Rich and heady times, here in this little corner of the Languedoc. My 8-strong multi-national chamber choir, called Les Jeudistes because we rehearse on Thursday evenings, is building up for performance of its major project this year. We're lucky enough to have an extraordinary venue for singing: Le Prieuré de St Julien, shown above in its setting of vineyards and cypress trees. This is - or was - a jewel of Romanesque architecture, perfectly proportioned, finely built in dressed ashlar with dark red sandstone trimmings, dating from c.880 AD, roughly the time of King Alfred in England. It must have cost the earth, then. Ecclesiastical vandals arrived in about 1680, adding the stone tower and belfry in coarse masonry and widening the nave, throwing the original apse and altar off centre and ruining the proportions. But they carved into the new masonry a cockleshell, signifying a halt on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella, and they left an acoustic perfect for small choirs.
It's a big moment for me, not only as Les Jeudistes' conductor but as a composer as well. We're performing a work I've called Sounds and Sweet Airs, a suite of twelve settings of Shakespeare songs for choir and piano. Shakespeare buffs may recognise the title as something Caliban says in The Tempest. Where we would say première for a first performance, the French say création, and, as these songs haven't been performed anywhere else in their entirety, the posters advertising the concert announce création mondiale, world première. H'm. I hope it's not world dernière as well. Here we are in a photo taken 2 years ago, performing Vivaldi's Gloria with a small orchestra.
1. Orpheus with his lute (Henry VIII)
2. Fie on lustful fantasy! (Merry Wives of Windsor)
3. Tell me, where is fancy bred? (The Merchant of Venice)
4. Sigh no more, ladies (Much Ado About Nothing)
5. O mistress mine, where are you roaming? (Twelfth Night)
6. Blow, blow, thou winter wind (As You Like It)
7. Come away, come away, death (Twelfth Night)
8. Full fathom five thy father lies (The Tempest)
9. Jog on, jog on the footpath way (The Winter's Tale)
10. Fear no more the heat o' the sun (Cymbeline)
11. When that I was and a little tiny boy (Twelfth Night)
12. You spotted snakes with double tongue (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Any reader finding him/herself near Le Prieuré de St Julien on Friday 19th June at 8.45pm is naturally more than welcome to drop in. It's free. When I've worked out how to do it I'll put these songs on line.
Here's the first page, Orpheus with his lute. I do have software which produces beautifully printed music, but those opening sextuplet arpeggio sweeps, like opening curtains, are so complicated on the computer keyboard that I find it's easier and quicker to write them by hand.