Quickening the Dead, for soprano saxophone and two pianos, was commissioned by Bacchanalia, and first performed in Edinburgh in January 1998. The piece was inspired by C.G. Jung’s ‘Sept Sermones Ad Mortuos’.
Unseen Shadows, for violin and piano, was written in 1996 for Tomas and Steven to play at the 60th birthday of Anthony Gilbert.
In the Clear, for solo flute, was commissioned by Nancy Ruffer and first performed at Worden Arts Centre, Leyland, in April 1998. The piece was inspired by a poem in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Letters Home’.
One Flesh, for treble viol and lute, was written as a wedding present for Susanna Pell and Jacob Heringman, who first performed the piece in Mallorca in November 1999.
Tjarn, for solo piano, was commissioned by Steven Wray, and first performed at The Warehouse, London, in June 1999. The piece was written following a visit to Innonimate Tarn, in the Lake District.
O Ignis Spiritus, for counter-tenor, two tenors and baritone, was written for The Hilliard Ensemble in 1993. The texts are by Hildegard of Bingen, William Blake, William Wordsworth and Andrew Keeling. The setting of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ is written in memory of Molly and Nick Drake.
Off the Beaten Track, for viola and prepared piano, was commissioned by Cathy Stevens and first performed at the Guildhall School of Music, London, in November 1999. The piece was inspired by a walk on Red Screes, a mountain in the English Lake District, in March 1999.
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Circumambulating the Musical Self
Andrew Keeling was born in 1955. He received his first musical education as a cathedral chorister and subsequently broadened his musical horizons in many varied ways including the founding of several rock bands in the inspirational era of the 1970’s for that genre. Since 1989 he has composed works in a variety of styles for a challenging range of ensembles and for many inspirational musicians. Recently completed works include a Percussion Concerto for Evelyn Glennie. He lives on the Wyre peninsula with his wife and three children.
Bacchanalia was born out of a mutual desire to perform Graham Fitkin’s piece ‘Hard Fairy, which led to the commissioning of other works, notably ‘Quickening the Dead’.
The Hilliard Ensemble have an unparalleled reputation as one one of the world’s finest early and contemporary music vocal-chamber groups.
Cathy Stevens has played with many of the leading London orchestras and contemporary music groups. She now writes and plays 6-string Violectra in the Europa String Choir.
Alison Hayhurst works with many London orchestras and has performed with many contemporary music groups including Opus 20 and The New Music Players.
Susanna Pell studied the viol with with Jordi Savall, and plays with Fretwork, The Dufay Collective and Virelai, as well as being a busy free-lance player.
Steven Wray has performed internationally as a soloist and in collaboration with other musicians in a wide variety of styles.
Jacob Heringman is much in demand as a solo lutenist, free-lance accompanist and chamber player.
Melanie Brandon studied the violin at the Royal Academy of Music with Diane Cummings and at the Manhattan School of Music with Mitchell Stern.
Daniel Smith studied at the Royal Academy of Music and is in great demand as a chamber musician and accompanist.
Andrew Keeling’s new release on Riverrun Records illustrates the range and power of his interests and skills as a composer rooted in a broad set of intellectual and ethical concerns. (It is no surprise that his website diary – http://www.discipline.co.uk/diary/diary.htm – he operates has attracted 25000 visits in the last year.) At the heart of the new record is an intricate trilogy – two solo pieces and a duet – which illustrate well the power of his musical intelligence.
I was immediately drawn to the flute solo – In the Clear – for a number of reasons. I play flute myself and duetted with Andrew about eighteen months ago at a memorial concert for a musician we both admire. Furthermore In the Clear is based on a poem in Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home and I share Andrew’s interest in the musical implications of that extraordinary creative life.
The piece starts in the low register and immediately establishes a vocabulary that I applaud – “chiff” effects, overblowing, microtonal variation, wide interval trills. The tame pastoral soundworld that the instrument bears as a cliché is banished – this music is about integrity rather than prettiness and the immediate desire to please. This is an instrument that can howl spit and shriek. (There is an irony that the Plath poem which inspires this is, if anything, slightly too concerned about the beauty of its surface as compared with the strength of the underpinning emotion.)
The most conventional element in the writing are the fast highly articulated lines which Alison Hayhurst executes with great precision but without any self-regarding fetishising of technique. The recording ambience is “fair” but not over-flattering and true to the piece and the performer’s capabilities. Energy and excitement accumulate until the piece finishes on a final prolonged projection of high frequency sonic energy.
This exploration of individuality is followed by One Flesh – a duet for viol and lute – written to celebrate the marriage of the performers, Susanna Pell and Jacob Heringman. By contrast with the preceding track this is a soundworld where mutual tolerance of individual idiosyncrasies exist in their fullness against the preconceptions of the other half of the music. In this symbiosis incivility is encompassed and encouraged rather than blunted into facile compromise.
Another perspective on individuality is revealed in solo piece which completes this central section of the CD – Tjarn – a solo piano piece performed by Stephen Wray, a long time collaborator with Keeling and inspired by Inominate Tarn in the Lake District, an area which is a recurrent inspiration for this composer. The is a glorious compression in linking the metaphysical depth of a place whose name is (apparently) about not having a name and a contribution to a long tradition of piano-writing about water, its surfaces, reflections and duplicitous properties. Keeling does not disappoint in the way he tackles this complex field of allusion and illusion.
Tjarn itself slides into O Ignis Spiritus – a song cycle spectacularly realised by the Hilliard Ensemble. The sound perspective slips superbly from external to internal landscape. Keeling has set four texts – by Hildegaard von Bingen, William Blake, William Wordsworth and one of his own. My personal favourite is the setting of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence written in memory of Rodney and Molly Drake, the parents of Nick Drake. The rising parallel harmonies reflect Keeling’s deep study of Drake’s compositional approach, while the lyric: to see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower: aptly condenses the best of Drake’s mature work. The Hilliard’s performance is taught, sensitive and utterly appropriate to the marvellous density of the material.
Keeling rounds off the set of seven pieces with a piece for viola and prepared piano commissioned and played by Cathy Stevens and accompanied by Steven Wray – Off the Beaten Track, also inspired by a specific locality in Lake District. This opens in lyrical and expansive mood before the piano introduces dissonant material – eventually coaxing the viola to join in the more frenetic mood. But the lyricism of the sustained viola notes prevail although there is a final provocative graininess in the long high note under which the piano slowly drifts back into minor modality. The day ends with dusk anticipating further falls in temperature.
So the set of pieces imply a narrative in which duality is ultimately unstable and the omens are at best indifferent. But how does the story start? Keelings interest in matters Jungian provides the inspiration for the opening pieces – the first two tracks are the Quickening of the Dead and Unseen Shadows. Strangely it is the opening track, the title track which gives me most problems, partly because of the technical problems inherent in its instrumentation – two pianos and soprano sax. The soundscape is quite lively – the music is presented as if we are sitting half way back in a mid sized recital room. After several hearings I crave a more intimate perspective – like those which are realised further into the set – a forensic dissection of the musical content. Bacchanalia are a trio with a mission and the musical possibilities in this combination of talents and instrumentation is a great opportunity for composers and performers alike and commissioning this work from Keeling is very much to be applauded.
Keeling’s interest in landscape and atmosphere and the deep psychological resonances of these externals pervades this recording. It is a creative agenda which is traditionally English – the England of Wordsworth and Ruskin – perhaps one might better say – within an important English tradition. The psychological dimension is evident in Tippet’s autobiography and his operas, in the art criticism and painting of Adrian Stokes and in Blake and the Victorian radicals who followed him such as Samuel Palmer.
This is not just a matter of being bewitched by the picturesque Lake District vistas as a means of escape. It is no wonder that Keeling is drawn to the revolutionary later work of Sylvia Plath, much of which was written in the Dartmoor area, and whose creative agenda embraces projects deep violence and intense beauty into the landscapes which surround her. Palmer depicted Kent with visionary intensity. Ruskin was an outsider who took a materialistic culture and turned it upside down. That passionate and committed energy is seldom far from the surface of this recording which I can heartily recommend.