Ruscelli dOro

 

Intrada - Fuga - Intermezzo - Toccata

 

"Ruscelli d'Oro" ("Streams of Gold") was commissioned by the Cambridgeshire County Council to celebrate the centenary in 1989 of the birth of Henry Morris. Henry Morris's contribution to educational thinking, and his pioneering development of the village college system in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere, is too well known to require further discussion here. However, his work, thinking and life-style were the starting-point for this extended work for large orchestra, though I have not made any attempt to paint a musical portrait of the man. Instead I have tried to mirror in the music something of the environment and atmosphere of the Cambridgeshire in which he worked for so much of his life, and I have approached the task with, I hope, some of the qualities of organisation, determination and love of beauty which so distinguished him as a person.

 

The work is cast in the shape of a four-movement symphony, though it runs without any break. The opening Intrada has a dual function - to set out a number of thematic ideas which will be developed and transformed in later movements, and also to convey a picture of the open spaces of the Fen country. Towards the end, a theme on the xylophone, somewhat reminiscent of a children's song, is stated with extreme simplicity, and from this deliberately nave melody much of the basic material of the work derives.

 

The second movement, Fuga, is a double fugue combining considerable energy and drive with the intellectual disciplines of strict counterpoint. At the climax the 'children's melody' is heard briefly, before the music subsides into the re tranquil atmosphere of the Intermezzo. Here I have tried to reflect some of Morris's love of beauty and art, especially the art of Italy. His passion for the great tradition of choral singing at Cambridge (he would regularly attend evensong at King's) finds an echo in a quotation from the "Lamentations" by Thomas Tallis.

 

The finale, Toccata, is a boisterous picture of life in the village colleges. Towards the end, a dream-like sequence of overlapping images, presents some of my own personal memories of experiences at Bottisham Village College, where I spent many happy hours as a Cambridge undergraduate in the early 60's. Brief quotations from Bach, Handel and Purcell rub shoulders with Smetana, the charleston and my own wind quintet (written for performance at Bottisham in 1963). A brief coda brings the whole work to a triumphant and exuberant conclusion.

 

The score is prefaced by lines from Morris's favourite poet, George Meredith, and from which the work's title is derived:

 

Away with Systems!

Away with a corrupt world!

Let us breathe the air of the Enchanted island.

Golden lie the meadows;

golden run the streams;

red gold is on the pine-stems.

The sun is coming down to earth,

and walks the fields and the waters.

The sun is coming down to earth,

and the fields and the waters

shout to him golden shouts.

 

Ruscelli d'Oro was first performed at the 1990 Cambridge Festival by the Cambridgeshire County Youth Orchestra conducted by Simon Halsey. 

 

Christopher Brown 1990