• Emily Howard
  • The Anvil (2019)
    (An Elegy for Peterloo)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)

Commissioned by the BBC Radio 3 and Manchester International Festival.

First performed by Kate Royal (soprano), Christopher Purves (baritone) and the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Singers, Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir and Hallé Ancoats Community Choir, conducted by Ben Gernon at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on 7th July 2019. First broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 16th August 2019, the 200th Anniversary of Peterloo.

  • S,bbar + mixedchchbrch; 3(III:pic).3.3(III:bcl).3(III:cbn)/5.3.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/str
  • chamber choir, youth choir, SATB chorus
  • Soprano, Bass Baritone
  • 40 min
  • Michael Symmons Roberts

Programme Note

The Anvil is about the universal longing for suffrage, protest, liberty. It takes as its starting-point the 1819 Peterloo massacre in Manchester, England. A wide range of choral forces and soloists enabled Emily to conjure the complex web of voices in a mass protest, held together by the soprano as narrator, plus bass-baritone and choirs as one or many voices from the crowd and hustings. Musical influences for the score ranged from early 19th Century hymn tunes to the power and terror of mill machinery.

The idea of Michael making a large grid or woven text as part of the libretto came when we began to research Peterloo and found the repeated occupation ‘weaver’ in inventories of the dead and injured. The finished text was not meant to be read only in a straightforward linear way – though it can be – but also as a vertical and horizontal ‘weave’. Like the protesting crowds it evokes, it contains multiple voices and registers, from lists of injuries to slogans on banners, declarations of political will to shouts of protest, prayers to cries for help and snippets of stories.

This huge ‘Anvil Grid’ became a starting-point and resource for Emily’s music, but we felt another kind of text was needed, one with a narrative thread. So Michael wrote ‘The Stones of Peterloo’ and that became the spine of the piece. Why the title? We chose it partly because the scrap ground where Peterloo took place was anvil-shaped, but mainly because of its resonances with work being done, with futures being forged. The Anvil is, we hope, a universal cry for suffrage and democracy.

Emily Howard and Michael Symmons Roberts


The Anvil recorded by BBC Philharmonic, Halle Choir, Ben Gernon (Delphian)




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