet in G minor, op. 56, no. 2 (1821), performed by members of Sloane Square Orchestra at the 2014 Easter concert given by Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 23 March 2014.
Francesca Lebrun, 1756–1791. An outline of the life of Franz Danzi’s sister, Francesca Lebrun (née Franziska Dorothea Danzi), to accompany a discussion of the portrait of her painted by Thomas Gainsborough in London in 1780, now in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Programme note for the Easter 2014 concert given by Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 23 March 2014.
Backgrounds to the Magnificat. Programme note to accompany Magnificat (1990) by John Rutter (b. 1945). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 23 March 2014.
Hello World. Recitative and aria, lasting eight minutes, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, for for countertenor, solo accompanied by piano, cello and synthesised sounds. First performed at the Poetics of Verticality, curated by Simone Kotva, Robinson College, Cambridge, 21 January 2014. Performed by Benjamin Williamson (countertenor – no relation!) and Thomas Hewitt Jones (piano, cello, electronics). The recitative is a blank verse interpretation of the sequence of commands in the programming language, Python, required to produce the introductory string, ‘Hello World’. The aria is based on Plato’s Phaedrus. For an anonymous review see ‘Phaedrus’, The Whichcote Society Blog, Proceedings and Notes, March 2014.
From the programme note: It’s strange how the journey down the column of text can lead upwards: from obscurity to illumination, say, so that what appears to be the bottom is really the top and vice versa. The end really is in the beginning. The end lurks in the beginning like a code. Even where there seems to be no settled purpose at the outset, the end shapes the rest. As you tumble down the text you tumble into form. It’s like happily falling upwards into knowledge.
A String of Pearls. Six-minute Christmas carol for upper voices with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned for Philip Berg and the Recital Choir at Colet Court, St Paul’s Preparatory School. First performances, directed by Philip Berg: St Mary’s Barnes, 5 December 2013 (Home-Start Carol Service with readings by Jack Whitehall, Hayley Mills, Gary Lineker, Peter Bowles and Patricia Hodge); and St Mary Abbotts Parish Church, Kensington, 13 December 2013.
Where is the Child? Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned by Joy Hill and Reverend Lucy Winkett for the Royal College of Music Vigala Singers. First performed at St James’s Piccadilly, 17 December 2013.
From the programme note: In its depiction of the Nativity, Where is the Child? invokes an invisible dividing line between the transient glories of the natural world and our human sense that what is beautiful has enduring value. The sound of the child’s cry reaches across this divide, striking a chord that retains its capacity to touch the human heart from generation to generation. Where should we look for words and images that can capture such undying emotive power? In the music of the dawn chorus that sings at midnight, perhaps, when nature’s processes are temporarily suspended; or in the magical words that herald the humble birth of a child who was destined to change the world: Gloria in excelsis deo.
Verbum Caro Factum Est. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Dean Close School for the Chapel Choir and Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum. First performance Tuesday 10 December 2013 in Tewkesbury Abbey, conducted by Simon Bell. Published by The Royal School of Church Music, RSCM Music Direct, Salisbury, 2013.
Benjamin Britten 1913–1976: The Trials of Innocence. Three-part programme note (4,400 words) on Britten’s Jubilate Deo in C (1961), Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac (1952) and Saint Nicolas: A Cantata (1948). Sloane Square Choral Society, Christmas Concert, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 8 December 2013.
Snowingham. Christmas encore for SATB choir and orchestra, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. First performed by Sloane Square Choral Society, Christmas Concert, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 8 December 2013.
Daydreams. Six songs on themes reflecting on Benjamin Britten’s Friday Afternoons, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Peter Davis and Oakham School, Rutland. The commission had special resonance for Oakham as Britten’s elder brother, Robert (known as ‘Bobby’), the dedicatee of Friday Afternoons, attended Oakham School from 1921–6. First performed on 22 November 2013, the centenary of Britten’s birth.
Song titles: Friday Afternoons, Traffic Lights, –ER Verbs, Chocolate Crackle-Tops, New Year and Audio Guide (a Christmas piece based on The Nativity, c. 1475, by Piero della Francesca, National Gallery, London).
From the programme note: To try to capture the energy, chaos and quirkiness of a child’s way of looking at things: that was the inspiration for Daydreams. The lyrics depict a world in which the curious logic of the artless imagination delightfully outshines the usual mechanisms of cause and effect, and where the mess and muddle of childhood can produce beautiful surprises. The music is capricious in its use of tonality, aiming to evoke a sense of childlike innocence combined with playful rebelliousness in order to create a mischievously entertaining set of companion pieces to Britten’s Friday Afternoons.
Building and Smoking. Song for children’s choir, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Commissioned by Suzi Digby and the London Youth Choir in partnership with the Friday Afternoons Project, run by Aldeburgh Music as part of the Benjamin Britten Centenary. First performed along with Britten’s Friday Afternoons and Hymn to St Cecilia at Middle Temple Hall, London, 22 November 2013, conducted by Greg Hallam. (The performance was broadcast live on the Snape Maltings Friday Afternoons website. Licensed by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd for publication by Faber Music Ltd, London, 2013.
Incarnation: Christmas music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. CD recording, with the Chamber Orchestra of London and Sloane Square Chamber Choir, conducted by Oliver Lallemant, Mary Bevan (soprano), Samuel Evans (baritone), James Sherlock (organ), Christine Stevenson (piano) and Harriet Hougham Slade (clarinet). CD released by Regent Records, REGCD429, 11 November 2013.
From the sleeve note: Incarnation tells two interwoven stories. The piece recalls the familiar tale of the Christmas season that begins with Advent and progresses, via the Nativity, to Twelfth Night and Epiphany. Embedded in that seasonal succession of events, however, is another story. That is the large-scale narrative of the Bible, a synthesis of divine cosmology, history, legend and theology, that starts with the creation of the world and the establishment of Eden, soon followed by the fall of Adam and Eve. This slow-moving tale then winds its way through the Old Testament towards Christ's birth in the stable in Bethlehem, finally reaching out to touch the present day and look ahead into the future.
Reviews: ‘The aesthetic of the recorded pieces of Incarnation: Music for Christmas as a whole is thus one of a reflective "modernism", if we may ascribe this term loosely to Hewitt Jones’s and Williamson’s engagement with rather than rejection of tradition … In our own age of twice-removed modernity (are we now post-modern?), Incarnation is a welcome reminder that the unlooked-for which characterises artistic novelty arises not ex nihilo, "out of nothing", but comes to us by way of variation – a non-identical, typological recapitulation of a theme which will always be new.' Simone Kotva, ‘Music for the Newer Rite’, The London Magazine, December 2013/January 2014, pp. 72–7.
‘I recommend very highly this Regent CD.’ David Mellor, The New Releases Show, Christmas edition, Classic FM, Saturday 14 December 2013.
‘The words need – and repay – careful study.’ John Quinn, MusicWeb International, December 2013.
‘The performances are excellent throughout … an unusual Christmas offering but one which deserves critical attention.’ Richard Popple, Organists’ Review, March 2014, p. 64.
‘These are all highly accomplished works with immense commercial appeal, which deserve to be included in the festive programmes of every symphony orchestra and chorus.’ Clare Stevens, Choir & Organ, November/December 2014.
‘The sequence might suggest something like the sequence of Traherne’s poems which became Dies Natalis.’ Curtis Rogers, The Organ, 367, February–April 2014, p. 47.
Hear the Angels Sing. Christmas carol with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, included on the Regent Records CD release of Incarnation, 11 November 2013, accompanied by a brief sleeve note.
Subtitles for Ariane sur le fil. The Tightrope, a short film, written and directed by Agathe Debary, featuring Tatiana-Mosio Bongonga, Fred Eggington, and Kévin Pérodeau Latini, released in September 2013. English subtitles cowritten with Malcolm Bothwell.
The Centenary of The Rite of Spring. Review essay of Robert Craft, Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories (Naxos Books, 2013), including a CD of The Rite of Spring recorded in 2007 for Naxos by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Robert Craft. Published in The London Magazine, October/November 2013, pp. 47–53.
Eclectic and anecdotal, the book abstains from developing topics systematically, but that is perhaps its principal purpose, namely to ensure that no scrap of testimony connecting Craft with the magical, glamorous world of soaring twentieth-century modernism is left unrecorded … For thoroughly compulsive reading, one would far rather go back to Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship, where Craft is at his sparkling best.
Untamed Elegies. Seven-minute SATB choral work with organ accompaniment, commissioned by Claire Innes-Hopkins and Lincoln Cathedral Consort, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. The text evokes the life of St Hugh of Lincoln (c. 1135–1200), in particular his time at the Grande Chartreuse (the mother house of the Carthusians), his strange friendship with a wild whooper swan (his principal attribute in pictorial representations), and his work on rebuilding Lincoln Cathedral. World premiere: Lincoln Cathedral, Readers’ Service, 12 October 2013.
From the programme note: The lasting truth of the legends surrounding the exceptionally close relationship with wild creatures enjoyed by St Hugh, St Francis of Assisi and many others lies in their celebration of childlike simplicity and incorruptible integrity. An unaffected rapport with animals suggests an almost Edenic innocence – a quality that never loses its fascination. In the case of St Hugh, it seems he was able to establish inside himself a place of quietness and serenity that remained inviolable despite all external pressures. He was able, as it were, to rediscover the inaccessible wildness of the Grande Chartreuse in the flatlands of Lincolnshire. In so doing, Hugh invoked a sacred space that found tangible form in the great cathedral he commissioned, but which is also most touchingly commemorated in his friendship with the fierce and proud whooping swan of Stow.
Another Way. Title track (7.31 minutes) of Another Way: English Vocal Music, recorded by the German ensemble Quartonal for their debut album released on Sony Classical, 13 September 2013. Quartonal: Mirko Ludwig (tenor), Florian Sievers (tenor), Christoph Behm (baritone) and Sönke Tams Freier (bass). Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. The CD booklet includes a German translation of Another Way and a sleeve note by Nico Schneidereit.
Reviews: ‘The sound is wonderfully clean, meticulously balanced and full. An impressive debut.’ Marcus Stäbler, NDR Kultur, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, 13 September 2013.
‘Every delicate breath of wind and scent of fresh-blown blossom that the wanderer seeks out in nature drifts through these interpretations of late romantic vocal music, shaped with the utmost eloquence and feeling.’ Sören Ingwersen, ‘Spuren von schlichter Eleganz’, concerti (www.concerti.de), October 2013.
‘Quartonal’s Sony CD, Another Way, is a total success.’ Christian Strehk, Kieler Nachrichten, 4 December 2013.
Rameau and the Vertical. Review essay of Festival O/Modernt, Confidencen, Ulriksdals Slottsteater, Solna, Sweden, 9–17 June 2013, The London Magazine, August/September 2013, pp. 126–33.
Harmony, to put the matter simply, is an intricate and infinitely engaging web of artifice whose capacity to express emotion depends on the interrelationships between arrangements of chords in given contexts.
Traumreise. A seven-minute encore for SATB choir and orchestra, paying homage to Franz Schubert, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. The text is based on themes deriving from Schubert’s song cycles, Winterreise (1828) and Schwanengesang (1829). First performed by Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 30 June 2013.
The Genesis of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto. Programme note on the Concerto in G Minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani by Francis Poulenc, performed by James Sherlock (soloist) and the Sloane Square Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Lallemant, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 30 June 2013.
Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer: Contexts and Symbolism. Programme note on Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Hear My Prayer. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 30 June 2013.
Unreal City: Schubert’s Vienna 1814–1815. Programme note on Franz Schubert’s Mass in G (D167), Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 30 June 2013.
A Scent. Dramatic monologue in blank verse (fifty lines), included in the anthology Vertical Realities | Vertikala verkligheter, ed. Simone Kotva, published by Festival O/Modernt, Cambridge & Stockholm, to coincide with the festival's 2013 edition. Performed by distinguished Swedish actor and director Björn Granath with musical accompaniment by Hugo Ticciati. Confidencen, Ulriksdals Palace Theatre, Stockholm, 16 June 2013.
Another Way. A cappella piece with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, commissioned by the German ensemble Quartonal. World premiere: Himmelfahrtskirche, Munich, 14 June 2013.
From the programme note: The musical direction taken by Another Way draws on bold melody and dense homophony, with added harmonic alterations, in order to evoke the subtle changes in sensibility portrayed in its expressive text. The narrative at the heart of the piece depicts a fork on a mountain path where a traveller contemplates taking the way down through cultivated terraces to an inviting scene of simple rural comforts. A second route leads upwards through alpine woods towards a barren, mountainous summit. After pausing for a moment, the traveller is irresistibly drawn to take the long ascent, beset with difficulties, towards a destination characterised by discomposure and uncertainty. Musically, Another Way opens in a rich, mellow vein that slowly builds in passion and strongly felt emotion. Harmonic turns decorate the text, while a distinctive melody emerges that is characterised by a prevailing nostalgia. Tensions remain, however, and continue to grow until the final section of the piece, where the musical journey culminates in a sense of quiet ecstasy.
Amadé. SATB encore on themes deriving from Mozart with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones: an affectionate portrait of the young Mozart, concluding with a spirited rendition of one of Mozart’s best-loved melodies. First performed by Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 17 March 2013.
Imperial Mozart 1788–1791. Three-part programme note (4,000 words), including The Myth of Mozart’s Requiem, Mozart’s ‘Ave verum corpus' and Requiem in Context, and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 17 March 2013.
Love, Grace and Faith: J. S. Bach Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Christmas Concert, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 9 December 2012.
Incarnation: A Suite of Songs for Christmas. Christmas song cycle in seven movements for SATB choir, orchestra and soloists, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. World premiere performance: Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 9 December 2012, with Oliver Lallemant (conductor), Samuel Evans (baritone), Mary Bevan (soprano) and Harriet Hougham Slade (clarinet). Introduced by Petroc Trelawney of BBC Radio 3.
Movements: Advent, Falling, Wandering, Nativity, Planting, Revelling, Epiphany.
From the programme note: Depicting ‘luminous details’ with sparse directness and in significant, musical rhythms, Pound's In a Station of the Metro is concerned with the modus operandi of poetry and its strange, invigorating capacity to reveal previously hidden affinities. When St Ephrem juxtaposes images in the form of types and symbols the electric power of art is channelled to a specific end – that of giving the reader (the singer, the listener, the believer) an infinitessimal but spiritually significant glimpse into the ultimately unknowable nature of God himself. In both cases the fact that totality of meaning remains elusive provides a constantly fertile and self-renewing source of inspiration.
‘I suspect Incarnation may find a place in the repertoire.’ Petroc Trelawny, BBC Radio 3, Breakfast, 19 December 2012.
Richard Taruskin: Music, Words and the Idea of History. The London Magazine, October/ November 2012, pp. 104–11.
Taruskin’s approach is everywhere shaped by the dynamics of ideas. Understood as a series of problems to be solved, questions to be answered, the resulting narrative acquires a vivid sense of urgency that makes it both gripping and compelling but also inspiringly open ended. This is history built on the disciplines of creative thinking. As Taruskin suggests, it is the way the story ought to be told.
The Consolations of Music: Così fan tutte. Review essay, based on the performance by Opera Holland Park, Holland Park, London, with the City of London Sinfonia and Opera Holland Park Chorus, conducted by Thomas Kemp, The London Magazine, August/September 2012, pp. 16–21.
And yet, the very medium in which Alfonso’s demonstration has taken place has all along confirmed the existence of an overarching order (to which the philosopher himself ineluctably subscribes) in which higher values movingly do prevail and harmonious resolutions are not only possible but essential.
The Harmonium. Programme note about the development of the harmonium (a kind of reed organ) to accompany Gioachino Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle (1863). Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 8 July 2012.
The Paradox of Beauty: Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 8 July 2012.
Grace. A short song of thanksgiving for SATB choir, commissioned by Sloane Square Choral Society, with music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. First performed by Patrons of SSCS, directed by Oliver Lallemant, at the Sloane Club, 52 Lower Sloane Street, London SW1, 30 April 2012.
Telemann and the Enlightenment. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 25 March 2012.
‘Dissolve me into extasies’ – Vivaldi’s Sacred Music. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 25 March 2012.
Constantine vs. The Barbarians. Programme note for The Dream of Constantine with music by Malcolm Bothwell and words by Paul Williamson, performed by The 24 at St Paul’s Covent Garden, 18 February 2012, and St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, 19 February 2012.
Treated with a generous infusion of poetic licence, the story told in Malcolm Bothwell’s The Dream of Constantine is a distant relative of the version of Constantine's vision narrated in Cyenwulf’s Elena. The threat faced by Constantine comes from barbarous Huns, while Christ’s cross is revealed to the sleeping emperor in the form of a marvellous immense tree, decked with jewels and illuminating the night sky. The dramatic heart of the piece comes at its still centre, where the fretful emperor, personally responsible for the fate of a whole world, drifts into a dreamful sleep in which emotional and spiritual forces bring about a moment of recognition and revelation whose impact will change the course of history.
Evelyn Waugh’s First Eight Books. Review essay in The London Magazine, December/January 2011–12, pp. 146–52.
Borrowing a phrase from the first edition of Brideshead, Frank Kermode refers to Waugh’s ‘historical intransigence that equates the English aristocratic with the Catholic tradition.’ It is a doctrine that seems to give upper-class Catholics (particularly those from the landed classes) an almost antinomian right to deliverance.
Christmas Carols: The Sacred and the Secular. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 11 December 2011.
A Ceremony of Carols and the Fortunate Fall. Programme note on Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, plus an edited and annotated text of the piece. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 11 December 2011.
The Dream of Constantine: After Cynewulf. Oratorio for unaccompanied SATB choir with music by Malcolm Bothwell. The text is loosely affiliated with Elena by the Old English poet Cynewulf (fl. 9th century). The piece was commissioned as part of a series of concerts in Serbia, London, Paris and York, commemorating the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation Edict of Milan (February 313). First performed at the Philharmonic Orchestra Concert Hall in Niš, Serbia, the birthplace of Constantine the Great, 28 October 2011.
The York Mystery Cycle – A Corpus Christi Play. Programme note on Genesis by Peter Foggitt, based on The Barkers’ Play, The Creation and Fall of Lucifer, from the York Mystery Cycle, including an edited and annotated version of the text. World premiere performance: Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 3 July 2011.
Ein deutsches Requiem. Programme note on Brahms’ Requiem. Sloane Square Choral Society, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 3 July 2011.
The absence of an explicit statement of the central tenet of Christian belief from Ein deutsches Requiem was noticed from the outset. Carl Martin Reinthaler, organist of Bremen Cathedral, led rehearsals for the piece prior to its first full performance (minus the 5th movement – a later addition), conducted by Brahms himself in Bremen on Good Friday, 10 April 1868. Reinthaler wrote to Brahms, urging him to modify the work to include direct Biblical reference to Christ the redeemer. In his reply Brahms stressed that he had selected texts from his ‘revered poets’ to serve his needs as ‘a musician’, and that he would gladly have omitted the word ‘German’ from his title in favour of the word ‘Human’. Brahms' ‘Human Requiem’ – a requiem mass without a liturgy, a Lutheran Trauerkantate that makes no reference to Christ. To invoke the real spiritual power and beauty of sacred music in the absence of specific theological meaning seems to have been Brahms' intention – casting aside 'every confessional frock, every ecclesiastical custom’, as the influential contemporary critic Eduard Hanslick put it, in order to allow the ‘mind and heart of the listener’ more intimately to participate in ‘the truest nature of the music’.
Singing Handel. On the experience of William Jackson of Exeter (1730–1803), who came to London at the age of fifteen and later recalled his experience of singing under Handel. Programme note for Sloane Square Choral Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London, 27 March 2011.
Poor Jackson sought solace in the music of Handel and was fortunate enough to ‘squeeze in’ (as he puts it) among the chorus singers at the first performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, given at Covent Garden on 1 April 1747. Whether Handel thought the young interloper was making an April Fool of him or whether the great composer wanted to demonstrate his own All Fool’s Day wit, I don’t know, but when Handel noticed the youthful stranger in the choir he gave him a piece of advice with which many amateur choristers might be all too familiar! ‘Who are You?’ Handel boomingly asked him, ‘Can you play? Can you sing? If not, open your Mouth and pretend to sing, for there must be no idle Persons in my Band!’
Gainsborough’s Cottage Door Scenes: Aesthetic Principles, Moral Values. Chapter in Gainsborough’s ‘Cottage Door’: Sensibility and the Cult of Special Effects, ed. Ann Bermingham (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005), coauthored with Amal Asfour. The book was shortlisted for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2006.
See: John Brewer, ‘Sensibility and the Urban Panorama’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 70 (2007), pp. 229–49. ‘As Asfour and Williamson conclude, Gainsborough’s cottage door scenes, owing to their artificiality, “affirm and at the same time … make provisional a dream of contentment by re-creating reality in the figurative realm of the imagination.”’
E. Derek Taylor, ‘A Sentimental Journey through Gainsborough’s “Cottage-door” Paintings’, in Swiftly Sterneward: Essays on Laurence Sterne and His Times in Honor of Melvyn New, ed. W. B. Gerard, E. Derek Taylor and Robert G. Walker (University of Delaware Press, Newark, DE, 2011), pp. 29–46.
William Jackson of Exeter, 1730–1803. The New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004).
Northanger Abbey. A dramatisation in two acts of the novel by Jane Austen. First performed by the Broughton Players, Preston Playhouse, Preston, 9–12 May 2001. Playscript published by Jasper Publishing (Hemel Hempstead, 2001).
Review: ‘A thought-provoking and entertaining take on the novel.’ Jane Carroll, Amateur Stage, October 2001, pp. 16–17.
The Art of Shadows: Substance and topos in mid-18th-century England. Illustrated essay (8,000 words), tracing the history of ideas about shadows in art from ancient times to the eighteenth century, before outlining a topical approach to shadows via a reading of paintings by Wright of Derby, Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. The British Art Journal, 2.1 (Autumn 2000), pp. 35–42. Coauthored with Amal Asfour.
1900 and all that. Illustrated review essay (2,000 words) of 1900: Art at the Crossroads, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 16 January–3 April 2000, curated by Robert Rosenblum.’ The British Art Journal, 1.2 (Spring 2000), pp. 94–5.
Gainsborough’s Vision. Taking a wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach, and incorporating much new research on Gainsborough’s artistic, literary, and religious background, along with his previously ignored relations with British philosophy, this book seeks for the first time to place Gainsborough in his intellectual and cultural context. Gainsborough's Vision provides a comprehensive reassessment of Gainsborough’s achievement with regard to his artistic predecessors and his place in European art. It also represents a new approach to eighteenth-century British art more generally, demonstrating how it moved in a direction that can be described as empiricist and mimetic. Coauthored with Amal Asfour. Liverpool University Press (Liverpool, 1999). Crown quarto, 341 pages, 186 illustrations.
From the press release: This groundbreaking study of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88), one of the most enduringly popular of British painters, provides a comprehensive re-examination of the intellectual and cultural context in which Gainsborough lived and worked. Close readings of individual pictures are supported by illustrations and citations drawn from an unusual range of sources: the populist and emotive culture of religious nonconformity; a philosophical and scientific outlook, epitomised by John Locke and Isaac Watts, based on self-scrutiny and careful observation of the external world; pastoral and emblem literature; eighteenth-century music theory; and the work of writers, including John Bunyan, Francis Quarles, Jonathan Edwards, William Cowper and Laurence Sterne. Detailed pictorial analyses clarify Gainsborough’s relationship with the work of his artistic contemporaries and predecessors – Hogarth, Hayman and Reynolds among Gainsborough’s British contemporaries; Rubens, Van Dyck, Ruisdael, Claude and Watteau further afield. The product of exhaustive research, Gainsborough’s Vision draws on previously unknown or neglected primary sources to demonstrate that the style, themes and ideas of Gainsborough’s images constitute purposeful expressions of an intellectual and visual culture whose significance in the development of eighteenth-century British art has gone unrecognised.
Reviews: ‘Richly informative.’ George Steiner, The Observer, 9 January 2000.
‘A brilliant and original contribution to British art studies, combining new insights into Gainsborough's social and intellectual context with fresh analysis of the works.’ Robin Simon, The British Art Journal.
‘A very real and original contribution to Gainsborough studies … an important book which will mark future scholarship.’ Martin Myrone, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 142, no. 1172 (November 2000), pp. 711–12.
‘The cumulative consideration of art theory, theories of perception and epistemology, the theme of the pastoral, and religious concepts of the need to find God in nature have been woven together to construct a clear account of painterly handling as an engagement with the alienation, scepticism, and loss implied in both religious and philosophical views of perception.’ Andrew Kennedy and Annie E. Richardson, Oxford Art Journal, 25 (2002), pp. 106–18.
Gainsborough’s Mrs Siddons: The Woman as Artist. An analysis of one of Gainsborough’s most celebrated portraits (8,000 words) that traces its intellectual background in the writings of David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke. The essay discusses late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century drama, comparing Gainsborough’s painting with pictures by Reynolds, Dürer and Rubens. Coauthored with Amal Asfour. The British Art Journal, 1.2 (Autumn 1999), pp. 38–45.
Hogarth and the Strangelove Effect. An illustrated essay (7,000 words), arguing for the importance of formalism in Hogarth's work. The article discusses the overlap between Hogarth’s art and other disciplines, including a comparison with Sterne, a discussion of eighteenth-century music theory, and a consideration of Dr Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963), directed by Stanley Kubrick. Eighteenth-Century Life, 23 (1999), pp. 80–95.
Gainsborough in Ferrara; The Fancy Picture at Kenwood House. Review article on two major exhibitions (and accompanying catalogues) that took place in summer 1998. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 32 (1999), pp. 391–3.
Splendid Impositions: Gainsborough, Berkeley, Hume. A 15,000-word article that shows how Gainsborough’s art is influenced by empiricist philosophy and eighteenth-century theories of vision. Coauthored with Amal Asfour. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 31 (1998).
Gainsborough’s Wit. An article showing how Gainsborough transformed the traditions of eighteenth-century wit and demonstrating his affinities with Sterne and Hume (9,000 words). Coauthored with Amal Asfour. Journal of the History of Ideas, 58 (1997), pp. 479–501.
On Reynolds’s Use of De Piles, Locke, and Hume in his Essays on Rubens and Gainsborough. This 9,000-word article shows how Sir Joshua Reynolds uses De Pilesian aesthetics and ideas deriving from British empiricism to develop a theory of art in response to a kind of painting that demands to be seen as fundamentally mimetic. Coauthored with Amal Asfour. The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 60 (1997), pp. 215–29.
A Second Sentimental Journey: Gainsborough Abroad. Based on a newly discovered letter, this article shows conclusively for the first time that Gainsborough travelled on the continent and thus overturns one of the most basic assumptions about Gainsborough’s life. This new information has important implications for recent approaches to Gainsborough's art. Coauthored with Gertrude Jackson and Amal Asfour. Apollo, 146 (August 1997), pp. 27–30.
Gainsborough and William Jackson of Exeter: Studies in Two Hands. The first publication of newly discovered sketches by William Jackson of Exeter (Gainsborough’s only ‘pupil’ other than his assistant) with additions and corrections by Gainsborough. The purpose of these studies makes them almost unique in Gainsborough’s oeuvre. Coauthored Amal Asfour. Apollo, 146 (August 1997), pp. 31–6.
Ut Pictura Poesis: William Jackson and John Bampfylde on the Teign. This article (4,500 words) presents for the first time a series of sketches done in 1777 on a trip taken by William Jackson of Exeter with the poet John Bampfylde (1754–97). The essay shows how Jackson’s drawings and Bampfylde’s poems share common aesthetic aims. Coauthored with Amal Asfour, Apollo, 146 (August 1997), pp. 37–41.
William Jackson of Exeter, A Short Sketch of My Own Life and Twenty Letters. Edited with Amal Asfour, Gainsborough’s House Review, 1996/7. Transcribed from original manuscripts, this edition runs to 110 pages. It reprints the complete text of Jackson’s autobiography for the first time, and augments it with a selection of previously unknown letters. Jackson’s activities as a painter, musician and writer make this a relevant text for scholars in three fields. The edition is fully annotated with introductions, chronologies, an appendix, and forty illustrations. Jackson’s Life includes the narrative of a journey to Turin taken in 1785 which Jackson illustrated extensively. The edition brings together text and recently unearthed pictures for the first time. The edition includes Realising Jackson, a 3,000-word introductory essay, and Rogues' Tricks: The Problem of Gainsborough’s Portrait of Jackson, which uses Gainsborough’s letters to show that in 1770 Gainsborough exhibited a portrait of Jackson at the Royal Academy which was probably by Jackson himself.
William Jackson of Exeter (1730–1803). Exhibition Catalogue, for the Jackson exhibition, co-curated with Amal Asfour, staged at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury. The catalogue includes a description of each item exhibited and a bibliography. Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, 31 August–12 October 1997.
William Collins and the Idea of Liberty. A 7,000-word essay showing the way the poet William Collins (1721–59) responded to the influence of James Harris (1709–80), and discussing the aesthetic dilemma created by this union of philosophy and poetry. Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Neglected Texts, and the Evolving Canon of Eighteenth-Century Literature, Festschrift for Professor Roger Lonsdale, ed. J. G. Basker and A. Ribeiro (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996), pp. 257–74.
British Studies: Myths and Mythologies. A review article (4,000 words) devoted to the Britain 2000 conference held at the University of Vienna, 10–12 April 1995. ELT News, 26 (June 1995), pp. 29–38. Published by The British Council, Vienna.
Despite everything, Holiday Camp is clearly a British production with an English bias. Can we be so confident, Professor Frith went on to ask, that Apache Indian's music is British? A partial answer to the problem of what constitutes Britishness in contemporary British culture was provided by three further recordings. Professor Frith is chairman of the panel of judges for the Mercury Prize for British and Irish music, and he played winning tracks by Primal Scream, Suede, and M People, complete with rhythmic movements of the professorial shoulders. A number of points emerged here.
Gray’s ‘Elegy’ and the Logic of Expression. A seminal discussion (12,500 words) of the two versions of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (published in 1751), arguing that the changes made to the poem between the earlier and later versions represent a radical shift from a Christian to a classical framework. In Thomas Gray: Contemporary Essays, ed. W. Hutchings and W. Ruddick (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 1993), pp. 39–72.
Reviews: ‘Superb.’ Duncan Wu, Romanticism, 2.1 (1996), p. 123.
John Chalker, Critical Survey, 7.2 (1995), p. 231.
Katherine Turner, ‘Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, in A Companion to Literature from Milton to Blake, ed. David Wormersley (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, 2000), p. 347.
Eric Parisot, ‘The Historicity of Reading Graveyard Poetry’, in Experiments in Genre in Eighteenth-century Literature, ed. Sandro Jung (Academia Press, Ghent, 2011), p. 98.
Michele Turner Sharp, ‘Elegy Unto Epitaph: Print Culture and Commemorative Practice in Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”’, Papers on Language and Literature, 38 (2002), pp. 3–28.