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Above the Clouds
Symphony No.4 "Furnace of Colours"

Duration: 35 minutes
Opus: 57
Date: 2010
Text: Vernon Watkins [1906 - 1967]
Language: English



I was first drawn to the poetry of Vernon Watkins when I was in my late teens and his poems have a deeply personal resonance for me. The only time I have directly used his poetry was in 1985 with a setting of his “Peace in the Welsh Hills” for soprano and tenor soloists, chorus and orchestra although I have taken his poetry as a starting point for many of my works.


Watkins was born in Maesteg, as was my father, and worked for many years as a bank clerk in Swansea, refusing promotions in order to have more time to write. I recently discovered that my mentor and friend Alun Hoddinott was not only a great fan of Watkins’ work but, as a schoolboy, had known him and often waited for him outside the bank in order to walk home with him and discuss his latest poems. Although a prodigious songwriter, Alun never set any of Watkins’ verses; surely a sign of the love he had for them, feeling that they needed no music to enhance them.


For this symphony, I have chosen texts from Watkins’ “Music of Colours” – a series of poems celebrating the beauty of nature and linking this to both music and the fact that the Welsh are inextricably connected to their land and history. Waking entranced, we cannot see that other Order of colours moving in the white light. Time is for us transfigured into colours Known and remembered from an earlier summer, These texts remind me of my childhood when summers were seemingly longer and hotter and we would run, short-trousered, through the bracken, our legs raw from stinging nettles but never caring, and lie on the grass, in a cloud-watching haze amidst the scent of the flowers.


“Furnace of Colours” is also my reference to the music of Alun Hoddinott. Alun was blessed (or cursed) with synaethesia which linked his sense of colour to sound and resulted in his mastery of orchestration and his rich use of harmony.


This work is written in memory of my great friend and mentor, Alun Hoddinott, and is dedicated to the players - past, present and future - of his beloved BBC National Orchestra of Wales.


3/2.2+1.2+1.2+1 | | T+4 | 2Hp. |Cel. | stgs

Commissioned by

BBC Radio 3

First performance

World première given by Claire Booth (soprano) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jac van Steen. BBC Hoddinott Hall Cardiff Bay March 9th 2011

Score & Audio
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