IMC 2015: Sessions

Session 1699: Special Session: Contemporary Composers and the Renewal of Medieval Practice?: Medieval Models in the Work of Judith Weir

Thursday 9 July 2015, 13.00-14.00

Introduction:Richard Rastall, School of Music, University of Leeds
Speaker:Graham Coatman, School of Music, Humanities & Media, University of Huddersfield

Many 20th-century British composers have turned to medieval models for inspiration. Is their use of medieval models a means to establish identity and authenticity, or simply a reaction against the overwhelming harmonic and formal legacy of the 19th century? What do contemporary composers, and indeed, what do we, understand by medievalism today? How important to us, as audience, is it to understand or know the medieval sources so used? How is the use of pre-existent material integrated into the contemporary creative process?

Judith Weir, amongst many contemporary British composers, including composers as diverse as James Macmillan and Peter Maxwell Davies, has openly used medieval and other pre-existent models in her compositions. Her interests in narrative, folklore, and theatre have found expression in a broad range of musical invention. She has derived inspiration from diverse sources, which include Icelandic sagas and Chinese Yuan Dynasty drama. Her work is lauded and slated in equal measure, often for her openness in acknowledging her sources. Examining the musical textures of Weir’s choral work All the Ends of the Earth, which recreates Perotin’s organum Viderunt Omnes, this paper seeks to put Weir’s use of medieval sources into the wider context of medievalism in contemporary music.

Graham Coatman is a commissioned composer, performer, and musical director involved in the performance and teaching of early and contemporary music. His research into medievalism in 20th-century music at Huddersfield University has led to invitations to deliver papers at the inaugural MAMO (Middle Ages in the Modern World) conference at St Andrews in 2013, and a return in 2015, to directing Maxwell Davies’s 8 Songs for a Mad King. Graham is Director of 20,000 Voices, promoting singing across north east England, and the Director of HISS (Historically Informed Summer School), which he founded in 2011 to explore connections between early, folk, and traditional music. Recent commissions include the following premieres: the violin concerto Bakolo Drom (Swaledale Festival 2012), a trilogy of choral works on texts by Bede, including Quis Domini Expediet (directed by James Weeks and performed by EXAUDI vocal ensemble at Hexham Abbey Festival 2010), and The Witch of Slatterdale (Swaledale Festival 2013), a music theatre work based on an apocryphal tale from a monk at Byland Abbey.