"A piece begins as a collection of sounds in my head, each with a different sonic signature to it. The job of composition is to decipher those sounds, work out if they’re worth pursuing or not, and somehow transfer them to the page. It can happen from sitting for hours at a desk or a piano, or it can happen driving through town, on a quick lunch break, or in the middle of the night – basically, at any time. I rarely find it easy, and I often re-work pieces for some time after I have ‘finished’ them...
I guess I have always created music in some way. Some of my earliest memories are of playing single notes on the piano. I remember discovering ‘thirds’ and thinking they sounded wonderful, before discovering ‘tenths’ and thinking they sounded even better. By my teens I was writing short chamber and vocal pieces, but in isolation and with no tuition of any kind. When I applied for university, I felt confident enough to submit a portfolio in the hope of studying composition seriously as part of my degree, but I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the course and, by the end of it, I was disheartened by the whole thing. I spent the next four years writing and experimenting, again in isolation, but with nothing much to show for it. I then studied to become a teacher and it was a couple of years afterwards that I began to find my voice as composer. I wrote my first serious piece Salve Regina when I was twenty seven, and it sat in a drawer for the next three years before it was premiered."
A reflection on Thomas Tallis' 'Videte Miraculum'
I found the task of writing a reflection on Tallis’s masterpiece a daunting one: even putting aside Tallis’s undisputed genius, writing eleven minutes of a cappella music is quite a task for a composer, not to mention the demands it would place on the singers. My inspiration for the falling figure heard in the first few bars is derived from a suspension at the opening of the original, only I have extended it by sharing it antiphonally between parts, diffused into harmonic clusters in the first section although it appears more consonant in the last. The idea for the second section is derived from the original plainsong, with its prominent interval of a fourth, which I have used in the rocking accompaniment figure. The whole piece is built, as is Tallis’s, on a cantus firmus – a melody that runs throughout the work creating its tonal and structural framework. In the first and last sections the cantus firmus is shared among the lower voices; in the second, it is heard liberated in the high soprano line. Plainsong separates the three main sections of the work. The harmonic language of the piece reflects the modality of the original, and includes use of false relations, a typically piquant feature of Tallis’s own harmonic language. Elements of polychoral writing also pay homage to Tallis. My intention was to create waves of sound that aid contemplation of the text, so that the piece might either be performed in a liturgical setting, or simply connect with the listener purely as a meditation on the original’s imagery of redemption, the celestial, and eternity itself.
Richard Allain's works encompass a wide range of styles, including music theatre, sacred choral music, song-writing and works for children. He has been commissioned to write music for BBC Radio 2, 3 and 4. He has worked with many of the country’s leading choirs and musicians (including BBC Singers, King's College, Cambridge, St Paul's Cathedral, Commotio, The Bach Choir, etc). His music has appeared at the BBC Proms, and his work is regularly performed and broadcast within the UK and in countries throughout the world. Ubi Caritas has been a core item on Classic FM for nearly a decade. Cana's Guest was selected to form part of The Queen's Choir Book, a collection of contemporary choral music published to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Choral music is at the heart of his output; he was, for many years, Composer in Association for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.
Deeply committed to music education, together with his brother Thomas, Allain has written several cantatas for young voices. One such collaboration, Jake and the Right Genie was commissioned by the Surrey Millennium Youth Festival. It has since been performed by over 10,000 school children and, in 2005, an entire Yorkshire village!