Biography of Hough Stephen:
Stephen Hough was born in Heswall, Cheshire, in 1961. Widely regarded as one of the most important and distinctive pianists of his generation, Stephen Hough was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2001 in recognition of his achievements, joining prominent scientists, writers and others who have made unique contributions to contemporary life. He began composing at the same time as he began to learn the piano and has written extensively for his instrument since.
The composer writes as follows: I arrived home from a month-long trip to Australia and Singapore in September 2007 to find the usual ankle-deep pile of post. I made a strong pot of coffee and began to wade through it. In between a phone-bill and a double-glazing flyer though was a cheery letter from John Turner: would I like to subscribe to a new CD he was planning. “It’s going to be for countertenor, recorder, cello and harpsichord - but don’t worry if it’s not really your thing”. Not really my thing … now that was a challenge! I reached for a volume of poetry - Oscar Wilde as it happened - and opened at random. After flicking through a few pages I came across the beautifully tender and touching poem Requiescat. The bills were brushed aside and I began writing a setting for these forces which were ‘not really my thing’. After sending the song to John he wrote back encouragingly, requesting another one so they could include them on the planned CD and at a forthcoming concert. I came across a selection of Ernest Dowson’s poems – from the same period and aesthetic as Wilde – and I found another poem about a graveyard, although this time the sentiments were more universal and even had a tinge of violence missing in Wilde’s melancholy musings. Two slow, sad settings … it needed something contrasting in speed and style to form a true song-cycle. Thomas Hardy’s cruelly comic poem about spending the money for an aunt’s tombstone on a night of dancing and drinking at the village inn seemed perfect!
Musically the songs need little explanation, although the cycle forms an arch. The first and third songs are scored for tenor recorder and the second for the high sopranino. In the first the cello plays all pizzicato until the final bars of open 5ths; whereas in the third this is reversed, pizzicato only appearing after the voice has finished. The second song uses both techniques throughout as well as col legno - with the wood of the bow.