A composer in our midst

  • Posted on: 11 May 2021
  • By: huw

Richard Prince has a long association with the Royston Choral Society (including as our Musical Director some time ago) and other local choirs. The choir has enjoyed regularly performing his compositions, including ‘Northumbrian Folk Songs’, 'Suo Gân' (The Welsh Folk Song), and ‘Christmas Carols’. We asked him to give an insight into the creative process….

“I often marvel at the output of composers like Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven. How did they managed to produce such amounts and sometimes in short periods of time? My own entry was back in the early 1980’s, just before I moved south, when I produced a version of one of the Northumbrian Folk Songs. In some ways that wasn’t too difficult as I had sung various settings of the songs with choirs. My ‘proper’ composing began when I started to write music for the Parish Church Choir in Royston, and this continued with the Priory Singers.

So, how do I begin with composition? Quite often it starts with a set of words. I get the words in my mind and then sit at the piano and doodle or I’ll think the music in my mind. Scribbling down the ideas on paper comes next, with more work at the piano. I then transfer it on to the computer and play around with it. Print off - piano work - re-write changes - print off - piano work etc. Of course, in the early pre-computer days it was pencil and rubber and then writing out carefully in pen!

Most of my work has been with text and this can prove to be difficult at times especially when the text has been used by illustrious composers. ‘The Turtle Dove’ is a good example - there is a lovely choral setting by Vaughan Williams and I worked hard to ignore it! Lockdown has seen me produce about 20 original songs and a couple of arrangements. These include my own collection of ‘Songs of Farewell’. Again, I tried very hard to steer clear of Vaughan Williams’ excellent settings. In addition to solo and choral music I have ventured into instrumental composition. I wrote a suite for Marimba and Flute - since revised for Clarinet and Piano - and I’m working on another suite. I’ve also got an organ postlude. [Editor’s note: a postlude is ‘a closing piece of music especially an organ voluntary at the end of a church service’].

People sometimes ask what my style is? I’m not sure. Perhaps it is ‘English’ influenced by Holst, Howells, Finzi, Vaughan Williams. Perhaps there’s a touch of Romanticism as well. Or maybe it’s just Prince! Favourite pieces? Well, it’s hard to list them; I like most of what I’ve written. ‘Set me as a seal’ comes first, written for my stepdaughter’s wedding. Then there is ‘Afterwards’, written in memory of Cyn’s [Richard’s other half] stepfather. The Thomas Hardy poem was read at his funeral. After that, who knows! A definite high spot for me was the concert in Southwark Cathedral in 2017 where the programme was made up of a selection of my works. I owe a great many thanks to all those who have sung/played my music over the years.”

For further information about Richard’s life in music, click here.