Music Webmaster: L.Mullenger@coventry.ac.uk ullenger
MY YOUNGER DAUGHTER PENNY
AND MY 13TH OPERA, LINDISFARNE
I have dedicated my 13th opera "Lindisfarne" to my younger daughter Penny because she has been there and I do not think anyone can appreciate the importance of the place who has not been to see it.
Penny has sent us the following account of herself from Ireland:
Pennys and Philips wedding took place in Ireland because there were more friends and relatives over there, at Kil Othe Grange Church, where she and Philip met.
She was marrying into a very musical family. Philips father, Eric Beck was the son of a professional musician and is a pianist, Eves family is full of singers, pianists and organists many of whom took part in the wedding celebrations. Eve herself runs a choir that meets in their house for rehearsal.
My own music was represented by Brian Davis, Pennys godfather, who played my Variations on In Those Twelve Days at the concert afterwards. Philip is a lecturer on Computers at a College in Dublin. We have become very close to Philips family.
In 1923, the year when I left school, was published the first book on the Lindisfarne Gospels, with 3 coloured plates and a large number of modern reproductions. It may well have been this book that Annie Pearce asked for as a parting gift from the School on her retirement a few years after I had left. at any rate it was this hook that she lent to me a few years after her retirement and that formed the basis of my lifelong interest in Lindisfarne. When she died, A.P. left her sister with the request that I should ask for one of her books in remembrance of her, and although I felt very greedy it was this wonderful book that I requested, and so it came permanently into my library. When I came to write my opera Lindisfarne it formed the basis of all my research on the subject. A feature of the opera is that it rushes about in time regardless of the unity of time. The First Scene is in the 7th century when the Gospels were first written. Eadfrith, Aethelwald and Billfrith, who are believed to be the authors move about in the middle, while St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert stand like statues, so well remembered as to be practically still there, and only moving when consulted. Eadfrith, Aethelwald and Billfrith first discuss the subject of the book they are meaning to write. Then, having decided on the Gospels, "Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John", they get down to detail of pigments, "blue from lapis lazuli", "green from malachite", "red from the roasting of white lead" They bring vellum and compasses. By the end of Scene I they have started merrily on their project. The Second Scene is in the 9th century. The finished Book - now a treasured possession lies on a lectern. Eadfrith and Aethelwald, or their name sakes, are now joined by Hunred. Aldred also comes to join them but is at first dismayed by thinking they do not want him. Suddenly his mother Tilwin appears. She has come to warn them that the Vikings are on the way. With fire and plunder they pillage the coast up to Bamburgh Castle.
They start to pack up as Tilwin becomes more reflective:
She turns again to her quicker, more dramatic style.
But she returns to her more reflective style in the end
"Oh, Aidan, oh St. Cuthbert, Columba too
I need hardly say that the part of Tilwin is written for a dramatic soprano.
After a short reference to St. Cuthbert, the monks go forth carrying the shine, Aldred taking charge of the Book. Tilwin looks after them sadly then follows.
To take the musical journey from the 7th century to the 9th was impossible because too little was known about the music of those two periods, but to move musically from the 9th century to the 20th presents no difficulty, except that it is an "embarras de richesse".
But I overcame this by leading through the Middle Ages to the 14th century when syncopation was first used and then skipping to the present day.
I wanted to introduce people of the early 20th century looking round Lindisfarne and being thoroughly misled by a guide such as we had in those days who really knew nothing about the subject he was pretending to inform on, making silly jokes at the expense of the past, in order to curry favour with his audience and put them in a good humour for the final stage when he hoped to reap his reward
Of course there may have been a later settlement of monks at Lindisfarne who were gluttonous and wine- bibbers but to imply that they did these things at the time of the Viking invasions in the 9th century is certainly very wide of the mark. So by and large the Guide gives the 20th century people a very wrong idea of what happened at Lindisfarne.
Scene 4. An Interlude follows, reversing the process from the syncopation shared by the 14th and 20th centuries alike back to the age of the Viking invasions and we see the distraught monks with their burdensome relics resting for a moment while they consider where they should go:
But they realise that all the other monasteries will be in the same predicament as themselves. They will hardly be glad to see them added to their own troubles. No they must make up their minds to go further afield. Where then? To Ireland? To Iona? They are almost at the end of their tether. But they struggle on, confident that God. or the Spirit of St. Cuthbert will come to their rescue in the end
Unlike Act I, Act II keeps to the unity of time by remaining in the 9th century. We are on the West instead of the East side of England. The monks are attempting the journey to Ireland in a storm which does not bode well for them. We see them on the ship looking thoroughly unhappy.
For this purpose I borrowed words from Shakespeares Tempest for the mariners off-stage.
"Heigh, my hearty, cheerly,
The monks are seen sitting in the boat, all facing left, looking thoroughly miserable. They feel they have decided on the wrong course and when Aldred loses grasp of the Book in a sudden squall, their bid for Ireland is entirely broken. Hunred jumps up and bids the mariners return to port. We see the ship turn round, so that the monks are now facing right. The storm subsides and the monks sing a prayer:
But now the ship glides and the monks feel that they have at least done the right thing in giving up the attempt to go to Ireland.
Scene II is set on the mud flats in the estuary of the Solway Firth. The monks have not given up the idea of recovering their precious Book. Aldred is distraught with what has happened but Hunred has had a dream which has encouraged them to go and search the mud flats at low tide.
Eadfrith and Aethelwald remark how in obedience to Hunreds dream they had searched the mud flats for hours, and yet had had no success.
But suddenly Aldred, who was searching in a different place, shouts out: "What is this?"
The others rush to see what he has found
Aldred: "In the container as I placed it."
They rush to open it and are relieved to find that their valued MS is unharmed.
"Deo gracias," they sing. "Deo gloria!"
Tilwin arrives in time to join in their celebration. She has come to tell them that they can return to their old haunts, however devastated they will find them. They march off singing the song with which they enter in the last Act:
The last Act is a kind of Shavian epilogue. I wanted to bring all my characters together from their different centuries so that they could understand each other.
The Scene is the ruined monastery, as in Act I Scene 3. First the modern Tourists come on, led by the Deaconess who has taken. the place of the Guide. But as she is about to address her audience, the Monks are heard approaching from a distance singing as they had done at the end of Act II. The tourists freeze until they are noticed by the Monks. The Deaconess offers an explanation:
Billfrith is the first of the old characters to arrive and makes straight for his place of "anchorage". He is immediately tackled by one of the tourists who finds it disgusting and unnatural to attempt to stay in one place. But Billfrith has his answer for that. Better to stay in one place than to wander aimlessly and restlessly about the world, with no real purpose in life.
Eadwith, Aethelwald and Billfrith form themselves into a trio who call for St Cuthbert to appear.
St. Cuthbert appears, looking like an old beggar,
The Tourists seem to be impressed.
The three Monks call for St. Aidan to appear.
St. Aidan appears as a harsh critic of modern times:
This provokes an eruption from the Tourists:
A storm grows in the orchestra. Tilwin rushes off and soon comes back with the news: the Danes are here again - the Vikings. The Monks rush to pack up and leave. In the confusion the Book falls from the lectern where it has been placed.
The Tourists feel secure in their 20th century. "They cannot touch us. But the whole stage grows dark. There are screams off and fires are lit.
Gradually the storm peters out in the orchestra; the fires dwindle and the storm comes to an end
"They are more than ghosts from the past.
Deaconess (picking up the Book):
Deaconess (who has been examining the Book):
(They come forward to address the audience )
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