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Above the Clouds
Dans Les Bois

Duration: 20 minutes
Opus: 33
Date: 1998



This cycle of six songs framed by a Prologue and a balancing Epilogue is a setting of poems, by the French Symbolist poet Verlaine, on the vagaries of love and the mixture of pleasure and pain contained therein. 

The action of the poems takes place within a forest and the title Dans les Bois (In the Forest) can, like the poems, be taken literally or can be treated as a symbol of the poets tormented mind with thoughts fleeting through the dense undergrowth of doubt and morality. 

(The title is also, of course, intended to be a pun on the French word for the oboe, i.e. hautbois)

Verlaine was no stranger to this anguish with his failed marriage to Mathilde Mauté, his chronic drunkenness and, most significantly, his emotional involvement with the poet Arthur Rimbaud which led to his ultimate imprisonment and his return to the Roman Catholic faith.

These songs, which are intended to be performed as a whole, have no formal structure other than that dictated by the texts although they are linked tonally by two cycles of ascending and descending fifths. This tonal scheme sets the first three songs around the centres of D; E; A; and then slips a semitone to the second cycle of Bb; Eb; Ab so that the last song which portrays the lovers' despair starts a tritone away from the hopeful first song and returns to the centre of D for the Epilogue (an almost literal reprise of the Prologue) which represents the eternal nightingale, "the voice of our despair."

Whilst the songs are through-composed the musical material is derived from the opening Prologue when the oboe sets the scene of the dark, overgrown forest and presents the various ideés fixes which occur throughout the work.

This cycle is dedicated to the memory of Michael Hilton, an accomplished musician who was my friend for many years. Michael could always be trusted to give a totally honest, and often blunt, opinion of my work and was the sort of friend to whom one never felt the need to say sorry until, sadly, it was too late.


1. L'Hiver a Cesse

2. La Lune Blanche

3. Green

4. Mandoline

5. Chanson d'Automne

6. En Sourdine



High Voice; Oboe

Commissioned by

Lower Machen Festival of Music 1998

First performance

Lower Machen Festival of Music 1998

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