Dedication: to Billesdon
Instrumentation: Chorus (SATB) 2 flutes, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone (2 players), 2 trombones (3 players), 2 electric guitars (3 players), handbells (5 players), 3 electric keyboards (optional shakers), drum kit, violin, 2 celli (4 players), bass
First Performance: Billesdon Millennium Music, The Coplow Centre Billesdon, December 31st 1999
dedicated to Billesdon
I was approached last year by Fiona White to see if I would be prepared to write a piece of music involving people from Billesdon, as a millennium project to be played on New Year’s Eve 1999. We held a meeting in November 1998 in order to gauge the level of interest and to find out what kind of musical resources we might have. I explained something of my approach in composing and devised a simple questionnaire for the possible participants. From this I was able to discover the types of instruments and voices available to me, as well as the experience and musical abilities of the performers. This was ranged from those who had little or no experience on the one hand, to those who had a serious professional background. In between were those with a love of music but who had found little opportunity for collective music making for many years – in many cases since school days! There were some considerable surprises: I had not, for example, thought that a village the size of Billesdon would have four cellos and 3 trombones concealed within the community. The presence of a set of handbells too was a challenge, especially when it transpired that they were pitched a semitone lower than notated (I had to fax a new part from Canada).
The actual writing of the piece was delayed considerably because of substantial and unexpected changes in my professional and domestic lives but the music was eventually put in front of the ensemble about a month ago. I was very fortunate that my music publisher, Schott, was prepared to produce a printed score and sets of parts as a gesture of sponsorship. There was a good deal of private practice, sectional rehearsals and I was pleased that the church choir managed to find some time to look at the music during their regular weekly choir practice. During my absence my old friend and colleague Dave Smith directed rehearsals and got the music into some sort of shape. Indeed when I returned he had become so involved in the project that we decided he should conduct the piece in performance, and so I wrote myself a bass part in order to be in the piece too.
The question of text for the choir was something that I thought about at great length. Eventually I chose the Creation Hymn by the 7th century poet Caedmon, a beautiful poem which is the oldest piece of written poetry that we have in England. I had set it before, very differently, but felt that the simple sincerity of its celebration of life was an appropriate sentiment for the occasion. In addition the fact that it could, in theory, have been used for a first millennium piece made in even more attractive – I speculated that perhaps on December 31st 999 something like this might have happened before….. The poem is set twice, the first in a Latin paraphrase by the church historian Bede, also from the seventh century and the second in the original language.
The music falls into five sections, which are played without a break.
Section One begins with a kind of prologue in which three different instrumental groups from within the full ensemble are given there own material.
In Section Two the full ensemble is put together and this leads into a four-part chorus singing, in Latin, Caedmon’s Creation Hymn.
Section Three is more energetic for the full instrumental group, accompanied by drum kit.
In the Fourth Section the chorus sing the Creation Hymn again, but this time in the original 7th century Northumbrian.
Section Five is a short, quiet coda, in which music from the prologue reappears to close the piece.
The commitment and team spirit of the whole group has been extraordinary and it has been a remarkable experience to work with them. Any good things that the performance contains are down to them. Any mistakes are mine
Texts of Creation Hymn
Nunc laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis, potentiam Creatoris et consilium illius, facta Patris gloriae. Quomodo ille, cum sit aeternus Deus, omnium miraculorum auctor extitit, qui primo filiis hominum caelum pro culmine tecti, dehinc terram custos humani generis omnipotens creavit.
Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard,
metudaes mecti end his mogdedanc,
uerc wuldurfadur sue he wundra gihwaes,
eci dryctin, or astelidae;
he aerist scop aelda barnum
heben til hrofe, haleg scepen,
tha middungeard moncynnaes uard;
eci dryctin aefter tiadae
firum foldu frea allmectig.
Translation of the Anglo-Saxon (the Latin is broadly the same):
Now let us praise the keeper of the kingdom of heaven, the might of God and the wisdom of his spirit, the work of the world-warden, in that he, the eternal Lord, ordained the beginning of everything that is wonderful. He, the holy Creator, first created
heaven as a roof for the children of men; afterwards the keeper of mankind, the eternal Lord, almighty Governor, fashioned the world, the middle earth, for mortals.