Our Lives to Guide

for soprano or mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble

Anthony Gilbert

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Composer Anthony Gilbert
Year of Composition 2021
Duration 3' 40"
Instrumentation Violin, Soprano or Mezzo-Soprano, Oboe, Recorder, Violoncello, Harpsichord
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-ag3oltg1

Notes

Poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg’s highly symbolistic words, written in Cape Town in June 1914, alert the reader to humanity’s weird but abiding tendency to bring about its own destruction, by persecution and a desire to dominate. By the same token, Sir John Manduell was acutely aware of this tendency at a cultural level, and worked hard, within all the organisations in which he played a leading role, to guide our society towards a more enriching cultural climate, primarily but not exclusively at a musical level.

This four-minute song commemorates Sir John’s supreme efforts, depicting, with lyrical lines undermined by distorting harmonies, how the best attempts can often create, beneath the surface, their own corrupting enemies. He skilfully kept them at bay, until his very last years. The first two stanzas symbolically pull ther expressive vocal line from within the preceding, harmonically dense, string episodes; the latter two, in ‘leadership’ fashion, provide the core lines for the final two clearer, increasingly climactic string passages.

Shortly after the death of Sir John Manduell, C.B.E., former Principal of the RNCM, I wrote a 3’ 44” song dedicated to his memory – he, after all, had been my ‘Boss’ since 1970, when he was Head of Music at Lancaster University. The title was as above, and the poem I chose was partly because it was written in South Africa, where Sir John grew up, and partly because it condemned war in the way that Sir John condemned conflict within the world of the Arts. He was the most peacefully successful negotiator I’d ever come across in all my years on committees and panels.

Our lives to Guide was completed in March 2018 in a scoring which suited RNCM forces, namely those heard in a concert in J.M.’s memory the preceding December, I think: lyrical baritone + string ensemble. I offered it to College, in the hope that it would be included in a further memorial concert including other pieces written in his memory and by J.M. I heard nothing more from those involved in planning such an event, so decided to add more anti-war songs and also to write a related version for mezzo-soprano and strings as an alternative, in the hope that performance possibilities were thereby increased.

In the meantime, distinguished recorderist John Turner set about devising a CD containing pieces in J.M.’s memoery, and asked me to contribute. The poem set should be by W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet with Nazi affinities. I declined to set Yeats, but told J.T. about ‘Our lives to Guide’, and its scoring, which could be reduced to match his forces. Having heard nothing more on that subject from him, I checked and found that it was not to be included on the first CD, but that a second CD was in preparation. This time I repeated my offer, and e-mailed J.T. a draft score of the song, now further adapted for the ensemble mostly used on the first commemoration album. This is the version now sent to C.E. in the hope that it will be included. Scoring is: Soprano or Mezzo-soprano, Oboe, Tenor recorder, Violin, Cello and Harpsichord (the latter added at J.T.’s suggestion). This is why I’ve asked for a set to be sent direct to J.T.

So let’s hope.