Theatre in Wales

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Announcement of broadcast on Radio 3: choral work by John Hardy.     

On Friday 7th January there is a broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of a recording made at the 2004 St David's Cathedral Festival, Pembrokeshire, Wales,
by the BBC National Chorus of Wales, Conducted by Adrian Partington. The whole concert from 31 May 2004 is being transmitted from 2pm-4pm.

Around 2:20pm, or perhaps 2:30pm, the programme contains the piece I composed for the BBC National Chorus of Wales: Not Darkness But Twilight.

This was commissioned by the BBC, and is a setting of several poems and poetic fragments by the celebrated Welsh priest and scholar, R. S. Thomas,
who died in 2000. The work is around 15-20 minutes long, and contains seven short musical songs, scored for choir, organ, harp and percussion.

It was a great pleasure working with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, and their conductor, and the Festival, and all the other people involved.

The first sets to music a couplet from Y Gododdin, the epic 7th century Welsh poem attributed to Aneirin.
The other six are by R. S. Thomas.

April 2004

Over two years ago I was invited by the BBC National Chorus Of Wales to mark their 20th anniversary by composing a new piece.David Murray, the charismatic director of the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, suggested that maybe to touch on the work and life of the late R. S. Thomas might be a relevant course to pursue.Initially I thought some kind of requiem, using biblical texts, perhaps Blake, Milton and a bit of Cynddylan [early medieval Welsh lament] would be appropriate, peppered with the odd line from Thomas' own work.I was afraid of setting whole poems by R. S. Thomas to music. Ever since the early 1970s, when I was a teenager, I had been reading his work, hungry for song lyrics. But his work had always seemed complete in itself, discursive, and even at its most lyrical, prone to deflate the moment by a devastating, self deprecating body-blow.Time passed, the first performance date was postponed for a year, then again for another year.I'm glad this happened, because it gave me more time to re-immerse myself in the poetry of R. S. Thomas, and absorb the inner life of the challenge.I started with the nature poem The Bright Field. This 1970s poem starts with a beautiful image of a distant field lit up for a moment by a bright shaft of sunlight, then, just as suddenly, returning to relative obscurity, as the gap in the cloud disappears. From this picture of the particular, Thomas then opens the thought up to the general, musing on the nature of inspiration, life-choices, and the divine influence.My wife and I had given a huge paperback R.S.Thomas anthology to my dad around ten years ago. When he died, (in 1999, a few months before R.S.T.'s own death,) there was a marker in the book at The Bright Field and a family friend read the poem at his funeral. Once I was able to think my way into setting this wonderful poem to music for chorus, it all started to seem possible.It is a 1970s poem, and others from the same period, when R.S.T. was a mere sixty-something, started to push themselves forward. The River, Good, The Kingdom, The Times, Relay, Shadows,Gone, The Hearth, and later poems like At The End, urged themselves upon me.But I had been asked for fifteen minutes of choral music, not an oratorio, so after a period of sifting and sketching, I had to face serious cutting and putting aside, before finally polishing the six that remained. They are: part of Relay; Gone; The River; The Bright Field; Shadows; and the last four and a half lines of At The End. I also used a couplet from the 7th century Welsh battle poem in praise of fallen heroes, Y Gododdin, attributed to Aneirin, by way of a Prelude.

R. S. Thomas had been much more than a lifelong and prolific poet:
he was naturalist and birdwatcher; priest and mentor; political hell-raiser; Welsh language activist; lover and hater of humanity; husband and parent, and much more besides.I met him twice, in 1980 and 1995. He was uneasy, yet powerfully natural; unsettling, yet deeply inspiring. I wish I could have been more like him. The two lines from Aneirin can be roughly translated thus: Proud man; wise man; champion;
He ripped and stabbed with spear points...
And so he did!I could not avoid thoughts of life, death and eternity as I was preparing for this delightful project. Often I found myself profoundly moved by the power of the words, and by the simplicity of the music which seemed most natural and appropriate to convey them. The style of the music is not avant garde. It is not even modernist. Some will even find it timid and conservative, which is funny because in my young days I was always trying to break new ground and shake up the old ways of thinking about things. But somehow, working for large chorus, with organ, harp, glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells, tam tam and timpani, the most important issue was to work with the words and let them speak. The words are beautiful and profound, and I did my best to let them through. I must thank the estate and family of R. S. Thomas, and also Bloodaxe Books, (who are bringing out a new anthology of R.S.T.'s later collected poems very soon,) for their help and co-operation with the texts, and granting permissions; I thank also the BBC National Chorus of Wales for asking me to write the music and suggesting the subject, and Adrian Partington, the conductor, for his enthusiasm and guidance throughout the long process.
John Hardy  
web site
john hardy
Thursday, January 06, 2005back



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