I took part in a concert yesterday, singing (with 140 other choir members) Faure’s Requiem and Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony in the Barbican Hall in London. I have mixed feelings about the Sea Symphony – it has some great moments but they don’t all hang together satisfactorily to my mind (or should that be ear?). I am also not a great lover of Walt Whitman’s poetry, or at least the portions of it that Vaughan Williams chose to set. I was struck by one section last night though, which at first made me think about Author identifiers but on closer inspection could be a description of the Interwebz:
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different,
All identities that have existed or may exist
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.
I do like the Faure Requiem. The In Paradisum especially has a luminous and, well, heavenly feel to it that is very special. This Requiem was also a learning experience for me many years ago. Let me explain …
When I left school I worked for a year in a public library service as a library assistant. We lowly assistants rotated through different departments, normally on a monthly basis. Luckily for me I ended up stuck in the Music and Drama section for six months. As I showed an interest in the music side I was allowed a bit of responsibility which included preparing orders for sets of orchestral parts. This meant checking how many oboe or trumpet parts etc there were in the score and then ordering the required number. For the strings we usually ordered 6+6+4+4+2 for the 1st & 2nd violins, violas, cellos and double basses. I remember that Bach’s St Matthew Passion was a tricky one as it has in effect two orchestras, partnering the two choirs.
Then one day I had to order the parts for the Faure Requiem. I was pleased to be doing this as the parts were required for a concert that I was singing in with the local choral society. I checked the required instruments and sent off the order. Back came the parts and were packaged up and sent off to my choir. All seemed well until on the day of the concert I happened to speak to the conductor.
He told me that the orchestral set had been a bit problematic. Faure had chosen a rather unusual instrumentation for his Requiem – a single violin part, 1st and 2nd violas, 1st and 2nd cellos, and double basses. So my order (6,6,4,4,2) meant that there were 12 copies of the violin parts, and 2 copies of each other string part. They’d had to to a certain amount of photocopying to provide enough parts for the players. I was mortified, but I don’t think he realised it was all my fault.
So, that experience taught me that it is always wise to check, even things that you think you know very well. Never make assumptions as they are likely to come back and bite you later.