Elspeth Manders

Composer

A colour photo of a woman playing a grand piano

Playing the piano at Chelmsford County High School for Girls (Image provided by Elspeth)

  • BORN 1997, Chelmsford, Essex, England, UK
  • WORKED Chelmsford Cathedral, Essex; Somerset House, Holborn, London; Worcester College, Oxford
  • HONOURS  ‘Innovation Award’ Music for Youth semi-final as composer, conductor and director of the Cantatrici Choir, Birmingham 2015; Winner – South Berkshire Wind Band Competition, for ‘We Remember’ premiered by the South Berks Concert Band, Mortimer Methodist Church Hall, Reading, 2013.
  • MINERVA SCIENTIFICA PROJECT Echoes from Essex 2020

Scientific Connections

Copernican Model © Elspeth Manders (as was used for the front cover of Handbook of Primary Care Ethics.)

I have an interest in the cosmos, which inspires the content of my music and artwork (see some images on this page)!

In 2017, I worked with researchers from the medical/ethical field, designing the front cover for a new medical publication, Handbook of Primary Care Ethics. The book offers insights into the ethics of primary healthcare and won First Prize at the BMA Medical Book Awards 2018.

Frances invited me to become involved in Echoes from Essex –  Minerva Scientifica as part of the Essex 2020 celebrations of science and creativity. As an Essex-based composer and artist, I was commissioned to create the art and music for an event about horticulturalist Ellen Willmott. It’s been a joyful project to undertake because Ellen Willmott is a fascinating lady and a rich source for inspiration.

Compositions

Title:  Moon of Heaven
Scientist: ELLEN WILLMOTT
Words by: Jammam Shud, from ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ a collection of C11th Persian poetry
Written in: August 2020
For: Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Countertenor, Tenor
Commissioned by: electric voice theatre
Performed by: Soprano – Frances Lynch; Mezzo Soprano – Simone Ibbett Brown; Countertenor – David Sheppard; Tenor – Julian Stocker
First Performed: as part of “Soundings from Essex” events online during the Covid-19 outbreak, 10th August 2020.

Moon of Heaven’ was written and performed as part of the “Soundings from Essex” Minerva Scientifica series of discussion, music and art events online. This piece was performed during the 3rd episode  – ‘Ellen Willmott: The Botanical Gardener of Brentwood’. It reflects upon Ellen Willmott’s life at Warley Place, Brentwood. The piece is part of a dual art/music commission; the artwork also celebrates Ellen Willmott, shown here and on artbyelspeth.com.

I think of the countertenor as the voice of Ellen Willmott, tracing her journey from life to spirit and diminished authorship of the garden over time. This is achieved by changes in texture and rhythm: as the piece progresses, the dominant countertenor is challenged by more involved textures and rhythms from the other voices, so that by the end, only an echo of her voice remains, conveyed by the countertenor’s repeated final phrase which dies away to nothing.

A through-composed structure and predominately modal tonality draws from the stylistic profiles of nineteenth century English folk song and the English madrigal proper: Ellen Willmott was affiliated with both styles, through her involvement in The Madrigal School, and by her friendships with canonic English composers of the time, such as Ethel Smyth.

The photo below shows the commissioned artwork which accompanies the music. The canvas traces the transition of Warley Place from a manicured garden, once carefully cared for by Ellen Willmott and her gardeners, to the wilder nature reserve it is today. It uses a polychrome colour palette and imagery from Miss Willmott’s iconic flora to pay homage to her horticulture. More information about the canvas can be found in Elspeth’s art website, here.

Education

I graduated from Worcester College, University of Oxford, in 2018, with a BA (Hons) in Music.

I studied Composition under Professor Robert Saxton, specialised in Music Composition, Orchestration, Music History post 1900, and Film Music (my dissertation explored music and semiotics in film), achieving 1:1 in these areas.

Whilst there I directed a choir, represented the college arts scene, and was the composer for a play (4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Payne).

At school I threw myself into anything musical – I directed a choir, was Head Percussionist, played piano accompaniment for ensembles, and outside of school I was a chorister in a Cathedral Choir and undertook composition collaborations with local ensembles.

I was (and still am!) a jack of all musical trades, and by doing so I have established composing as my primary musical love!

Jupiter © Elspeth Manders

Occupations

Artist
I’ve always loved fine art and continue to develop this by running a fine art business. I sell my original oil paintings, undertake canvas and mural commissions, and regularly participate in exhibitions. My favourite projects are those which combine composing and painting together!

Music and Liturgy Assistant
I work in the music department of a Cathedral, where I support the choirs’ and plan for liturgical services. It’s a continuation of my interest in choral music.

FUEL Theatre
I was an intern at this theatre company at Somerset House, Holborn, which gave me experience working for an arts not-for-profit organisation. I liked the work – the commute into London, not so much!

Sales Assistant/Scout/Proof reader
I have worked at lots of odd jobs, including retail, hospitality, proof reading for music concert programmes … and I’m glad I did! I gained skills from each role which I did not realise at the time would facilitate my future career path.

Musical Highlights

  • Singing as a chorister of the Chelmsford Cathedral Girls’ Choir for the Gallipoli 100 celebration, televised on BBC One and international news!
  • Singing, again as a chorister of the Chelmsford Cathedral Girls’ Choir, for the Queen and her royals when they came to Chelmsford Cathedral in its centenary anniversary.
  • My setting of Hilda Doolittle’s ‘Pear Tree’ was performed and recorded by the BBC Singers in a workshop at the Maida Vale Studios. This was part of a workshop during my time at the University of Oxford. Judith Weir was also present at the workshop, and offered constructive advice (invaluable!).

Did You Know?

People are often surprised (perhaps because of my background in Classical music) to hear that my preferred music of choice is actually hard rock and heavy metal – I love listening to angsty timbres!

An Inspiring Woman

Deborah Pritchard has been an inspiration since I met her at University in 2015. She is a synaesthetic composer, combining sound and visuals by working with visual artists or by painting music. She has numerous accolades to her name, and I feel privileged to have had tutorials with her!

Links