Ronald Corp began writing music even before he was taught to play the piano. His compositions fall into various categories: choir with orchestra, SATB chorus or upper voices (often childrens’ voices) with or without accompaniment, large scale works for children, community projects, operas, solo songs and song-cycles, orchestral works and chamber music.
Works for Choir and Orchestra
It so happens that the piece Corp acknowledges today as being his first important work is a choral one: And All the Trumpets Sounded (1988) – a commission of Highgate Choral Society who gave the first performance in 1989 (published by Stainer and Bell in 2011). Other substantial choral works with orchestra followed, from Laudamus (1994), performed to great critical acclaim at St. John’s, Smith Square by the London Chorus to a cantata setting Psalms praising God for singers and singing; Adonai Echad (‘The Lord is One’, 2000) juxtaposing texts from the Jewish and Christian faiths and premiered at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival in 2001 and This Sceptr’d Isle was written for a celebration concert of the Queen’s Jubilee, performed by the Highgate Choral Society and the New London Orchestra in 2012.
Corp’s approach to the Mass is as diverse and inventive as Bach’s approach to the Fugue: In the first year of the new millenium Christ our Future (1999, OUP) was premiered at the Greenwich Arena with the New London Orchestra before an audience of 10,000; the Missa San Marco (2002, Stainer and Bell) for a cappella choir was given its second performance by Highgate Choral Society at St. Mark’s, Venice in 2003; and A Christmas Mass (Stainer and Bell) for choir and organ was released on an EMI CD entitled Hark! Chantage at Christmas in 2008. This is not forgetting a Missa Brevis and, more significantly, an unaccompanied cycle of seven songs taking the form of a Requiem, Forever Child (OUP), first sung by Voces Cantabile, the title of their CD, Forever Child and Other Choral Works.
In 2003 BBC Radio 3 commissioned a major work for the BBC Singers – an atmospheric setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, subsequently recorded on the Forever Child CD. Give to my eyes, Lord has an equally impressive history, published in various vocal/choral versions by OUP and appears on no less than three recordings (Pigs Could Fly, Forever Child, The Songs of Ronald Corp).
An interest in Buddhist literature is reflected in his setting of parts of the Dhammapada (2010) for eight solo singers (or SATB choir) interspersed with recordings of bells at temples sacred to the Buddha. Dhammapada is essentially a cycle of verses, thought to be by Buddha, on finding happiness and fulfilment in daily life. Andrew Stewart writes: ‘Dhammapada contemplates the corrupting force of material things and the transience of wealth, beauty and power.’ (See the full article)
A new anthem, Laudate Dominum, commissioned by The Musicians Benevolent Fund, was performed at the St. Cecilia Service on 23 November, 2011. The massed choirs of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral were directed by Martin Baker in Westminster Cathedral.
Skilled in working with children’s choirs, Ronald Corp has a large output of upper-voice music. Works published by OUP include Four Elizabethan Lyrics (1994), a commission for the Farnham Youth Choir enabled by the choir’s success in the prestigious Sainsbury Choir of the Year competition; and Cornucopia, premiered in 1997 by a number of choirs affiliated to the British Federation of Young Choirs. In 2002 he wrote a second work in this format, Kaleidoscope for SA choir and thirteen instruments. Both these works have had a number of performances, while individual songs have occasionally been show-cased alone or in new arrangements, such as Mark Stone’s solo rendition of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat‘ (from Kaleidoscope) and ‘Weep Ye no more, Sad Fountains’ and ‘The Irish Pig’ (Cornucopia) on his CD of The Songs of Ronald Corp.
His Christmas opera for children’s voices, Wenceslas, was premiered in 1982 and staged again in 2008. His dark tale from Swiss folklore, The Ice Mountain (2010), was released on the Naxos label in May, 2011. Large-scale children’s and community cantatas include The Waters of Time (Wells Cathedral, 2006), and In Training (2009).
Songs and Song-cycles
Besides solo songs like the tongue-in-cheek The Bath and the darkly humorous He Kicked the Chair, Corp has written several sets of songs which may form smaller groupings (eg. Three Elizabethan Songs) or fully-fledged song-cycles like Miscellanie, Down in a Valley and Flower of Cities – a celebration of London through various poets’ eyes. His love of literature is strikingly evident in the numerous sets of songs devoted to a single poet: The Music of Housman, The Music of Whitman and Flower of Cities form the bulk of the disc recorded by baritone Mark Stone in 2010, The Songs of Ronald Corp. Unusual among the cycles is the satirical Country Matters calling, as it does, for accompaniment by string trio (featured on a Naxos disc ) and whose poems by Steven Mainwaring are described by the composer as ‘variously poignant and riotously outrageous’.
Whilst continuing to make important contributions to the choral repertoire, Corp seems to be increasingly drawn to the purely instrumental colours orchestral music with works such as a Concerto Grosso, Guernsey Postcards (2004), Symphony No. 1 (2009) and Piano Concerto No. 1: the latter’s premiere was given by Julian Evans in a New London Orchestra concert in 1997 at St. John’s, Smith Square. The work, together with Guernsey Postcards and Symphony No.1 has been recorded by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Details of the CD are under Recordings. Most recently, Sinfonia 7411 premiered at St John’s Smith Square by the New London Orchestra in its 25th birthday concert, an engaging, rhythmically buoyant orchestral work Commotio, premiered on 3 April, 2014 by the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a Cello Concerto, played by Alice Neary accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of the composer in June 2014, and an opera The Pelican based on the play by Strindberg. A recording of the Cello Concerto is available from Dutton Records. He has also worked as an arranger: for example, his orchestrations of Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes are featured in the film, Chocolat (2000), directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Juliet Binoche.
His chamber compositions embrace pieces for various solo instruments plus piano, notably the Homage to Martinů for flute and piano which was performed at a recital at Covent Garden in 2003. Exploration of the soundworlds of bigger chamber structures resulted in two String Quartets (2008 and 2010) championed by the Maggini Quartet. No. 1, subtitled ‘The Bustard’, had its première at the Wigmore Hall, and a Naxos CD featuring both works came out in early 2011, coupled with the song-cycle, Country Matters, for tenor and string trio. Quartet No. 2 celebrates the birth of a baby boy and is essentially a life-affirming piece, despite a slow movement that is more dark and astringent. String Quartet No. 3 was premiered in June 2011 by the Wihan Quartet and is lighter in mood and shorter in span than the first two.
Also recorded in May 2012 were the String Quartet No. 3, the Clarinet Quintet ‘Crawhall’ and The Yellow Wallpaper for mezzo-soprano and string quintet, all composed in 2011. In these, the Maggini String Quartet are joined by Andrew Marriner (clarinet), Rebecca de Pont Davies (mezzo-soprano) and John Tattersdill (double bass).
The Yellow Wallpaper is a dramatic scena adapted from the short story of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This work continues the current trend for chamber compositions and unconventional instrumental/vocal groupings: Lullaby for a Lost Soul, recorded in September 2012, and features the counter-tenor voice, flute, vibraphone and cello and leads naturally to one of Corp’s latest projects, an opera The Pelican based on the play by Strindberg.
An expanded version of this overview of Ronald Corp’s work may be seen here.
Website administrator, Geoffrey Alvarez, amanuensis to Ronald Corp.