Drostan's Calendar

First Aberdeen peformance of music by Haworth Hodgkinson inspired by the Book of Deer

Saturday 3 September 2022 • 7.30pm
Mannofield Church • Great Western Road • ABERDEEN • AB10 6UZ

Mannofield Church

Review by Alan Cooper

Drostan's Calendar created by poet, playwright and composer Haworth Hodgkinson was inspired by the Book of Deer, a 10th Century Latin Gospel with early 12th Century additions in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It is uniquely important since it contains the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland. For the first time in more than 1000 years it has returned to North-East Scotland from Cambridge University Library.

The marginalia include an account of the founding of a monastery at Deer by St Columba and St Drostan, founder and first Abbot of the monastery of Old Deer in Aberdeenshire. The word 'Calendar' in the title of the piece refers to the fact that composer Haworth Hodgkinson went to the seashore near Fraserburgh where every month he made recordings of the seascape. He worked on the recordings, drawing out musical notes created by the waves as they splashed on the shore. A single note for the month of January is gently and delicately picked up by the keyboardists echoing the recordings of the sea which continues throughout the work. Splashing waves, the voices of different kinds of seabirds and the rolling of stones by the waves are all to be heard. The music for September marks the dynamic climax of the work because the sea was at its stormiest that month. Oddly, November is the quietest because when Haworth was there with his recording devices, the sea was unusually calm.

As I have reported, January has just one note for the keyboardists led off by Haworth and then Mandy. As each month passed, another note was added so that by May, there were five notes allowing for the keyboards to play a pentatonic melody which produced a rather delicious Scottish sounding melody. As more notes were added the music became more complex adding finely constructed passages of counterpoint. More notes continued to be added so that by December we had the whole chromatic scale, but as Haworth explained, not every note was given equal force, some enjoyed more importance in the melodic writing and harmonies than others. Towards the end, the music had an almost eastern flavour with possibly a hint of piobaireachd which would fit nicely with the Scottish surroundings of the musical inspiration of the work.

Much of the music was very gentle and often very beautiful. The three keyboards had contrasting 'voices'. Mandy Macdonald's was somewhere between a piano and bell-like chimes, Colin Edwards's sometimes more like a harpsichord or perhaps edgy like some woodwind instruments and throughout the work Haworth had a gong-like bell that punctuated the work and underlined its shapeliness.

What was particularly effective was the way in which, even though the keyboard music that had started off delicately muted, growing in power and intensity especially in stormy September, it never lost sight or rather sound of the seascape. Haworth's steady deep chimes acted as a sound anchor keeping the sea sounds always clearly before us.

Drostan's Calendar is a brilliantly clever work. It was performed lustrously by the three keyboardists of Intuitive Music Aberdeen. Lasting almost an hour, you might think that the continuity of the sea sounds might become tedious. Not at all! The attractiveness of the music and the pure entertainment value of the performance made me feel that the work was over too soon. There was something almost filmic about the performance, as if the seashore had swamped the platform in Mannofield Church. The dying of the light as the colours of the stained glass window gently faded behind the performers also added to the dramatic power of the work. Well, that's what I thought. I loved it!


Mannofield Church
Haworth Hodgkinson
Book of Deer Project

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