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Above the Clouds
The Spring of Vision

Duration: 18 minutes
Opus: 54
Date: 2010



The genesis of this work comes from Vernon Watkins’ poem Taliesin and the Spring of Vision and whilst not a literal depiction of the text, it does take several ideas from the poem as its point of departure into pure music.

Watkins’ themes of grief and loss, the sea, the conquest of time and his obsession with Taliesin and the Gower coast appeal to me greatly and have become a great influence on my work and have provided the starting points for much of my recent work.

I did not discover this until after his death, but my mentor and friend Alun Hoddinott was not only a great admirer of Watkins’ work but had known him when he (Alun) had been growing up in Swansea and often walked with him to discuss his latest poems.

With all this in mind, I have derived the musical material for this work from the seventeen-note series that Alun used for his tenth, and last, symphony. The first six notes of this series are a familiar “fingerprint” in his later works, certainly from the Sixth Symphony onwards, and, I believe, are his musical signature. I have manipulated this series by repeating it until divisible by five and then subjecting them to inversion, retrograde etc. This gives seventy-eight, five note, sets (Alun was seventy-eight when he died) which then undergo a process of row rotation to generate a matrix of three hundred and ninety inter-related cells which form the fabric of the music.

The work opens with an elegiac statement for solo clarinet which outlines the original series and its inversion before the music moves through a process of continual variation and changing moods –

So sang the grains of sand, and while they whirled to a pattern
Taliesin took refuge under the unfledged rock

The music passes through a series of solo, duo and trio sections with cadenza-like passages, in free time, for each instrument until reaching an eventual climax -

And Future and Past converged in a lightning flash

The work draws to a close with the music dying away in a sustained passage of long lyrical lines –

Here time’s glass breaks, and the world is transfigured in music

Clarinet; Violin; Cello

Commissioned by

Machynlleth Festival

First performance

Machynlleth Festival, 2010

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