This work for soprano voices and electric piano was composed to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth. It was written for the girls’ voices of Wakefield Cathedral Choir and the assistant Master of Music Tom Moore receiving its first performance at a special Festival Evensong on the 100th anniversary of the sculptor’s birthdate, 10 January 2003. Subsequently it was performed by the soprano Philippa Reeves and keyboard player Robert Court at the Hepworth Music Day at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with young musicians from City High School, Wakefield. The music takes words adapted by the composer from an essay published in the journal Unit 1 by Barbara Hepworth . Published in 1934 this a unique and moving statement of an artist’s vision and rationale.
The musical material makes references to two composers who were close friends and collaborators with Barbara Hepworth: Priaulx Rainier and Sir Michael Tippett. The South African born Priaulx Rainier, whose centenary also fell in 2003, dedicated several works to Hepworth and even wrote a piece titled The Rhythm of the Stones.
This is an extraordinary collage of rhythms associated with the very sounds of carving made by Hepworth and her studio assistants in her St Ives studio. The central rhythm of this collection of transcribed sounds is quoted in ”The Present Moment’ and can be found first in the left hand of the keyboard part at bar 69.
Sir Michael Tippett was joint founder with Barbara Hepworth and Priaulx Rainier of the first St Ives Arts Festival. He later commissioned the sculptor to create costumes and sets for his opera A Midsummer Marriage, performed at Covent Garden in 1955. In ‘The Present Moment’ bars 77-79 quote a short passage from Tippett’s song-cycle Boyhood’s End. This is an ecstatic moment in Tippett’s work where in setting the word ‘dance’ he literally makes the word ‘dance’ within a long coloratura phrase. In‘The Present Moment’ the word ‘dance’ is substituted by the word ‘carve’, the connection no less significant.
Young percussionists performing Nigel Morgan’s interpretation of Rhythm of the Stones as part of the Hepworth Centenary celebrations .
The music was imagined for performance by a choir of young voices. It contains a solo part that requires confidence and presence above musical experience. There are a number of optional tutti sections that may enlarge the chorus’ role. That said, the work has proved most successful as a solo song for an adult singer.
The accompaniment is scored for an electric piano, ideally one having a Fender Rhodes type of velocity sensitive timbre change where piano is a soft timbre, forte is a hard-edged timbre. Much of the composer’s work with voices has used this kind of instrument (BBC commissions Schizophonia and Conversations in Colour).
The rhythmic quotation from Priaulx Rainier’s Rhythm of the Stones is not only used as a bass ostinato but leads into an optional section between rehearsal letters H and I. This section is in effect a shortened version of Rainier’s The Rhythm of the Stones and scored for four percussionists.
Recording by the Girls of Wakefield Cathedral Choir [mp3]
Recording by Philippa Reeves & Robert Court [mp3]
Nigel Morgan has plans to create a new and expanded setting of Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Present Moment’ text for performance by the Wakefield Youth Choir and Orchestra during the city’s celebrations to mark the opening of Yorkshire’s cutting-edge art gallery The Hepworth in the Spring of 2011.