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These six movements are settings of three texts written in medieval French and Italian, which are linked in some way by the theme of music. They all exist as songs written in the latter part of the 14th century, which I have shamelessly torn from their original musical context and treated purely as texts.
I was attracted to them by two things. Firstly, by the sheer strangeness of the words and their distance from us. I did not update the texts to modern French or Italian, but chose rather to set them as they are. Secondly, despite this, I also enjoyed the relevance of what the texts say – not only about contemporary music, but also on music’s power to communicate.
Or Voit Tout... is a fascinating text, as it is somewhat unclear whether it is a roar against the state of music in the late 1300s, or an ironic defence of it, as the song itself uses many of the ‘unnatural’ musical techniques decried in the text.
The odd-numbered songs are linked, not only by the fact that each one is a separate stanza of Or Voit Tout… but also by their musical material. The even-numbered songs are similarly linked musically, with the second movement acting as a very short instrumental intimation of what is to come in the fourth.
All of the movements are played without a break – except for at the end of the fourth song.
“It was Luke Bedford’s new piece, Or Voit Tout En Aventure, that stole the show. Setting vocal music to medieval texts has not been a modernist fashion for a while, but Bedford dug from his ancient French and Italian a work strikingly witty and relevant and an aural delight. Hoisted on high, Claire Booth’s steely soprano issued plangent complaints in words mourning medieval music’s new-fangled fashions and lost communicative powers. Instruments contributed subterranean groans, wind machine shivers, ironic pings: the whole fused by Bedford’s tight development of his material and an infusion of lyricism not so far removed from the medieval sound world.” (The Times)
“Luke Bedford’s Or Voit Tout En Aventure, though, proclaimed its individuality from the very first moment, setting a sequence of texts from medieval French and Italian songs, but stripping them of their original music and interleaving them to produce a carefully woven tapestry of meditation on musical communcation. The writing for soprano Claire Booth veers between declamation and decoration, while the ensemble sometimes just colours the vocal lines but also goes off on tangents full of wonderfully original instrumental doublings and vivid shards of melody. It’s startling stuff - music that’s never quite what you expect.” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian)
“There followed the first performance of Or Voit Tout En Aventure by Luke Bedford. This song-cycle, the result of his recent participation in the Sinfonietta’s “Blue Touch Paper” project, sets three texts by Medieval French and Italian poets – the first, a dryly-mocking condemnation of the ’new music’ (!) that also acts as the title, providing a sceptical refrain between settings whose telling of unrequited love and music as the agent of love are sentiments both distinctly of their time yet also timeless.
A timelessness that Bedford (whose Five Abstracts is one of the most arresting pieces to emerge in British music so far this decade) conveys through a combining of static – though never uneventful – textures and a soprano line that unfolds monodically above the ensemble. The outcome is music of a contemplative intensity that perhaps fails to capture the range of expression secreted within the highly formalised verse structure. Which is not to deny either the individuality of Bedford’s response or the excellence of Claire Booth’s contribution – a soprano of whom great things can be expected.” (Classical Source)
“Still in his twenties, Luke Bedford has quite a following and his new work, completed only some months ago, showed why. Or Voit Tout En Aventure was written as part of the Sinfonietta’s Blue Touch Paper project funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and PRS Foundation. What is it about medieval language that so fascinates composers ? Perhaps it is the mixture of familiarity and alienation, sparking an imaginative response to what Bedford calls “the sheer strangeness of the words and their distance from us”. We think we can make out words and phrases, yet it is a world very different from ours. It lends itself well to music which is strikingly new, yet universal in its emotional impact. Indeed, these 14th century songs are about music, and adapting to changes ”when everything is uncontrolled” (the literal translation of “Or Voit Tout En Aventure”).
“What makes these songs work so well is that the vocal part is written with a real instinct for the natural resonance of the human voice. Voice is not a mere component of a musical whole, for it is “more” than just sound. Claire Booth showed this beautifully, her rich, nuanced expressiveness connecting directly to an emotional depth more complex than the text alone. She seems to embody the feelings behind the music itself – an abundant faith in the power of music as communication that goes beyond restraints of time and place. Bedford stretches the technical limits but not to an extent that the natural flow is distorted : but it is Booth’s musical instinct that colours and warms her singing that makes it sensually as well as intellectually challenging. The use of accordion is interesting, for it, too, like the human voice, is an instrument that uses “lungs” to breathe life into its sounds. Similarly, the barrel machine creates rain like sounds from a deep container mainly filled with air. Needless to say, the winds were superb – flute and oboe in particular. The orchestration is subtle, interspersed with shining details on triangle and xylophone. This is a lovely piece of music, full of character, which I hope will find its way into the repertoire.” (musicweb)
“Luke Bedford deploys a similar palette of delicate shades in Or Voit Tout En Aventure, also a world premiere. The French and Italian medieval poems he sets provide often ironic comments on the music of the late 14th century. Claire Booth moved impressively from floating serenity to a more intense delivery when Bedford’s setting acquired an existential urgency.” (Evening Standard)
“But I can happily vouch for the mounting appeal of Luke Bedford’s Or Voit Tout En Aventure, given its premiere in May — a brilliantly imagined setting of medieval texts berating music’s new fads and lost communicative powers. Bedford and Knussen, in this concert, proved the texts utterly wrong.” (Times)
“Knussen also brought his acute perception and authority to bear in the performance of Luke Bedford’s hauntingly beautiful Or Voit Tout En Aventure. Claire Booth was again the expressive soloist” (Guardian)
“She [Claire Booth] was also soloist (with fearless repeated top C-flats) in the awesomely brilliant Or Voit Tout En Aventure by Luke Bedford, settings of medieval French and Italian texts rich in reference and detail. An accordion plays like a portative organ continuo, hocketing wind instruments evoke period vocalisations, and contrasts of effect bring continual surprises. The concluding movement is a magical envoi.” (Birmingham Post)
“Dillon’s concerto was part of a succession of major new scores that made it an outstanding year for British music - from Simon Holt’s exquisite violin concerto Witness to a Snow Miracle, through Luke Bedford’s Or Voit Tout En Aventure, a huge step forward for the immensely promising young composer, and Harrison Birtwistle’s wonderfully original work for solo harp, Crowd, to the most extraordinary of all, George Benjamin’s long-awaited first music-theatre piece Into the Little Hill. Not due here until Liverpool hosts the UK premiere in 2008, Benjamin’s 40-minute piece proved the most beguiling fusion of words and music I’ve heard in a very long time.” (The Guardian)