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Above the Clouds
Sonata for Harp (Vyrnwy)

Duration: 12 minutes
Opus: 30
Date: 1997



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.



Commissioned by

Gregynog Festival of Music

First performance

The Music Room, Gregynog Hall, Gregynog 1997

Elinor Bennett (harp)


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