The Ascent of F6

It is 1936. Britain is suffering the effects of the depression and is in decline as a colonial power. Ostnian propagandists have spread the rumour among the natives of Ostnian Sudoland that the first white man to reach the summit of F6 and overcome the demon there will unite Ostnian and British Sudoland in a thousand years of rule. The Ostnian climbing hero, Blavek, is approaching F6 across the Tung Desert (go figure). Britain cannot afford to let the Ostnians win. A hero is needed. But what kind of man dares to climb the ice fangs of F6?

Thus was this play, The Ascent of F6, summarised by James Methven, English tutor at Oriel, when he asked me to write the music for his production in 2006. I had previously assumed the play was something to do with space exploration. I’d never written music for a play before, which was just as well, as I would never have accepted the invitation without the ignorance of (relative) youth – not only was the music for the original production written by Benjamin Britten, the words for Funeral Blues are now famous as Stop all the Clocks from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral – except in the play its not a softly intoned lament to a dead lover, its a propaganda brainstorm by members of the cabinet.

Alongside the Propaganda Blues (as I call it) the musical numbers include a couple of cocktail bar ditties, a grotesque lullaby, some ‘headline’ music for people selling newspapers, a final hymn, and a swing number delivered when the black-tie clad radio announcer finally flips out. I have arranged three of these – I’ve got a date with Love, Propaganda Blues, and Forget the Dead in a concert version for a (very vocally acrobatic) soprano/tenor with piano accompaniment. These were first performed by Emilie Bregeon and John-Paul Pruna.

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