'Warley Place' - a homage to Miss Ellen Willmott and her garden at Warley Place.
The Botanical Gardener of Brentwood
Music and Art Commission, 2020.
about the project.
As part of the “Echoes from Essex – Minerva Scientifica” Project, May - September 2020, Electric Voice Theatre commissioned a piece of music and art to explore the life and work of female pioneer, Miss Ellen Willmott.
The music and art were first premiered and exhibited in the "Soundings from Essex" series, in an online episode of music, art and conversation about Miss Ellen Willmott. The event also included discussions with historian Patricia Fara and modern scientists, and is available to watch on the Electric Voice Theatre website here, and on their YouTube channel shown above.
As part of the “Women in Science and Music: 30 Celebrations” series, the music and canvas were played and discussed in a podcast, available to listen here.
The canvas will be exhibited in Chelmsford Civic Theatre when possible, and in other Essex based locations to be decided.
about the art.
The artwork, shown above, accompanies the celebration of Ellen Willmott explored in the music. It traces the transition of Warley Place from a manicured garden, once carefully cared for by Ellen Willmott and her gardeners, to the wilder nature reserve it is today. It uses a polychrome colour palette and imagery from Miss Willmott’s iconic flora to pay homage to her horticulture. For more information about the canvas, click here, which takes you to Elspeth’s art website.
about the music.
“The Moon of Heaven” was first performed by Electric Voice Theatre singer David Sheppard (countertenor), with the pre-recorded voices of Frances M Lynch (soprano), Simone Ibbett-Brown (mezzo) and Julian Stocker (tenor), on August 10th 2020 in the “Soundings from Essex” Series online. The music is available to listen to below, and on the Minerva Scientifica website here. To find out more about purchasing a score, or for performance opportunities, contact Elspeth via this website. (All rights reserved).
The score is for four voices, and each voice embodies a character or aspect of Warley Place: the countertenor is the gardener; soprano 1 is Ellen; the mezzo and tenor are the garden itself.
The text is based on a Persian poem by Jammam Shud, dating to the 11th century, sourced in ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’. Following the death of her younger sister Rose, Ellen Willmott quoted this text in her obituary for the Essex Naturalist in 1922. The text is as follows:
The Moon of Heaven is rising once again
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same garden after me - in vain.
The piece traces Ellen Willmott's journey from life to spirit, and her changing authorship over her garden over time. This is achieved by changes in texture and rhythm: as the piece progresses, the dominant position of Ellen’s motif is challenged by the more involved textures and rhythms from the ensemble, so that by the end, only an echo of her voice remains, which is conveyed by a final phrase which dies away to nothing.
A through-composed structure and predominately modal tonality draw from the stylistic profiles of nineteenth century English folk song and the English madrigal proper: Ellen Willmott was affiliated with both styles, through her involvement in The Madrigal School, and by her friendships with canonic English composers of the time, such as Ethel Smyth.
Click above to hear the score, recorded during the Lockdown of 2020.
The project is administered and run by Electric Voice Theatre.
With support from Chelmsford Civic Theatres, Essex Music Education Hub, Essex 2020, Essex County Council, PRS Foundation and Arts Council England.
Dr Patricia Fara – Science Historian, Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.