In the Flight Gallery at the Science Museum in London, dwarfed by the scale of the many full-sized planes hanging from the ceiling above and the vast wall of airplane engines, a life-sized statue of a lone figure stares out of a display case. The statue, made from over 400,000 pieces of Welsh slate, carefully stacked, depicts the British aeronautical engineer R. J. Mitchell. Mitchell, a prolific designer, worked for Supermarine Aviation Works for whom he designed the Sea Eagle, the Sea King, the Walrus, the Stranraer and a series of racing aircraft including the Supermarine S.6B, winner of the Schneider Trophy in 1931 and one-time holder of the world air speed record (The Supermarine S.6B is also on display in the Science Museum’s Flight Gallery).

Mitchell was most famous, however, for designing the Supermarine Spitfire, the innovative and revolutionary fighter aircraft which played such a prominent role in the Battle of Britain. Mitchell did not live to see the Spitfire play its key war-time role; Mitchell died of cancer in 1937, aged 42.

The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the war, and in 1942 The First of the Few was released, a biographical film starring Leslie Howard as R. J. Mitchell. The film told the story of the Spitfire’s development and Mitchell’s illness and death and served to further mythologize both the plane and its designer in the eyes of the public.

Leslie Howard was killed less than a year after the film’s release when BOAC Flight 777 from Lisbon to Bristol was shot down by eight German Junkers Ju 88 fighters. The attack on Flight 777 prompted numerous conspiracy theories surrounding Howard, most suggesting that he was a spy on a secret mission to liaise with Francisco Franco on behalf of Churchill. However, it was also suggested that, due to the film, German agents had mistaken Howard for R. J. Mitchell himself and had ordered the plan shot down to eliminate him.

Supermarine is written for cello, double bass and four keyboards controlling software samplers. The samples used were created from audio recordings of airplane engines. The work is a response to the meticulous and intricate construction of the Welsh-slate statue, the mythologizing aspects of the Leslie Howard film and the conspiracy theories surrounding the attack on BOAC Flight 777.

(c) Christopher Mayo

Christopher Mayo CA

Christopher Mayo (b. 1980) is a Toronto-based composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal and electronic music. His work, variously described as “cogent, haunting and…desperately poignant” (The Times) and “a steampunk collection of gnarly machine-like noises, flashy timbres, and explosive rhythms” (Classical Voice North America), is characterized by its distinctive rhythmic language and wide range of diverse and eclectic inspirations.

Christopher’s symphonic works have been performed by leading ensembles worldwide, including London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Symphony, Esprit Orchestra and Manchester Camerata where he served as Composer-in-Residence from 2012-2013. Christopher’s music has been conducted by Susanna Mälkki, François-Xavier Roth, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Nicholas Collon, Bramwell Tovey, Alan Pierson, Tania Miller, Jurjen Hempel and Andrew Gourlay, among others.

Christopher’s chamber music has been commissioned by London Sinfonietta, Crash Ensemble, MATA Festival, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal +, Motion Ensemble, Arraymusic, NMC Recordings, Aldeburgh Festival and the Royal Philharmonic Society. His works have additionally been performed by ensembles including ACME, L’arsenale, Aurora Orchestra, Aventa and Land’s End Ensemble, at festivals including the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, the Cheltenham Festival and the Marrakech Biennale and at venues ranging from Le Poisson Rouge to Wigmore Hall.

Based in the UK from 2003-2014, Christopher holds a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Julian Anderson and a PhD from the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with Philip Cashian.

For more information about Christopher Mayo, click here.