Duration: 18 minutes
Myrkviðr (Mirkwood) is the Old Norse word for “dark wood” or “black forest” and occurs in several folktales of Germany, Norway, Sweden and related forms of the name occur across Europe and may be a general term for a dark and dense forest.
The name was anglicised by Sir Walter Scott (in Waverley) and William Morris (in The House of the Wolfings) and later popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien as "Mirkwood".
Tolkien comments on Myrkviðr in a letter to his eldest grandson: “Mirkwood is not an invention of mine, but a very ancient name, weighted with legendary associations. It was probably the Primitive Germanic name for the great mountainous forest regions that anciently formed a barrier to the south of the lands of Germanic expansion. In some traditions, it became used especially of the boundary between Goths and Huns.”
In the Norse tradition 'crossing the Black Forest' came to signify penetrating the barriers between one world and another, especially the world of the gods and the world of fire, where Surtr, the god of fire, lives. The old Norse manuscripts describe Surtr as the first of the fire giants to emerge from the flames of Muspelheim, the realm of fire, holding an immense fire sword.
Although the work is not intended to be overtly programmatic, the opening chords reveal the awesome, dark majesty of the forest before settling into the almost complete absence of light and, as the mists clear, they may encounter evil spirits, dwarves forging metal into weapons, the gathering of elven armies, battles, the fair Melusine bathing and meeting her prince before her secret is discovered and she wreaks her terrible vengeance, the games and tricks of sprites and goblins, the arrival of Oberon and Titania (or, possibly, Gandalf) to restore order and even the occasional dragon, breathing fire and spitting sparks before a bacchanal draws the work to its conclusion. It is for the listeners and performers to conjure up whatever images they will as everyone’s perception of Myrkviðr (Mirkwood) is different.
This work is dedicated to the memory of Walter White, long-time conductor of the Ystradgynlais Silver Band. Walter was my first trumpet teacher (later my classroom teacher for both ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels) and introduced me to the world of brass bands. It was Walter who encouraged me to compose and to apply to study with Alun Hoddinott at University College, Cardiff. I owe everything to this mild and generous man.