The Commissions – Eileen Simpson & Ben White
Eileen Simpson and Ben White (Open Music Archive)
The Brilliant and the Dark
Eileen Simpson and Ben White’s commission takes as a starting point The Brilliant and the Dark, a cantata for women’s voices composed by Malcolm Williamson and Ursula Vaughan Williams, and first performed by 1,000 women volunteers at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. The libretto approaches history from the Middle Ages to Victorian times through the eyes of women, via characters including witch-hunters, embroiderers, crusaders’ wives, plague stricken women, mourners and war workers.
Simpson and White have negotiated with music publisher Josef Weinberger for permission to use elements from the work and invited the all-women choir Gaggle to remix the music and lyrics of the original composition for a new music video. Filmed on location in The Women’s Library’s Exhibition Hall, the video re-animates the 1969 performance through restaging situations – from the backstage preparations, to choreographed moments in the live event – which are documented in photographs held in the Library’s collection. The performers are seen in new costumes referencing the originals and amidst remade props – elements of which have remained in the space for the exhibition.
The project will culminate in a live event in September in collaboration with Gaggle and with vocalist Ellen Southern who will present her own reworking of the score. Additionally, Eileen Simpson and Ben White are engaged in negotiations with the original rights holders, as well as with the invited musicians and composers, to release all new works created for the project under a copyleft license, with the view to generating new available material for future users.
Eileen Simpson and Ben White live and work in London. They initiated the ongoing project Open Music Archive in 2005.