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Talking collaborations with Coldplay, composition commissions, and sharing thoughts behind his latest album 'Inspired', Classic FM's Composer in Residence and fellow presenter Howard Goodall web chatted with Tim Lihoreau.
Blackadder, The Borrowers, Red Dwarf, Q.I., Mr Bean - so many well-known TV programmes and films are blessed with a score written by EMMY, BRIT and BAFTA award-winning composer Howard Goodall. Between his compositional commitments, he has found the time to present Saturday Night at the Movies on Classic FM, and answer your compositional questions with Tim Lihoreau at 9am on 16 January.
Tim Lihoreau: A very good morning to you. A VERY SPECIAL guest today on the Wednesday Webchat: our composer in residence, Howard Goodall. Calling Howard Goodall... HOWARD... are you there? Many thanks for sparing the time to talk to us.
Howard Goodall: I am here, Tim. Very good to be webbing with you. I have my strong hot coffee at my side and am ready for ANYTHING....
Tim Lihoreau: Bravo. Coffee is good! So here goes. Can I start with…not a question, but a congratulations. Am I right in thinking you have just won an award? An OFFIE, isn’t it? Could you explain to our listeners what that is and what it’s for?
Howard Goodall: How kind of you to mention it, yes, my musical based on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale , which was produced in a small London fringe theatre in November has been nominated for Best New Musical in the theatrically prestigious Off-West End Awards; since we are the ONLY nomination we've also discovered to our great delight - and humility - that we have won the award. I hope this will help the musical get another airing perhaps later this year somewhere and more people will get to see it. I am obviously well chuffed!
Tim Lihoreau: Marvellous news. Can I get straight onto the new album, Inspired. It contains more than one work, doesn't it. Is it fair to say that Every Purpose Under the Heaven is top of the bill, so to speak? This is subtitled The King James Bible Oratorio, is that right?
Howard Goodall: Yes, the biggest, newest part of the CD's content is my new oratorio Every Purpose Under the Heaven which was commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible; it has been performed several times live (I have conducted it myself on a number of occasions in various cathedrals around the country) and this is its premiere recording. The easiest way to describe it is as a kind of 21st century Messiah - it is written for choir, soloists (on the CD, the wonderful Laura Wright and Noah Stewart) and orchestra and takes 10 passages of text from the KJB from Genesis to Revelation. The other tracks on the CD are new recordings/variations on some of my best-known TV/Music Theatre themes, e.g. Blackadder (the music from the end of the final episode on the trenches), Red Dwarf, The Vicar of Dibley (in a lovely new recording with guitar soloist Craig Ogden), Mr Bean etc.
Tim Lihoreau: Re. Every Purpose, when commissioned, were there certain sections of the KJB that you immediately plumped for.... were front of mind, as it were? It seems a mammoth task in itself, choosing just 10 passages.
Howard Goodall: Funnily enough, the first thing I decided was that I probably shouldn't have another go at Psalm 23 (having already covered that territory with Ms French!), and there were various sections of the KJB text that I knew I wanted to have a go at (e.g. 1 Corinthians - the passage that people have read out at weddings about the meaning of love, and the resounding phrases from the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, about seeing a New Heaven, a New earth etc.) but having assembled a 'greatest hits' list of the sections I felt had most musical/emotional potential I then set about arranging it into a structure, since having ten random movements wouldn't have worked. Some listeners may know my Requiem, Eternal Light, in which I tried to assemble a Requiem into a modern shape; to some extent that was my aim here, too, to 'hear' those famous biblical phrases afresh. The poetry of the King James Bible is beautiful - much of it rather like Shakespeare, in fact (with which it was contemporaneous) and my task was to turn this into - I hoped - equally memorable musical themes.
Simon Filsell: How much balance is there between your composing under commission and composing from your own initiative, and do you approach those two methods differently?
Howard Goodall: What a knowledgeable question! Yes, this is the perennial balance for composers (I think it was for my illustrious predecessors of previous centuries just as much as it is today). The honest truth is that I try and persuade commissioning bodies/institutions/sponsors/patrons/broadcasters that what they want for their new piece is the thing that is at that time filling my head with music. It's not always possible to do this but it is surprising how often a 'commissioner' is intrigued by the idea of unleashing something that is already lurking around in my subconscious. It puts them in the role of enabler, which can be quite exciting for all of us. These days I never write anything without it being commissioned, this is because I don't have enough days in the week to take on things just for the sake of it, but it is nevertheless true that ideas come into my head of their own accord and my task is to find a commissioning opportunity to let those ideas 'come out'. When I was a struggling composer in my early 20s, I composed all day every day music that never saw the light of day (it's still sitting in scores and on old cassette tapes in my office!). If I ever run out of ideas I might go and raid that archive...
Johnny Nutseed: You are one of my favourite composers and I grew up watching Red Dwarf when I was nine years old. I have a rather different question to ask today. As you probably know there are a lot of collaborations between musicians in the charts at the moment. Would you ever consider writing a song with bands such as PSY or Coldplay so that you can add 'Number 1 hit single' to your list of fantastic achievements? Thanks and have a wonderful morning!
Howard Goodall: I would LOVE to do that but I may never get asked! The (semi-secret) job I'm doing at the moment is a very unusual and new collaboration for me and I am loving every minute of the experience of working out of my comfort zone. If you know Chris Martin, tell him I'm 100% up for it...
Tim Lihoreau: Something I did want to ask is a little more pertinent today. It's concerning Shackleton's Cross (on Inspired) which, am I right, was a musical reaction to a picture of the same name (in the Royal Collection?). I say more pertinent because today was the day, in 1909, on which ES reached his 'farthest south' point, 97 geographical miles from the Pole. How did you come across the painting?
Howard Goodall: Painter Edward Seago went to Antarctica in 1957 and made a haunting series of pictures of the area where Shackleton had his final expedition and where he died, including this one of his cross in South Georgia; the painting is part of the Duke of Edinburgh's collection in the (amazing and huge) Royal Collection of artworks. I am hoping to compose a kind of Pictures at an Exhibition suite of responses to several (maybe 20 in total) of the pictures in the Royal Collection for solo piano and the Palace art curators have said they will try to pull all the paintings together into one place (they are in palaces & museums all over the UK) so we can perform the pieces live with them there on the walls. Very exciting prospect. I am trying not to develop a fatal vodka habit like Mussorgsky did, though.
Elaine James: Have you ever thought of doing an operetta... or have I missed seeing that you have?
Howard Goodall: The Kissing-Dance, which is a musical adaptation of She Stoops to Conquer I wrote with the brilliant Charles Hart (lyricist of Phantom of the Opera) could be described either as a musical or an operetta; it has been performed many times in 'straight' theatres but I would love to see an opera/operetta company do it. It's very funny and (I like to think) tuneful. There's more info about it on my website if you're offering to do it!
Tim Lihoreau: Howard, molto thanks for your time today (because what with musicals, oratorios, books - not to mention Saturday Night at the Movies every week, Saturdays from 5 on Classic FM! - you must be...somewhat busy. So, as I let the end credits roll on our Wed. Webchat, can I ask you one posted by Sylvia Robbins on our Facebook page - "I wonder what Howard thinks of the tv announcers who cut in and talk over his catchy numbers that are the closing music of so many of the programmes that I enjoy. I'm enraged by them and we simply put fast forward."
Howard Goodall: I am equally enraged. Thank you for supporting us poor put-upon composers in this respect (and this, IMHO, is what these announcers do not have for our efforts). Very good to talk with you all this morning. I am off to rehearsals now; thank you all for your interest - do go and check out my new CD Inspired, which - thinking ahead - would make a great Valentine's Day gift for your best beloved.
Don't forget to come back at 9am next Wednesday for another online chat with a prominent figure in classical music.