A note from the composer...
The opportunity to write for the harpsichordist Colin Booth appealed in several ways: creating something new for a historical instrument, the challenge of working within a framework of the harpsichord’s dynamic limitations whilst utilizing the variety of tonal intricacies available for expressive possibilities, and the relative unusualness of the project. A meeting with Colin in the summer of 2008 resulted in a decision to write a piece of around 6-7 minutes, starting at a fairly free, slow tempo and evolving into something more upbeat; the work would complement, and contrast with, the mostly traditional repertoire of his performance programme.
I knew early on that I wanted to incorporate a gradual tonal shift through the instrument’s range, starting in the very lowest register and concentrating on the rich and hypnotic qualities of this timbre, then moving gradually up the keyboard to reach the very highest note just at the end. As the compositional process developed, so dida natural subdivision of the music into successive sections, each exploring a different aspect of the instrument’s characteristics and drawing on related musical material.
The subtitle, A fantasia for harpsichord, is inspired by this sectional structure, similar to that of 16th and 17th century fantasias with their free improvisatory elements; however, in this piece, each section’s motifs evolve throughout whilst the tempo is underpinned by a steady pulse. It is this which gives the piece its title, Tactus, being a term used to describe a source of timekeeping dating back to the Renaissance, often around the rate of a human heartbeat. Whilst the metronome markings for Tactus have a broader range of tempos, the nature of the pulse behind the improvisatory elements remains constant throughout, and both title and subtitle reflect the instrument’s rich historical heritage.