Paston 600 Footprints composer Sarah Rodgers – part three

Commissioned to compose a new work as part of our upcoming ‘Paston 600 Footprints’ project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sarah Rodgers shares insight into the composing process in the third of a series of updates tracking the progress of this new composition.

Paston Papers commission at half-way point, Sarah Rodgers shares insights as new piece unfolds.

The trebles of North Walsham Choir, who will be performing the premiere of Sarah’s new piece alongside the OAE.

It is a joy to write a large-scale form in miniature. It means trying, in a short space of writing, to get to the essence of a musical form whose literature and repertoire spans centuries. That’s a challenging one, but the upside for me as a composer is being able to focus the themes and ideas in a concentrated manner without the demand of developing them through a longer piece of work.

Agnes is played out in one continuous movement but there are sections which are framed around extracts from individual letters. To capture the mood of each letter’s content, I have used characteristics of Baroque dance forms, starting with a courante, then allemande and the most recently written is a forlana. The dances are identified by their meter and also their expressive qualities, so the courante in 3/4 is a ‘running piece’ while the forlana in 6/8 has a tinge of melancholy. Still to come are a bourree, a gigue and the work will be rounded off with a chorale.

It is a further joy to have an orchestra of period instruments at the heart of Agnes. I have been listening to OAE recordings and watching the excellent set of videos on performance practice on the OAE’s YouTube channel. This small-scale immersion in the OAE sound-world helps to focus my creative imagination and guide invention towards the technical and musical practices at which a period orchestra excels. It also gives me permission to indulge one or two conventions which I hope will produce some spontaneous smiles – but those I am keeping secret!

Working with text from Agnes Berry Paston’s letters is also an exercise in miniature and I have had to find a way to the thread of a story around which the oratorio can be hung. In previous compositions, I have set many words from many different sources and it is always intriguing how a text inspires a musical thought and then equally how the expressing of that thought gives shape to the text. It is always a temptation to have too many words and so especially where the miniature is concerned, ‘less is more’ is a good guide. Incidentally, Agnes’ story is about the building of a wall, which did not please the neighbours!

By the next post, the piece should be close to completion – watch this space.

Sarah Rodgers

(published 19 April 2018)

The world premiere of this new work will be performed by Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in North Walsham, Norfolk on Sunday 1 July 2018. More details here.

Find out more about Sarah and her work here.

Read part one of Sarah’s blog series here, and part two here.

Read part four here.