(text by Pico della Mirandola)
Dedicated to Frances Barber and Neil Pearson.
Commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble
Instrumentation: 4 voices (alto, 2 tenors, baritone)
First performance: Hilliard Festival of Voices, Lewes, August 1988.
Glorious Hill (1988)
Glorious Hill was commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble and first performed by them at its summer Festival of Voices in Lewes, Sussex, in August 1988. It was the first piece I wrote for the ensemble and I focused on the singers’ unique ability to move with ease from early music to tonal music of the present day. There were techniques which I asked for which I hardly needed to notate – the staggered breathing of the two tenors to supply a continuous unbroken held note for example – and the piece moves between passages for solo voices and sections of highly chromatic homophony, almost as if the music were switching between the 12th century of Perotin and the 16th century of Gesualdo. Each of the four voices is given its own solo passage – sometimes accompanied, sometimes quietly supported by the other voices.
The title, Glorious Hill comes from the name of the small-town Mississippi setting of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke. I wrote the music for the 1987 production of this play at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, the first time I had written any incidental music for the stage. Williams makes very specific demands in terms of music and there is one particularly powerful scene, the penultimate one, throughout which music and atmospheric sound effects are continuous. The principle character Alma argues passionately about the vital importance of human choice with the man to whom she has, too late, admitted her love. I watched this section every night throughout the 4 week run of the play watching the different ways in which the actress, Frances Barber, played the scene. There is a powerful emotional and philosophical connection between the imagery of this scene and a passage from the Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man which forms the text of Glorious Hill. This passage has been described as one of the few passages in Renaissance philosophy to treat human freedom in a modern way. The text, which is sung in Latin, is addressed by God to Adam before the fall from grace.
Dedicated to Frances Barber and Neil Pearson