Richard Blackford: Vision of a Garden for Baritone Solo, SATB Chorus & String Orchestra - Vocal Score [Printed Music]

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When David Hill proposed a Bach Choir commission based on Peter Johnstone’s ICU diaries I was immediately drawn to his idea of composing a work to be written during the Covid -19 pandemic about one man’s direct and intense experience of it, and the care he received from the nursing staff. Peter was very patient and generous in allowing me to select entries that I felt could provide a satisfying musical structure, entries which could encompass the different stages of his experience, from delirium, crisis, lyrical reflection, to recovery and gratitude to his nurses. The work is framed by gently overlapping choral entries in which the nurses introduce themselves, set against a pulsating, almost mechanical string accompaniment col legno battuto that evokes the sounds of hospital ward machines. The first choral outburst, “You are positive with the Covid-19 virus” is thematically linked to the later chorus, “He died from the Covid-19 virus” after the dream garden sequence.  A male nurse describes how he sung along to a recording of Handel’s Messiah which was played to the delirious Peter. This quote, with its harmonically blurred cadence, leads to the first garden dream music. A lyrical solo viola weaves through the baritone’s vocal line. Later, in the real visit to the garden, the viola’s material is taken up and transformed by a solo violin.  These musical mirrors help to unify the work and help prepare for the choral climax that starts, “I hope you feel better soon.” In the final section, in which the baritone articulates the overwhelming feeling of love Peter felt for his nurses, their soft overlapping voices return, as if introducing themselves once more to the next patient in the ICU. 
Richard Blackford

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