Reflections of an Eccentric English Artist (2015) is a flexible suite for unaccompanied cello inspired by the life and work of artist Ben Hartley (1933-1996). Hartley converted to the Catholic faith in the 1960s and the music weaves the plainchant Ave generosa, Hildegard of Bingen’s salutation to Mary, through musical depictions of Hartley’s deceptively simple and vibrant rustic images (often painted on old brown parcel paper). The paintings selected are Busy Lizzie (an old lady vigorously pumping water); Billy Digger (a semi-abstract billboard for tobacco with the rear end of a green horse and a goat’s head), Cocoa Quiet (a tragic self-portrait); Finest Attire (a country fellow in jaunty gaiters); Cock-a-Dandy (a prepossessed chicken), Billy Snack (a hungry goat), Ireland: Ship at Anchor (a ship).
The performer is required to improvise some of the links between the decorated chant and the musical paintings. The entire work is a tour de force for the player. The composer's intention is that cellists may select sections and reorder the movements as they wish to create their own version of the score. The version recorded here is divided into three parts.
The stimulus for this flexible approach stemmed from conversations between the composer, Liz Johnson and cellist Elaine Ackers, who was interested in finding new unaccompanied repertoire for her talented young students at the Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Department. The composer envisions multi-cello performances of the entire suite with, for example, the virtuosic and technically challenging Fantasias played by professional players, with the simpler material played by students.