When the Worshipful Company of Musicians approached me to write a piece for orchestra celebrating the Quincentenary of their foundation, I couldn't fail to be struck by the fact that it coincided so neatly with the Millennium! Here was a chance to enshrine and celebrate both the remote past and an extraordinary evolution in music and music making, as well as throw a beam into the future. One of the traditional precepts of this illustrious Company, I was told, was 'to Preserve Harmony'; mindful that their beginnings coincided with the early days of planetary speculation, in the work of Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler, it was almost inevitable that the idea of Harmonia Mundi, the Music of the Spheres, should have been proposed.
Part of my brief was that I should somehow reflect this idea; and at the head of the score I have inscribed the words of the 17th century physician and philosopher, Sir Thomas Browne:
'For there is music wherever there is harmony, order or proportion; and thus far we maintain the music of the spheres; for those well ordered motions, and regular paces, though they give no sound to the ear, yet to the understanding they strike a note most full of harmony'.
I wouldn't wish the listener to attach any particular programmatic sequence to the piece; but I think it's fair to say that I have used my orchestra to evoke space, the movement in space of celestial bodies; fluctuations, contractions - sometimes volatile like fireworks; sometimes slow, like nebula or sea-anemones. During one passage I strove literally to 'preserve' the harmony, as though in amber, transfixing each chord timelessly. At the heart of the piece, like a dead star, as though in a time-capsule, there is a momentary echo of the sound of the viols.
I discovered the title 'A Stirring in the Heavenlies' in a magazine in my parents' house: astonishing and heavily charged phrase, it presented itself quite by chance.
Programme Note for LSO Barbican Concert, 17th December 2000
© 2000 Andrew March