Cambridge Composers : Jeremy Thurlow

This is another instalment in the series Cambridge Composers. Posts focus on composers who have or had a connection to Cambridge, or the University of Cambridge. Some of them were students here, whilst others are or were teaching composition in MusiCB3 land.

Jeremy Thurlow ; photographer unknown (copyright with original photographer)

Jeremy Thurlow ; photographed by Alice Boagey

Jeremy Thurlow studied with Alexander Goehr and has been a fellow at Robinson College since 2000. Thurlow teaches composition at the Faculty of Music, and as he is self-publishing, I thought that it was especially important to have a good selection of his works at the Pendlebury Library (catalogue records of the 13 items) and the University Library.

Of Thurlow’s works so far, I was most intrigued by his Properties of Light (2009), a work inspired by Isaac Newton’s Opticks, and wondered whether one should try to analyse the work as if the music were broken by prisms of light, with musical materials being fragmented. The 14-minute work was premiered at Senate House (Cambridge) in December 2009, and the six dancers (choreography by Isobel Cohen), the seven instrumentalists and the four singers created a memorable performance as part of the 800 year celebration of the university. The following documentary gives a glimpse of primarily the dancers, choreographers and lighting designers of this event:

When studying the score, at 863.E.T6 at the Pendlebury Library, one can observe that after the instrumental introduction of the work, the declamation of the beginning of Definition I (Part I) makes a striking entry, starting in unison and then fragmenting into soprano and tenor in unison versus alto and bass: ‘By the Rays of light I understand its least Parts, and those as well Successive in the same Lines as Contemporary in sev’ral Lines.’ (quoted from score, but also available online at Except for one sentence the whole of this definition is sung here. This section finishes with a unison statement of ‘I call a Ray of Light’, whereby only the soprano reaches the word ‘Light’ as an a2. The Definition II (‘Refrangibility of the Rays of light’) is then a much more polyphonic, yet fairly transparent, setting, or one could even say that this section breaks up the text as the rays of light are fragmented and broken. The Definition III, from rehearsal letter N, starts with the text ‘Reflexibility of Rays, is in their Disposition to be turned back’ and is musically much more complex – in terms of the interplay between vocal voices, but also between different sections of the instrumental ensemble. Definition IV starts again with similar writing for the voices as in Definition I. The work finishes with a unison of soprano and alto, Thurlow taking the text taken from Axiom VIII, and the words ‘… in falling on the Spectator’s Eye.’

A video of this dance-piece, as Thurlow, calls his work is available at and lets you perceive how the ‘falling on the Spectator’s Eye’ sounds.



About Clemens Gresser

Between August 2010 and September 2021 I worked as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK); the last six years of that time I was at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since September 2021 I have been the Heythrop Librarian at the London Jesuit Centre.
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1 Response to Cambridge Composers : Jeremy Thurlow

  1. Pingback: Cambridge Composers : Richard Causton | MusiCB3 Blog

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