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Listening to Howard Goodall's deeply moving Eternal Light: A Requiem, you can start to appreciate the depth and range of Howard’s music.
Since he was a child, Howard Goodall has heard music in his head. Not just a snippet or a favourite melody, but the fully finished work of his own creation. Howard has this innate ability to focus on a painting or a poem, and to be so inspired he’s able to imagine his newly created piece, including all the parts and orchestration, in all it’s glory. It’s meant that, for the composer, the task has always been about how to transport the music from inside his head and onto the page in a way which accurately reflects what he’s imagined so completely. Interestingly for Howard, once the process is complete and the music transferred from head to page, he’s able to consider it dispassionately, as though it doesn’t belong to him at all. It’s proved a useful facility when writing stage musicals or film scores which can, and do, require re-writes and tweaks.
Howard's composition Eternal Light was commissioned in 2008 and has received countless performances since then, making it his most popular choral composition. Written to mark the 20th anniversary of the ensemble London Musici, this unorthodox and unusual interpretation of the Requiem, was also envisaged as a dance piece for the Rambert Dance Company. Traditionally a prayer for the salvation of the departed soul, Howard’s requiem centres on those who are left behind to grieve. His intention is to seek out the healing power of music, to create a sense of solace whilst acknowledging the unbearable loss and emptiness which comes with the death of someone close, in the hope that musical expression can provide space for reflection and maybe even some comfort. Howard describes Eternal Light as a Requiem for the living, using poetry readings and hymns alongside the more familiar text of the mass, to focus on interrupted lives.
The music, scored for Howard’s favourite combination of small choir and strings, works beautifully with the composer’s careful selection of the traditional latin text of the Requiem with powerful poetry. It’s first performances coincided with the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, adding a particular poignancy to the words of the poet John McCrae, ‘In Flanders Fields’. In this centenary year which marks the beginning of that terrible conflict, Howard’s Requiem resonates with our remembrance. Although the combination of music and text can address a shared sorrow and grief, other settings within Eternal Light are deeply personal, offering some understanding and compassion for the one left grieving.
Uniquely in contemporary classical music, Howard Goodall is able to compose music which is both original and accessible, and with Eternal Light, he’s achieved a work with a powerful personal connection which has ensured its continued potency and popularity.