McCartney received the commission from by Richard Lyttleton, the president of EMI Classics, to write the work as part of EMI’s centenary celebrations.
Unlike his earlier classical project, Liverpool Oratorio, for which he worked with Carl Davis, this time he had no full-time collaborator. He did, however, work with several classical musicians. He began by composing on the piano, recording demos which were transcribed by jazz musician Steve Lodder.
The music began with a series of rough ideas and previously-composed yet unused melodies. On 18 May 1994 McCartney began working on a demo, and on 16 and 22 September two compilation tapes were compiled, containing early versions of the first two movements.
Work continued on the second movement on 27 September, and the results were put onto tape the following day.
In early 1995 a copy of the Cubase sequencing software was set up on an Apple Macintosh computer at McCartney’s Hog Hill Mill studio in Sussex. It allowed him to compose on a connected keyboard and turn the resulting recordings into full musical notation.
While this new method allowed him greater freedom than the traditional transcription that had occurred for Liverpool Oratorio, it also led to some anomalies.
I was making a lot of very modern sounding music, but I started to enjoy some of the ‘mistakes’, realising that if I had thought them up then I would have rejected them.
The first piece written using Cubase was ‘Inebriation’, on 3 March 1995. Composed for string quartet, it was left off Standing Stone but eventually recorded by the Brodsky Quartet for the Working Classical album.
Not having come from a classical background, McCartney required collaborators to help him develop his ideas. He worked with classical musicians Richard Rodney Bennett, John Harle and David Matthews on Standing Stone, as well as producer John Fraser and conductor Lawrence Foster.
David Matthews worked with McCartney on the first draft of the music manuscript.
I was impressed with his instinctive orchestral ability, his imagination; it wasn’t an orchestral imagination, it wasn’t rock music which was translated to orchestra, it was real orchestral music.
Saxophonist John Harle helped with the architecture of the overall work, and helped McCartney develop certain motifs.
John advised me on the structure of the piece, helping me shape the sketches I’d made. He also made sense out of the second movement’s ‘Lost at sea’ section, translating what was on the computer into recognised notation, and worked on the ‘Trance’ section in the third movement.
McCartney also used the knowledge of Richard Rodney Bennett, who was in charge of supervising the orchestration and worked on improving the final arrangement.
There were one or two difficult moments. I would often fax sections of music from my computer to Richard Rodney Bennett. I sent him one, thinking it was pretty good. A few minutes later, I got a fax back with the word ‘Feeble’ scribbled across it. I phoned him straight back and said, ‘Richard, that’s what my teacher wrote on my essays. You’re a sensitive artist, and if you don’t like something, could you please write, ‘That’s a little below par’.’