Following the success of SLEEP, Max Richter reveals his latest recording project – a new album entitled Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works. It’s drawn from his music to Wayne McGregor’s award-winning Royal Ballet production Woolf Works – inspired by the works of Virginia Woolf – and will be released on Deutsche Grammophon on 27th January. Woolf Works returns to the Royal Opera House, London, from 21st January to 14th February, with a worldwide cinema broadcast on 8th February.
Just like the ballet, Richter’s new album has a three-part structure, built around themes from three of Woolf’s novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Fragments from her letters, diaries and other writings are woven into the work, with spoken words from Gillian Anderson, Sarah Sutcliffe and even Virginia Woolf’s own voice, reading the essay ‘Craftsmanship’ from a 1937 BBC recording.
Max Richter explains: “When we began to discuss making the ballet, I hunted around for material of all kinds, photographs, memoirs, biographies. I never expected to find a recording of Virginia Woolf – this is the only one to survive. It’s like a tremendous time machine which allows you to hear her voice and wonderful use of language. I’ve used spoken-word elements quite often in my work, so to come across Virginia Woolf reading her own words was like a Christmas present. That lit the fuse for the musical language of the ballet’s first act, based on Mrs Dalloway, and the piece grew from there.”
Richter’s new album, which stems from his longer score for Woolf Works, features a vast palette of sounds – from solo instrumental and orchestral episodes, to electronic textures and music for wordless soprano. It opens with the chime of Big Ben, whose unmistakeable sound can still be heard above the noise of London traffic from the distance of Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, where Virginia Woolf lived before her marriage to Leonard Woolf.
Woolf’s suicide note, her heart-rending farewell letter to her husband, read by Gillian Anderson, sets the contemplative atmosphere for ‘Tuesday’, the album’s final and longest track. The piece develops from the sound of breaking waves into a plaintive solo melody, constantly repeated yet ever-changing, and grows to become a dream-like meditation on life and death. “My approach goes back to the aesthetic pleasure of simple, well-made things,” Richter observes. “I believe ‘Tuesday’ connects to minimalism in painting and architecture; within the realm of what people call spirituality, it connects to Zen Buddhism. All those things flow together in the striving for the maximum from the minimum.”
Max Richter and Wayne McGregor are frequent collaborators. Richter wrote the scores for McGregor’s ballets Infra and The Future Self, while McGregor staged Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and directed his chamber opera, Sum. Woolf Works was met with outstanding critical acclaim on its premiere in 2015, winning the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography and the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.