The Beginning of the World by Cheryl Frances-Hoad
The Cardinall’s Musick / Andrew Carwood (Proms Chamber Music 1)
Duration: 10 minutes
BBC iPlayer link
What’s the story behind the piece?
Talking in an interview for this site, Cheryl Frances-Hoad explains:
“The Cardinall’s Musick wanted a piece for eight voices (double SATB choir) (soprano-alto-tenor-bass) that was a homage to Tallis, and about 7 minutes long (I ended up writing a piece that’s closer to 9 minutes). They suggested some words (I eventually selected my own) but were otherwise completely free about how I should approach the commission.
Tallis lived in Greenwich towards the end of his life, which lead me on to reading about the refinements of timekeeping and the calendar during his lifetime, which then lead on to discovering that there was a major astrological event that happened whilst he was alive…which came to symbolize (to me) the massive changes that occurred during Tallis’s lifetime (including for instance the Reformation)…which lead to discovering Tycho Brahe’s (A Danish astronomer) ‘Treatise on the Great Comet of 1577’….
Read the full interview here
Did you know?
Cheryl was chosen as a featured composer on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week (‘Five under 35, March 2015)
The first and immediately striking thing about From the Beginning of the World was the relevance of the words to today’s climate. In a week where NASA received ground breaking pictures of Pluto and Charon this tale of an earlier astronomical event – the ‘comet with a very long tail’ resonated strongly, especially with its talk of ‘Mighty and destructive wind storms’, ‘Poisonings of the air’ and ‘Terrible earthquakes’.
Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s music only enhanced the dramatic impact. Written as a homage to Tallis its acappella setting carried the same freedom through the air – but here the harmonies were daring, rich with added notes, the most distinctive melodies tending to use wide leaps and drops. This heightened the feeling of unease – especially when the tritone was used to highlight the ‘great wars and bloodsheddings’.
The end of the text is curious, the author questioning suddenly that the comet might not destroy the earth after all – but the damage has been done in all the worrying beforehand, and it was on this that Frances-Hoad’s music really made its mark.
The performance, subtly directed by Andrew Carwood, was one of clarity and pure intensity.
Where can I hear more?
Cheryl has a Soundcloud site, where you can hear another of her works for choir, This is A Blessing: