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Above the Clouds
Images in the Mist

Duration: 12 minutes
Opus: 60
Date: 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 endeavouring 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."


2 Violins; Viola; Cello

Commissioned by

The Richards Quartet

First performance

St Augustine's Church, Penarth, 17th June 2012
The Richards Quartet (Gwenllian Haf Richards; Emilie Godden; Laura Sinnerton; Jessica Feaver)

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