…shadows that in darkness dwell…

for recorder, counter-tenor, theorbo, baroque cello and electronics

Commissioned by The Night With…, developed with support from the Fenton Arts Trust

The Hope Scott Trust supported initial workshop time and recording sessions with the ensemble.

I really should thank hugely Matthew Whiteside, a longtime collaborator for the energy he brings to The Night With… I’m hugely lucky that Matthew chose to commission this work, it simply could not exist with the funding that was secured to enable the development time.

Performances:

Programme Note

The darkness of Elizabethan melancholy, the prevalent mood of an age. Shadows. Dark figures. Emerging, expressing longing, grief and suffering. Moments of peace glimmer momentarily. The prevailing darkness and foreboding mood swallows these fragments of light dragging us down into the depths of sorrow and longing.

I imagine the character of John Dowland, a reclusive and private man with a mysterious past: as a musician in the court of the Danish King, Dowland was also working as an English spy. Dark, shadowy and melancholic the ensemble inhabit a labyrinthine sound world that explores the mood and feeling of Dowland’s sombre set of seven Pavanes. This isn’t a piece about subterfuge but one that explores the very darkest depths present in Dowland’s work through a heightened approach to performing on early instruments. Each verse of Dowland’s work is represented in an extended exploration of the mood and sentiment of the text in three main passages titled Flow, Fled and Darkness.

 

A little bit about the project

This piece is a major part of my PhD project. It is an extended work of around 17 minutes and represents a distinct departure from some of my more recent work. I had always been hesitant to write for a mixed ensemble with electronics, generally feeling that it is hard enough to create a coherent sound world when creating electroacoustic material from one instrument. In 2012 I made Fata Morgana which is for clarinet quartet (three Eb clarinets and one bass clarinet) and the result was a piece with a very consistent sound world where all of the parts blend together really effectively. When planning my approach to …shadows that in darkness dwell… I knew I was going to return to material from a viol consort piece written for the National Centre for Early Music’s composition was to compose for viol consort. The opportunity to possibly hear my work played by Fretwork, one of the UKs leading early music groups, was really attractive and I composed a piece for six viols called …shadows that in darkness dwell which is a line from Dowland’s work. You can listen to this in the soundcloud link below. I always had the feeling that the material in the piece deserved to find a home in a much stronger piece. The most important thing for me was that I did not want to write a piece that would be too like Fata Morgana in terms of the approach and I could imagine falling into this trap if I worked with a viol consort because of the homogeneity inherent in that sound world.

This thinking led me to breaking with my long held conviction that mixed ensembles and electronics were inherently problematic. I was really drawn towards writing for a broken consort and the recorder, counter tenor, theorbo and baroque cello were instruments I was really excited to work with. My expectation was that I would fully write out the work, but the skills of Rory, László, Lucia and Alex in improvisation have really fed into the final work which is much freer that all of my previous pieces. I also didn’t expect that the character of English Renaissance performance would become such a significant part of the piece and it is really embedded within the work.

I have absolutely loved working with the musicians who have become Ensemble 1604. They’ve all contributed so much to this project. You can find out more about them here: