New choral album celebrates the contents of Samuel Pepys diaries

The London Rebel Choir. Picture: Benjamin Till.

The London Rebel Choir. Picture: Benjamin Till. - Credit: Archant

Benjamin Till’s fourth album, The Pepys Motet, is based on the work of the diarist and is due to be released on September 2.

The contents of Samuel Pepys’s diaries still make for shocking reading, despite being published over 350 years ago.

“Pepys never thought his diaries would be read, so he wrote very plainly about what was happening at the time,” says writer and composer Benjamin Till.

“He had a lot of affairs with his maid that he would recount in graphic detail, but he records major events such as the Great Fire of London beautifully. A lot of what we know of the time, we have learnt from his work.”

Till’s fourth album, The Pepys Motet is based on the work of the diarist and is due to be released on September 2.

It is a predominantly choral-based creation and recording and editing the 50 minute composition was a long process which took almost six years from start to finish.

The tracks of each vocalist had to be recorded and produced individually with the editing process alone taking over 300 hours.

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“I was originally approached to create a composition by St Olave’s church where Pepys is buried in 2010 to mark 350 years since he first put pen to paper,” says Till.

“Unfortunately because the piece was so technical, we weren’t able to perform it all straight away, so between 2011 and 2015 we recorded different bits of various movements in the studio.

“Recording is expensive so we had to fundraise with events such as bake sales and music quizzes.”

While the album could not be released in time for the anniversary of Pepys starting to write his diaries, this year marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, a subject that is poignantly explored within the original text.

“In 1666 the fire took place and Pepys’s accounts of this are iconic,” explains Till,

“He describes things that other people wouldn’t have noticed like pigeons hovering over the burning buildings and how the flames caught their wings sending them plummeting out of the sky into the fire.”

Performed by the London Rebel Choir, Pepys attempts to push the boundaries of traditional choral music.

The 20 vocalists used to record the movements come from an array of backgrounds from opera to more contemporary music.

Each voice has a unique sound with the majority of the background noise accompanying the piece being made using the human body.

“I really wanted to get a sense of the people and the panic they were feeling at the time when we were recordimg,” says Till. “First there was the plague and then the Great Fire so there was this sense of chaos.

“It was really important each performer had a unique sound which in turn not only created a brilliant piece, but truly reflects what happened at the time.”