Composer Louis Mander writes:
My inspiration for the composition of the score came immediately and was catalysed by Nick Pitts-Tucker's evocative and highly expressive libretto. I wanted to expose a number of key character motifs that I could vary and recall through the whole three act arc to provide a subconscious narrative coherence. Once I had composed and honed these leitmotifs, it was my intention to source a couple of traditional Danish folk melodies that I might weave into the score. There is one Danish folk melody used in the Act One Intermezzo, then two further Scandinavian folk songs are enjoyed in the Scene Five 'Mead' chorus. The other melodic material is my own, with Scandinavian inflected contours.
The drama is played out with through-composed aria, duet, ensemble and accompanied recitative, but also spoken word, sometimes with instrumental underscoring, and oftentimes purely spoken, without accompaniment. There are also a number of purely instrumental episodes which convey the presence of the supernatural characters in the story. It was decided early on that vocalising these otherworldly characters would be better evoked through shadow-play.
In spite of there being a number of characters set as baritone roles, the contrast between them is noticeable. The Minstrel displays a lighter (baryton-Martin) voice with agility and mercurial nimbleness, King Hrothgar, a darker bass-baritone and Beowulf himself a strong, lyric baritone. With the female roles (all Queens) I wanted to reveal their feminine strength and emotional support to Beowulf and Hrothgar in their arduous adventures. The Minstrel is both a diagetic and non-diagetic role, cleverly deployed by Nick to advance the exposure of the narrative to the audience and also to be an active part of the drama itself.
The scoring, richly textured and with a great deal of percussion includes the full battery of tuned and un-tuned instruments. The choice of the Paraguyan harp is an unusual one: a type of diatonic harp that is a diagetic conceit for the Minstrel in his ballads.
The first act is impetuous and full of vitality. The second act is intrepid and athletic. The third and concluding act is bittersweet, elegiac and otherworldly. In itself it was an Olympian compositional undertaking to capture this epic and well loved tale in under 2 hours! My thanks to Julia Stutfield and Nick Pitts-Tucker for their belief in my vision for the opera.
My desire was to illuminate the camaraderie and tender friendship between Beowulf and his brethren which is so touchingly inlaid through the original poem. A unifying and unaffected male unity displayed in adversity.
Copyright Louis Mander 2015