Compass Programme Note by Emily Howard

Compass (2021-22) is scored for percussion and string septet. Percussion sounds arise from a pallet of metallic resonances, often extremely quiet, some stable and others less so, against which the strings oscillate between richly romantic gestures and their imagined counterparts, as though experienced from within differently curved musical spaces. The work takes inspiration from the multiple meanings of the title: as a noun ‘space, area, extent, circumference’ and as a verb ‘to surround, contain, envelop, enclose’. ‘Compass’ has a mathematical sense in Romance, a nautical sense in Germanic languages, and both in English. The mathematical instrument for describing circles was so called in English from the mid-14th century, and the mariners’ directional tool gained its name in the early 15th century. There is a sense of circling through differently curved spaces, some positively curved, some negatively curved, some familiar, and others estranged.


Emily Howard, March 2022


Commissioned with financial assistance from Arts Council England and the following individuals through BCMG’s Sound Investment scheme: Catherine & Derrick Archer,Peter Baldwin, John Barnden, Samantha Bird, Paul Bond, Richard Bratby, Peter & Avis Burton, Christopher Carrier, Simon Collings, Alan Cook, Andrew Davis, Mervyn Dawe, John Glass, Matthew Harris, Stephen Johnson, Seb Lovell-Huckle, Colin & Belinda Matthews, Roy Parker, Kim & Kay Prior, Simon & Claire Scott, Howard Skempton, Michael & Sandra Squires, Richard & Carolyn Sugden, Nest Thomas, Victoria Thomas, Terry Thorpe, Stephen Williams, Blair Winton.

Created in collaboration with RNCM PRiSM with Julian Warburton as solo percussionist.


Music & Maths Programme 


Emily Howard

Emily Howard's distinctive music is notable for its granular use of instrumental colour, powerful wordsetting and inventive connections with mathematical shapes and processes. Antisphere – the latest addition to Howard's ongoing series of orchestral geometries – was commissioned by the Barbican for Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, and opened the 2019 - 20 season. The 2019 premiere of a new setting of mathematician Ada Lovelace’s text But then, what are these numbers? also took place at the Barbican, as part of 'Ada Lovelace: Imagining the Analytical Engine', curated by Howard (b. 1979). That same year, The Anvil: An Elegy for Peterloo, for orchestra, chorus and soloists with a text by Michael Symmons Roberts, received its first performance at the Manchester International Festival – the Times praised The Anvil for its 'instrumental panache'. Howard's previous works include the 2016 BBC Proms commission Torus – described by the Times as 'visionary' and by the Guardian as 'one of this year’s finest new works' – and chamber operas To See The Invisible (2018), commissioned by Aldeburgh Festival, and Zátopek!, commissioned as part of New Music 20x12 for the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad. Howard is the subject of NMC's composer portrait recording Magnetite, named after the 2007 work that was commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to mark Liverpool's year as a European City of Culture. The links between maths and music are the focus of PRiSM, RNCM's newly opened research centre, which Howard co-founded with mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. Howard is Director of PRiSM and Professor of Composition at the RNCM. She has received two British Composer Awards and recognition from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


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