Hommage à MDCLXXXV (1985)

for harpsichord (in meantone tuning ad lib) or clavichord

Revised 1994

Requested by and dedicated to Paul Simmonds

Publisher: Bardic Edition

Score BD 0551

Duration: 7 minutes


First performance: Wednesday 11 May 1994; Brighton Festival, Chapel Royal, Brighton, United Kingdom; Paul Simmonds harpsichord.

Programme note

This piece was written in response to a long-standing request from Paul Simmonds for a new piece especially composed for an old instrument, in this case a modern copy of a classical harpsichord. I departed from the kind of African-European syntheses that I was composing at the time, and decided instead — as it was 1985 — to write an occasional piece marking the tercentenary of the births of three of the greatest composers for the instrument (Bach, Handel and Scarlatti).

I did however adopt two rather African characteristics (though both are not uncommon in European music either). Firstly I chose a different tuning system — meantone temperament, in which the thirds are pure — and secondly I used a cyclic form, in this case a fairly free kind of passacaglia. The theme of this passacaglia is built on the pitch equivalents of B-A-C-H (B = B flat and H = B natural in German) together with the purely constructed thirds of the meantone tuning. The work opens with a short ‘prèlude non measurè’ (unmeasured prelude), giving some French perspective to the piece.

Although I first sketched the work in 1985 — with the Bach tercentenary in mind — it was put aside for a number of years before I finally completed it early in 1994. The first performance of Hommage à MDCLXXXV was given by Paul Simmonds on 11 May, 1994 in the Chapel Royal Brighton during the 1994 Brighton Festival.


“A short piece with aspirations of epic, it starts out as an engaging pastiche-cum-homage to the giants born in 1685 but then develops into less tonally certain areas.”
Guy Rickards, Tempo, September 1994