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William Cole: I Died for Beauty

William Cole

Cole: I Died for Beauty

In 2009, Winchester Music Club commissioned a new work from young composer William Cole, who has written the following about the work:

I received the commission for ‘I Died for Beauty’ in November 2008. But it was not until Christmas 2009, still without a text for the work, that I finally began to read the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the mysterious 19th-century American poet. My copy of Dickinson’s complete poems is I think the only volume of poetry I own in which the poems themselves are listed by theme as well as indexed – this concept of linking a series of meditations on a particular subject close to Dickinson’s thoughts, such as Death, or Resurrection, through her work I found particularly striking, especially as one of these subjects was Beauty. In reading through the ‘Beauty’ poems, I conceived a work in which a musical narrative would effect the same process as Dickinson’s poems, considering the problematic nature of Beauty from a musical angle, with Dickinson’s poem ‘I Died for Beauty’, one of her most moving and representative, as its focal point. The choir in this piece become therefore not the powerful narrator or commentator of many oratorios, but instead a voice from afar, from beyond the grave and on a higher plane of experience and understanding, as Dickinson herself was, than the work’s main protagonist, the orchestra, and us listeners too.

Read a longer essay on ‘I Died for Beauty’ written by William Cole in January 2011.

Diagrammatic representation of the work,

See Jan Lloyd’s essays on: on the poem ‘I Died for Beauty’ and on Emily Dickinson’s life.

William Cole’s biography

William Cole was born in London in 1990. He began his musical education as a chorister at Winchester Cathedral, from where he gained both academic and music scholarships to Winchester College. At Winchester, he studied piano, cello and singing, as well as composition. Early compositional studies with John Habron and Tom Young were augmented by masterclasses with composers such as Judith Weir, Julian Anderson and Robin Holloway, and by a period of extended study with Robert Saxton, supported by the Hampshire Fund for Young Musicians. While at Winchester, he wrote music for the major school ensembles, including the anthem A Heart Alone for the Chapel Choir, recently released on ‘The Winchester Tradition’, Regent REGCD331. He has written music for both amateur and professional musicians, and his music has been performed by the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra, as well as by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. A composer with a strong interest in theatre, he has written incidental music for productions of Shakespeare’s Pericles and Love’s Labour’s Lost, as well as The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. His music has been heard both in Winchester and further afield, including venues in London, Basingstoke, Cornwall and in America.
As a conductor, William has performed works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Ravel and Sibelius, as well as leading performances of his own works. He received a nomination for a Curtain Call award for Best Musical Director for a production of My Fair Lady by the youth theatre group RicNic. During his gap year, he spent 8 months as Head of Strings at Woodberry Forest School, Virginia, a position which involved close work with the school’s major ensembles, as well as acting as the school’s composer-in-residence.
William is also an active performing musician, often appearing as a cellist and pianist. A keen academic musician, he holds an AMusTCL (Distinction), a qualification he gained at the age of 17. To that end, he is currently reading Music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he holds a Choral Award.

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