Composers Edition has recently published Hymn of Creation by Naresh Sohal. Janet Swinney, Naresh’s widow, who manages the composer’s estate, tells us the sinuous path to rescuing this hugely important work in Sohal’s oeuvre.
In the second half of his career, Naresh had used the computer programme Finale for transcribing his music, and thought he had future-proofed all his works by saving them on various devices which he kept around the house, including in his sock drawer. What he hadn’t taken into account was the fact that after several iterations of Finale, it would be impossible for ordinary mortals like me to decipher the original versions. I’d managed to rescue other pieces but couldn’t access this one. I was very worried about not being able to retrieve it.
There were offers of help from members of the Composers Edition community. Then a digital conversion company had a go. No-one could arrive at a version where the staves didn’t leak off the page.
Finally, I was saved by a computer meltdown of my own. In the space of one weekend, both of my laptops crashed. In desperation, I hijacked Naresh’s teeny-weeny travel laptop and managed to wangle my way in, and there was the missing piece, plus a version of Finale that offered to update the files when they were opened. To be honest, I wanted to cry. I somehow managed to save the files as pdfs, got them on to Dropbox and CE did the rest.
The work is a vast piece (55 minutes long) for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, and is a setting of Sanskrit text drawn from the Rigveda (third part, 10th section, sookt 129). It’s important for several reasons. It shows, once again, the composer’s skill in marshalling large forces, but it also demonstrates his commitment to exploring the essence of Hindu thought. The text deals with the origin of the universe. It ponders various theories about the nature of the generative force that created everything we can ever conceive of, and what sparked the act of creation. It concludes that even the Creator may not know the answer.
Some might wonder about the scale of ambition here. But Naresh and the word ‘compromise’ were strangers to each other. If he thought a theme needed exploring, then he explored it, and you couldn’t get a more fundamental issue than this theme.
Hymn of Creation was written at the request of Sir Andrew Davies, on the understanding that it would receive a BBC performance. However, this has never happened, so the work is long overdue a first performance.
Composers Edition is proud to make Hymn of Creation full and perusal scores available through our website.