This piece of music holds a very special and important place in my heart. It was written in 1979 as a commission (no money involved!) by Margaret Kempson who was the conductor of the Marlborough Choral Society. A local woman called, I think, Nicky Thompson was the designated alto soloist, and she gave the first performance in St Peter's Church at the west end of the High Street. It was the first time ever that I heard something that I had written for orchestra played by some quite good players, and the magic of that experience has remained with me very strongly ever since.
I made some very small revisions to the scoring in 1999 (in particular adding a harp).
Nicky Thompson suffered a debilitating stroke at a very young age, although I lost touch with her and do not know to what extent she recovered. She had a fabulous voice, and I only wish that there had been a recording. Margaret and "G" Kempson lived in the house next door to my grandparents, at the top of Hyde Lane (aka Sun Lane), and whilst I was teaching in St John's I used to go to supper there once a week prior to singing in the choral society (of which I was the deputy conductor). "G" Kempson was a very learned schoolmaster who also happened to be a very competent mountaineer. He was part of the 1953 Everest expedition, going up to the final camp in support of the successful team that reached the summit. Marlborough (and Marlborough College in particular) has had a long and pre-eminently distinguished association with mountaineering; "G"'s part in the successful conquest of the world's highest mountain has to be of particular note. When I was at school in the town I did a lot of climbing (we learned many techniques climbing on the disused railway bridges), alongside several now quite famous climbers. On the staff were several keen mountaineers and climbers, and in the town, one of the doctors, Dr Barney Rosedale, was part of the later successful Everest team in, I think, the 1980s. This was with Chris Bonington. In his book about the experience there is a wonderful double page picture of Barney Rosedale, from below, stepping across a crevasse.
I digress! St Peter's Church, to which I was herded as a schoolboy in compulsory worship (as was the case in those days – a daily service when I first went to school, but only on a Sunday by the time I left!) is now deconsecrated, attracting far more people to the craft stalls and cafe inside. It is also an excellent concert venue. The Trust which runs the church is very successful at maintaining the fabric of the building, and promoting its interests far and wide. My parents were both involved from the beginning – my father was treasurer for many years (he died recently) and my mother still cleans and does flower arranging there. For several years they both guided tourists up the steep steps of the tower – my father as an octogenarian was a lot fitter than most of the tourists half his age!
Cardinal Wolsey was ordained in St Peters Church. This alone sets this place apart from your average parish church!
The sound file has been made up using EastWest sounds combined with Sibelius software. The voice part is here played by a solo violin.
The Virgin's Song - anonymous medieval poem
Jesu, sweete sone dear, On poorful bed liest thou here, And that me grievest sore; For thy cradle is as a bere, Ox and asse be thy fere: Weep I may therefore.
Jesu, sweete, be not wroth, Though I n'ave clout ne cloth Thee on for to fold, Thee on for to folde ne to wrap, For I n'ave clout ne lap; But Lay thou thy feet to my pap And wite thee from the cold.