The British composer reflects on the benefits of having one's music sung at a Royal Wedding
When Prince William and Kate Middleton announced the music that would be played at their wedding on 29 April, the name of composer Paul Mealor had even choral experts scurrying for their reference books. In the event, Mealor’s Ubi Caritas proved arguably the musical highlight of the service, bringing this previously relatively unknown composer a vast legion of new fans…
Has life changed since your Ubi Caritas was sung at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April?
Yes it has. For a start, my music reached an enormous audience. Although I was getting a lot of commissions and performances beforehand, the attention it has brought has been phenomenal. It’s also been quite moving really. I’ve had a lot of letters and e-mails from people which I’d never really received before. And from all over the world, too – I’ve had 15,000 emails! It’s been amazing.
Have new commissions resulted from it?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve had a lot. I’ll be writing a number of pieces over the next two or three years, including one for the RAF band whose trumpeters were playing at the wedding. I’ve also been invited to do residencies in Princeton, New York and Los Angeles.
When did you first know that your music was going to be sung during the service?
It was all quite mystical! Last year, I wrote a piece called Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal for the John Armitage Memorial (JAM) trust, which was premiered in St Andrews by the three chamber choirs of St Andrews, Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities. Just after that, I received a call to say that the royal couple had heard the piece – they weren’t there, so I don’t know if a friend had sent them a recording or whatever – and that they liked it and wanted to include it in the wedding. Not much later, in around January, it was suggested that I might like to change the words for something more fitting to a wedding service. Coincidentally, I was already in the middle of setting an Ubi Caritas to that music anyway, so did so.
How much did the re-setting change the work?
It’s changed it quite a lot. It’s changed key and, with different words, scansion and so on, the music itself has altered slightly. I also decided to incorporate the old plainsong of the Ubi Caritas too. James O’Donell and the Choir of Westminster Abbey were kind enough to do a recording of that new version to send to the couple. They really liked it – more than the original, I think!
Plenty of guessing games went on when we first heard the work as to which other composers might have influenced your style – Morten Lauridsen’s name in particular cropped up. So, who are your composing heroes?
Whether you hear it in my music or not, Vaughan Williams has been a great inspiration to me, likewise Britten and a number of other British composers. And also American composers – it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Morten Lauridsen had been an influence: his Magnum Mysterium is one of the great choral pieces of all time. I know Morten very well, and he’s been a great champion of my music in America. People have also made comparisons between my music and Eric Whitacre’s, but he and I don’t really see that. Yes, there are minor seconds in both our music… but there are minor seconds in Bach, too!
Tell us more about JAM. I believe it has supported you from the start?
Yes it has, right from when I was a student at York University in 2000 and I got my work performed through its ‘Call for Scores’ scheme [where composers are invited to submit works to be performed by professional musicians on tour]. As a young composer it’s very difficult to get top-notch choirs to perform your music – a lot of people will workshop things, but that is very different from a concert – so I got a lot out of it. As a result I enthuse about organisations like that to my own students today. We also need to be aware that there are wonderful composers working outside London but because of geography it can be very difficult for them to get performances by the major groups, which tend to be based in the capital.
Interview by Jeremy Pound
On 9 July, JAM will be presenting performances of both Ubi Caritas and Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal plus Fauré’s Requiem at St Leonard’s Church in Hythe, Kent. Click here for details.