St John’s Dance was a form of mass hysteria that periodically afflicted European peasants in the middle ages. People would start dancing involuntarily and wouldn’t be able to stop for weeks and sometimes months on end. The condition seemed to be contagious, and would sometimes result in many hundreds of people dancing in groups, often until they collapsed from exhaustion. In 1278 around 200 people died when a mass dance caused a bridge to collapse into the River Meuse. Many dancers would experience a state of ecstasy, remove their clothes or shout out the names of the saints they were hallucinating. For most, however, it seemed a horrific experience – writhing, screaming and foaming at the mouth was common.
My piece is a relentless series of dances – often spiralling out of control, often with two or more heard simultaneously.
First Night of the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK
symphony orchestra: 3(III=picc).3(III=ca).3(II=Ebcl.III=bcl).3(III=cbsn) - 4.4.3(III=btrbn).1 - timp - perc(3): xyl/vib/mar/BD/tub bells/tam-t/tpl.bl/bongos - harp - strings (min 220.127.116.11.6)
Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the First Night of the Proms 2017