Education Pack Introduction
Eternal Light: A Requiem
Education Pack introduction by Howard Goodall
Bringing Eternal Light: A Requiem to life has been the most fascinating, surprising and inspiring project I’ve ever worked on, in a career that has always had its fair share of collaborations. Composing music can be quite a solitary occupation but in this case I was having to construct a large-scale piece with so many other creative minds also contributing – choreographer, designer, conductor, commissioning producer, orchestra, choir, soloists, record company, dancers – and a world-famous milliner!
I began my composing career at school when, as a sixth former, I wrote musicals with one of the teachers for the Year 7s to perform every Christmas. These experiences taught me how important it is to agree early on in a joint creative venture what exactly you are all trying to achieve, what the meaning of the piece should be and what kind of end-result you are hoping to achieve. It’s no good having these fundamental discussions when half the piece already exists, or during the first week of rehearsals! So at the beginning of this process I laid out with the choreographer Mark Baldwin, designer Michael Howells, music director Paul Hoskins and commissioning producer Mark Stephenson all the possible texts for a Requiem that had ever been used before (most of it in Latin from the Christian scriptures). I then suggested a number of English poems from the 16th century to the present day that might be interwoven with the Latin words to make our ‘script’ for the whole piece: this came to act as the architecture for the Requiem – a series of 10 separate movements of between 2 and 9 minutes long, starting with ‘Kyrie Eleison/Close now thine eyes’ and ending with a final journey into paradise.
Once we had this overarching shape it was then possible to compose all the music for choir, orchestra and soloists and for the choreographer to begin forming the dance pictures, patterns, steps & moves in his head. The way it works for me is that I ‘hear’ the finished music – like it’s on a CD – in my head and then transcribe it into sheet music thanks to my laptop’s music notation software (Sibelius). The whole piece took about two months to compose and orchestrate. After that was done I began making a demo CD in my own small studio (with me and one female singer recording all the voices!) so that the rest of the artistic team could work with it in rehearsal and get to know the music I’d written. Meanwhile, my publishers Faber Music prepared scores for the choir (Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford) and soloists to start learning from.
In the spring, just 6 months after I accepted the commission, we recorded the proper EMI CD of the finished Requiem and 5 months later Rambert Dance Company began the piece’s live tour as a dance work with their orchestra London Musici (for whose 20th anniversary it was commissioned), so for something on such a big scale, the journey from day one to completed performance has actually been remarkably quick. Mozart wrote his in just a few weeks, of course, but then he didn’t have a dance company to think about!