WULFSTAN AT THE MILLENNIUM
Music for Ten Players:
Bass Flute (doubles Flute), English Horn, Bass Clarinet, Horn, Marimba (plus two muted tom-toms and two muted gongs), Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Doublebass
Commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University
for Parnassus, Anthony Korf, Director
Many years ago when I was still a practicing church musician, I dreamt that I had composed a set of propers and responsories for some important but little-known feast day -- dozens of pieces of differing lengths and characters, scored for a variety of combinations. I was deeply disappointed when I awoke to discover that my little volume was but a fantasy, that I hadn't had the foresight to page through it in my dream in order to bring some of it back with me. In a sense, this work is that set of pieces: a collection of stylistically diverse movements evocative in a quite abstract way of a liturgy. It is also something of a work of musicological fiction: music composed as if Leonin, Perotin, Philippe de Vitry, Machaut, and a host of anonymous medieval English and Cypriot composers had been the direct antecedents of late 20th century music -- as if the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods had never happened. In addition to mirroring the general plan of a musical liturgy, this work also reflects its emotional and dramatic character. The more outward and public movements are the first five. These are then followed by the central, more inward and reflective movements, whose mood is broken abruptly at the end by the vigorous and insistent toccata of the recessional.
But who, then, was Wulfstan? He was an Anglo-Saxon cleric and scholar at the cathedral of Winchester 1000 years ago, and the first composer of polyphonic music whose name has come down to us. His work survives in the Winchester Troper, the style of which is echoed from time to time not just in this work but in other pieces of mine as well. Wulfstan also represents, at least for me, the transitory nature of what we do, since, unwittingly, he lived at the height and, at the same time, the final flowering of Old English culture, soon to be changed forever by the upheaval of the Norman Conquest.