I began to compose seriously when I was a
teacher of music and English at Pangbourne College. I wrote some
incidental music for a production of King Lear, and then
was asked to write a large-scale piecefor the school choral
society. After this, I was appointed composer-in-residence at
Charterhouse, which combined some teaching with the freedom to take
on new commissions.
As a student at Durham University, I was
conductor of the university chamber choir, and also of the symphony
orchestra. This gave me plenty of experience, so that I was able to
conduct orchestras like the Philharmonia and English Chamber
Orchestra with a certain amount of confidence. I particularly love
choral conducting, which is an art all of its own.
I play both piano and organ. They are very
different instruments. And I love accompanying the Christian
liturgy on the organ.
Yes, it pays the bills, and I feel very
fortunate that it does. For many years I had to supplement my
income with teaching and examining. Nowadays, income from
commissions and royalties mean I can live a comfortable life
composing. In my 20s, I began writing library production music, and
have continued ever since.
This is music on a shelf, which film producers
can just download and use as they need it. I frequently hear my
music on programmes unexpectedly, and am delighted when I receive
my next royalty statement.
Audionetwork.com produce a thousand tracks a
month, from composers all over the world. It's an enormous
business now. They give me a brief, like an album of pieces on war,
or Christmas music, or a pastoral album. I don't belittle it,
because they use the very best orchestras and recording engineers,
and it's available on iTunes, so it can actually be downloaded and
enjoyed by anyone. I take as much pride in it, and as much care, as
I do in any of my music. I've recently recorded a whole library
album of First World War music.
But it's a world away from my serious art
music, like my Angel CD, which I've just written
for Decca. There's a lot of interest in it already.
Various things came together that made me want to write
this album. I've always loved the story of the Angel
Gabriel visiting Mary, the very beginning of the Christian faith,
and that's probably the single most important thing. And my father
once saw angels. Then there's the story of the angel of Mons. Decca
took me over to Mons in December to film an interview there. You
can see all this on YouTube.
I spent my MA year researching music of the late
Renaissance and early Baroque. This period saw the birth
of tonality, and I'm drawn more and more to the great figures of
this period, particularly Victoria, Tallis, Monteverdi, and
Cavalli. Their approach to line, and the way they delight in
controlled dissonance, has a massive influence on my
My country, those I love, and my Christian
faith are the other main influences on me. I believe music is born
of the soul, so anything that affects the soul finds a place in my
musical output. Christianity - this gives meaning to my whole life.
It's the bedrock of my work as a composer.
I was commissioned by a local choir, the
Sheringham and Cromer Choral Society, to write a new work to be
premiered this year, and the heroism of Edith Cavell provided the
perfect starting point. As a resident of Norfolk, I've always been
aware of Edith Cavell, and I visited her grave in Norwich Cathedral
on a number of occasions. As I've learnt more about her life, her
work, and the days leading up to her death, I have developed huge
respect, even profound love, for this brave woman of such deep
faith. I found the account of her last night, written by the prison
chaplain, very, very moving.
The première of Eventide: In
Memoriam Edith Cavellwill take place in Norwich
Cathedral on 12 July, with the Sheringham and Cromer Choral
Society, the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, and the English Chamber
On Angel, there is an excerpt from a larger
work called The Angel of Mons. Over the next few
months, I want to complete this work so that we can premiere it on
23 August, which will be the exact centenary of the apparition. At
the same time, I'll be working on a commission from the Aliquando
choir in Henley - a setting of Wilfred Owen's "I Know The Music"
for SATB choir, soprano solo, and string quartet. The
Angel music will have its London première on 9 June at St
John's, Smith Square, with the choir of New College, Oxford, and
the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra. I'm sharing the conducting with
the choir's director, Edward Higginbottom.
Most of my music is sacred. I like nothing more
than to take a text from the psalms or a spiritual poem by my
brother Andrew - he's an Anglican priest in Lincolnshire - and set
it to music. Music, like all art, is ultimately there to praise
God. I've written short piano pieces called Towards the
Light, and my largest works to date are the Te Deum
and the Lazarus Requiem.
I was born and bred in Lincolnshire, where my
family ran a pub near Skegness. I learnt to play the piano and sang
in the village church choir. Andrew is four years older than me.
He's a poet, as well as being a priest, and he plays a vital part
in my work by providing beautiful words and spiritual
encouragement. Now I live in Norfolk between the Broads and the
coast, with my partner and our cat, Yum Yum.
My favourite sound is the crashing of waves,
closely followed by the purr of my cat. Both reveal to me, in a
very real sense, the beauty and mystery of God's creation.
Because I'm constantly thinking about music, I
like nothing better than to seek peace and relaxation in a quiet
hotel by the sea in either Spain or Greece. There, I can soak up
the sun, read books, and forget all about crotchets and
As a student I attended a retreatin Alnmouth,
Northumberland, with a few fellow students fromSt Chad's
College, Durham. It was led by Michael Ramsey. What an honour! The
retreat was silent, but he spoke to us every so oftenon the subject
of the Transfiguration. I will never forget the softness of his
voice and his wise, searching eyes.
Another huge influence was Philip Ainsworth, my
music teacher for my two years of O level. He taught me everything
I know about harmony and counterpoint. He was the best teacher I
ever had, and a real inspiration.
Teaching literature is very different from reading
it, and allowed me to really taste the deep beauty of the
English classics. The Mayor of Casterbridge particularly
fired my imagination. Maybe it has the potential to be developed
into an opera libretto. The other work that particularly affected
me as a teacher was Blake's Songs of Innocence and
My main prayer is for the safekeeping of those I
love, but Ialso pray that I may be sustainedin my work as
a composer and remain faithful to Christ in all thatI do.
I would love to meet St John, Christ's beloved
disciple. If I could meet one towering musical figure, it would be
George Frideric Handel, whom I believe managed to convey more than
anyone else a perfect marriage between things sensual and things
spiritual in his music.
Patrick Hawes was talking to Terence Handley