CARMINA EX RUINAS, (2019) is a musical drama set in Lewes, East Sussex, 1538. My inspiration came from walking among the ruins of the Saint Pancras, Cluniac monastery that have somehow persevered since the Dissolution.
Carmina ex Ruinas, (Songs from the ruins) is a new work composed during the past year.
If you have visited the Priory ruins in Lewes, East Sussex, you may have been touched by the history of the place. It was a monastery for around 400 years. Then, it was destroyed (pretty savagely) by Giovanni Portinari with his team of Italian 'Sappers', who were employed by Thomas Cromwell during 1537/8. Fast forward to 2018/9, I took regular walks among the ruins. I felt curiously drawn to the stones, almost sensing an energy from their past. We try to imagine what it was like in those times. I composed a set of songs featuring transcribed phrases of Gregorian chant with a blend of functional harmony and modern textures including some synthesizer timbres that support the vocals. I delved into which plain chant might have been sung, day upon days of the 24 ‘horarium’ cycle, for almost four centuries? (As it happens, thanks to the remarkable preservation of the Lewes Breviary, we do know)
The 'Carmina Ex' story is told by an 'itinerant monk'. The first public performance was on the 5th September 2019, acted/narrated by Matthew Tweddle. He recited from his 'postulant's journal': describing a badly-timed visit to the Priory during the ill-fated week in 1538 when it was laid to waste so violently and systematically. The musical interludes allow the 'monk' to retreat within himself, while trying to grasp the goings-on and hide. He struggles to preserve his faith in such adverse circumstances. We hear the 'plain chants in his mind' whereupon he is better able to cope with the ghastly scenes unfolding in the Priory grounds.
We performed the music for the first time on 5th September 2019 at the church of St John The Baptist, Southover. Lewes East Sussex. This venue is actually in earshot of the monastery grounds, with the St. Pancras founder Gundrada's crypt nearby.
Soprano Solo, Hannah Limbrick
Chants, Roland Bryce
Flute Obbligato, Amy Bryce
Oboe & Cor. Obbligato, Clare Worth
Sampled Church Bells
Synthesizer, Rachel Taylor
Piano, Rachel Fryer
Bass / DB. Louis Moisan
Drums / Percussion, LukeYoung &
Red Fielder van Kleefe
Thinking about music as a kind of 'time machine':
All music begins and flows, from the first notes until the silence at the end. The introduction of Carmina Ex Ruinas delivers you to the Gregorian Chant era, while, initially a 'pop beat' ticks to 'modern day time'. There is a strange overlap of styles: It is tonally and harmonically in synch., but the Chants are rather more elastic than a steady pop beat. The harmonic pulse slows to 2 bars and the reverberant acoustic stretches tempos with the Chants. I wanted the listener to begin by visualising being stuck in traffic along the A27 Lewes by-pass. The busy road cuts across what were once the monastery fields. You hear some ordinary pop/rock beat over the radio, over which fragments of the Plain Chants drift and summon the listener to hear the story of how the magnificent monastery buildings were laid to waste in such a destructive manner.
The movements are:
PRAELUDIUM: Solo flute. The Song-thrush in the church bell tower.
PRIMUS: HOSANNA IN EXCELSIS - Entry to Dieppe
SEKUNDUS: ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS - Back on dry land at last!
TRIBUS: DE PROFUNDIS - The Dissolution has begun. Fires around the foundations
QUARTEM - SALVE REGINA - A cacophony of street musicians beys for the walls to tumble
QUINTUS: DICIT DOMINUS - The miracle at Cana remembered.
SEXTUS: AGNUS DEI - Saving the bell.
SEPTEM: CHRISTUS FACTUS EST, RESURREXIT - Prayers and flight from the plague.
OCTEM: JUBILATE DEO - The walk to Chichester - The 3 riders approach
NOVEM: KYRIE - Giving thanks for safe return to France.
Praeludium: The Song Thrush in the chapelRoland Bryce