On Spital Fields (2005)

For Solo Voices, Choirs and Ensemble   70 minutes

The dead shall live, the living die,
And MUSICK shall untune the Sky.
John Dryden

A necropolis, an aviary, a garden, a slum: various people at various times have found in Spitalfields each of these sites.

Spitalfields, a microcosm of London, has always been, will always be, all things to all people; a place where, if you look hard enough, you will find what you are looking for. What I was looking for was a collection of singable texts which would represent Spitalfields. To define the search, we stuck the point of a pair of compasses into Christ Church and drew a circle of a certain circumference around it, then looked to see what different people, the great or the anonymous, had said or written about it. The garden Jack London saw was sooty and bleak while for Thomas Culpepper, Spitalfields’ garden contained all the vegetable treasures of the land.

The Necropolis which John Stowe describes is a mysterious repository of antique curiosities illuminating the past; Charles Dickens found a living bundle of rags that will darken the future. The birds that Augustus Hare heard singing were evidence of a quaint and mildly violent hobby, to John Skelton they sang of a Paradise.

These words I have collected are not arranged in a chronological order, although a dramatic structure may perhaps be discerned. What I was hoping to achieve was the impression of a group of disparate voices jostling for attention, a kind of palimpsest that would recreate for the listener the act of walking the streets of Spitalfields.

Alasdair Middleton

Libretto researched and compiled by Alasdair Middleton

Commissioned by Spitalfields Festival with funds from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to celebrate the life of Christopher Robert Vaughan 1961-1999

First performance: 22nd June 2005, Spitalfields Festival, Christ Church Spitalfields, London .


S.T Soli—Children’s Choirs—Community Choir—Senior Citizen’s Choir—SATB Choir

Ensemble: Cl—Timp(Perc)—Pf—Acdn—Hp—Vln.Vla.Vc.Db

Off-stage instruments: Brass Quintet (2Tpt.Hn.T-tbn.Tba)—2Perc—4Picc