A new choral work for Lent

Last year The Waltham Singers approached me for a new piece for their Lent concert this year in Chelmsford, Essex, followed by a Belgian tour. The Waltham Singers, based in the Chelmsford area, and conducted by Andrew Fardell, are an excellent amateur choir who have performed several of my pieces and who commissioned A Summer Garland from me some years ago.
As it was for a Lenten work, the request was for a setting of the Penitential Psalms lasting about 15 minutes for choir and organ – and my challenge was to energise a work of this length, with the necessary contrast and drama, while using texts which were very focused on penitence – no ‘Glorias’ or ‘Alleluias’ allowed! I decided to use the Latin version of the Psalms, choosing extracts from three of them, to make three main movements.
Within each of these three movements I made short references to the plainchant antiphon for Maundy Thursday, Ubi Caritas, and then I made the Ubi Caritas melody appear complete four times – each time arranged differently – to make a prelude, interludes, and postlude. So the shape of the work is as follows:

Psalmos Penitentiales
1. Ubi Caritas (Where charity and love are, God is there)
2. Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me (O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger) – from Psalm 6
3. Ubi Caritas
4. De profundis clamavi ad te (Out of the depths I have cried to you) – from Psalm 129 or 130
5. Ubi Caritas
6. Domine, exaudi orationem meam (O Lord, hear my prayer) – from Psalm 101 or 102
7. Ubi Caritas

I hope that by framing the music in this way I have achieved the focus on penitence while also communicating the caring aspects, and the joy, of the Christian message. I went to a rehearsal last week and it was an uplifting experience to hear the choir responding to my music, and I am looking forward very much to the first performance!

Psalmos Penitientiales was commissioned by the Waltham Singers with a generous bequest from Peter Andrews. It is planned to be published by Oxford University Press later in the year.
The first performance is at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, on Saturday 18 March at 7.30.

POSTCRIPT
The first performance, to a packed house, was most successful – the performers gave a wonderful interpretation and the composer was very pleased! Please contact him if you would like to hear a recording. The choir are now taking the work on the Belgian tour.

Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set 1

About four years ago I started writing some piano preludes in odd moments between writing other things, partly to play myself, but also for others to play, of around Grade 6-8 standard. They grew into a set of twelve, on in each major key – hardly an original concept, but one which gave me an opportunity to think hard about variety within my self-imposed limit of only two pages per piece!

I’ve always liked some kind of limitation in my work, whether it be the necessity for sticking to a five-finger position in a very easy piano piece, the demands of a certain key or mode, a specific motif or shape, or the expectations and skills of a particular group of singers, real or imagined. It releases the mind to concentrate on other parameters of musical invention. In these pieces, the aim for variety of style and texture was an important consideration, without ever (I hope) losing sight of my own musical voice. Some movements suggest the romantic, some the neo-classic, some the minimalist, and it was surprising how the requirement for one piece in each key suggested different moods: a lively D major, a simple and repetitive F sharp major, a quixotic F major, and a mysteriously floating B major, for instance. There has been much written about the association of colours with particular keys in composer’s minds – usually different for each composer – and actually I think my views on key and colour relationships has moderated and changed over time, particularly as, due to sometimes playing in baroque performances at A=414, my sense of absolute pitch has become a little less reliable.

To take one example, my view of the key of E flat was often associated with something martial, military, and ‘valiant’ – possibly because of the decisive E-flat-ness of the hymn ‘He who would valiant be’ (tune: ‘Monk’s Gate’) much sung in my youth. And yet, when I came to write my prelude in E flat, it turned out to be reflective and calm, with lots of rubato – the furthest from a military march that one can get!

The sheet music of Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set 1 is available from Spartan Press:

And you can hear me playing them here:

 

 

 

The ‘Thirteen’ simply refers to the fact that if played complete you can round them off by repeating the first prelude!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve really enjoyed writing these preludes, and I hope you enjoy listening or playing them too. In fact I’ve started another set – in minor or modal keys – and I hope it won’t take me as long as four years to complete them!