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The University of Southampton
MusicPart of Humanities

Norris celebrates Sterne

Published: 20 September 2013

October sees the premiere of a new piece by Southampton's Head of Keyboard and Professor of Performance Studies, David Owen Norris, composed to mark the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Laurence Sterne. The performance of STERNE, was the MAN, for children's choirs, actor, singer and seven players, will take place at York Minster on 14 October.

The piece was commissioned by the Laurence Sterne Trust as part of its Voice from the Pulpit project. Sterne is best known today as the author of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey, but during his lifetime, Sterne’s sermons were as famous as his novels, and the Trust’s commission is intended to draw attention to a neglected literary form Norris's work presents Sterne’s last sermon, The Case of Hezekiah & the Messengers, which grapples with the moral problem of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Children from primary schools around Coxwold, where Sterne was Vicar, have been trained by Jonathan Brigg, who will conduct the performance at York Minster. Sterne was a non-residentiary canon of the Minster, where his uncle was the Archbishop. The piece ends with a setting of the epitaph on Sterne’s gravestone, now in the porch of Coxwold church. The title is taken from the couplet:

STERNE, was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride
Mowed down luxuriant follies, far and wide

The singers are accompanied by instruments that Sterne knew and loved – viola da gamba, the square piano, cavalry trumpet, and string quartet.


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