Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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For an artist, receiving a commission is the most exciting and uplifting thing. It’s an endorsement of one’s craft and it never stops being an honour to be asked to create new music for people. On this occasion it was the wonderful Hertfordshire Chorus asking me to set Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale (as suggested by Rod Jones, a Hertfordshire Chorus Patron)—suddenly the happy commissioning glow feels slightly less warm … Ode to a Nightingale? One of the most famous and well known poems in English? The one that everyone studied at school? The one that everyone loves and cherishes? I’m humbled before I even put a single scribble on my manuscript book (yes paper, from which I’ll later construct a computer-notated version)! This is a poem which pulsates with romantic imagery and emotion—death, fantasy, love, hope and despair all embraced in rich and beautiful language. Keats’ short but emotion-filled life pours off the page in these eight stanzas, and the effect of reading the poem leaves you with a sense of being on an amazing and emotive journey through fantastical places and ideas, coming finally to rest on the realisation of mortality. It’s like a symphony in words.
Immediately one notices challenges in terms of integrating music. The poem is in some ways quite repetitive—not in the individual language but in the repetition of sentiment—and the danger is that if you make the music move at the emotional pace of the language we will end up with a rather frenetic canvas that doesn’t suit the overall mood of the poem. So I opt for a symphonic approach in the music, using themes that build organically and can be repeated and returned to. The final result is a single movement ‘choral symphony’ which I hope in some way reflects the incredible outpouring of Keats’ poem.
Like the poem the music has different moods. There are soft harmonies and more urgent ones. Quiet reflective moments and massive climactic gestures. The solo violin weaves in and out of the choral textures like a muse, leading the music forward towards what feels like the central moment of the poem ‘now more than ever seems it rich to die’. There are big orchestral colours and very thin and eerie ones. Like the poem I have sought to use a rich harmonic and textural language.
from notes by Will Todd © 2017
|McCarthy: Codebreaker; Todd: Ode to a Nightingale|
The two works presented here were both commissioned by Hertfordshire Chorus as part of its long-standing commitment to broadening the repertoire. James McCarthy's 'Codebreaker' takes as its subject the life and death of Alan Turing, while Will Tod ...» More