Hommage à MDCLXXXV (1985/1994)

for harpsichord (in meantone tuning ad lib) or clavichord

Requested by and dedicated to Paul Simmonds
Bardic Edition Score BD 0551
Duration: 7'00"


First performance: Wednesday 11 May 1994; United Kingdom; Paul Simmonds harpsichordperformance details.

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