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The Lesson

For longer than I can remember I had wanted to write an Opera, or a Musical, or something in-between. However, I felt that I needed first to experiment with some kind of word-setting just to see if I could do it, and when my good friend Rupert Jennings asked me to write him a setting for voice and piano and a newly borrowed copy of W. H. Auden's selected poems fell open at "The Lesson" I took this as my cue. I wrote the first few bars as they are now, and I embarked on a new journey full of unexpected twists and turns. I discovered that writing music to words with a pre-determined meaning and a pre-formed structure contained a glorious paradox: that their constraints and inviolate boundaries pushed me into new areas for exploration, freed me from old habits and easy options, and showed me doorways where previously there had been only dead-ends.

However, my orchestrational inexperience created a piano part that could only be played by a pianist with at least six hands! The conductor Tony Harrison brought much needed wisdom to the problem and pointed out that it was not a piano part at all, eventually managing to convince me that I had, without intending it, written a piece for full orchestra.

Pure pragmatism dictated that, for ease of recording, we should assign the same forces to "The Lesson" as were to be used for the Bassoon Concerto. I should also say that "The Lesson" owes much in terms of colour and courage to that master of tuned percussion, Percy Grainger, and his unique orchestration.

 

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“The Lesson” for Voice,
Strings and Percussion
To read
W H Auden’s poem
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