5 June 2021

At long last we were able to realise the full concert version of A Book of Flames and Shadows in Orford, Suffolk at the end of April.

The project’s evolution has lasted almost a decade: in 2012 EXAUDI was asked to perform some Arcadelt madrigals (settings of Michelangelo) in the Courtauld Gallery, and I added some treatments of this beautifully economical and eloquent music of my own.

By 2017 these Arcadelt palimpsests had grown into a book of 12 madrigals, the Libro di fiammelle e ombre. EXAUDI premiered this at Wigmore Hall as part of our 15th anniversary concert; a radio broadcast followed, and (unprecedentedly!) a British Composer Award.

But the concert had thrown up questions and problems: how really did I want this music to relate to Arcadelt’s? How much of his music did we need to make the connection maximally meaningful What was an effective pacing and overall shape to this project? Although the Libro works in theory on its own, it’s most effective when it’s grafted to several Arcadelt madrigals, in and out of which it weaves. This gave me the idea to recast the whole thing as an hour-long integrated sequence, adding a new work to contextualise the madrigals.

I started work on a piece for mezzo and violin, based on texts of Petrarch and Pietro Bembo, in late 2018. Bembo is a crucial figure in literary and musical history, for his promulgation of the Tuscan of Petrarch as the literary lingua franca of Italy. His critique of Petrarch centres on the sound and rhythm of his poetry, and this provided a link to this poetry for composers at the time the polyphonic madrigal was being developed. Setting Bembo and Petrarch, I tried to dramatise a moment at which the sensuality of sounding language is realised, as if for the first time. This became Fantasie di strani e dolci misteri della parola.

After a few false starts thanks to the pandemic, the complete sequence, comprising Fantasie, Arcadelt and Libro di fiammelle, was filmed as a concert for MUSICON, Durham University, in April 2021, and recorded separately for audio CD release on Winter and Winter later in the year.

The concert film is here: in its entirety until June 2021 and after that in a short extract, prior to the CD release.