A process which began in the first half of 2016 finally reached its conclusion on Saturday the 10th of November 2018 in the Armistice Centenary concert at Fort Regent.
Certainly the greatest commission of my life so far, I’m proud of my work on my second symphony, ‘Two Brothers’, but know that I can’t take such an opportunity for granted and will be forever grateful for the support and hard work of the countless people behind the scenes and on the stage who made it happen. ArtHouse Jersey were wonderful in their encouragement from a healthy artistic distance, ensuring that my work was completed in stages to deadlines but allowing tremendous creative license to take the piece, which honours Jersey’s role in the Great War, in a direction of my choice.
My first task was to get to grips with the subject matter, my understanding of which still had many gaps to be filled. It quickly became apparent that travelling to France and Belgium would be invaluable in terms of attaining a sense of what the soldiers on both sides endured, and that Jersey historian Ian Ronayne would be the font of all knowledge with respect to the Jersey Pals specifically. While reading Mr Ronayne’s superb book ‘Jersey’s Great War’, a couple of sentences about the youngest conscripts (15 and 19) to fight for the island jumped out at me, and my pursuit of the story of Arthur and Charles Mallet began in earnest.
I joined the army cadets at school aged 15 and have an older brother, so instantly felt that I might be able to try to imagine putting myself in young Arthur’s shoes. It proved surprisingly difficult to track down any descendants of the Mallets, but when I finally did after contacting various spellings of the surname in the phone book, it was a very moving moment to gain the endorsement of Arthur’s grandson for this project. He attended the concert, and in many ways, it was really for him above all that I hoped the piece might contain some semblance of meaning. Mr Ronayne also helped tremendously with further research, and a narrative could soon be constructed around which my music would be built.
Choosing to write five movements, one for each year of the war, I began with a musical motive based on the number of each year, each of which could dictate certain aspects of a movement’s tonality, from 1914 (C-Ab-C-Eb, sounding Ab major in first inversion) through to 1918 (C-Ab-C-G, which serendipitously ends with the interval of a fifth, from which ‘The Last Post’ unfolds, played by a solo cornet at the back of the hall and accompanied by a mournful, ultimately unsettled version of the main theme of the first movement). The central movement proved the most ambitious of all, and certain members of the concert planning committee were understandably nervous about its incorporation. To my knowledge, it is the first attempt at creating an acoustic palindrome, in which a pre-prepared recording should be made of the orchestra playing the movement. This recording would then be reversed and sounded alongside the same movement played forwards in real time.
To ease any difficulties, it became necessary to create a synchronized video for the conductor to have on an ipad on his podium. This movement also required some prepared metal loops and tins to evoke the sounds of barbed wire and trench warning cans, with other effects such as a shoe brush on the timpani and the upper strings blowing into the sounding holes of their instruments. In early rehearsals, the players seemed to find some of the ideas to be challenging and quirky, but by the time of the concert, they had found the sound I was seeking, and performed earnestly and splendidly.
Unfortunately for them, and for the rear half of the audience, many of the more subtle textures and effects could not be heard at Fort Regent, due to the sound of the fans in the lighting rig above the stage, of bottles being removed from a nearby bar, and the heating and extraction systems in the building. This was certainly something which I could have considered when writing this piece, and I could have aimed for louder, fuller textures throughout, but whilst the focal point of the work was always going to be this extremely special concert, my motivation throughout was to write a piece which could have a life of its own beyond its world premiere, and which aims artistically to honour to the best of my ability the Mallet brothers and the countless others they represent. Thankfully, ArtHouse Jersey very generously shared this vision for the project, creating a commission which any composer would dream of having.
We may not yet have a concert hall in Jersey of an acoustic standard befitting the fine orchestra we were so fortunate to have this November, but I hope that such special occasions as this might galvanise support for investment in such a space, the meaning of which I have no doubt would be enormously valued by many in the audience and around the island. In any event, this opportunity of a lifetime is one I will never forget.
Born in Jersey in 1983, Charles Mauleverer studied composition at Winchester College and Oxford University before winning a scholarship to study for his masters at the Royal College of Music, where his teachers included Joseph Horovitz, Alison Kay and Ken Hesketh. His music has been performed and recorded by several of today's classical music luminaries including John Wilson, the BBC Singers, Adrian Brendel, Craig Ogden, and the Babelsberg Film Orchestra, in studios and venues ranging from the National Portrait Gallery and Winchester Cathedral to Maida Vale, King's Place and Abbey Road Studios. Films, documentaries and adverts featuring his music have been shown at festivals from Jersey Shore to Cannes and his work has been broadcast on Classic FM and the BBC. In 2017, Charles was lead music assistant on Hollywood productions The Leftovers for HBO and Hostiles starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. A string of commissions and recordings by the Prague Symphonic Ensemble led to the commissioning of his first and previous symphony, One Home: An Environmental Symphony, most recently performed by the South Czech Philharmonic. In November 2018, Charles's second symphony, Two Brothers was premièred in Jersey, marking the centenary of the Armistice.