Cheryl Frances-Hoad

Featured this month, are two works by the English composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Both written in the early twenty-first century, these works by Frances-Hoad are significant additions to the concerto and chamber music repertoire. Below are programme notes by the composer and links to the sheet music and recordings.

A Refusal to Mourn (2000)

Instrumentation: Oboe and string orchestra

Duration: 12′

First Performance: Premiered by Emma Fielding and Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Daniel in November 2000

The work (commissioned as a homage to J.S. Bach on the 250th anniversary of his death) uses Lutheran Chorales as its inspiration: in the Recitative first movement, the notes from Ich lass dich nicht (I Shall Not Leave Thee) are piled on top of each other to create a chord sequence in the string orchestra which accompanies a rhapsodic oboe melody that is a freer interpretation of the chorale. The second Fugato movement is based on a motivic cell based on the pitches of Christus, der ist mein Leben (Christ is my life) and is a moto- perpetuo that ranges in mood from the barbaric to the slushily lyrical (the long romantic melody in oboe, solo violin and solo ‘cello being a retrograde and retrograde inversion of the aforementioned motivic cell). The third movement, a Chorale, uses the melody of Christus, der is mein Leben in almost unaltered form and functions as a kind of reconciliatory coda, the oboe and strings being united after the 1st Recitative movement where the oboe had been very much a solitary figure against the homogenous body of strings.

© Copyright Cheryl Frances-Hoad 2015

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There are a series of recent reviews for the disc containing A Refusal to Mourn below:

Memoria (2002)

Instrumentation: Oboe/Cor Anglais, violin, viola, cello and piano

Duration: 17′

Memoria is dedicated to Sidney “Jock” Sutcliffe (1918-2001), one of the finest oboists of the post-war era and, in his later years, an inspirational ‘cello supervisor at the Yehudi Menuhin School, with whom I spent some of the happiest hours of music-making.

The work is based on Bach’s ‘Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, and in particular its Prelude: in discussion with Jock’s three daughters, I discovered that it was one of his favourite pieces, and that he had practiced it privately for some fifty years before feeling ready to play it in public (he would joke that Casals had been hasty in performing the work after a “mere” ten years’ preparation). Using the Bach Suite seemed doubly appropriate, as Jock had spent many an hour helping me with the piece (resulting in one of the handful of performances that I was truly happy with).

The two movements of Memoria were conceived as a Prelude and Fugue, and it is the Prelude that is based most faithfully on the Bach. There was a deliberate intention to avoid literal quotation: rather, the skeletal harmonic and structural form of the three-minute Bach Prelude is magnified so as to provide the framework of my nine-minute Prelude. This framework is then “ornamented” with original material, hopefully resulting in a movement that sounds nothing like the Bach but at the same time is deeply indebted to it.

The fugue subject of the second movement is then in turn based on my Prelude. The aim was to completely saturate the music with fugal principles: so, for example, each root of the main harmonic sections adds up to false fugal entry (e.g. the first seven notes of the subject), the first “exposition” sections contains within it a complete “mini-fugue” and, in another section, the subject is “verticalised” so as to create a kind of chordal fugue. Along with “macro” and “micro” fugues running simultaneously at different speeds, rhythmic fugues and canons also occur at various points.

It is not until near the end, however, that the subject is heard in its pure form, as I wanted to hide as well as I could the fact that the movement was a fugue at all (just as the original Bach is concealed in the first movement).

Hopefully, Memoria can stand on its own, while at the same time being closely linked to the ‘cello suite that gave Jock so much pleasure.

© Copyright Cheryl Frances-Hoad 2012

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About Cheryl Frances-Hoad

Cheryl’s music has been described as “like a declaration of faith in the eternal verities of composition” (The Times), with “a voice overflowing not only with ideas, but also with the discipline and artistry necessary to harness them” (The Scotsman). Classical tradition, along with diverse contemporary inspirations including literature, painting, and dance have contributed to a creative presence provocatively her own. Her works include From the Beginning of the World, a setting of Tycho Brahe’s remarkably prescient thesis on the Great Comet of 1577 (BBC Proms, 2015), Pay Close Attention, a homage to electronic music gods The Prodigy, The Whole Earth Dances, a quintet influenced by the local landscape and the poetry of Ted Hughes (Spitalfields Festival, 2016) and Game On, a duet for piano and Commodore 64 inspired by Game Theory and the crimes of bankers (NonClassical at the Dalston Victoria, 2016).

Cheryl wrote her first piece within weeks of taking up the ‘cello aged 7, and despite some early disasters (her first string orchestra piece was thrown out by the school conductor due to mistakes in her hand-copied parts) Cheryl’s desire to compensate for her chronic shyness through composing remained unquashed. At 15 she won the BBC Young Composer of the Year Competition, and it was during the first performance of her Concertino for ‘Cello, Piano, Percussion and Orchestra, by cellist Peter Dixon and the BBC Philharmonic that she became convinced that her life had to be in composition.

Twenty years on, Cheryl’s obsessive dedication, imperviousness to rejection, inherent thriftiness and endless stamina for filling in funding applications has resulted in her working full time as a composer. She has a Double First from Cambridge University, a PhD from Kings College London and has been awarded many prizes, scholarships and residences: a full list can be found here. Three CD’s of her work have been released on the Champs Hill Records label, with two more albums due to be recorded this year. Her output addresses all genres from opera, ballet and concerto to song, chamber and solo music, reaching audiences from the Proms to outreach workshops. Future works include a piano concerto for Ivana Gavric and the Southbank Sinfonia, a new Evensong for Peterborough Cathedral, a third work for the London Oriana Choir and a few other exciting pieces that she’s not allowed to tell you about yet.

Cheryl’s music is published by Cadenza Music.