+ version for string orchestra
Instrumentation: viol consort (2 trebles, two tenors, two basses)
First Performance: Fretwork, Purcell Room, London May 1995
In Nomine (After Purcell)
There were several factors which attracted me to write a piece for Fretwork based on Purcell’s In Nomine. One was my interest in writing for strings and particularly for families of string instruments. I have written a number of string quartets, of course, but an early piece of mine was for the eight-part “new violin family”, and I pay particular attention to the composition of strings within an orchestral context – the opera Medea uses only violas, cellos and basses. The homogeneous blend of the 6-part consort, with its three pairs of viols, is a sound that I have enjoyed for some time.
A second factor relates to an interest in music which refers to other music or to other musical values. In the recent past, for example, I have written pieces for other ‘early music specialists’ such as the Hilliard Ensemble where I incorporated vocal and ensemble techniques from their repertoire, which goes back to the 12th century. The Purcell 6-part Fantasia itself comes towards the end of almost two centuries in which many English composers wrote pieces based on Taverner’s mass Gloria tibi Trinitas and I focus on this origin as well as on the Purcell Fantasia itself.
There are many, to me, curious aspects of the viol consort as an ensemble, for example the tuning of the instruments which make natural harmonics a useful device given the fact that there is a string of every named note except B. In addition, the restraint found within the consort’s dynamic range attracted me especially (ff is not really a viol dynamic) making it a natural vehicle for understatement.