Julian Anderson - Book of Hours

Book of Hours

This piece was inspired by two great works of late Medieval art: the ‘Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’ and the ‘Tapisseries La Dame à Licorne’ (The Lady and the Unicorn), currently held in the Musée du Moyen Age in Paris.

The two parts of this work do not literally portray or depict either of the Medieval artefacts. Rather, the moods, harmonies, melodies and instrumental colours were prompted by them. Also the form of this piece unfolds like a Book of Hours – a sequence of events connected into a chronological thread, each sharply contrasted. Through it all a single unifying idea returns in many guises – the first four notes of the major scale. The real subject of the music is indeed just intervals themselves. I wanted to rediscover for myself what, for example, a major second, a perfect fourth or a fifth could be and how these sounds could be interpreted afresh.

There is some use of electronic sound – generally as an extra colour beyond the ensemble sounds, rather as gold-leaf might be applied in a Medieval manuscript.

The two large parts are quite different in character and harmony, as will be immediately apparent, I hope. However, they start with the same music – except that, in Part Two the opening of Part One is played back as if heard on a scratchy, poorly-pressed 33 1/3 record (perhaps from the former Eastern Bloc…I have strong memories of buying such records from ‘Collets’ in London, in order to hear the latest new music from Poland, Russia or Romania). Thereafter Part Two proceeds by recomposing Part One as if in ‘fast forward’; eventually breaking off on a quite different path altogether. There is occasional allusion throughout the piece to the modal techniques of Medieval music, without any literal pastiche or quotation. After a substantial electronic cadenza, the coda introduces new musical ideas over sporadic reminiscences of earlier sections.

Book of Hours was commissioned for tonight’s concert by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group as part of my Composer-In-Association residency, with generous financial assistance from the Michael Vyner Trust and Investors listed through BCMG’s Sound Investment Scheme. I am grateful to Lamberto Coccioli, Jonty Harrison and Sound Intermedia who provided invaluable assistance with the electronics throughout. Many thanks are also due to the players of BCMG and to Jackie and Stephen Newbould for their help on this project. Knowing I was composing for such virtuosic performers as Oliver Knussen and BCMG was a major inspiration throughout. Book of Hours is dedicated in admiration to Barrie Gavin.

Julian Anderson

Julian Anderson has rewarded BCMG’s Sound Investors with a brilliant new piece, of great imagination and variety.
The Independent

Throughout its 25 minutes the piece reveals a masterly ear for orchestral colour and patiently-paced sonorous climaxes. It deserves urgent commercial recording.
Birmingham Post

Playing under the secure direction of Oliver Knussen, the BCMG revelled in the music’s extravagance of colour.
The Daily Telegraph

The skill with which Anderson generates 25 minutes of free-wheeling, exuberant, high-octane music is miraculous.
The Sunday Telegraph

In this bold statement, Anderson finds his true voice.
The Sunday Times

First performed by BCMG conducted by Oliver Knussen on 28 January 2005 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham.