Compositions in Order of Category
Notes about the music may be seen when you click on the title. Works preceded by an * can be heard by accessing the SoundCloud page. Images on the covers of the scores of “Isaiah – Three Advent Carols”, “Rejoice! Rejoice!” and “Blessed is the Man who Finds Wisdom” shown here are by Jenny Allen and are her copyright.
The Nightingale And The Rose (1965; rev.1970; re-rev.1990) Opera in One Act (duration: 60 minutes)
Hansel & Gretel (1966) Songs for a Musical Play
Luscinia Megarhynchos (1973) Music-Theatre for Soprano, Baritone & Chamber Ensemble (duration: 12 minutes)
The Musicians of Bremen (1977) a Musical Play with words by Fred Seyd
The Star–Child (1979-1985; rev.2014) Opera in Three Acts (duration: 175 minutes)
Four Toasts (1966-2011) SATB Chorus & Piano (duration: 15 minutes)
Psalm 13 (1978; rev.2011) Chorus & String Orchestra (duration: 12 minutes)
*Final Parting (1995) Contralto, SATB Chorus & Orchestra (duration: 8 minutes)
On Remembrance day 1996 The Little Motet Choir and Orchestra, with its conductor John Harmer-Smith performed Final Parting with Olga Hegedus playing the cello and Elizabeth Lane singing the solo voice. Jennifer Thorn (poet and violinist of “An Intake of Breath”) led the orchestra. Julie’s and my friend Susanna Wilson was leader of the cello section. You can listen to the piece by selecting the SoundCloud page of this website, in that performance.
Isaiah - Three Advent Carols (1998) SATB Chorus & Organ (duration: 15 minutes)
Isaiah – Three Advent Carols was written for my brother Christian and the choir of Little St Mary’s Church, Cambridge. I was asked to set the words of Chapter 35 of Isaiah from the Old Testament. At first, I could see no convincing way of setting the prose to music, and so I asked Jennifer Thorn, who had written the poem sung at the end of my piece An Intake of Breath, to adapt it into verse. She gave me the words, which I have made the first of these three carols. While I was waiting for Jenny to write the verses, I found and read the lovely words, spoken by the character Isaiah, that open ‘The Shearmen and Tailors’ Play’ (a Coventry Mystery Play, written probably between 1400 and 1425). This became the second carol. While composing these two settings, it became obvious to me how I should make the music for a setting of the original words in the Bible, and provide a group of pieces that made a satisfactory whole.
*Rejoice! Rejoice! (2010) SATB Chorus & Organ (duration: 2 minutes)
Rejoice! Rejoice! was written for the Jubilee Opera Chorus production (2010) of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester. Benjamin Britten’s song The Birds was agreed as an ideal inspiration. It was to be sung at the moment Beatrix Potter describes, that in the old story “all the beasts can talk in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say)”.
If you access the SoundCloud page on this website, you can hear the recording (made at the end of a day’s session by London Voices conducted by Ben Parry). Ben sent the result to me by email and I was amazed at the beauty of the performance. I had worked with London Voices and Ben Parry in 2012 on the Birmingham Opera production by Graham Vick of Stockhausen’s “Mittwoch” aus “Licht”. It was an extraordinary experience. The professionalism of the singers and the dedication, the patience and the lack of ego, was wonderful.
Requiem – additional music for The Nightingale And The Rose SATB Chorus, Harp & Strings (2014) (duration: 3 minutes)
Five Shelley Poems (2014) for SATB chorus, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Organ, Harp, Glockenspiel and Strings (duration: 15 minutes)
Blessed is The Man Who Finds Wisdom (2014) for SATB & Organ (duration: 5 minutes)
In the Bleak Mid-Winter (2015) (poem by Christina Rosetti) for unaccompanied SSAA Chorus (duration: 5 minutes)
The Artist (2015) (prose-poem by Oscar Wilde) for unaccompanied SATB Chorus (duration: 8 minutes)
Good Friday Music (Liturgical setting of the Seven Last Words of the Cross) (2015) for SATB Chorus & Organ (duration: the length of the service)
I wrote this setting of the Seven Last Words in the hope that Good Friday Services I had recently witnessed might be improved by thoughtful contemplative music and silences.
The Doer of Good (2016) (prose-poem by Oscar Wilde) for SATB Chorus and Orchestra (duration: 8 minutes)
The Disciple (2017) (prose-poem by Oscar Wilde) for Tenor and Contralto soloists, SATB Chorus and Orchestra (duration: 8 minutes)
The Master (2016) (prose-poem by Oscar Wilde) for SSAA Chorus and Orchestra (duration: 8 minutes)
“For I will Create New Heavens and a New Earth” (2019) for SATB Chorus and Organ (duration: 7 minutes)
“For I will create new heavens and a new earth” was written, as a gift and a gesture of goodwill to the community, for Graeme Kay and Orford Church Choir, on the occasion of the Easter 2019 Dedication of the new Peter Collins organ. It is a setting of Isaiah 65: verses 17-25. Initially, I looked for words in praise of organs, and tinkered with words such as those from “The Holly and the Ivy” – ‘the playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir’. I expressed, to my wife, my doubt that I had found any words to set. She did a little research and discovered that the proper reading for the day was Isaiah 65: verses 17-25. I was immediately inspired by the interesting words, and it wasn’t long before I had set them to music. I was already familiar with the literary style and prophetic voice of Isaiah. In 1999, I had set words from Isaiah 35 in my piece, “Isaiah – Three Advent Carols”.
Written under the influence of Mahler (1971) chamber concerto for small orchestra (1110 – 1110 - organ, piano, percussion & strings) (duration: 18 minutes)
*Symphony no.1 (1988) full orchestra (2222 – 2221 - harp, celesta, timpani, percussion & strings) (duration: 50 minutes)
It is in 3 Movements. It is scored for the following instrumentation, though it was originally composed in 1987-8 for an orchestra comprising triple woodwind. It was revised finally in 2011. The revision included the reduction of wind and brass to double instead of triple, also the removal of an entire movement.
Here is a description of the musical substance.
The Opening Allegro (about 15 minutes) – The music starts in a lively 3/8 rhythm. It follows a classical model of sonata form until the end of a short exposition. This tautness of structure at the beginning allows the music to proceed adventurously over the ensuing period of 50 minutes without losing its way. The rest of the movement is more or less classical in design with recapitulation after a development which includes a slower section of music. The whole movement is therefore fast-slow-fast.
The Slow movement (about 15 minutes) – Q: How to continue from where the 1st movement had led? A: Continue as if emerging from a mirror image. The opening melody of the first movement which is also played at its final cadence, is played backwards to start the middle movement! This “slow” movement begins with the same speed and energy which finished the first movement but now we are in a 2/4 rhythm. So we may think we are listening to a scherzo. This scherzo music gives way after about 3 minutes to a minuet-like Allegretto. This wends its way towards a melodious section, which might unavoidably become known as “the theme” from Rutherford’s Symphony. This melodious section includes a “trio” section with a plaintive tune played by the cello. The return of the big melody evaporates after a climactic moment and the movement ends with a humble reflection of the Allegretto heard earlier. The whole movement is therefore Scherzo-Allegretto-Big Tune-Plaintive melody-Big Tune-Pause-Allegretto.
The Finale (about 20 minutes) – The Finale is a big movement starting slowly. 16 bars introduce a bassoon melody which is accompanied by a cantus firmus on an In Nomine of John Taverner (1495-1545), a procedure inspired by Peter Maxwell Davies. The 16 bars of introduction are a replacement of the original (scrapped) scherzo, and is music also used in my “Four Toasts”. This Adagio gradually gains momentum and eventually breaks into faster music in ¾ time. This faster music continues the ever-increasing excitement until a great climax is reached and a restoration of the original Adagio pulse is resumed. Little by little the emotional temperature becomes calmer until a playful Allegretto in 2/4 is heard. This Allegretto completes the adventure and the music evaporates into the distance.
You can listen to the entire symphony, in a digital realization by the composer using Sibelius software and Note-Performer, by accessing the SoundCloud page of this website.
Symphony no.2 (1995) full orchestra (2222 – 2221 - harp, celesta, organ, timpani, percussion & strings) (duration: 40 minutes)
*From Rilke’s Book of Hours (1995) for String Orchestra (duration: 13 minutes)
Accordion Concerto for Classical Accordion, Flute (or musical saw) & String Orchestra (2001) (duration: 45 minutes)
It is a large work in three movements. Scored originally for classical accordion, musical saw or flute, and string quartet, I re-scored the quartet for string orchestra and include double-basses. Flute is very much encouraged to take the secondary solo role. Sibelius spoke of his 5th symphony as having been dictated by heaven, the music having been thrown down to him in pieces of mosaic, and it was his task to put the pieces together. I know how he felt, for I feel that I wrote this concerto the same way. There were so many strands that were linked and I did not always know where they should go. There were tugs in so many ways. I somehow knew that there were three movements, but the 1st and last movements were cross-fertilising for many months. The first music to be written was the slow movement, originally as a duet for Accordion and Saw, without the added string (pedal) notes. Then the “latin-inspired” music (00:03’46” in the SOundCLoud recording) was written after I saw an advertisement announcing a guitar competition in Brazil.
You can listen to the entire concerto by accessing the SoundCLoud page of this website.
Second Movement of Concerto for Classical Accordion (2001) arranged for String Orchestra (duration: 6 minutes)
*Classical Overture (2003) for Classical Orchestra (2222 - 2200 - timpani & strings) (duration: 15 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 1 in A major (1963 rev. 1989) (duration: 15 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 2 in Db major (1963 rev. 1989) (duration: 15 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 3 in Eb major (1966 rev. 1989) (duration: 15 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 4 in A major (1968 rev. 1989) (duration: 10 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 5 in Eb minor (1969 rev. 1989) (duration: 15 minutes)
Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano (1972) (duration: 19 minutes)
Novellette for four Horns (1975) (duration: 11 minutes)
Megan Hunter (Brass Quintet no.1) (1975) (duration: 11 minutes)
I have written two Brass Quintets, both of which are also arranged for a brass group of 10 instruments. The 2nd, Katya’s Death and Transfiguration, has a title drawn from Richard Strauss. It has occurred to me that the 1st could be called Megan Hunter’s Merry Pranks, to extend the tribute to R Strauss. Megan Hunter, by the way, is merely a character in an Agatha Christie novel, The Moving Finger. There is no connection between the character in Agatha Christie’s novel and the piece.
Sonata for Solo Violin (1976) (in memory of Dmitri Shostakovich) (duration: 19 minutes)
Prayers to Saint Cecilia (1977) (in memory of Benjamin Britten) for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Cello & Piano (duration: 15 minutes)
The Hum (1977) for solo flute (duration: 5 minutes)
Quintet for Clarinet & Strings (1984) (duration: 32 minutes)
Baroque Trio (1988) - for Clarinet in A, Viola & Piano (duration: 12 minutes)
Suffolk Rhapsody (1993) for Cello & Piano (duration: 19 minutes)
From Rilke’s Book of Hours (1995) for String Quartet (duration: 13 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 6 (1995) (duration: 13 minutes)
*Katya's Death and Transfiguration (1998) for 4 Trumpets, 1 Horn, 4 Trombones & 1 Tuba (duration: 14 minutes)
The piece starts with a melody that I wrote for a production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre of Ostrovsky’s The Storm which had Simon Russell Beale and Janet McTeer in the cast. I wrote this melody for Janet to sing, and to be heard from afar to represent the weeping soul of Katya Kabanova after her death. Janet sang it beautifully but her performance was not used. As it was far too good a melody to be forgotten, I used it to begin Katya’s Death and Transfiguration. The melody is transformed throughout to the one that triumphantly ends it.
*An Intake of Breath (1999) for Violin, Musical Saw & Soprano (duration: 23 minutes)
“Apart from the joy of hearing music beautifully played, it is so exquisitely beautifully written.”
An Intake of Breath was written in 1999. The violinist, Jennifer Thorn, and I had worked together on the music for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre production (1995) of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (director John Barton, with Alex Jennings in the title role, and Per Christian Revholt as Music Director). She introduced me to the Musical Saw player, Harriet Longman, who wanted me to write a new work for her. At the time I was writing a setting of Jennifer Thorn’s poem “An Intake of Breath”. I decided to write this new piece for violin and saw and include her beautiful and enigmatic poem at the end of the instrumental duet music.
This is the original programme-note written for the CD (see the CD credits, at the end of this programme-note).
I wrote An Intake of Breath in January 1999 in response to a request from Harriet Longman to add a contribution to the limited saw repertoire. A few years ago, I heard John Adams in an interview with Natalie Wheen on Radio 3, speaking of some of the world music he listens to. He mentioned the Syrian musician Abed Azrié. I purchased two of Abed Azrié’s CDs: Aromates and Suerté, and I felt the desire to write something similar to this music. One of the difficulties in writing for the saw was finding a rhythmic language. The saw glides from pitch to pitch. Only notes that are played with the drawing of the bow can have any great degree of rhythmic attack. If the piece I was to write should have much rhythmic definition it would have to receive it from another instrument. The quicker pulses would be defined by a violin.
This piece can be seen in terms of a several-movement sonata structure, though it is played without a break. The addition of words at the end was the bringing together of two ideas. I had intended to set Jennifer Thorn’s poem separately, but the decision to use a violin accompanment brought on the decision to conclude this piece with her poem . . .
The music falls into seven connected segments.
There is a meditative introduction (00:00’00”) which is followed by an allegro 1st movement (00:01’54”). Then a recitative-like bridge passage (00:07’34”), which exploits the use of tapping the sounds out of the saw (with a medium hard mallet, in this case a plastic toy fish), introduces the slow movement, Aria (00:10’19”) which uses pizzicato violin. (00:13’25”) is a fantasia of changing moods. An awakening bridge passage leads to a ländler and trio (musette). The return of the ländler in a lullaby mood leads us to the finale which introduces the voice (00:17’04”). A threnody (00:18’42”) postpones the temporarily the completion of the poem (00:21’24”) and, of course, the piece (00:22’58”).
If you access the SoundCloud page on this website you can hear the superb recording by Harriet Longman (musical saw), Jennifer Thorn (violin), Heidi Pegler (soprano) in St. Botolph’s church, Iken, Suffolk engineered by David Hulley on April 15th 2000, edited by Michael Stanley and remastered by Simon Weir at the Classical Recording Company)
*Oboe Quartet (1999) for Oboe & String Trio (duration: 16 minutes)
The Quartet is in one continuous movement. The music is narrative, and describes a story. It was composed in June 1999. The instrumental textures are classical in their restraint, and the whole piece is, after some adventure, ultimately serenely joyful.
The piece can also be played as a flute quartet and was written out as such for the flautist Luke Strevens.
Piano Sonata no. 7 in Bb major “Courtly Dance” (2001) (duration: 32 minutes)
Piano Sonata no. 8 in C minor (2001) (duration: 30 minutes)
Little Minuet (2002) Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Violin & Piano (duration: 5 minutes)
*String Quartet "Celebration" (2015) (duration: 12 minutes)
It was to be concert opener. I knew that Graeme and Penny had heard and, I think, liked my Classical Overture. And so, armed with that knowledge, and inspired by two great classical quartets (the great concert opener Schubert’s Quartetsatz, and Beethoven’s wonderful opus 18 Quartet in B flat major) I set about writing this piece and wrote it during June and July.
I had a very firm plan for the piece. There were to be equal numbers of bars, 96 bars, for each of the various sections of the piece – exposition (with repeat), development and recapitulation giving the piece the shape of a square (or probably more accurately a rhombus!). When the music was well established I allowed my plan to vary. A coda suggested itself and, like novelists who say that they started their novel with a fully thought-out plot but the characters took on a life of their own and the author allowed the characters to take control, something similar happened in this piece, so that the piece is more of an isosceles trapezoid (with 3 sides equal)! I could have controlled the tune that is in the coda but decided not to, as I felt it was good parenting to let this child of a tune develop in its own way. Although the piece may seem not to be modern in style, to start with, I think it has a modern ending and one that is very natural to me; several of my pieces end in mid-air with a hanging question as it were. There was another reason for ending the piece with an unanswered question. The programme at Orford Church on November 28th was to continue after this curtain-raiser with Janacek’s Intimate Letters, and then Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. I accordingly thought of this piece as also serving the purpose of an introduction and use the same predominant tonality.
Lament (2001) for saw and accordion (duration: 6 minutes)
*Fantasy on Salve Regina (2001) for organ (duration: 7 minutes)
“Jonathan Rutherford’s Fantasy on Salve Regina was written especially for this recording. Described by the composer as ‘a portrait of Mary’, this short programmatic piece draws its musical inspiration from the Marian antiphon for Trinity until Advent (Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy), which would have been in use at the time of year when Little St Mary’s was dedicated. Traces of the antiphon melody (in particular, its first five notes) pervade the whole piece, and at one point a sizeable chunk of it is quoted directly, depicting ‘the incarnation of God through her (Mary’s) son.’
I am very grateful to Regent Records for their permission to allow me the use of this fine recording of the perceptive performance by Alan Loader on my website.
Sonata for Four Double-Basses (2002) four studies of 60 bars each (duration: 10 minutes)
Sonata for Cello and Piano (2018) (duration: 18 minutes)
This Sonata for Cello and Piano was commissioned by Helen Wrightson. Her daughter, Loulou Cooke, who lives in the same village as I do, asked her mother, who is 92 years old, what she would like to do in her life now that she had reached such a grand age, and her mother, who had been a cello student in her youth, and is now an avid concert-goer, replied that she would like to commission a piece of music for cello. She had had to give up playing the cello when she married so many years ago. This is how my Sonata for Cello and Piano came into being. Some of the music originates from when I was extremely young (I studied the cello with, first, Kathleen Anderson, and then, Christopher Bunting until I was 13). There are four movements played without a break. The 1st and 3rd (slow) movements were originally written for the Yehudi Menuhin School String Orchestra when I was a young teenage student there. All the music from the (faster) 2nd and 4th movements is newly composed. The exposition in the Finale, which is the longest movement, is a lively version of a passage from the opening movement. The 1st Performance will be given by Michal Kaznowski and the composer at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, Suffolk UK on May 18th 2019 (7.30pm) as one item in an otherwise choral concert given by Aldeburgh Music Club conducted by Edmond Fivet and accompanied by Jonathan Rutherford.
Songs of the Sixties (1967-1970) 22 songs for Lead Singer, SATB, & rock group (duration of complete collection: 100 minutes)
These songs composed and written between Spring 1967 and 1970, mostly during 1967 and 1969 and only the Blues: I Was So Lonely Until I Met You being written in 1970, by which time my interest in “pop” music had been beginning to wane as the music of Mahler returned my interest to classical music. Three of the songs were co-written at school with David Holst: Namely, “Miss Chittle Chattle Chet” “Dusky McGraw” and If You’re Feeling Down”. (the main substance of these three songs is David’s – On the day we parted company for the last time on our last day of school, when the dream of getting a rock band together disappeared, David told me that I may consider the songs my own “I’m finished with the group”, he said. Just as Haydn accepted authorship of any good music written in his name, and as Lennon and McCartney shared their authorship, I have always felt these songs to be from my own heart). In about 2006 I put these 29 numbers into an “album”, an ideal order of sequence for a potential album. I had conceived a “concept” album in the late sixties, which was to start and end with “monks” singing a prelude and postlude: Prayers at Mont St Michel. That music serves the beginning and end of a complete set of these songs.
The complete album of songs are in the order they are to be heard, the titles are: Prelude: Prayers at Mont St Michel, Miss Chittle Chattle Chet, Effervescent Cherubs, A Walk in the Park, Set Me a Problem, Pesante Largo , Life’s Ingredients/Dusky McGraw, Reduced to the Gutter, Traversing the Time, Lazy Afternoon, Tiger Flower, If You’re Feeling Down, The Power of the Figureheads, Time, If I said No, O Indigo Night, O Giles, Jubilee Lane, Marionette, Sequel to O Giles, I was a Schoolboy, Everybody’s Gonna Have The Time Of Their Lives, If You’ll Excuse Me I’m A Very Bad Dancer, Fine Man, But It’s A Party, Twelve-tone Blues (instrumental), I Want You I Need You, Blues: I Was So Lonely Until I Met You, Postlude: Prayers at Mont St Michel.
Journey of the Magi (1968 revised 2014) (words by T.S.Eliot) Baritone & Chamber Ensemble (duration: 12 minutes)
The Sorrow of Parting (1972) (words by Emily Dickinson) Soprano & Chamber Ensemble (duration: 12 minutes)
The Sorrow of Parting was completed in Farnham, Surrey on the 13th of December 1972; and revised April 1973.
O Sweet Spontaneous Earth (1972 & 1977) (5 poems by e. e. cummings) Song Cycle for unaccompanied Soprano (duration: 8 minutes)
Sonnet: it may not always be so (1974) (poem by e. e. cummings) for Baritone, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion (duration: 11 minutes)
The first such piece was “The Sorrow of Parting” (1972), the setting of an Emily Dickinson poem. “Luscinia Megarhynchos” (1973), a setting of a Greek poem followed. Then, “Sonnet: it may not always be so” came; a setting of a sonnet by e.e.cummings. The solo singer is a Baritone, and the instrumental accompaniment, like several other works of mine from this period, is that of The Fires of London and Pierrot Lunaire (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion).
Some of the elements in the music are the same as in other works of mine of this period. There is a scrunchy piano chord which uses 11 or 12 of the notes of the chromatic scale, from which I drew inspiration. Music is quoted from “Luscinia Megarhynchos” at the parallel moments of the poet’s anguish, and a passage is quoted from my Horn trio (1972). The Horn Trio had been dedicated with all my love and hopes to Ann. There is a smooth-running flute melody, which was inspired by music from Britten’s Death in Venice.
The Whole Garden Will Bow (1975) (3 poems by e. e. cummings) Baritone & Piano (duration: 35 minutes)
Requiescat (1975) (poem by Oscar Wilde) for Soprano, Clarinet & Piano (duration: 10 minutes)
All Skies Fall (1976) (9 poems by e. e. cummings) High Tenor & Piano (duration: 30 minutes)
Solitude (1978) (poem by A.A.Milne) for High Voice and Guitar (duration: 2 minutes)
The Star-Child In Solitude (1983) (words by the composer & a poem by A.A.Milne) for Mezzo-Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (duration: 30 minutes)
Behold This Dreamer (1987) (14 poems by Walter de la Mare) Soprano, Clarinet, Viola and Piano (duration: 45 minutes)
Journey of the Magi (2nd setting of words by T.S.Eliot) (2001) 3 Baritone Singers (duration: 8 minutes)
SPEAKER AND INSTRUMENTS
One Way of Looking at a Blackbird (1972) (Poem by Wallace Stevens) for Reciter & ChamberEnsemble (duration: 5 minutes)
The Pied Piper (1978) for Reciter & Chamber Orchestra (or original version for Wind Octet) (duration: 19 minutes)
While I was on a tour of Northern England as the class pianist with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and I was composing All Skies Fall, I received a phone-call from my clarinettist friend Nicholas Bucknall to ask me to write a piece of music to accompany narration; it was to be for an audience of children and played by The Whispering Wind Band whose music director was Alan Hacker and of which he was the lead clarinet. I relished the composing of this piece. The words were by Anne, Nick’s first wife. I remember I asked myself what sort of music should I write for an audience of children. I answered the question by asking myself what sort of music I had liked when I was a child. It was the music of Mozart and Beethoven. When I was probably nine years old I had written the music which starts This Pied Piper, and so I mined it to use it again as the opening march-like music. I might say that I dislike the notion that children only like children’s music. Child-friendly hymns, for instance, are to me, condescending. They can well like the richness of “adult” music. The first performance took place in Farnham, Surrey; and it was repeated many times, on tour, by The Whispering Wind Band. I revised the orchestration of The Pied Piper, later; as it was always difficult to balance, even, the amplified voice of the narrator with the naturally loud volume of wind instruments. The Farnham Herald newspaper wrote that “It (the Pied Piper) was extremely and effectively descriptive. A rich melodic introduction caught the attention and this moved into dramatic effects, especially the scurrying of rats…. but this was no gimmicky composition. It was expressively conceived and should be popular.” (The Farnham Herald)
My Cat Jeoffrey (1987) (Poem by Christopher Smart) for Reciter, Singer (Treble), Horn & String Quartet (duration: 30 minutes)
Q: What kind of a piece is My Cat Jeoffrey? Is it chamber-music, is it a story with music or is it music-theatre?
A: My Cat Jeoffrey is a piece that probably does not fit easily into any category. It is ultimately a 35-minute piece of music-theatre for Reciter and optional singer (a treble) with Horn and String Quartet. But the music is not there just to accompany the words. The music and words are so connected with each other that the reciter is not only expressing the words, he is also expressing the effect of the music.
Q: Is My Cat Jeoffrey the same Jeoffrey that the 18th Century poet Christopher Smart wrote about in his lengthy poem Jubilate Egno?
A: Yes, it is a wonderful, imaginative and rambling feline fantasy. You may remember also that Benjamin Britten had set eight lines from this same poem giving the words to a treble solo. I found the poem, 78 lines, which I believed to be the complete poem, in the Penguin book of Romantic verse. But Britten uses a line “For I am possessed of a cat . . . etc.” that was not not one of the 78. I wonder if that line is Britten’s own invention.
Q: When did you write My Cat Jeoffrey?
A: I started it in the summer of 1976, when I was 23 years, and I completed it on September 25th 1988, according to my original score, and I revised it in 1993 adding a bright and cheerful overture.
Q: Why did it take so long?
A: The initial inspiration came old, and I was on close terms with an artist’s family. The father was a painter, his wife was a violinist and the three daughters played violin, cello and viola, whilst the young son had started learning the French horn. I was asked to write a piece for them all to play together, and I immediately started writing. I had chosen the Smart poem and to use the music of the nursery rhyme “I love little pussy her coat is so warm”. I was going to use the nursery rhyme melody forwards, backwards, upside down and the retrograde inversion. My vision of the piece was too ambitious and so the piece was not played. But I was so fascinated with the task of setting these words and making counterpoint out of the melodies that I only completed the piece many years later.
Q: Whereas Britten used only eight lines of Christopher Smart’s poem, you have chosen to set all 78 lines? The poem seems very rambling, and all of the lines start with the word “For”. Did the free style of the poem cause any problems?
A: I knew that I had to make a structure for my piece. To find an underlying purpose in the poem, I divided it up into different possible equal segments. One discovery I made was that the amusing line “For the English cats are the best in Europe” was exactly half way through, and I decided that this should herald a playful version of “Jerusalem”, a Scherzo and Trio.
Q: If the completed piece has a Scherzo and Trio does this mean that there is a 1st movement, a slow movement and a finale?
A: Yes, there is the ghost of a four movement structure: an overture and 1st movement, a slow movement (“For having consider’d God and himself”), Scherzo and Trio (“For the English cats are the best in Europe”), introduction of finale (“For his tongue is exceeding pur so that it has in purity what it wants in musick”), and a finale followed by extended coda, which happens after the poem has run its course, closing with a gorgeous final rendition of the nursery rhyme “I love little pussy her coat is so warm”.
Q: You have got me interested. Will I be able to hear the words during this digital performance or will I be able to I read them at the appropriate moments?
A: The piece has not been performed yet, and I have not worked out how to do a demonstration combining the virtual instruments with an added real voice, so you will have to read the lines at the appropriate places in the recording. The lines have the minutes and seconds marked next to them.
Q: Tell me a little more about the theatre aspect of the envisaged “real” performance.
A: When I started writing this, I was 23 years old and very much inspired by the music-theatre works of the late 1960s, especially those by Peter Maxwell Davies and performed by the Fires of London. I envisage the reciter “being” Christopher Smart (dressed for some reason like Scrooge in his night-clothes) reacting to the words and music at times with intensity. I envisaged the treble being a demure Victorian girl, as in the nursery rhyme books I had as a child, and I envisage that there should be no sentimentality about the singing of a beautiful nursery rhyme, and that the singing should be good, not “showing off”. I think of the moment sung here as being very pure, expressing love of the beautiful feline creature, as there is love in Smart’s poem.
The Last Flower (1999) (the fable by James Thurber) for Reciter, Three Backing Singers, Synthesizer, & Brass Quintet (duration: 13 minutes)
The Prince of Peace (from Handel's Messiah) arranged for the “Pierrot Lunaire” instrumentation 1972 (duration: 5 minutes)
*Mahler’s 4th Symphony – arranged for the “Pierrot Lunaire” instrumentation 1974 (duration: 50 minutes)
At the same period in my life I was a devotee of the chamber music that Peter Maxwell Davies was writing for The Fires of London, and much of the music I was writing was for the “Pierrot Lunaire” instrumentation of Violin, Cello, Flute, Clarinet and Piano with Soprano. I was thinking of Mahler’s Fourth symphony one day when it occurred to me that, just as Webern had arranged Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony for the “Pierrot Lunaire” instrumentation, so could an arrangement be made of Mahler’s Fourth symphony for the same. Indeed the original score starts with passages for these very instruments. It turned out to be a very good idea. My chamber version (written in 1974), accentuates the attractive and interesting chamber music qualities even more than does the arrangement by Schoenberg for the 15 instruments of his own Chamber Symphony. The 2nd movement sounds at times likes a Bach Trio Sonata, and there are moments elsewhere where we are reminded of the Vienneseness of Schubert’s Chamber Music. The last movement starts with a piano accompaniment and we are reminded of the art of the Lied as accompanied by that instrument.
You can hear a performance by accessing the SOundCloud page of this website. This wonderful performance was the result of a dedicated team of good friends and excellent musicians. Sarah Newbold (flute), Nicholas Bucknall, who had commissioned me to write “The Pied Piper” in 1976 for which I am forever grateful (clarinet), John Francis who, with David Hulley (who was sound engineer on the recording of “An Intake of Breath”), taught me about the musical value of jazz and made me reflect upon the fact that jazz that should be inherent in all good music including so-called “classical” music (one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt in music), Avis Perthen (cellist, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, whose committed playing and whose encouragement and enthusiasm for the project of playing the arrangement was paramount) and Sally Bradshaw, whose singing on this recording is as beautiful and right for the music as any I have heard), John Leonard (sound engineer at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) and the pianist, Philip Fowke, at whose house we were all given the opportunity to perform this arrangement in front of a small invited audience.
Souvenirs de Oxford Circus – 8 pieces of French Ballet Music by Riccardo Drigo and others - arranged 1977 (duration: 30 minutes)
The eight movements of “Souvenirs de Oxford Circus” (a light-hearted title which refers to the tongue-in-cheek quadrilles on Wagner tunes by Fauré and Messager known as “Souvenirs de Bayreuth”) are 1) Overture 2) Polka 3) Waltz 4) Polka 5) Drinking Song 6) Czardas 7) Nocturne 8) Galop.