The Art of the Album
A blog by Matilda Lloyd
In recent years, the most popular and easy way to listen to music has been through online streaming services. Although this is great because it means that music is a lot more accessible and people can be introduced to genres and styles that they aren’t familiar with, it also means that people rarely listen to a whole album, especially not from beginning to end. This is a great shame as most artists spend enormous amounts of time and energy creating their albums as an art form, using them as a blank canvas for their artistic design. In this way, the themes and stories that link together the individual tracks on the album can be fully understood and appreciated by the listeners.
In the creation of my debut album “Direct Message”, it was very important to me to carefully consider which pieces I would choose, and why, and in which order they should appear. I took my starting point from Peter Maxwell Davies’ Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, which was not only the first serious avant-grade trumpet sonata, but also his Opus 1, so it seemed fitting to begin my album with his compositional debut. This work really pushed the boundaries of what was possible in trumpet playing, and Giles Swayne’s Sangre Viva (2003) continues and expands those possibilities with the use of many extended techniques for trumpet. It was a real priority for me to feature works that had never been recorded before on my debut album, so alongside Sangre Viva is Deborah Pritchard’s Seven Halts on the Somme (2014) with themes of memory and human identity. Based on a series of oil paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue that depict the seven stopping points along the Somme for the British Army, it was particularly special to record this work in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Paired with these contemporary works are three 20th-century masterpieces from the French school of trumpet playing, tied together by the fact that they were all composed as competition pieces for the trumpet students of the Paris Conservatoire. These works provide an exploration into a completely different style of trumpet playing, with gorgeous melodies and sparkling virtuosic passages. To complete the album, I commissioned a new work from British composer Alex Woolf to focus on the lyrical side of the trumpet. He called the piece Direct Message as it imagines the piano and the trumpet as two people taking part in an online instant-messaging exchange with the piano being a strong and interruptive character while the trumpet is hesitant at first until it manages to finally get across its message. I chose this name as the title for my album as I think it helps convey the message that I am trying to express in this debut album: that I want to take the listener on an exciting and surprising journey through the trumpet and piano repertoire of the last century!
Three Albums that I love to listen to from start to end
Check out the playlist on Spotify here
Hidden in Plain Sight – Naturally 7
I first discovered Naturally 7 whilst still at school and was immediately blown away by their extraordinary talent and infectious songs. It is almost unbelievable that every sound is created with the human voice (they call it ‘vocal play’) and I loved the unique sound that they create on all their songs, both originals and covers. This album made the biggest impression on me – I was lucky enough to hear some of the songs in live performance before the album was released so I knew I would love it, but the way the album is put together really elevated it beyond anything I was expecting! Subtitled “Vox Maximus Volume 1” (“the biggest of all voices”), the album begins with a chant-style introduction of powerful massed voices in the first Latin-titled “Motus”, which translates as “movement or motion”. This is exactly what these do: they recur throughout the album, providing linking passages between the songs with no text and a very pure sound reminiscent of sacred vocal music and this means that the songs flow from one another so the album is completely cohesive. The album is also very clever as it manages to balance eight original Naturally 7 tunes and one cover (Fix You by Coldplay) by including much “sampling” – using small bits from other songs in a new and original way. Particularly clever is the sampling of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a groovy track called Galileo, and the use of the backing tracks from Wham!’s Everything She Wants in Life Goes On.
Vespers 1610 – Claudio Monteverdi
This epic album of sacred vocal music, which I studied whilst at Cambridge University, was the first time that I realised that it is not only performers that create albums; composers can too! What is so special about this Vespers is that it doesn’t correspond to the church calendar and therefore doesn’t have the liturgical function as a piece of sacred music that it should have. During this period, Monteverdi worked in a Ducal court in Mantua (Northern Italy), but was seeking a new job as a maestro di cappella of a major church. However, he had not published any sacred music for 27 years and therefore it was very important to him to compile this volume of sacred music. The Vespers is very carefully organised and includes five psalms alternating with motets that gradually increase in intensity, with the first for solo voice and the final for six voices, culminating with two settings of the Magnificat as the climax of the Vespers with incredibly difficult vocal writing and a large accompanying instrumental ensemble.
Cinema – The Cat Empire
I have been a huge fan of The Cat Empire for many years now as I love their blend of styles ranging from ska to punk to jazz to Latin to Afro-Cuban rhythms. The band also features some incredible trumpet playing by Harry James Angus! Instead of being cohesive due to a story or theme linking the tracks, or a very careful organisational system, the flow of the album comes from the atmosphere and style of the music. The band’s lead vocalist Felix Riebl called it “a soundtrack to a movie that we might make one day” and that the title Cinema was the name that best suited the atmosphere of the disc. My favourite tracks on the album are Only Light and All Hell, but I could truly listen to this album on repeat all day with its funky up-beat songs!