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Northumberland's poetic echoes
John Casken
Composer John Casken lives in the village of Holystone in Northumberland

John Casken is an award-winning composer, a poet, translator and professor of music - but he's most at home in his Northumberland village.

John, from Holystone, recently won the the top prize in the "vocal" category at the British Composer Awards.

His piece was inspired by the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood.

For John though, his real musical inspiration comes from Northumberland and its history, which he describes as "poetic and creative".

'Saturated history'

He said: "I love the quality of the place and the people are extremely nice.

"To me it feels very special, it has a great feel of history and the landscape is magical - so wild and uncompromising.

"Northumberland is saturated with echoes of history - it's very poetic and very creative.

John Casken
John receiving his award at The Law Society in London

"There's just so much of it - especially from the Anglo-Saxon period - with Bede and Lindisfarne".

John, who was a professor of music at Durham University for 11 years and is Emeritus Professor of Music at Manchester University, has been writing music for many years, and has used Northumberland's heritage for inspiration before.

"I wrote music for Bede's death song and that was set in the original Anglo-Saxon.

"I did my own abridged translation of The Dream of the Rood though."

The poem is about the Cross that Christ was crucified on. The Cross is represented by a tree, which then comes alive and speaks to a man in his dream about overcoming suffering.

For John, capturing such a religious and historic event was an enormous task.

"It's a huge theme," he said, "but there was so much potential with the music.

"In fact, the music came instantaneously, I knew just what sort of music I needed to find for such a dramatic text."

John has recently been commissioned by Thomas Zehetmair, director of Northern Sinfonia, to write a double concerto for violin and viola and small orchestra.

Top composer from Northumberland
02 Dec 09 |  Arts & Culture



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