Commissioned by Royal College of Organists and the Southbank Centre.
In the spring of 2013, I visited the French town of Lusignan on the way down to write 'The Legend of Melusine' in my house in Spain, where it is said the accursed Melusine magically built a castle over night. She is the keeper of a very dark secret, which when it's discovered by her husband, Raymond, who promised not to spy on her mysterious Saturday bathes, triggers all kinds of calamity. As there are no half measures when dealing with the supernatural, the outcome of any broken promise can only lead to disaster. She is another in a long line of sirens and such like in my work; another creature of transformation and seduction.
This 10 minute piece for organ and boy treble has been lurking around in the backwaters of my imagination for some time and it was almost with relief that I accepted the commission from the Southbank Centre to finally write the piece for the inaugural season of the newly renovated organ there. The boy treble part is not at all easy and needs somebody with great panache and derring-do to approach it, such as the young gentleman singing it tonight. He takes the part of a wight; a spirit, a ghost or some other kind of supernatural being (the word 'wight' is probably derived from the Dutch 'wicht'; little child, or the Old English 'wiht'; thing or creature).
Here is my text for the piece:
The Legend of Melusine:
It's Saturday and the Lady Melusine is bathing, as ever, behind closed doors. She had married her husband, Raymond, Duke of Aquitaine, on one condition: "You are forbidden from seeing me bathe," she said. Because, you see, she is cursed! Every Saturday, she changes; changes into a serpent from the waist down; changes into a fork-tailed mermaid. Her enchanted bathing, eases the pain; the pain of her changing. Her splashing, silvery, scaly tails, flash like mirror shards.
A wight boy spins this yarn. A wight, yes, a wight.
She bears ten sons and, with magic, builds entire castles over a single night. With these castles their riches grow. But, of course, stories like these, always end badly. Driven jealous-mad by thoughts of cuckoldry and through a crack in the door, Raymond glimpses her demon-change and screams a scream too loud to stifle. Melusine, her secret exposed, her bat-black wings flexing, her tails writhing, flies out from her tower, shrieking a wild, animal shriek and circles the castle; a monster, forever.
A wight boy spins this yarn. A spirit; an imp; a ghost.
'The Legend of Melusine' was written to a commission from the Southbank Centre, London and the Royal College of Organists and is dedicated to my inspirational organ teacher, Norman Harper, who for two years, somehow steered me through various pieces of Messiaen, Couperin and, of course, Bach at Bolton School, 40 years ago; a transformative experience, for which I can't ever thank him enough.
S.H. , August 20th 2013