The Ryedale Festival opens today up in North Yorkshire. In anticipation of the appearance of my group ‘æðelfrìth‘ next week on Friday 24th, this is a synopsis of an original piece that I have written. It is one of four new pieces that will get either a world or UK premiere in our programme. See this link for concert and ticket details.
When we were asked to put a programme together for Ryedale back at the beginning of the year, we were considering Rievaulx Abbey as a venue. I immediately started considering how we would open the performance, and perhaps how the group could be playing hidden behind the stonework from different parts of the ruins. A sort of musical game of ‘hide and seek’!
I considered asking Simon Dobson to put the music together for this opener, but then I heard something beautiful he had written about Joan of Arc. By this time we had been confirmed to play in the Joan of Arc hall in Botton, which is another wonderful setting. It seemed appropriate then to ask Simon to make a version of part this piece for us instead. This became his new version of ‘St Michael: Le mime’, which you will also be able to hear at our concert. By this stage I had more ideas about how I wanted this than you should really force on a composer. With all those ideas I thought I might as well have a go at writing this piece myself.
I was also doing some research into Scandinavian Lurs at this time. They are one of the oldest forms of brass instrument as we know them and so it was imperative to me that we included them somehow in one of our concerts. With Yorkshire taking its name from the former Danish ruled settlement of ‘Jórvík’, this seemed like that occasion. So began the concept of ‘Jórvík echoes’, or ‘Jórvíkekkoer’ as it would be in Danish (I have been learning Norwegian too, which is similar!).
My first encounter with the Lur was in this video on Youtube:
This terrifying sound might have been the noise that accompanied the Vikings as they arrived on our shores, and so I wanted to begin the piece with something similar. However, the Lur is capable of slightly more than that. It also has quite an alien look about it:
Lurs aren’t something you can readily purchase in a music shop. The ones that have been discovered are rightly locked away in glass cases under the protection of various museums. Recordings have been made with them, and in some cases replicas have been made. Getting hold of one was a near impossible task, and so I set about making a pair! You can read my blog on the pLur here:
I still can’t quite imagine that I could call myself a composer. This seems to have happened by accident rather than design! I have written many arrangements for the group, but until now only dabbled with some original music. This is the first time I have made real effort towards an original opus. This is it’s story:
Jórvíkekkoer starts with the terrifying sound of a distant Viking invasion (offstage Lurs), answered by an intimidated solo trumpet line. In turn, the trumpet voice is echoed by others; within those a sense of both fear (muted trumpet) and defiance (horn) in anticipation of what is to come.
A confident voice is found with a direct quote from Mahler’s ‘Ressurection’ symphony (horn and trumpets). ‘The Great Summons’ acts as a call to arms, bringing hope from fear and clarity from confusion. Our fears are summoned from the darkness, individually called and realised (horn calls, Lurs echo). In that moment, they are transformed and presented to us in a new light.
A new melody is introduced (horn), one that is adapted from a folk tune from Hardanger, Norway. It becomes joyful and grows in confidence, becoming almost dance like in an epiphanic moment. Before the excitement carries us away, a sense of fear returns (Lurs) as a cautious reminder. This time it is met with confidence; the voices of terror now summon us to triumph (Lurs echoing Mahler).
To conclude, the solo trumpet voice is heard once more; this time with greater confidence and optimism. It is echoed as before with a doubting voice (muted trumpet), but called forward (horn) to a moment promising a brighter future.
If this seems ambiguous, it’s because it is. The piece started life as a theatrical fanfare telling the story of an ancient Viking settlement in England. Midway through it became something which was also quite autobiographical and personal, and through a fairly confused and turbulent time. In writing this, everything phrase took on it’s own meaning. The piece is deliberately inconclusive; as is the situation of which it is written about. How both of these episodes finish is a tale that is yet to be told!