New commission for 2021
The Woods So Wild for the Primrose Piano Quartet
Sunday 21 November 2021 at 3pm
St Anne’s Church, Lewes
Primrose Piano Quartet
The Woods So Wild is for violin, viola, cello and piano, and was written in 2020 and 2021 for the Primrose Piano Quartet. The title is inspired by ‘Will Yow Walke the Woods soe Wylde’, a song from the Tudor era, possibly sung by Henry VIII and his courtier Sir Peter Carew (c.1514-1575). The short fragment of melody that survives features a raised fourth note of the scale, creating a haunting, searching and restless quality. The song’s qualities were not lost on Elizabethan composers William Byrd (1543-1623) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) who created keyboard variations on the tune in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a primary source of keyboard music from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods in England.
Simple and flexible arrangements of sections of the Orlando Gibbons keyboard version will be available for small ensembles, made specially for this project by Ed Hughes. Because the original melody is so haunting and evocative, the project can form the centrepiece of composition and improvisation workshops, working from the melody, or with Hughes’s arrangements, or both. These workshops can be adjusted to suit schools and universities. Please contact the Primrose Piano Quartet for further information.
The deft and brilliant variations of Byrd and Gibbons embody excitement and lyricism. Energy and melancholy fuse in their work to create pieces that are completely different from other continental developments of the period – for example the emergence of music drama in Italy. They point instead towards a form of chamber music that is rooted in popular melody, and expanded through freely-spun ‘fantasia’-like forms.
Building on my string ensemble work ‘Flint’, which contained dream-like echoes of a Sussex folk song (“A Lawyer He Went Out”), ‘The Woods So Wild’ will meditate on an ancient folk melody whose origins are long-lost but which bears peculiarly English qualities – a complex of characteristics including a deep love of landscape and a restless spirit in search of love and reconciliation.
At a time when the nation is thinking about its identity, music, with its rich inter-cultural and pan-historical perspectives, offers ways of looking outwards, with an enhanced sense of the experience of the beauty and fragility of England’s landscape and former culture of singing.
Ed Hughes’s music, described as ‘enthralling and truly exciting’ (American Record Guide), has been commissioned by The Opera Group, London Sinfonietta, I Fagiolini, Mahogany Opera, Glyndebourne/Photoworks, and many others. He is the co-founder and director of two ensembles, The New Music Players, and the Orchestra of Sound and Light. His career-long interest in English Renaissance music is expressed in a number of works, including Sinfonia (2018), which was included on a Métier release of his music, Time, Space And Change, (2020) selected as one of the Sunday Times top 100 records of the year.
Ed Hughes is Professor of Composition at the University of Sussex.
For further information, please visit Ed’s website: