Part 9 of our continuing blog about the composition of Luke Bedford's opera Through His Teeth.
Did you start with scene 1 and work your way towards the last scene? How did you start writing?
I haven’t written the piece in chronological order at all, I didn’t start with scene 1 and finish with scene 10. I started at scene 9 I think, then I went to scene 2, then scene 1, and, having set those almost sort of boundaries of the piece, I then started kind of connecting the ones in the middle.
Also I kind of focused on what seemed to me the more important scenes. Obviously every scene is important in its own way, but some scenes are bigger sort of structural moments, or simply just longer. And I wanted to get some of those bigger ones out of the way earlier in the piece, so that if things became tight, at the end of the writing process, I wouldn’t be working on the very key moments, they’d already be done – so that was almost like my insurance policy.
Could you give us examples of such scenes?
One of the crucial scenes is obviously the first time A and R meet, as that scene establishes their relationship. Then there’s a scene in a restaurant where it looks like A is going to leave him, and you have to see his ingenuity, he has to come up with some reason why she can’t, and he has to do it very quickly. And he tells a huge lie basically, an almost unbelievable lie. But he does it in such a way, that if she doubted him, she would think “Well, this guy must be mad, why would he say this to me?” So she is in a way forced to believe him.
For the last few years, I’ve been working quite often with quartertones, and the most effective way I find of just practically hearing these notes is by having a second keyboard, so that one keyboard is tuned a quartertone below the other one. With a single keyboard you could obviously imagine what the quartertone would sound like, but I prefer to actually hear the physical sounds.
I got my second keyboard about a year ago. Up until that point I’d actually used a guitar and a banjo, tuning those down a quartertone – it was ok, but it wasn’t very effective.
You can of course use computers as well, but I don’t like doing this sort of creative composing on the computer. I feel that especially with most notation software it’s limiting, you end up writing more what works on the computer than actually what works on the instruments or on the voices.
So I thought it was important to get this second keyboard if I wanted to explore different tunings and different quartertones – I suppose if I worked on eighth tones or third tones I’d just have to keep getting more and more of them. But I think that at the moment quartertones are enough.
Find out more about Through His Teeth.
Luke Bedford on the instrumentation of Through His Teeth:
Through His Teeth is scored for eight instruments. It’s quite a small ensemble, but I tried to get as big a range of colours and sounds as I could out of that. So there are quite a few instruments that are capable of playing chords. There is a harp, there is an accordion, there’s various tuned percussions, and there’s violin, cello and bass. And against that there is also a clarinet and a trumpet. It’s a kind of small, mixed ensemble.
I tried also to balance it as much as I could, so I count the accordion as a sort of wind instrument. So there’s a clarinet, trumpet and accordion doing some wind-side of things, there are three strings, and then the harp and the percussion as tuned instruments.
Because of the quartertones, it had to be instruments that can play them better than others. Obviously for the harp, percussion and accordion, it’s not easy to get quartertones on, but for the other instruments, especially the strings and trumpet, it’s something that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
I decided that the singers were not going to be singing in quartertones – these are only heard from the ensemble. It’s partly a practical thing: some singers can obviously sing quartertones, but others find it very hard. And for a while I wondered whether if the note was strong enough in the ensemble, whether it would be ok to use it in the voice. But in the end I decided against it: partly just to keep things clear in my own head, but also for the singers – they’ve probably got enough to do anyways without worrying about the quartertones.
So it’s something that is happening from the music surrounding the characters really, it’s something in the air. They never go into that directly.
“Rather, the thing is that all of this structural unity creates a symphonic form that sounds neither completely predictable nor totally random. […] This is an emotionally moving experience, too, in the range of expression Webern conjures, which includes heightened, violent lyricism as well as pointillist brilliance.”
Composer Luke Bedford talks about working with Scottish playwright David Harrower and how they created the characters for their upcoming chamber opera Through His Teeth. The interview was recorded in Berlin in October 2013.
Andrew Clements of the The Guardian reviews the new Challenge Classics recording of Franz Schreker’s Der Schatzgräber [The Treasure Hunter], recorded by Marc Albrecht, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Opera Chorus at the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam in autumn 2012.
Read the full review on The Guardian.
Luke Bedford on the story line of Through His Teeth:
I’ve been speaking to David Harrower, who has written the libretto for the new opera, about what kind of subject or theme we wanted to play with. David very often works with true stories as a starting point, either things from newspaper reports or something you have heard.
We’d been speaking to the Royal Opera House about doing this piece, and they asked whether we’d be interested in doing something on the subject of Faust – which initially we weren’t over the moon about. A sort of traditional telling of the Faust stories has been done so many times that we were quite unsure about what we could add to that. So we knew that we had to find our own take on that, a different way of doing it.
Read the full text on our seperate blog on Through His Teeth.
The interview and the recording of in vain will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s contemporary music programme Hear and Now on 18 January.
Universal Edition managing director Astrid Koblanck and promotion manager Wolfgang Schaufler have recently been interviewed by Alexander Musik for the TonArt series on music publishers. Listen to a recording of the show online at WDR 3.
Both shows are in German.
This is the interview with Luke Bedford that was mentioned in the introduction of this blog. It was conducted in June 2013, when Through His Teeth was still without a title. Harrower and Bedford already had very clear ideas about the storyline and the instrumentation, however.
Read our seperate blog on Through His Teeth.
David Fennessy’s The room is the resonator is the first track of Oliver Coates’ recently released album Towards the blessed islands, which features eight cello pieces that were recorded in “churches, tombs, disused oil rigs and […] railway stations at night.”
Listen to a complete recording of The room is the resonator on Fluid Radio.
Oliver Coates, who performed the world première of The room is the resonator in 2009, in an interview on Towards the blessed islands.
The recording is available here.
In June 2013 we conducted a video interview with composer Luke Bedford about his upcoming chamber opera Through His Teeth. The opera was commissioned by the Royal Opera House and will première on 3 April 2014.
Intrigued by the composer’s words, we decided that we’d continue to document the work’s process of creation. Starting today we will provide you with regular updates regarding the development of Through His Teeth, ranging from the composing of the score and the writing of David Harrower’s libretto to the actual printing of the score and its production – who knows, we might even catch the postman when he finally delivers the score to Sian Edwards and the Royal Opera House.
What will the rehearsals at the ROH look like? Do you want to catch a sneak peek of the score before the première? Now’s your chance.
This post and all future posts in this series will be available on our page dedicated to Through His Teeth, which you can find here.