Saturday, 2 January 2010

It's the second of January

I have decided that my new year's resolutions will begin on January 4th. I'm visiting lots of friends between now and then and it would be rude not to at least offer to finish everyone's unwanted Quality Streets! My aim from January 4th is to lose weight and eat only proper food. I have also decided to find more time to relax but promised to work even harder and always to the very best of my ability. I guess all creative people thrive on the idea of leaving a legacy, and as I'm unlikely to have children, I guess that can only happen through my writing, which means I need to keep pushing those boundaries and constantly trying to work outside my comfort zone. Crumbs. So I'm writing a 40 part motet! 40 vocal lines, each one entirely unique. Is that even possible? And is it just me, or is it really hard to type motet without typing motel by mistake? 40 part motel. 40 room motel. Am I just too trashy to be writing this kind of stuff?

Looking at Pepys' diary, I see 350 years ago, on the 2nd January 1660, he had a typically busy day. At that time, he was incredibly poor. I know how he feels. He'd married for love, a French girl called Elizabeth, who was much younger and from a family even poorer than his. They lived in the draughty turret of a house in Axe Yard, in Westminster. Pepys calls it a garret. They had a maid, Jane, but Elizabeth did much of the work around the house. When the diary begins, Pepys is hopeful that Elizabeth is pregnant. He longed for children, but children never came. He works as a humble clerk. His patron, ("My Lord") Edward Mountagu, later the Earl of Sandwich, is his cousin.

Pepys never stops. He's a bundle of energy and walks everywhere; usually from Westminster to the City and back again. He visits friends, hangs out in cafes and taverns, and observes everything he passes en route. He never stops observing. So much of our knowledge of the minutiae of 17th Century London life is down to what he wrote.

On the 2nd of January he spends a day pottering. There's not much to do at work, so he walks around Westminster Hall (which in those days was a bustling meeting place lined with shops and stalls). He borrows money for himself and collects money on behalf of Mountagu. He drinks ale and eats nothing but bread and cheese until late at night, when his wife cuts him a slice of brawn (which he declares, in typical Pepys superlative fashion is "as good as ever I had any"). He learns how to play cribbage and sings until 9pm with friends.

Pepys loved music. Music regularly sends him into a state of near ecstasy. Countless pages of his diary are filled with descriptions of concerts, street performances, sung masses, theatre pieces, evenings spent playing music by candlelight, long summer days spent singing on boats, under trees, at dusk with his wife and the nightingales in the garden. He made judgements about people based on how well they could sing. He played many instruments and even composed.

So what better way to celebrate the diary than by turning it into a choral work? A busy contrapuntal choral work with 40 different vocal lines representing the effervescence of his writing; the constant flitting from place to place and thought to thought.

But am I really capable of doing this? Do I know enough about music? Do I understand the diary well enough to set it to music? Which passages will I choose? Will I choose the right ones? And this is the point at which I need to take a leaf out of Pepys' book...

Pepys believed that anything was possible. He was astonishingly optimistic. He lived in perhaps the most complicated and difficult political times and dealt with death, disease and constant pain on a daily basis, yet he remained resolutely optimistic and succeeded. I go into a sulk when I haven't eaten for four hours! Time for me to get outside and start walking 'round London before the sun sets on this beautiful crisp, sunny day! First stop Westminster Hall, after a brief appointment with a banana, which no doubt shall prove to be the finest banana I have ever sampled!

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