the cmrc blog

  • Posted on 3 March 2017

    The music department’s spring postgraduate forum was held on Thursday 2nd March. We had a packed day with a really wide range of topics covered, issues touched on, and genres explored. Click for full report and timetable.  LM tweet Beau

  • Posted on 7 February 2017

    In 1997 I made a new singing translation of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  I did it because I wanted to mount a staged performance of the piece in a way that would allow a British audience to understand the texts, and the existing translations were not good to sing.  The early (and most famous) translation by Cecil Gray, for example, has some horrors: ‘a phantasmagorical light ray’ (no 3) is one; even worse is ‘a chlorotic laundry maid’ (no 4).

  • Posted on 2 February 2017

    Postgraduate forum, Autumn 2016 2016’s autumn postgraduate forum – 28th September, in the Music Research Centre – showcased a typically diverse range of talents, tastes, specialisms and perspectives. The forum also featured, for the first time, a poster competition – giving students the opportunity to share ideas and progress in a different format and broadening […]

  • Posted on 9 January 2017

    The composer and double bassist Barry Guy is the kind of musician I would love to have been. In a career which began in London in the late 1960s, Barry has defied conventional type-casting and made his mark in the worlds of jazz, early music and avant-garde concert music.  When the Vortex Jazz Club open their Intakt Festival on April 16th 2017 with a concert to celebrate Barry’s 70th birthday, he will play all night himself, with jazz legends like Evan Parker and Howard Riley; but he will also play a set with his wife Maya Homburger, a baroque violinist.  They will play music of the 9th century, and play Biber, as well as improvising on music by Kurtag and a piece by Barry.

  • Posted on 19 September 2016

    I was invited to the Royal Irish Academy of Music to give a lecture-recital on the resistance of the flute in indeterminate compositions. The indeterminacy of the pieces I was performing seemed to coincide with the indeterminacy of the city and the event in multiple ways. For instance, for one of the pieces, Umbrella resistance, I need a second performer who acts as an umbrella operator. Since I couldn’t bring my own performer to Dublin, Dublin had to provide one for me. This was very exciting.

  • Posted on 5 September 2016

    On a secluded backstreet in the ancient Italian town of Spoleto, there is a house full of statues. Open its heavy oak front door, and you are greeted immediately by an imposing stone figure guarding the central courtyard. Entering the main body of the house, you meet a reclining figure; climbing the stairs, a vast mask stares down upon you with unblinking eyes. On the first floor, in a stately music room flooded with light, and lined with scores, a series of busts of musical luminaries – Mahler, Schoenberg, Klemperer – look down unwaveringly across the curved form of a Steinway grand.

  • Posted on 1 September 2016

    Berlin, Germany initially felt like an intimidating city to me — the graffiti-filled walls, the language I was unfamiliar with*, and its long history and heritage. But having been there recently, my views took a complete turn. Berlin is beautiful, beautiful in a way that you have to experience it yourself. It had an inner beauty shared among the friendly locals, artistic culture that was part of daily life, and a sense of warmth that made me feel safe travelling alone.

  • Posted on 1 September 2016

    Working with Michael Finnissy this year at one of his many birthday celebration events (this was a performance of Plain Harmony with COMA and the BCMG in Birmingham), I was struck by one of his tangents. It seemed he was a reviewer for the press at one point and gave a good review of a piece by Michael Tippett (I forget which). He received a handwritten note from Tippett thanking him for what appeared to be the only good review, remarking that composing was “Like crossing a desert, without any friends” (paraphrase).

  • Posted on 30 August 2016

    As long as our artistic work based or influenced by others’ work(s) is well defined in its purpose and scope as well as properly acknowledged, endless , creative, innovative proposals can be developed, opening new insights, new frameworks, and, as Roger wrote once, providing ‘a new lease of life’.

    However, this chain of related names and works has to appear as part of the new expression, the new version, the new ‘thing’. So I agree with the opinion that we shouldn´t need to trace the originals. They should be there, as part of the new event.

  • Posted on 24 August 2016

    Every student of 20th century music knows Pierrot Lunaire, one of the iconic masterpieces of 20th century music.  If you are reading this and you don’t know it, go away and check it out and I’ll catch you later.

    Pierre Boulez, when asked to name the two most important pieces of modern music, had no hesitation in citing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire op 21.  The influence of Pierrot was huge – even Stravinsky had to admit its importance.

  • Posted on 22 July 2016

    On the evening of June 18th 2006, a fair-haired man in his mid-twenties, boyish and bespectacled, stood up on stage at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in front of an audience including the playwrights Harold Pinter,  Vaclav Havel, and Tom Stoppard and the actors Sinead Cusack and Jeremy Irons, and read the following words:

    Now, of course, questions must be asked.  We’re going to have to talk about a great many things.  I want you to know that I’m here for the long haul.  I’m not backing down.  I’ll keep on asking until there’s simply nothing left to ask.  So, where to begin?  Begin again, shall we?  Why don’t you tell me what it was you were doing before we arrested you?  No?  Don’t like that idea?  Don’t want to tell me that?  If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear.  Nothing to hide.  But, you do have something to fear, don’t you?  Dont you?

  • Posted on 10 June 2016

    “Words matter”, wrote Roger Marsh once in this blog. I agree with that. I do like words. Moreover, in this already gone winter the word ‘Snow’ came across in a curious and special way. First, it was my expectation of looking at white landscapes in this -for me- new country, so far away from mine […]

  • Posted on 6 June 2016

    One of the joys of working in cmrc is the opportunity to collaborate with so many interesting and talented creative artists.  It has been my privilege over the years, since long before the existence of cmrc, to collaborate with some outstanding performers.  While still in my twenties I found myself working with musicians like Alan Hacker and Barry Guy, and in my thirties with Linda Hirst and John Potter.  And these were collaborative experiences, because from them I learned new ways of thinking, and because they didn’t just take my music and ‘do it’ – they probed and interrogated my ideas, and together we found a way to present the music which was new to all of us.

  • Posted on 15 March 2016

    In 2013 I attended a composition course in Holland. In a lesson with a well-known Dutch composer I played a piece of mine; when it finished, he told me ‘all English composers are trying to write Greensleeves’. Backhanded compliment or otherwise, he had hit on my predilection for a good tune. Now, working on a project […]

  • Posted on 19 February 2016

    I. Big Tam’s bakery, somewhere in Glasgow. A clear, crisp, mid-January morning: puddles litter the street outside and the shop window glows warm and friendly in the sunshine. A Customer enters, examines the treats on display beneath the counter, then jabs her finger at the glass. Customer:    Izzat a doughnut or a meringue? Big […]

  • Posted on 7 December 2015

    My interest in Japanese theatre began when I saw Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River on TV in the late 1960s. I was a big fan of Britten, though not so much of the operas. But when I encountered his Japanese influenced ‘parable opera’ – set in a Suffolk church but adopting masks and stylised gestures from Noh theatre – I was very excited. At the time I knew nothing about Japan or its musical traditions. I was working at Highgate Public Library, though, and they had books about Noh and Kabuki which I studied. It was a few years later, at university, when I first got to hear genuine Noh music, and later still when I first saw a Noh performance (in Brighton of all places).

  • Posted on 13 November 2015

    The Song of Abigail (1986) is a melodrama. Not in the sense of the moustache twirling nonsense of the Victorian melodrama, but in the 18th century sense of spoken text with music. There are a few major 20th century pieces of this sort – such as Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sebastian and Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon. And of course there is Pierrot Lunaire (Schoenberg’s not mine) which is described as a melodrama, and has a bit of both definitions – spoken text (sort of) and histrionic performance. The Song of Abigail has some singing in it, but most of the text is spoken, in order to tell a quite intricate story very clearly.

  • Posted on 6 November 2015

    Songwriter David Breslin, replying to my first Words and Music blog, raised the issue of Latin settings: “Whenever I set a poem in English to music, it seemed only fair to make the words as clear as possible. This ruled out or made tricky many kinds of musical device, and made the idea of writing my own ‘text’ simultaneously with the music too tempting to resist. And yet, I certainly have no objection to hearing complex polyphonic Latin settings!”

  • Posted on 2 November 2015

    We seem to be an accident prone lot here at York. A few months ago the composer David Lancaster fell off his bike resulting in a broken shoulder, cracked collarbone and two broken fingers in the winter ice. I nodded sagely when he told me of his injuries, a fellow biker, almost succumbing to the winter ice a couple of times myself.  I offered sympathy and understood the resulting injuries would leave him home bound with no way to get around. Luckily as David announces elsewhere on his post it turned out to be a fruitful time of rest resulting in new approaches to his own music.

  • Posted on 1 November 2015

    What is the sound of white?

    Edmund de Waal, the ceramic artist whose eloquent porcelain installations are inextricably bound up with this colour, asks the question early in The White Road, but offers no answer.

    I am no synaesthete; I am no more able to respond than de Waal. In any case, the question is, strictly speaking, nonsensical. But it is an intriguing proposition. If we could hear the colour of milk and snow and clouds and sunlight, what music would it make?


  • Posted on 20 October 2015

    My grandparents on my father’s side were Russian Jews. They fled from persecution in the Ukraine at the beginning of the last century, making the perilous journey by sea (does this sound familiar?) heading for the USA. My grandmother became ill, though, and only got as far as Southampton. My father, born in London, grew up in a practising Jewish household, but during his teenage years renounced his religion after witnessing domestic violence meted out to his mother for unwittingly intruding on a religious observance which was strictly men only. My father later married a non-Jewish girl and our family practised no religion at all.

  • Posted on 28 September 2015

    Around 2001 I was invited to give a presentation of music and readings at the annual International James Joyce Symposium in London. A few weeks before the event, I returned to my office one afternoon to find a message on my ansafone from Stephen Joyce, the author’s grandson. “Mr Marsh” he growled into my machine “This is Stephen Joyce. I understand that you are planning to present some musical settings of my grandfather’s work in London. I believe that the music you are planning to play is by …..…(he mentioned the name of a composer I had never heard of at that time). My wife and I detest this composer’s work, and what is more my grandfather – my grandfather – would have detested it too. I forbid you to play this music and if you go ahead with this event you will be sued.”

  • Posted on 9 September 2015

    The vocal pieces I wrote during the 1970s cannot be said to offer clear unadorned narrative. But they did quite consciously turn away from the idea of straightforward vocal text setting, and they were mostly designed for unconventional voices. In York I wrote ‘Dum – a vocal percussive fantasy’, initially for my composer friend Steve Stanton to perform, although eventually I performed the piece myself. Though a vocal piece it requires no singing.

  • Posted on 3 September 2015

    I was 21 when I first met Berio. My teacher Bernard Rands introduced me to him in the green room after a Queen Elizabeth Hall concert.   “This is my pupil Roger Marsh” he said. “He’s just written a piece on Joyce’s Ulysses. Berio looked interested. “Really?” he said. “Which part?” “The whole thing” I replied. Berio chuckled and said “You’re a brave man”. I didn’t get a chance to explain myself, but it didn’t matter. He had already forgotten me.

  • Posted on 1 September 2015

    Words matter. I start there because sometimes I think composers forget it. Sometimes I think that singers forget it too. Sometimes I think that if I were the author of a libretto or song lyric I would wonder where my words had gone when I hear them sung.

  • Posted on 8 July 2015

    I composed ‘Rough Cut’ for solo violin in response to the CMRC national call for works, but it probably wouldn’t have been written at all had I not suffered an ice-related cycling accident (broken shoulder, cracked collarbone, two broken fingers…) in early February, which resulted in several weeks laid up at home and an unexpected […]

  • Posted on 2 July 2015

    This coming weekend I shall be lucky enough to hear the second performance of my marimba piece graceful/full of grace, written for and performed by Zoë Craven. I was thrilled to be asked by PercusSing to write this piece—and love the marimba—but, as with all my work, it was the performer I was keenest to […]

  • Posted on 29 June 2015

    What is it to “set” a text? Is that to be read as in “to set in concrete”? To lock down? To fix permanently—and forever? That’s a gangland murder, at least in the old days: the concrete coffin that reposes unglamourously at the bottom of New York harbor. Or is it to be read as […]