After Handel's "Vesper" (1995)
for harpsichord solo
I have written a number of works for Early Music performers such as the Hilliard Ensemble, with whom I have had a close relationship for some years, and most recently for the viol consort Fretwork, so I responded with interest to the request for a solo harpsichord piece from Maggie Cole.
My first encounter with the harpsichord in a contemporary context was in 1968 when I worked as an assistant to John Cage in Illinois on his HPSCHD. My recollection of that work, and its use of chance operations, led me to the short passage in Raymond Roussel's novel Impressions d'Afrique where there is the fictional account of the blind Handel composing an oratorio, Vesper, by a curious set of chance operations involving sprigs of holly and coloured ribbons. This story drew me away from Cage's method (there is no use of chance in my piece) to 17th and 18th century keyboard music and, with Maggie's help, I became acquainted with a wide range of keyboard music and types of instruments which helped inform the writing of this piece. I was attracted to the quasi-improvisational ethos of the music of Frescobaldi for the single manual Italian harpsichord and, at the other extreme, to music written for the larger two manual German instrument.
In the spirit of this music I have offered many options with ornamentation, suggesting some, writing out others completely, but also encouraging the player to use her invention and instincts to add others where not specified and generally to adopt an open approach to the piece
After Handel's "Vesper" is dedicated to Maggie Cole.