THE 2013 production of the Chester Mystery Plays opens tomorrow at Chester Cathedral. In our second mystery plays feature, we look at the role that live music has played in the modern revival of the medieval stories, which was first performed in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain.
Archivist Diana Dunn said: “The 1951 programme contains music notes written by the musical director, Dr J Roland Middleton, who explains the difficulty he had in trying to find music appropriate to the period of the original productions.
“At a time before extensive research on the medieval texts and their accompanying music had been undertaken, Dr Middleton speculated that recorders would have been employed ‘with a view to enhancing the mood of the drama.’”
Recorder music arranged and played by George Dodgson and his son Jolyon featured in all three productions of the 1950s. As well as the instruments, there was also a male-voice choir and later productions had singers from the Chester and District Music Society, the Chester Choral Society, the Chester Training College, the King’s School and the Queen’s School.
Diana added: “There is also a programme note to say that the cathedral bells were rung after each performance of the Third Play.”
More modern productions of the plays have used specially commissioned music written by professionals, often with a local connection, in a range of styles appropriate to the particular production, and performed by local music groups.
In 1987, music was provided by The Chester Waytes, formed in 1986 and modelling themselves after the city’s original ‘Waytes’ of the 16th century.
In contrast, in 1992, Gary Lloyd, a former Chester College student with his own recording studio business, was commissioned to compose original music for the mysteries. His main contribution was the dance-piece for Creation and Fall, choreographed by Veronica Lewis of the Cheshire Dance Workshop and featuring children from Eaton County Primary School.
The distinguished composer Laurence Roman was musical director in 1997 and he composed original music for the organ which was played and recorded by the cathedral’s organist Graham Eccles. In 1997, the range of music employed included Chester School of Samba, Chester Gateway Youth Theatre Chorus, members of Heber Voice Works, and University College Chester Choir working with the Helsinki Institute of Art and Media performing Finnish folk songs.
New ground was broken in 2003 with the appointment of the talented local musician and performer Matt Baker as composer and musical director. Matt has composed music for the Chester Mystery Plays ever since.