GCM will be on hiatus for August. However, I have lined up two fantastic composers for September and October and look forward to sharing their music with you then!
GCM for July is Bernard Hughes. I first encountered his music, in the form of his Shepherd’s Carol, in a livestream of carols from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. I was intrigued by his clever modal language and skill in changing between textures. I’ve become a fan of his music, and especially love his setting of Burns’s The Winter it is past. Give it a listen:
Another piece that I like very much is this one:
In his own words
“I aim to write music that works for whatever its context: children’s choir, amateur orchestra or the BBC Singers. I like to write choral music that singers enjoy singing, even where it is challenging. I like to write modally as a way of avoiding the obviousnesses of straightforward tonality (I’m not good at writing perfect cadences). I enjoy dissonance and finding interesting ways to get choirs to sing dissonances, while not seeing consonance as anathema. I want people to enjoy listening to my music while still writing the kind of music that I like to listen to.”
“I like the journey this goes on, from the anxious, stressed opening (‘My enemies will daily swallow me up’) to the humble, sincere ‘Miserere mei’ at the end.”
Death of Balder: Interlude https://open.spotify.com/track/5BKmSqKQladovunT2TznkP?si=3a36cd4eb61c4e92
“This is from probably my best choral piece, large-scale and virtuosic – but this middle section is very simple and restrained. And without being morbid, I’d like it at my own funeral.”
Previous Guest Composers of the Month
Here is Lux Aeterna, a gorgeous composition in which a chant melody floats serenely through clouds of gentle harmony while the harp provides glittering highlights.
In her own words
“I consider it an enormous privilege to be a composer. There is something immensely humbling about having a piece chosen for performance; it is a thrill for me every time this happens. I relish the opportunity to hear how the choir and their conductor interpret my piece, and how they bring the music to life. I enjoy all the little variations, the special performance decisions, the shaping of the phrase and, in particular, hearing how they communicate the meaning. It is an honour to make a contribution to the field of sacred choral music, and to be responsible for augmenting the repertoire by providing a new voice to sit alongside the great history of music for worship.
I enjoy exploring what it is possible to create from a very small amount of material. As part of this technique I use repetition to try to achieve a sense of flow, when the passing of time is, perhaps, momentarily less discernible. I meditate on the texts to find the central point, or a word of focus, or a particular sentiment that I bring out through my setting of the lyrics, often considering the theological context of the text, and using this as a starting point. Rhythmic vitality is also a feature of my style, used to punctuate the music, sometimes in contrast to slow-moving sections. I like to establish a harmonic end-point, and then use modulation to create a journey from a distant beginning to an emphatic end.
Dona nobis pacem
I would like to introduce Dona nobis pacem, a piece I wrote for SATB, conceived to mark 100 years of female suffrage and the centenary of the armistice of WW1. In the piece, the L’homme armé tune (‘the armed man should be feared’) is set to the words dona nobis pacem (give us peace). The piece quotes the ‘Dona nobis pacem’ from a mass by the 16th century Scottish composer Robert Carver. The sentiment, give us peace, could not be more heartfelt, and the use of the tune, ‘the armed man should be feared’, feels particularly poignant in light of recent events.
A Renewal of Faith
A Renewal of Faith was written just as choirs were beginning to come back to sing after the enforced silence during the covid-19 pandemic. I sought to create a straight-forward, direct piece that captures something of a spirit of renewal. Intentionally restrained, the piece provides a harmonic journey, with a syllabic word-setting for every word apart from ‘resurrection’, which marks the climax of the piece.”
The GCM for May 2022 was Helen Williams, a fellow composer in the Multitude of Voyces project.
Helen and Nigel Williams are the owners of Canossa Music, which offers a range of beautiful pieces for liturgical use and other occasions. If you are in a viol consort, you can find a number of new pieces by Helen and Nigel here.
Here are two of Helen’s most characteristic pieces:
Helen only undertakes commissions very rarely. Roger Miller is a bass in Epsom Chamber Choir, so had sung many of her works already. When he stepped down as chairman of near neighbours Guildford Chamber Choir, he requested a setting of a poem by John Fletcher. Helen wrote this, ready just before covid arrived.
Like so much else, plans to perform it had to be deferred, but the choir and conductor stuck with it and gave it its first airing in November 2021.
Love is the Key
Helen’s most sung choral piece is Love is the Key, her setting of a Christina Rossetti poem called Song for the Least of All Saints. Unaccompanied, in four parts, it fits into almost any church service. This year, Glasgow Cathedral sang it in Advent, St David’s Baltimore on Good Friday, St Peter’s College Oxford after Easter. Trinity Wall Street and Salford Cathedral sang it even during covid restrictions. Helen loves hearing it done by subtly different voices each time. If you would like to add yours, this video has the score in it too.
Paul Ayres, from whom I have learned much, was April’s GCM. Paul’s music is approachable yet subtle. In his own words:
“Composing and arranging gives me great joy, and my hope is that performers and audiences will share in that joy. That’s about as far as it goes, in terms of “artistic credo”! I’d like to share three pieces with your website visitors.
Love is the spirit of this church is a simple song, setting a Unitarian text. The melody works in canon. Perhaps because I’m an organist, I love canons, fugues, and strict contrapuntal forms…
[Editorial comment from Tamsin: I highly approve of contrapuntal fun and games!]
Something more bracing next: If music be the food of love (link to MIDI demo with score), for three-part voices (SABar or SAA) with piano duet accompaniment. Written for a youth choir – I tried to keep the vocal parts fairly straightforward, with the rhythmic drive taken by the accompaniment.
“Mostly Bach’s Toccata and Fugue” is an example of how I love to play around with, and “re-write” Baroque pieces. The original BWV565 (which may not be by Bach, and which may not have been written for organ – these are subjects for other chats!) is in 4-4 time, with almost continuous semiquaver movement. What happens if one plays only 7 out of every 8 notes? Bach with 12.5% off..
Having looked through all the links above, I see that they are all in D minor. I’d like to reassure readers that I can write in other keys too.”
Mitch Boucher was Guest Composer for February. A native of Maine, this promising young American composer is a fellow champion for the “New Baroque” aesthetic. As he puts it:
“I find it to be expressive, and I think it is the perfect conduit for the human condition. Music should not only be something that challenges the performer, but it should be something that the listener might relate to. Through its many constraints of form (like a canon, fugue, or a gigue) one can still find room to tell a story. Given that one of the ideals behind the Baroque era was emotional expression, I believe that the music can still be relevant and able to be appreciated by audiences today.”
Duet for Two Saxophones is a charming duo, with elegant interplay between the players, which takes advantage of the saxophone’s ability to articulate lines cleanly, while bringing a more contemporary tone-colour to the style.
GCM for January was Tim Knight, a Classic FM nominee and internationally acclaimed composer whose music encompasses everything from chamber music to large-scale orchestral works, but who is perhaps best known for his accessible and attractive church music.
Tim’s music is evocative and emotionally direct (perhaps that’s because he’s a Yorkshireman!), and says much with great economy of means. One of Tim’s most attractive strengths is his ability to create a memorable tune, and his anthem I will lift up mine eyes to the hills is a great example of that:
Another example is The Lord bless you and keep you for 2 soprano parts and piano, which radiates tranquility and contains some sparingly used, but well judged, flashes of colourful harmony. As it shows, less is often more:
Felicity Mazur-Park kindly agreed to be the inaugural guest composer on my website.
Felicity is a composer, organist, and pianist with British and Latvian heritage who is currently based in Dallas, Texas. Here is a wonderful example of her work, the terrific One Language is Never Enough, which seamlessly takes the listener on an exciting international adventure, taking in sounds from Africa, Asia, Central America and North America: