Who Killed Cornelius Cardew?

Alex Metcalfe, Sarah Miles, Kevin Tomkins

Last Thursday, we returned to the Stables Theatre and performed our new show, Who Killed Cornelius Cardew? as part of the Hastings Fringe. Alex and Kevin play a variety of instruments and I am acting in it as ‘the director’. There is a visual accompaniment of various images on film.

The production is a semi-improvised piece looking at the works and influences of the avant-garde composer, Cornelius Cardew, weaving in some of his life story, which resulted in his death as part of an unresolved hit-and-run incident in 1981.

Cardew is largely unknown and his experimental approach to music was initially based on people like John Cage and Stockhausen, although he continually changed and developed his style, usually denouncing what had gone before. His most famous work, Treatise, is a graphic score, open to interpretation and improvisation by the perfomer.

Cornelius Cardew Treatise
p49 of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise

Because the music and subject is quite ‘out there’, we were unsure of the audience response. Well, to be fair, we were unsure if we’d get an audience at all! As it was, we were nearly full and the audience absolutely made the performance. Twice during the show, we ask the audience to join in, once to play on the installation, based on Cardew’s own and again to be part of something based on his choral piece, The Great Learning. We also couldn’t believe it when three members of the audience said they knew Cardew and/or his family, and one man addressed the audience at the end to explain the suspicious circumstances of Cardew’s death (due to his activities within the Marxist-Leninist communist party, many suspected MI5 involvement).

Cornelius Cardew
Cornelius Cardew

Feedback was beyond expectation and Alex, Kevin and I were buzzing after the performance. We still are! Kevin is a power electronics pioneer and played/vocalised on a variety of different instruments/media while Alex played mostly on piano/keyboard, using an autoharp to maintain the Cardew/Treatise ‘timeline’. I haven’t acted professionally for years, but it’s definitely a direction I want to re-explore, so to be involved in the scripting (with Alex) and acting with these two very talented musicians, was a real step forward for me, personally.

Plans now are for Alex and me to rework the script — strip it down and build it back up again (like we did with the Satie) and for Keith (our third member of Amusia Productions) to produce a new film accompaniment.

Our version of Cardew’s installation

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