Music to mask secrets | National Museums Liverpool

Music was an important and valued part of Tudor courtly life and was an expected skill for all courtiers. All of the Tudor monarchs were musical with Henry VIII considered the most talented. Not only was he able to personally perform a large number of instruments and said to have an excellent singing voice, he had a large collection of instruments, employed a great number of court musicians, and composed his own music. Music was embedded into the fabric of daily life within court for every occasion. Wherever the monarch went, heralds would precede them with a fanfare; a sure way for anyone in court to know where they were! There was also a hierarchy among the many musicians within the court, with those that could play softer instruments (stringed instruments) more valued and better paid than those who played loud instruments. The ‘quieter’ musicians would perform within Privy Chambers and what better way to mask conversations and whispered secrets than some gentle string music happening in the corner of a room.

Claremont Ensemble recording arrangement for Exhibition. 

Thoughts from the Composer

When commissioned it is usually a case of agreeing which instruments that I am writing for, and the duration of the new work, then I am given artistic freedom and off we go! The hours, days and weeks of isolation and getting into the zone are a creative place where imagination merges with concept and a sense of journey. This was a different challenge. It was important to recognise and understand the role that the musical soundscape played in relation to the exhibition, in a general sense and in a detailed sense. What was agreed was music that would be composed for each of the three main galleries and also for the foyer area.

The music is always subtle, the intention is that a visitor to the exhibition might not consciously be aware of the sounds, whilst subconsciously the music might enable and encourage thoughts and feelings that would complement the visual experience. Before you enter the first room you can hear trumpet fanfares swamped in reverb with specially created foley sounds (horses hooves, outdoor ambience and birdsong) to create a feeling of arrival at a court, which encourages a sense of moving from the outside to a more intimate indoor world. 

The remarkable paintings of Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York that appear in the first room are heralded by multi-tracked strings and harp. Written with a 7/4 time signature, the music is restless, with growing minimalist-like musical lines that create a sense of excitement, danger, power and passion!

In the second gallery the music is more intimate, representing being indoors in a court. Themes are developed and passed around the strings, harp and recorders (realized in this case via an Aerophone), in different keys and tempi, whilst leaving space for the listener to reflect.

In the final room, a sense of discovery and travel was added to the brief. I reintroduced the music from the first room this time in 6/4, giving an added sense of urgency which leads to a three-minute segment where I asked Stan Scott to use his skills with electronics and improvise with previously heard material to create a sense of exploration. The musical shape of the entire soundscape is completed with an uplifting final section that features calls from the trumpet and joyous strings.

Stan’s story

Stan Scott studied on the Popular Music Course at the Royal Northern College of Music and after 4 years was all set to finish his BMus degree and progress into a freelance career as a bass guitarist. But Covid had other ideas and the class of 2020 had an abrupt and early end to their studies and were thrust into a freelance music profession which had ground to a halt. With no opportunities to start a performing career on the horizon Stan spent his time during the Covid lockdowns teaching himself music production. Networking with other producers around the world, he honed his craft collaborating with musicians online and learning new skills creating electronic music. From what would have been (pre-Covid) a traditional path of leaving music college, getting gigs and going on to a performing career, Stan is part of a generation of young musicians that have been forced to rethink, diversify, and re-create what a music career can look like. Stan Scott is currently teaching a music production course, collaborating with other musicians on various musical projects and is working on producing his first album.