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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The composer about the piece:
This piece is a reworking of my Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale for violin, viola and fifteen players. The original title was taken from a 19th century poster advertising a pair of singing conjoined twins: Millie and Christine McCoy. They were born in slavery in 1851, sold to a showman, and yet managed to escape the fate of many performers at freak shows and built a relatively normal life for themselves. Something of their story and the poster intrigued me, and I found parallels with the music I was trying to write. From early on in the composition process I knew that the two soloists would be forced to play either identical or very similar music for most of the piece. I felt the tension between their combined, unified sound and their desire to break free from one another could be richly exploited. But I also knew that they would never be successful in tearing free. They would remain as locked together at the end of the piece as they were at the start.
Luke Bedford: Wonderful Four-Headed
for string quartet | 9'
world prem. 28.10.2013, Konzerthaus, Vienna; Arditti String Quartet
Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale: The hyper-gestural opening, the minimalist-influenced shards of accompaniment that underpin yearning, quasi-Romantic solo lines all speak of a major imagination at work. […] This live performance is simply remarkable in its intensity.
By the Screen in the Sun at the Hill on the Gold: Bedford takes the simple device of arpeggio and saturates his texture with it. […] the work’s surface is glistening and huge, moving to manic passages in which the pitch rises to the extreme top end in a series of explosions. This top-class recording (Alte Oper, Frankfurt) was made the day after the world première.
Chiaroscuro: Juxtaposing [the piano, violin, and violoncello] shows the true range of Bedford’s expressive vocabulary.
Or voit tout en aventure: Perhaps most impressive is the almost Mahlerian processional of the fourth movement, ‘Je Chante Ung Chant’ (I sing a song). This superbly produced disc confirms that Luke Bedford is a major voice. (Colin Clarke, Tempo, Volume 67, Issue 265, July 2013, pp 112-112)
Find the CD on col legno and listen to the individual tracks.
Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale
for solo violin, solo viola and 15 players
Jonathan Morton, vln; Lawrence Power, vla; The Scottish Ensemble
By the Screen in the Sun at the Hill on the
for 18 players
Ensemble Modern, cond. Sian Edwards
for violin, violoncello and piano
Fidelio Trio: Darragh Morgan, vln, Robin Michael, vlc; Mary Dullea, pno
Man Shoots Strangers from Skyscraper
for 8 players
Ensemble Modern, cond Franck Ollu
Or Voit Tout En Aventure
for soprano and 16 players
Claire Booth, s; London Sinfonietta, cond. Oliver Knussen
The programme of Wien Modern #26 is now online. Highlights of the festival will be the world première of Luke Bedford’s Wonderful Four-Headed Nightingale by the Arditti Quartet (a piece that was commissioned by Wien Modern) on Monday, 28 October and the performance of Johannes Maria Staud’s orchestral work Maniai on 15 November.
Find out more: Wien Modern 2013
The chamber opera received rave reviews when it premièred in 2011:
“Atmospheric music, often lyrical and pleasantly marinated in tonality … succulently scored.” (The Times)
“Bedford’s score is impeccably crafted and it is sensitively played by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.” (Daily Telegraph)
"A score of substance and ultimate quality combined with beautiful words with extraordinary creative and artistic direction from the creative team and magnificent staging from John Fulljames." (Paul Guest/Ceasefire magazine)
View the full score of Seven Angels.
Watch the trailer for the world première, which took place on 17 June 2011 in Birmingham:
Luke Bedford: Seven Angels
for 7 singers and 12 instruments | 85’
1 0 1 1 - 0 1 1 0 - perc, pno, vla(4), cb
prem. 21/6/2013, Opera stabile, Hamburg
artists of the Internationales Opernstudio, cond. Alexander Winterson
Further performances: 22, 25, 26, 28 and 30/6/2013
This week on the BBC Radio 3 internet stream: Tom Service introduces a concert of works by Luke Bedford. The concert in question took place on 22 May and featured the world première of Renewal and the British première of Wonderful No-headed Nightingale, both of which were performed by the London Sinfonietta under Sian Edwards.
The London Sinfonietta’s Luke Bedford: In Portrait, which took place last month and featured performances of Bedford’s Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale, his latest piece Renewal, as well as Gérard Grisey’s Périodes, received great reviews, and we are proud to share some of the highlights:
“In his latest work, Renewal, British composer Luke Bedford has achieved the rare feat of having written a piece that has everything: dynamism and drive, a singular yet powerfully centred harmonic language, a strong sense of thematic development, an altogether wondrous control of flow and counter-flow, and, above all, moments of transcendent beauty.” (Guy Dammann, The Guardian)
“The music moved with impulsive energy, dismantling material as quickly as it had been gathered together. […] Perhaps the most captivating moment was when Bedford stripped his musical materials down to pure noise. […] The programme as a whole was very well received and it was encouraging to see one of London’s major concert venues lend this level of support and attentiveness to an emerging artist.” (Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, bachtrack)
The London Sinfonietta will perform Renewal on 16 August in Dubrovnik, Croatia. We will keep you posted.
View the full study score of Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale:
Thinking back to the first
time I heard The Rite as a
13-year-old, I remember being instantly enchanted and terrified by the
piece. I had heard nothing like it before and it quite simply opened up the
world of twentieth century music to me. And even now, a hundred years on from
the première, its force and violent beauty are a thing of wonder.
1913 certainly was an exciting year for Universal Edition. Two and a half months after Schönberg’s “scandal concert” in Vienna – where the issue was not merely a question of how an audience treated the performers, it was about partisanship at a crossroads of musical history – the world première of Stravinsky’s and Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps took place in Paris on 29 May 1913 and sent shock waves through the European art world. A quick search on the internet is enough to get an overview of some of the devastating reviews that the première received, yet opinions differed: UE composer Gian Francesco Malipiero, who attended the performance, would later remember the experience as an awakening “from a long and dangerous lethargy”.
But it’s not only a temporal proximity that connects these two events: Stravinsky was said to have kept a score of Schönberg’s 3 Piano Pieces, Op 11 – where the last piece is free from any tonal or motivic references – with him at the time he was composing The Rite. Stravinsky in return seems to have been of major importance to Béla Bartók, who wrote his pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin partly as a response to his interest in Stravinsky, admiring the composer’s way of making “these chasing motivic complexes fit into each other by balancing the weight ratios with extreme precision.”
The BBC released an article questioning whether The Rite did actually spark a riot, and the conclusion is drawn that even today, “we cannot be quite sure”. Did The Rite lose its edge in the twenty-first century? What is your opinion?