CHAMBER MUSIC


This piece was written in the winter of 1999 and is based on the slow movement of my Harp Sonata which was written whilst staying at Lake Vyrnwy in the Elan Valley. The valley and its spectacular lake is a place of mystery and wonder and has more than its fair share of tales of witches, spirits and magic and was the site of the church of Saint Wddyn after whom the village of Llanwddyn is named. The original Llanwddyn was flooded to create the lake which now provides water for Severn Trent Water and a new village built further down the valley away from the great dam which holds back the lake. There is reputed to be a great treasure buried here but a protective spirit is said to cause terrible storms if anyone searches for it.

This single movement, Molto lento sostenuto, is constructed on a ground bass and is in the nature of a Nocturne. It is meant to describe the lake at night with the stirring of the creatures of the night both real and mystical and echoes of the village now lying dead below hundreds of feet of water. Indeed, if one listens carefully the church bell can be heard tolling gently towards the end of the movement.

This is dedicated to my godson, Owen Leonard Jones, the son of my friends Derek & Elaine Jones of Farnham, Surrey, who was born on 6th June 1997. 



CLARINET SONATA



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Although set in three movements, the material expounded at the outset is developed throughout the sonata. The work is linked, extra-musically, to the earlier Vyrnwy Sonata for harp, in that it takes as its inspiration the atmosphere and folk legends of Lake Vyrnwy in Powys. 

The opening movement presents the material of the sonata and can be seen as representing the forces of Nature so evident at the lake, in particular the bird-life and the spectacular and rapid climatic changes. 

The second movement is, as in the Harp Sonata, a Nocturne, brooding on the submerged town, drowned beneath the lake. 

The lively scherzo of the last movement depicts the “Fire Spirit” who inhabits the valley and dances around causing mischief. 


THE GREGYNOG SUITE



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Prelude – Toccata – Nocturne – Scherzo – Hymn (Bryn Myrddin)


When I was first asked to write this work my very first decision was as to the type of work I wished to compose.  Being a strong believer in both tradition and synchronicity, I looked to other works in the harp repertoire and their possible links with Gregynog and the subject matter of the Festival. Very quickly, Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Harp became the obvious work to take as my starting point. 

Just as Britten wrote for, arguably, the leading harpist of his day, Osian Ellis, so I had been asked to write for Catrin Finch, the leading harpist of my time, in a concert to celebrate both Britten and Ellis. Furthermore, my teacher, mentor and friend, Alun Hoddinott, had been a good friend to both men and had been a guest at Gregynog during the lifetime of the Davies sisters. To complete the equation, in 1999 I was privileged to win the Gregynog Composer’s Award and my winning work, The Vyrnwy Sonata, had been premiered in the Music Room at Gregynog by Elinor Bennett, Catrin’s teacher.

I have followed the broad pattern of Britten’s suite but have substituted the Prelude and Scherzo for the Overture and Fugue.

The Prelude is built on two contrasting ideas – the first being flowing semiquavers and the second block chords and is conceived as a technical exercise to test both performer and instrument. 

The following Toccata is written as a fast, dance-like, movement with flavours of the Spanish flamenco. 

The third movement, Nocturne, moves from twilight with tolling distant bells (built on a ground bass) to complete darkness with occasional scurrying’s of the “creatures of the night” and back to a misty sunrise with the morning breezes blowing away the mist and the church bells once again sounding from afar. 

There follows a “Hoddinottian” Scherzo as an homage to my dear teacher and friend without whom I would have achieved nothing. 

The piece concludes with Hymn which is a setting of the Welsh hymn Bryn Myrddin ( by Port Talbot born composer Morgan Nicholas) which was suggested by my good friend Osian Rowlands. Osian, who is a harpist, was a tremendous help whilst I was writing this piece, offering me much useful advice. Sadly, as I was about to start work on Hymn, Osian and his wife Fflur suffered a personal tragedy and, with their permission, I have dedicated this movement to the memory of their baby son, Ioan.



HANES TALIESIN (TALIESIN'S TALE)




Taliesin’s Tale is a work for solo clarinet which may be performed as a solo concert item, as a work with improvisory dance elements for the performer or as a work for clarinettist and dancer, either choreographed (by the performers) or improvised by the dancer – it is intended that when performed as a duo, the dance element should be organic and should flow from the performers and not be pre-defined by the score. The work may be performed either in its entirety or as individual, distinct, movements. 

The four movements of the work derive from tales from the Mabinogion and reflect elements of the birth and early life of Taliesin, the great Welsh visionary poet and mythical hero, companion of Bran the Blessed and of King Arthur.
  

PAIR DADENI 
THE CAULDRON OF REBIRTH  

Taliesin began life as Gwion Bach, a servant to the enchantress Ceridwen. Ceridwen had a beautiful daughter and an ugly son named Morfran, whose appearance no magic could cure. Ceridwen sought to give him the gift of wisdom as compensation and cooked a potion granting inspiration, which had to be constantly stirred and cooked for a year and a day. A blind man named Morda tended the fire beneath the cauldron, while Gwion Bach stirred. The first three drops of liquid from this cauldron would give wisdom; the rest was a fatal poison. Three hot drops spilled onto Gwion's thumb as he stirred, and he instinctively put his thumb in his mouth, instantly gaining wisdom and knowledge. The first thought that occurred to him was that Ceridwen would kill him, so he ran away.  


GWION YN HEDFAN A GENIDIGAETH TALIESIN
GWION'S FLIGHT AND THE BIRTH OF TALIESIN  

All too soon he heard her fury and the sound of her pursuit. He turned himself into a hare on the land and she became a greyhound. He turned himself into a fish and jumped into a river: she then turned into an otter. He turned into a bird in the air, and in response she became a hawk. Exhausted, he turned into a single grain of corn and she became a hen and ate him. She became pregnant. She resolved to kill the child, knowing it was Gwion, but when he was born he was so beautiful that she couldn't, so she threw him in the ocean in a leather bag.


MORDAITH TALIESIN 
THE VOYAGE OF TALIESIN  

Sewn into the leather bag and cast adrift in the ocean, the baby floated endlessly and without purpose. Riding aimlessly on the waves, in calm and in storm, it finally drifted towards the shore.  


MYFI, TALIESIN I, TALIESIN  

The baby was found by Elffin, the son of Gwyddno Garanhir, 'Lord of Ceredigion', while fishing for salmon. Surprised at the whiteness of the boy's brow, he exclaimed "dyma Dal Iesin", meaning "this is a radiant brow." Taliesin, thus named, began to recite beautiful poetry and to display the gift of prophesy.



IMAGES IN THE MIST [PHANTASIE FOR STRING QUARTET]

Premiered by the Richards Quartet [Gwen Richards, Emilie Godden, Laura Sinnerton, Jessica Feaver], to whom it is dedicated - St Augustine's Church, Penarth on 17th June 2012



When first conceiving a new work, I always feel as if the music is lost deep in a mist and I am only allowed fleeting glimpses of it. As time passes, if I'm fortunate, this mist lessens and I am able to see the overall outline of the composition even though the details are still shrouded in the mist and tantalisingly just out of reach. Hopefully, as the work progresses, more and more of the composition becomes clear and many long hours of solitude will bring them out of the mist and on to the score. Even so, it is very rarely the case that the completed composition entirely encompasses the material that I have been endevouring to grasp. There are only three works, "Invisible Cities", "The Spring of Vision" and "The Furnace of Colours" where I feel that I have successfully dispelled the mist and have come closest to attaining my initial ideas.
As someone who suffers badly from insomnia, when I do sleep my dreams invariably involve attempts to escape from dark, unknown, places or situations; being hopelessly lost and searching, in panic, for familiar faces and places or, often most disturbing of all, being involved in a quest, together with friends and acquaintances from my waking life, to find some, often undefined, lost object. I am convinced that this is intrinsically linked to my conscious mind's attempts to grasp these musical ideas from the fog that clouds my brain. I have previously attempted to describe this in my orchestral work, "Forest of Dreams" and the use of fragments of ideas, their repetition and development is central to my compositional technique.
The great fear, of course, is that one day this mist will refuse to give up its secrets and that the compositional journey will be at an end. Composers are not exactly only as good as their last composition but there is no guarantee that the next composition will come; the last composition could always be the final composition. I have been through fallow periods (one lasting ten years) when nothing meaningful would come from this mist and I, like all composers, live with the fear that I have already written my last work. The joy and the gratitude that someone has commissioned a new work are always tempered with the responsibility to produce a work that justifies both the trust that the commissioners have placed in the composer and the talents of the performers.
With all this in mind, I have endeavoured in this piece to give an idea of the presentation, repetition, juxtaposition and development of disparate ideas which swirl in the compositional mist as a series of episodes in the manner of the old English Phantasie or Fancy (a popular instrumental form prior to the Stuart period) where different sections, in varying tempi and style, are juxtaposed and repeated with the motifs being slightly developed with each repetition.
Whilst there is no overt programme to the work (there may well be a subconscious one) - the listener is welcome to imagine and work out their own if they wish - the main idea behind the composition is the expression of mood and emotion.
In Schoenberg's words:
Form in music serves to bring about comprehensibility through memorability. Evenness, regularity, symmetry, subdivision repetition, unity, relationship in rhythm and harmony and even logic- none of these elements produces or even contributes to beauty. But all of them contribute to an organization which makes the presentation of the musical idea intelligible. The language in which musical ideas are expressed in tones parallels the language which expresses feelings or thoughts in words, in that its vocabulary must be proportionate to the intellect which it addresses, and in that the aforementioned elements of its organization function like the rhyme, the rhythm, the metre, and the subdivision into strophes, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, etc. in poetry and prose.
Let me say at once that I am more inclined - unconsciously, for sure, and often even consciously- to blur motives, a tendency that will certainly meet with the approval of those who feel in music 'life on several levels' and who therefore prefer to hear a kind of 'counterpoint' between motive and phrase: a complimentary opposition. 



LUNAR SEAS 



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The surface of the Moon is covered with large dark basaltic plains originally formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. Early astronomers mistook these for actual seas, dubbing them by the Latin term, Maria, and ascribing names and characters to the many such plains that cover the Moon's surface.

Christopher Painter's short suite of pieces for saxophone quartet take names given to these imaginary seas and lakes, extending the original conceit bringing to them the drama and associations of the Earth's seascapes. The pun contained within the title pays affectionate tribute to the group who commissioned the work: the Lunar Saxophone Quartet.


The work is cast in five movements. The first Lacus Gaudii (Lake of Joy) is on shifting metrical changes reflecting the saxophone's jazz-like associations. 

The second, Mare Vaporum (Sea of Vaporum) conjures the mysterious vapours that appear to rise from this "sea". In it, indefinite pitches are suggested as the players breathe through their instruments, with more focused melodic lines emerging periodically. 

The melodic contours of the third movement, Mare Anguis (Serpent Sea), suggest the fanciful shapes of sea serpents that early astronomers perceived in this sea, situated on the near side of the moon and some 150 miles in diameter. 

Lacus Doloris (Lake of Sorrows) forms a dark undulating slow movement whilst the finale, Mare Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) brings the work to a lively and brilliant conclusion.



SONATA FOR ALTO SAXOPHONE



This sonata was commissioned by Lara James and sets out to explore both the expressive and technical features of the instrument. The musical material of the three movements is constructed from arrays of notes which are generated from an initial twelve note series and then divided into cells. These cells are then used to create motivic material which is used within, essentially, a tonal framework.

The first movement, Moderato, is toccata-like and is full of nervous energy. The motives repeat and evolve in a continuous development as ideas are juxtaposed and combined.

The second movement, Lento flessible, is a languid nocturne with more than a passing nod to the saxophone’s “other life” in the jazz world. The mood of this nocturne is one of relaxed contemplation where all is right with the world. A suitable image might be of someone standing on the banks of the Seine at twilight, leaning against a bridge and watching the world go by.


The last movement, Allegro vivo, is a boisterous rondo with five alternating ritornelli and episodes which bring the work to a close.



SONATA FOR HARP

This sonata was written in the Winter of 1996/7 and stems from sketches made whilst staying at Lake Vyrnwy in the Elan Valley. The valley and its spectacular lake is a place of mystery and wonder and has more than its fair share of tales of witches, spirits and magic and was the site of the church of Saint Wddyn after whom the village of Llanwddyn is named. The original Llanwddyn was flooded to create the lake which now provides water for Severn Trent Water and a new village built further down the valley away from the great dam which holds back the lake. There is reputed to be a great treasure buried here but a protective spirit is said to cause terrible storms if anyone searches for it.

The first movement, Moderato, is improvisatory in character and sets out the musical material which will form the whole work. It is written with the history of the harp as an instrument of the minstrel in mind and explores the rhythmic possibilities of the material. This improvisatory material is punctuated by bars of solid chords which signify the spirit known as Yr Effyll Dan (The Fire Fiend) who inhabited the valley and is explained as the spontaneous combustion of methane gas.

The second movement, Lento sostenuto, is constructed on a ground bass and is in the nature of a Nocturne. It is meant to describe the lake at night with the stirring of the creatures of the night both real and mystical and echoes of the village now lying dead below hundreds of feet of water. Indeed, if one listens carefully the church bell can be heard tolling gently towards the end of the movement.

The third movement, Allegro ritmico, is a dance-like rondo rather in the style of a dance macabre. The opening section, which is the ritornello component of the rondo, represents the power of the water entering the valley and the accidental release of the spirit Ysbryd Cynon when the boulder which imprisoned him was removed during the construction of the dam. The contrasting sections are more restrained and represent the dancing and mischief making of the witches and spirits in and around the lake perhaps recalling the dances and games that used to take place on Sunday afternoons at the end of the nineteenth century.


This sonata is dedicated to my godson, Owen Leonard Jones, the son of my friends Derek & Elaine Jones of Farnham, Surrey, who was born on 6th June 1997. 




The genesis of this work comes from Vernon Watkins’ poem Taliesin and the Spring of Vision and whilst not a literal depiction of the text, it does take several ideas from the poem as its point of departure into pure music.

Watkins’ themes of grief and loss, the sea, the conquest of time and his obsession with Taliesin and the Gower coast appeal to me greatly and have become a great influence on my work and have provided the starting points for much of my recent work.

I did not discover this until after his death, but my mentor and friend Alun Hoddinott was not only a great admirer of Watkins’ work but had known him when he (Alun) had been growing up in Swansea and often walked with him to discuss his latest poems.

With all this in mind, I have derived the musical material for this work from the seventeen note series that Alun used for his tenth, and last, symphony. The first six notes of this series are a familiar fingerprint in his later works, certainly from the Sixth Symphony onwards, and, I believe, are his musical signature. I have manipulated this series by repeating it until divisible by five and then subjecting them to inversion, retrograde etc. This gives seventy-eight, five note, sets (Alun was seventy-eight when he died) which then undergo a process of row rotation to generate a matrix of three hundred and ninety inter-related cells which form the fabric of the music.

The work opens with an elegiac statement for solo clarinet which outlines the original series and its inversion before the music moves through a process of continual variation and changing moods –

So sang the grains of sand, and while they whirled to a pattern
Taliesin took refuge under the unfledged rock

The music passes through a series of solo, duo and trio sections with cadenza-like passages, in free-time, for each instrument until reaching an eventual climax -

And Future and Past converged in a lightning flash

The work draws to a close with the music dying away in a sustained passage of long lyrical lines –

Here time’s glass breaks, and the world is transfigured in music



YR HANES SWYNOL (A HISTORY OF CHARMS)





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Yr Hanes Swynol (A History of Charms) is based upon characters and tales from the Mabinogion, the collection of prose stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts. They draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and on early medieval historical traditions. And while some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written.


GWYDION

In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Gwydion helps his brother Gilfaethwy rape Goewin, Math's foot-holder. To this end he steals Pryderi of Dyfed's pigs, thus forcing Math away to fight a war (Math only took his feet from his foot-holder's lap to go to battle). Gwydion and Gilfaethwy sneak back to Math's court where Gilfaethwy rapes Goewin. When Math hears of this, he turns his nephews into a series of mated pairs of animals; Gwydion becomes a stag for a year, then a sow and finally a wolf. Gilfaethwy becomes a hind deer, a boar and a she-wolf. Each year they produce an offspring which is sent to Math: Hyddwn, Hychddwn and Bleiddwn; after three years Math releases his nephews from their punishment.

In the search for a new foot-holder, who must be a virgin, Math tests Gwydion's sister Arianrhod. The test reveals that Arianrhod is not a virgin, however, when she immediately gives birth to two children after stepping over Math's wand: Dylan Ail Don and an unformed blob.


Dylan is a sea-creature who immediately moved into the ocean, but on the other child Arianrhod places three tynged (curses) upon him: the child will never have a name unless she herself names him, he cannot carry weapons unless she arms him (neither of these things does she intend to do), and he cannot marry any human woman. In effect she denies her child three major aspects of humanity, but Gwydion puts his nephew in a box and raises him. When the boy is old enough Gwydion takes him incognito to see Arianrhod, who declares he is a "bright one with a sure hand" or in some versions "fair-haired skillful hand" when she sees him drop a wren with a single stone. Gwydion reveals the child is her son and that she has unknowingly supplied him with a name; from then on he goes by Lleu Llaw Gyffes, "bright one with a sure hand". Arianrhod is similarly tricked into supplying her son with weapons. The third curse proves harder to overcome, so Gwydion and Math use magic to create a wife for Lleu out of flowers, named Blodeuwedd (flower face). Blodeuwedd proves unfaithful and with her lover, Goronwy, attempts to slay Lleu. Lleu does not die but transforms into a wounded eagle, and Gwydion tracks him with the help of a pig and finds him perched on an oak. He calls Lleu down from the tree by singing an englyn known as englyn Gwydion, returns Lleu back to his human form and with the help of Math heals him. They return to Lleu's estate where Gwydion turns Blodeuwedd into an owl, and Lleu himself kills Goronwy.


ADAR RHIANNON

Adar Rhiannon is based on a tale from Branwen, Daughter of Llyr’ which tells of the seven men who returned from Ireland carrying the head of Benedigeid Vran which was to be buried under the White Mount (within the Tower of London) in London. The company stopped to rest in Harlech where they were given meat and drink. Shortly there appeared the three Birds of Rhiannon who began to sing their song. The song of the birds heals the sick and wounded and charms the listener into losing all track of time. Furthermore, the birds can at once appear to be a great distance away over the sea whilst still seeming to be close by.

The ‘Company of the Head’ lay in their reverie for a total of seven years and whilst in this semi-conscious state they feasted and slept whilst the birds sang.

The work is constructed in the style of a nocturne although this is not a romantic but a deeply troubled one. Fragments of dreams come and go whilst the “creatures of the night” drift and scurry by. The birds hover around at all times and come in and out of focus.

Adar Rhiannon was commissioned by Miss Alice Bliss of Atlanta, Georgia, USA in memory of her mother, Evelyn Lee Witherspoon and was first performed by the PM Ensemble at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama on 6th November 2003.



CAD GODDEU

Cad Goddeu is based on a tale from the Book of Taliesin which tells of the Battle of The Trees when the sorcerer Gwydion turned a forest into soldiers to fight the forces of Annwn, king of the Underworld, who was pursuing Gwydion’s sister Arianrhod because she had stolen the secret of agriculture and given it to mankind. The battle gives rise to the fortress of Dinas Emrys, the city of higher meaning, where sleep the dragons that protect the Welsh nation.

The fabric of the work is constructed from both melodic and rhythmic cells which are manipulated and juxtaposed to build up an arch structure. Whilst not strictly serial, the work is constructed from note groups which set up patterns of shifting tonalities.

Cad Goddeu was originally commissioned by Ensemble Cymru and was first performed at the National Assembly for Wales on the 11th February 2003.

This revised and re-scored version has been made for the PM Ensemble.