“I have a desire to re-enchant the past, to take the listener to a splintered sound world where period instruments and historical styles, idioms, harmonic language and ornamentation, are refracted through the contemporary prism of film, folk, cabaret, circus and musical theatre.”
Susie Vaughan trained as a composer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (MMus, Lutoslawski Prize: 2nd Prize) after receiving a BMus (1st Class Hons) at Royal Holloway and a British Academy Award to undertake postgraduate research at Magdalen College, Oxford. Her research into Postmodern music very much influenced her own compositional style.
Susie is particularly interested in setting love poetry through the ages (from Sappho to Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath) and devotional text. She was the first woman in 550 years to compose for the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford – a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis to celebrate 20 Years of Women at the College in the Year 2000.
Susie’s interest in early music began as a postgraduate student at the Guildhall, when asked to compose the songs and incidental music for Mary Pix’s Restoration Comedy The Innocent Mistress. A collection of lute songs for Countertenor followed, settings of James Joyce’s Chamber Music, for the Spitalfields Music Festival.
This led to a commission to compose the missing third of Thomas Campion’s The Lord Hayes’ Masque, performed at the Convocation House, Bodleian Library and Castle Ashby for the Oxford University Early Music Society, History Alive and Sotheby’s New York. Other works for theatre include incidental music for Creation Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet and for Benedict Productions’ tour of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (incl. Palace Theatre Manchester, Leeds Playhouse, Hull New Theatre, Theatre Royal Brighton).
Over Lockdown, Susie took part in the wonderful Arts Council England project Theorbo Today, for which she composed He is more than a hero for 2 Sopranos, Lute and Theorbo.
Current projects include Cantata Amorosa: Re-imagining Barbara Strozzi’s L’Eraclito Amoroso; Shakespeare’s Sonnet Circus: A Song-cycle of Eight Sonnets for Countertenor Solo and Six Baroque Obbligato Instruments (Flûte Traversière, Oboe, Bassoon, Baroque Triple Harp, Theorbo, Harpsichord) and Baroque String Orchestra; and Agnus Dei from Sounding the PAges: Compositions inspired by the British Library Exhibition:
Elizabeth and Mary, Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, which will be performed in December by the musicians of Theorbo Today.
A fun-fact about Susie – discovered whilst researching her ancestry during the COVID Lockdown – is that she is Henry Purcell’s first cousin, nine times removed.
La Conversation Enchantée et Galante
My piece La Conversation Enchantée et Galante was inspired by Ada’s brief to ‘explore Telemann’s Paris Quartets and celebrate the art of conversation between instruments.’ To explore this galant style, I started with the ensemble quaver motif from B.16 of the Modéré in the final E minor Quartet: 6th Quatuor TWV 43:e4 – my favourite movement and the very last movement in the Paris Quartets – and transformed this into a semi-quaver motif heard at the beginning of the piece and later as an accompanying background ‘buzz’ in the instrumental conversation.
The subtitle of the piece – Le Chardonneret est le Fantôme dans la Machine – was inspired by the painting of a Goldfinch sitting on a branch on the soundboard of the beautiful 1769 Pascal Taskin Harpsichord in the Russell Collection in St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, the disposition of which, I have used for this piece. The painted Goldfinch comes to life and flies into the music, making his appearance in the song-like trills in all the instrumental parts and in the fluttering chords in the Harpsichord. At the end of the piece, in the Distrait section – another nod to Telemann’s movement descriptions – the Goldfinch flies around and distracts the group of musical conversationalists, leaving just the Flûte Traversière and Harpsichord (using the Buff Stop) to represent his flutterings and twitterings, before flying back to his painted branch on the soundboard of the Harpsichord, where he becomes once more inanimate, leaving a concluding cadence trailing away the instrumental conversation.