In our River Sounding project, Bill Fontana has produced a work in response to the river Thames, and sounds associated with it. I thought I’d take a look through the Bmic collection and see how other artists have made work based on this iconic river...
The River Thames once flowed into and alongside Somerset House, the home of Sound and Music, with ships sailing in through the Great Arch. River Sounding is a new installation with sound artist Bill Fontana that returns the Thames to the building, taking you on an acoustic journey in which the river once again flows through the Great Arch and into the underground Lightwells surrounding the courtyard, immersing you in airborne and underwater sounds and revealing contemporary and historical connections.
Bill Fontana is neither the first, or the last to be inspired by the great river. This gathering of scores, found in Sound and Music’s ‘The Collection’ explore the beauty and menace of London’s muse – the Thames.
Nigel Hess – Thames Journey (1991)
In this work Hess looks at the entire length of the river, with the piece beginning with a trickle from the Thames’ source in Kemble, Wiltshire; flowing though Oxfordshire, Berkshire and finally through London and into the North Sea. However there are not only references to the geography but also history of those areas; the main theme of the piece is an 18th Century Wiltshire melody; ‘Through the Groves’. There are other references in the journey, including other local folk tunes, ancient plainsong, the world pooh sticks championship and Gustav Holst as the river flows past his house in Barnes, West London.
Elizabeth Maconchy – Proud Thames (1953)
The piece, an orchestral overture again follows the course of the river geographically. However it relies less on direct references and more on musical development as the river flows and gains momentum. Proud Thames won a competition in 1953 to become the Coronation overture for Queen Elizabeth II.
Andrzej Panufnik (words: Camilla Jessel) – Thames Pageant (1970)
A cantata for young players and singers, this piece focuses entirely on the history of the river going all the way back to the Roman invasion. Other events covered are the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
Full Score is available from Boosey and Hawkes
Jonathan Dove – Fanfares Across the Thames (1999)
Exactly what it says in the title, written for the Dedication Ceremony for London’s Millenium Bridge. Instead of looking at the historical and geographical context of the river- it’s used as a setting for a live performance of the piece. Brass and percussion fire salvoes to each other from either side of the river whilst a woodwind section and brass section is introduced in the second section floating on a barge in the middle of the river.
Full score available from Edition Peters