‘Remember This’ Op. 40

Composed: 2008-2011
Duration: 30 minutes
First performance: 29th June 2011, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham. Performed by Allan Clayton (ten), Caroline MacPhie (sop), The Elias String Quartet and Tom Poster (piano).
Commissioned: by the ‘Limoges Trust, Birmingham
Available: Novello and Co Ltd (2011)

Programme note by the composer

I have given Remember This the title ‘Cantata’ for the reason that the earliest secular cantatas of the 17th century were often written for solo voice with ‘minimal’ instrumental accompaniment; its length also necessitating a grander title than just Song Cycle. Over its thirty-minute span, its eight sections (which generally alternate soprano and tenor), mirror Sir Andrew Motion’s evocative poem by contrasting musically, important elements from the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (most notably fishing and horses), with her journey from near-death (‘Think of the failing body’) through to her burial.These generally sombre episodes are heralded by a short idea, first heard on the piano at the work’s opening. The unusual decision to set the title of the poem allowed me to present a crucially important four-note motif, which permeates the whole work. Each section runs into the next either immediately or with the shortest of written-out breaks; each of these sections are further highlighted by its own unique sound-world. In the final section, both soprano and tenor sing together; the music building in affirmation as ideas from the first two sections are woven into the overall texture. In spite of this, it ends quietly, urging the listener to ‘remember’, not only The Queen Mother, but also to reflect upon our own life’s journey.


Remember This by Andrew Motion


Think of the failing body now
awake in its final hours although
the fizz and scythe of city wheels,
the pigeon-purrs, the way light steals
across a bedroom wall then goes,
are not the things this body knows,
held in a trance of fading light
before that dies, and gives the sight
of what it means to be set free
from self, from sense, from history.


In the swirl of its pool
the home-coming salmon
has no intuition
of anything changed,
just that the silver
cord of its current
is clear water running,
the lid of its sky
light soaking through light,
without any shadows
of faces or lines
to splinter its path,
and pull out of true
the course of its mind.


Think of the flower-lit coffin set
in vaulted public space, in state,
so we who never knew you, but
all half-suspect we knew you, wait,
and delve inside our heads, and find
the harsh insistence in our mind
which says we’re honouring a time
that simply as a fact of time
could only end, as also must
our own lives turn from dust to dust.


In the grip of their season
the sky-scraping trees
continue their business
of plumping up buds
without an idea
of what it might mean
so long as leaves shoot
in the polishing breeze,
so long as leaves fall,
so long as the burden
of sunlight and dark
rolls round its O
without changing its plan
or resting its weight.


Think of the standard and its blaze
the tightened focus of our gaze,
as now the coffin glides away
through London’s traffic-parted day
and we, who estimate our loss
in ways particular to us,
can start to understand that here
we see our future coming clear –
our selves the same yet also changed,
and questioning, and re-arranged.


On the crest of their Downs
with galloping sunlight
the horses in training
know in their bones
nothing but racing,
so all they can manage
today is the beauty
of sprinting and spurting
mud-moons behind them,
the draggle of mufti
wind-burning to silk,
the unbuttoned gasp
of pleasure and longing
at what might be won.


Think of the buried body laid
inside its final earthly shade,
in darkness like a solid cloud
where weight and nothing coincide.
in silence which will never break
unless real angels really speak,
while we who wait our turn live on
re-calculating what has gone –
time-tested dignity and pride
and finished work personified.


In the eyes of our minds
when the country and cities
turn back to themselves
this history stays:
the four generations
which linked with your life
re-winding their span
to childhood again,
and seeing you stand
at the edge of their days,
where if they so wished
you helped give a shape
to slipstreaming time
with a wave of your hand.