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Above the Clouds

Duration: minutes
Opus: 44
Date: 2003



The idea of a set of musical postcards was suggested to me some time ago by A.J. Heward Rees, retired Director of the Welsh Music Information Centre and long-time editor of “Welsh Music”. These “Postcards” are not descriptive vignettes of the landscapes involved but more of a personal response to the strong impressions created by them.


The three movements are set before the listener as my sketch of the atmosphere of each location rather in the way of a snapshot rather than an in-depth painting.


The work is written as a concertino for three solo instruments (flute, oboe and clarinet) and a chamber orchestra consisting of a pair of horns and strings. In each movement one of the concertante group takes prominence whilst the other two have a more supporting role.


The musical material is constructed from fragments of note sets which have been manipulated in several ways to produce a set of ordered cells which can be used in relation to the tonal structure of the unfolding work.


The movements are:


1. Sker Point: Storm at Sea  - Allegro

Sker Point on the Glamorgan coast can be a wild and violent place. I grew up not far from there and spent many happy days walking there as a child. The sheer majesty and power of the sea never ceases to amaze me and this place with the derelict Sker House and the legend of the lost town of Kenfig, which was buried in a sandstorm, shows how insignificant we are against the power of nature. There have been many shipwrecks here in the past, many caused by smugglers luring ships onto the rocks from the turret of Sker House, and ghost ships and sailors are said to be seen off the coast when the storms come. The music is forceful with a rhythmic impetus that works on several levels to try to portray the various currents and undercurrents of the sea together with the power of the wind.


2. Tryfan: Morning Mists and Sunrise – Lento


In April 2003 I visited Bangor and, as the train approached the town, was struck by the expanse of mountainous terrain surrounding it. I looked at Tryfan and saw the mists rolling over it and revealing the snow still clinging to its sides. Then, out of this mysterious atmosphere, the sun shone brightly through a gap in the cloud to light up one side of the mountain. This phenomenon of the sun shining through a hole in the cloud has always made me think that a higher power is looking down and watching over us and I find this comforting. The harmonic movement is slow and almost static whilst high strings portray the mists and snow with the solo flute, the classic pastoral instrument, bringing light.


3. Brecon Beacons: Wild and spirited – Allegro vivace


I often have to cross the Beacons and always find them a wondrous place. The mood can change in a second and the colours of the landscape and the sky are amazing. There is a wicked playfulness and subdued terror about the landscape and weather which I hope is conjured by this wild and frenetic scherzo which is led by the solo clarinet.


Solo Flute; Solo Oboe; Solo Clarinet; 2 Horns (F); stgs.

Commissioned by

Ensemble Cymru

First performance

Ensemble Cymru
Colwyn Bay - 3rd December 2003


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