Faux-pretentious, moi?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The countdown to a puppy has begun!

I'm moving to a larger flat - ground floor, two bedrooms, sufficient room for my piano and (huge) bed, secure parking, communal garden, not even horribly expensive - a few days before Christmas, which should be interesting. Not least because my mother and brother are coming over for the day in question, so I need to get the movers in on this sooner rather than later. As soon as I've made sure I can get a day or two off work ...

Come late January, by which time things will have quietened down at work, I'm getting a fortnight (that's two weeks to you Americans) off to housetrain a spaniel puppy. Getting the flat is great, but knowing I'm that much closer to having a dog is much more exciting!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

... and another started (post 2 of 2)

Barely a couple of weeks after putting the finishing touches to Beati qui lugent, we were celebrating the harvest festival and I was suddenly hit by what I later realised was a bit of a pretentious idea. Even if I hadn't later found the original German version of the hymn "We plough the fields and scatter" to be, well, rather naff, a multilingual cantata would be better suited to a Pentecostal work than a cantata for harvesttide.

So here's the plan - this time with an organ part, 'cos let's face it, there are lots of dramatic bits to this which would be much enlivened by having an accompaniment.

I: Exordium - Creation (solo soprano, organ)
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void. And God said, Let the dry land appear. Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit free yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. [Genesis 1:1-2, 9, 11]
This'll probably be more of an organ prelude with the soprano's narration floating over the top, starting off with the rumbles of the 32' pedal and gradually building up from there.

II: The harvest (full choir, organ)
Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the harvest of the earth is ripe. [Revelation 14:15]
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey. [Deuteronomy 8:8]
I've half a mind write the word "lustily" above this movement, as it describes the mood to a tee. That line about pomegranates is just asking to be sung suggestively!

III: Thanksgiving (solo baritone, organ)
O almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season, and hast crowned the year with thy goodness: Give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Scottish Book of Common Prayer, 1912)
A slightly less worldly approach to celebrating the harvest which I envisage setting in a Bachian way, à la 'Mache dich, mein Herze, rein'.

IV: The sower (full choir)
A sower went forth to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell by the way side (the fowls of the air devoured it up), some fell upon stony ground (scorched, it withered away), and some fell among thorns (choked). Other fell on good ground and bare fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred. [composite of Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-8 and Luke 8:5-8]
A moment of respite from the high spirits to consider the first of Christ's parables, highlighting the need for fertile ground, in agricultural and spiritual terms.

V: Praise (double choir, organ)
(words - and music! - here)
Verses 1 and 3 of one of my favourite hymns, the first for 8-part choir, with the organ joining in for the second, to bring this work to a joyous close.


One work completed ... (post 1 of 2)

It was with mixed feelings that I completed Beati qui lugent, a piece intended to be for mourners what a Requiem mass is for the deceased, on what would have been my father's 65th birthday. We're even going to be performing part of it - the movement from which the work as a whole takes its name - at evensong on Sunday, 4th November, so that's something more to look forward to.

As I didn't really elaborate on the libretto I posted here last November (click on the link above to read it), the completion of the work seems an ideal opportunity to make up for it, so here we go ... (Note: the scoring in the numbered movements is different every time and the collects are all led by alto and tenor soloists, singing in unison throughout.)

I: O vos omnes (full choir)
"Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow" - a standard text, here given a different reading, with the mourner angrily dismissing others' pain as nothing compared to his/her own. This is borne out by unexpected modulations, cross-rhythms and frequent chromaticisms.

Collect for aid against all perils (full choir with soloists)
The one that begins "Lighten our darkness", the words also treated figuratively - if the sense of loss which follows the death of a loved one isn't darkness of a sort, I don't know what is.

II: Beati qui lugent (double female choir)
The second beatitude speaks directly to the bereaved, so its inclusion was more or less a foregone conclusion. There's something incredibly pure about female voices alone, even with trips into unexpected keys at key moments.

Collect for those in sorrow (full choir with soloists)
With the mood moving from a cri de coeur to the fervent hope of comfort, it's clear that it's going to take more than the preceding movement to restore calm, even when it closes in a more positive frame of mind.

III: Dominus reget me (full choir)
Psalm 23 has to be among the texts sure to provide comfort in difficult times - sung in Latin but to Anglican chant, which is somehow adds to the effect.

Collect for All Souls (full choir with soloists)
Finally a prayer for the deceased, suggesting the mourner is coming to terms with his/her loss. There's something almost ethereal about the words, the peace they refer to reflected in the music, finally freeing itself of dark modulations.

IV: Expecto resurrectionem (full choir, splitting into two choirs for a closing fugue)
The words say it all: resurrection and life eternal, a light at the end of an especially dark tunnel.


Friday, July 06, 2007

We're off to see the ... er ...

On Sunday morning I'm off to Jersey for four days. By the time I get back, my internet connection should be up and running again, so with any luck I'll be able to upload a few photos. (Might not be the Emerald City though.)

In the meantime, I've a sangria party to host tonight and a friend's 40th tomorrow. If only the weather were as fab ...


Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes on Lucia di Lammermoor

Andy asked me, a week or so ago, what the Scots make of Lucia, highlighting the equally unlikely pairing of Puccini and the Wild West in La fanciulla del West.

Well, it appears Walter Scott tended to play fast and loose with historical accuracy at the best of times, tending to prefer a highly romanticised view of Scotland, yet the librettist takes this even further. While Scott sets his novel The bride of Lammermoor during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), the opera refers to the recent passing of a King William, leaving a Queen Mary on the throne. The Mary in question cannot be Mary Queen of Scots (who was around over a century earlier, preceded by James V), yet as the lack of any ordinal following her name suggests, she was the first Scottish monarch of that name. Mary II and her husband William III, both of whom had an equal claim to the throne, came to the throne in 1689 - interestingly, after the union of the crowns (in 1603), but before the Act of Union of 1707 - which would make sense in the case of this opera, if it weren't for his surviving her rather than the other way round.

That said, I doubt many opera lovers pay that much attention to such minor matters as historical accuracy - let's face it, that's not the point of this particular artform. Despite Donizetti's music being, in a lot of places, utterly unsuited to tragedy (there are times when it veers dangerously close to Gilbert and Sullivan), all is swept away by the glorious bel canto of the two principals. Okay, there may be a distinct lack of Scottish influence to the score, but come on, who cares when you've got the ne plus ultra of operatic mad scenes?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A cultural roller-coaster

My mother is coming to visit on Friday which, as ever, heralds an intense few days' culture: we've got something on every day.

Some friends are coming round on Friday evening for a game of Ex libris (think a literary spin on Balderdash). The next evening sees us holding a French dinner party (artichoke gratin, a selection of Alpine cheeses and apple charlotte), and after church on Sunday we're off to Dundas Castle for The life of Jesus Christ, which (assuming the rain holds off) promises to be stunning.

On Monday we'll be off to the Filmhouse (one of Edinburgh's arthouse cinemas) to catch Beijing bicycle - this is apparently Edinburgh Bike Week, but that comes second to Mother's interest in all things Chinese. Tuesday evening sees us at Guys and dolls at the Playhouse, all leading up to Lucia di Lammermoor at the Festival Theatre the following evening.

Mother's always keen to try out the city's restaurants, so we have a table booked at David Bann (one of the vegetarian restaurants in Edinburgh) pre-Lucia and will probably be off to the sizzling Scot at some stage.

Enough to be getting on with, I think. At least, I'll have a little breather before Festival madness kicks in ...

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Christian malappropisms

As a child, I'd hope I was not alone in misunderstanding parts of the liturgy when attending church. The possible resurrection of the Mass in Latin has reminded me of these, though it wouldn't surprise me if children hearing the texts in a language other than their own produced some fresh misconceptions.

In my case, I somehow got the impression the Nicene Creed was called the Nicotine Creed. Slightly more worrying was my conviction the Te Deum contained the line "Thou didst not abort the Virgin's womb", which I thought was pretty obvious. I mean, having gone to all that trouble with the Immaculate Conception, it wasn't very likely God would have a change of heart ...

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Emphatically not kicking myself

In the early hours of Sunday morning, as I was walking home from a friend's 30th birthday party, I was accosted by a man who claimed to be a record producer after new vocal talent. Asked to sing something, I asked him what style he was after (trying hard not to laugh) and left him after suggesting my voice mightn't be in top condition at that hour.

Had it not been for the hour and my minor inebriation, I might have been tempted. But what record producer stalks the streets of Edinburgh at a quarter to three in the morning?

Luke reckons my debut album should be Wagner. I retaliated with a proposal of Boulez, Cage and Xenakis - you know, real crowd-pleasers.