Evensong David Lumsdaine
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If you don’t know what ‘Eb: I, V13’ means, perhaps you know the hymn ‘Abide with me’. Now think of its opening: listen to the twist of the harmony on the second syllable of ‘A-bide’. Many a tune in the western tonal system begins its unwinding from this seed, and so does this piece of mine.
I had been much struck by the sounds of Miners’ bands in Durham Cathedral (hear my electronic fantasy, Big Meeting, original recordings made in 1971). When I was invited to compose a work for the celebrated Grimethorpe Colliery Band, by Elgar Howarth its conductor, the first textures I heard were those of a hymn; not exactly ‘Abide with me’, but one closely related to it with reminiscences of Mahler and many other musics as well.
It was not my object to compose a pastiche 19th century hymn but to take it to pieces; to unravel it, and, beginning with a single melody line, twist and turn it on itself (like the sounds of the bands in that great cathedral), all the textures arising from the growth and multiplication of the one melody.
At each development of the texture, the opening chord progression becomes more apparent, till the point when chromatic extensions begin to drown the ghosts of the tonal chords. One might regard the culmination of this process as something of a ‘free for all’, out of which chaos, emerge the charred ruins of that tonal progression.
Evensong lasts 12’ and was commissioned by the Arnolfini Gallery for the Grimethorpe Colliery Band which gave the first performance, conducted by Elgar Howarth, at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, in 1975.
- Grimethorpe Colliery Band cond. Elgar Howarth, Bristol, 1975