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Composer unlocks maths secrets in 'sudden light'

Posted on 18/10/2012

Mark Bowden, Director of Composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, will see his piece sudden light performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, on Friday 26 October.

The award-winning composer found inspiration for the piece while reading The Music of the Primes, by mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy. The book is about the history of prime numbers and the Riemann hypothesis exploring how prime numbers relate to music, patterns in nature and to our lives. He also drew inspiration from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem which gave him the title, sudden light.

“I made use of many sequences of prime numbers to construct rhythms, form and some of the smaller musical details,” Mark explained.

“It is a very common observation that music and mathematics share many properties. The philosopher Leibniz once commented that 'music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting'.

“However merely representing numerical patterns in sound is not enough to create a work of art. In sudden light I have sought to embed many patterns based upon prime numbers into the fabric of the score, both horizontally, in terms of melody, rhythm and form and, perhaps more crucially, vertically, in terms of harmony and texture.

“These patterns develop and interconnect as the music progresses but are not consciously audible to the listener. It is my intention for the audience to experience the music, as Liebniz described, 'as a secret and unconscious mathematical problem of the soul'.”

Mark was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize for sudden light in 2006.

He has put together the programme for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales concert, which will feature music by the Camberwell Composers Collective, of which Mark is a founder member. 

The Camberwell Composers Collective started as a group of five friends who played in pubs and jazz clubs across south London. The members are now recognised as successful composers and regularly collaborate on a range of projects.

Mark was appointed Resident Composer at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in June 2011 and will be in post for four years. He hopes that he will be able to draw on his experiences there when teaching young musicians in the Department of Music at Royal Holloway.

“There is nothing better than real-life experience”, he added. “Being a composer feeds directly into my teaching and I can share with students my experience of working with orchestras and talk about where I find inspiration for my compositions.”

The concert, conducted by Andrew Gourlay, will take place at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Wales Millennium Centre, on Friday 26 October at 7pm. Tickets are priced at £7.50-£9.50 (discounts available) and are available from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ Audience Line on 0800 052 1812.

Alternatively, tickets can be booked through the Wales Millennium Centre by calling 02920 636464, or by visiting its website.


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