Commissioned by Aberystwyth Arts Centre for Musicfest 2009 and first performed by David Campbell and the Solstice String Quartet

  • string quartet
  • clarinet
  • 20 min

Programme Note

When David Campbell, to whom the Clarinet Quintet is dedicated, asked me to write the work he suggested my looking for a possible Welsh connection, given that its premiere would take place at the Aberystwyth Musicfest in 2009. I recalled the semi-autobiographical novel Full Moon by Caradog Pritchard, who intended it as a "radio play for voices" like Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood. The novel describes the childhood of a young Boy in Bethesda, the slate-quarrying area of north Wales, during and shortly after World War I. Central to his life is his Mam, with whom he lives and he recalls scenes of intense tenderness and warmth as he and his friends encounter the joys and hardships of rural life. The Boy's imagination is fed by his encounters with the Methodist Chapel and local legends, especially that of the Black Lake nearby. He believes in angels, in Heaven and Hell, Christ's Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and his dreams evoke mystical and erotic images, described in poetry akin to the Song of Songs. When Mam is declared insane and taken to Denbigh asylum the Boy loses his mind with grief and the novel ends with his murder of a childhood sweetheart on the shores of the Black Lake.

Whereas the quintet is not intended to be programmatic the three movements are inspired by scenes from Caradog Prichard's novel and try to reflect the extreme range of the Boy's emotions. Having decided that the clarinet solo would be the voice of the Boy, the narrator of the drama, I cast the string quartet as his environment, his landscape, the other dramatis personae, his joy and despair. Often the strings interrupt him and propel him forward, leaving him breathless and afraid, or exhilirated and euphoric. Musical themes or motifs go part of the way to unite the three movements, but it is the way in which they are constantly varied, transformed, turned into ostinati, altered rhythmically that gives each movment its energy. The overall effect may appear fragmented, like scenes from an opera with no singers, but that would be in keeping with the intense visions and fanatasies in the boy's head and with the dreamlike landscape of Caradog Pritchard's remarkable book.