CANTATA ELIENSIS, ACT I
Composer Anna Krause writes:
From the very beginning of this project, it was clear to me that above all else, the music must serve the story. Any musical decisions I would make would have to facilitate the telling of the story: would have to be justified in the light of the story. The music itself became a narrator.
This conclusion had a few implications. If the music was the story embodied, then surely, just as the story had a shape, an arc, so must the music. This implied a need for forward motion throughout, driving towards key plot points. I would need a subtle beginning to ease the listener into our world of an ancient convent on a cold morning in the fens, and a similar closing to ease him or her back out into the real world. I would need sounds of the place, the setting, interrupting at unpredictable times to give a sense of ambiance: these people are acting and interacting in a place. I would need vivid colours in the ensemble to create a coherent and distinct world.
The textual exposition of Nicholas Pitts-Tucker’s libretto is exceptionally rich, and because of the volume of poetry for which the singers are responsible, the burden of delivering emotional content must be shared by the instrumental parts. This narrative role of the music gives rise to instrumental lines that interact with, rather than merely support, the vocal lines. The violin is especially “vocal” in its presentation.
Just as the text was drawn from many and varied sources, so too does the music refer to a variety of influences, each of which is intended to define the setting. The bells place us in the world of the cathedral: although they do not yet exist in our story, they are like a ghost of something that will come. There are echoes of the bells embedded throughout the score. They are our anchor to the place itself. The spirit of the place is there, although all its physical attributes may not yet be. The fiddle, though anachronistic, is another expression of the place and its people, and breathes vitality into an otherwise spare, controlled, sometimes Spartan atmosphere. Because much of the story happens during some kind of liturgical exercise, many of the melodic lines and rhythmic patterns draw heavily from the chant tradition. The orchestration is sparse throughout, both as a reference to the spare texture of actual music of the time, and as a sort of minimalist set piece.
From unifier to set piece to narrator or even character, the music must play a number of parts in this opera. By interacting so intimately with Nicholas Pitts-Tucker’s words, it becomes an active storyteller, creating a world and serving the story before all other ambitions.