• Michael Blake Watkins
  • Clouds and Eclipses (1973)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the World Trade Centre for Shakespeare Studies, with the support of the Worshipful Company of Musicians

  • str
  • guitar
  • 10 min

Programme Note

Michael Blake Watkins: Clouds and Eclipses

Clouds and Eclipses, for solo guitar and strings, is based on a twelve-tone melody of very small intervals stated by the guitar in the opening bars of the piece. It is freely composed, however, and uses no "system” – just the ears of the composer for guidance. The music is lush, romantic, and haunting, and, according to the composer, "one giant rubato”. It uses the strings to create textures, both wispy and sustained on which the guitarist paints his melodies. Following the guitarist’s cadenza, however, the strings take the music to its climax, leaving a recapitulation of the opening music to lead off into silence.


Clouds and Eclipses was commissioned by the World Centre for Shakespeare Studies, with the support of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, as part of the Shakespeare Birthday celebrations of 1974. It received its first performance on 23rd April by Ingolf Olsen and the Strings of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Elgar Howarth.

The commission stipulated that the work should have a Shakespearean theme and so I chose the following texts:

‘Clouds and eclipse stain both moon and sun,’
Sonnet XXV

‘Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometimes like a bear or lion.’
Antony and Cleopatra Act IV, Sc. XII

‘Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the World,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did strangle him.’
King Henry IV, Part 1; Act I, Sc. II
© Michael Blake Watkins