C.77 - "A Night Thought"

Composed: April 2015

     Now, there is a lot of context surrounding this piece.

     This was originally going to be my submission for my final coursework for the 'Composition 1' module at Surrey, which asked us to write a piece and find people to perform it at a certain concert at the end of the year. Thus, I inquired whether I could use the university chamber choir to perform a choral work should I write one, and the director agreed without hesitation. And so I quickly got to work writing a choral piece.

     "A Night Thought" is this exact choral work, set to a text by William Wordsworth – a poem I so happened to read online and found wonderfully serene. The choral style is obviously influenced by the contemporary Eric Whitacre (such as his "Sleep"), with a surplus of pleasant harmonies and dissonances. Here is Williams' poem:

Lo! where the Moon along the sky

Sails with her happy destiny;

Oft is she hid from mortal eye

Or dimly seen,

But when the clouds asunder fly

How bright her mien!

Far different we--a froward race,

Thousands though rich in Fortune's grace

With cherished sullenness of pace

Their way pursue,

Ingrates who wear a smileless face

The whole year through.

If kindred humours e'er would make

My spirit droop for drooping's sake,

From Fancy following in thy wake,

Bright ship of heaven!

A counter impulse let me take

And be forgiven.

 

     The piece is divided into three sections, reflecting the three stanzas. For the final two stanzas, I ignored the mood and emotion of the text and wrote whatever music I wanted, which is a shame, because the text is very sublime and offers a lot of possible emotional interpretations.

      The only other musical note is the ending fade out, obviously influenced by Holst and Whitacre, which I use here as a twist ending to question whether the poem's speaker is truly being forgiven (as read from the text).

     Out of pure curiosity, I made a very rough recording of the piece by recording myself. While I only made it to the 2nd stanza, it gave me a general idea of how it might sound when performed. Much glass was shattered in reaching those high notes.

     On digging through some old files, I also found an older version of the line "Bright ship of heaven!" from the final stanza, which was inevitably going to be the climax.

C.77 - A Night Thought (Rough Recording) - J.Shaw
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Figure 1: The (incredibly) rough recording of "C.77 - A Night Thought"
Figure 2: An older version of the final stanza

     Nevertheless, where the context becomes important is regarding the performance of this piece. In April 2015, the university was beginning to undergo an extremely unfortunate change; the ‘Operational Review’ as they called it, or in layman's terms, the ‘entirely unnecessary mass redundancy of staff to combat cutbacks’, and departments that were affected by this included politics, law, and of course, music.

     As a result of the increased pressures this "review" put on the staff, the chamber choir were temporarily put out of operation and I quickly found myself without performers for the piece. So I used a backup plan and asked around for anyone interested in singing the piece. I only managed to find four people that were interested; two sopranos, an alto and a tenor.

       It was at this point that it became clear to me I was in trouble, much like the rest of the departments affected by this "review". My only option was to write a completely new piece – "C.79 - Adventures in Wonderland (Chapter 1)".

Reminiscence written on 19th July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw