Time Piece written for the King’s Singers in 1972 has become one of Paul Patterson’s most performed works. It marked the beginning of Patterson’s long-standing collaboration with Tim Rose-Price. The story upon which the piece is built could be viewed as a long-lost and slightly surreal chapter from the Book of Genesis: according to Rose-Price, Adam and Eve had already been in trouble with the Lord before that business with the snake and the apple ever arose. Starting with Eve asking Adam what he is wearing on his wrist, the moment he reveals it is a watch, the whole trouble starts and there is no stopping it. The listener is treated to an extensive catalogue of the manifold properties of this wondrous gadget, and at the climax, it sounds as if all the denizens of Paradise have come on possession of one such. Alas, the Lord is not amused: the tremendous din made by all the watches and alarm clocks in Creation drive the Almighty to banish any time-measuring devices for the present. And so, silence once more descends upon the Garden of Eden.

A plot so full of comic possibilities must have been irresistible for Patterson, as the results testify. There are four discernible sections within a single movement framework lasting some 12 minutes.

The slow, prologue-like opening starts from almost out of earshot with a long-drawn crescendo-diminuendo on a single note (F), in which the six solo voices are required to draw as much variety of timbre and attack as it is possible.1  A lengthy passage of hazily shifting harmonies and falsetto ululations slowly sets the scene, as if the Garden of Eden was slowly coming into sight.

The second section begins, with the watch ticking away as the lower voices inform the listener that “It’s the tick and the tock of the man made clock.” What follows is a list of the invention’s wondrous properties: downward-thrusting fourths repeatedly reminding one of the watch’s imperviousness to shocks and water, slow-moving, languorous harmonies to point out that it is luminous as well. As the listener is drawn further “into the rhythm of the ticking clock”, the voices explain just what it is that makes a clock tick:

As more voices enter, all manner of extraneous noises join the fray, including cuckoo clocks (naturally!) and metronomes.1  The pandemonium becomes ever more frantic and uncontrolled, climaxing finally in a furious babel of ringing alarm clocks. The Lord can stand it no longer, and “holding his head”, calls a halt with an exasperated “STOP!” The tumult dies down, and clocks are summarily banished from Eden. The final part recapitulates the opening 1-note crescendo-diminuendo (on middle C this time), and the work is quietly brought to its conclusion by that phrase familiar to all those who frequent public houses: “Time gentlemen please.”

Text: Tim Rose-Price

Also available in version for five female voices


Performed by the King’s Singers


Written 1972

Male Unaccompanied Voices
Six Male Voices a capella (2A/T/2Bar/B) or version for Five Female Voices
Length 12′

Commission: Camden Festival
Dedication: ‘For the King’s Singers’
Publisher: Josef Weinberger

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