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That Very Breath - David Matthews


Beverley's story

Making it Happen

David Matthews - The Musical Background

photo of Beverley with David MatthewsI was very pleased to be asked to take part in this project. When it was explained to me that it was loosely based on the Requiem and it was suggested that I could choose one of the parts of the Requiem as a basis I immediately chose the Sanctus because it emphasises the holiness of life. I wanted to do something that was very life affirming. At first it was unclear whether there would be more than one person collaborating on the text, but in the end Beverley wrote the whole of the text that I set, and I was glad about that.

Almost before I started I knew roughly that I wanted to use a small group of strings. When I found out that Beverley herself was a singer, a jazz singer mostly, and she had a deep mezzo voice, I decided that I wanted to write for that voice myself. Knowing Ruth Peel and knowing her voice I had an immediate sense that hers was the right voice. As soon as Beverley heard it she agreed and that was very pleasing.

I'd been very struck by Ruth's voice, particularly her low notes because not all mezzos have those really deep notes. I went right down to her bottom note which is E - pretty low - and she wanted me to do that. I also found out what her top note was. Originally, in the last part, the arpeggio goes up to a high note where there's the reference to the pines. It was too high for Ruth so I had to change the key - but that was a happy accident because bringing the piece a semi-tone down made more sense from the point of view of the tonal planning. So often it happens that your forced to make changes and the changes improve the piece anyway.

I decided to base the piece on the form of the blues, giving it a link with its roots in Beverley's love of jazz. There are three sections. The outer sections are based on the blues. The middle section, where the words become almost ecstatic with their evocation of Beverley's hunger for life, is a dance. So 'That Very Breath' is a song and a dance - the two essential forms of music.

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