above: photograph of the composer in a neolithic tomb
The Hymnus Mysticus was the second of my two substantial cantatas for soloists, chorus and orchestra (the first, The watchman, although completed in both vocal and orchestral score, is largely lost). This score, too, is not in its original form, because the original manuscript full score is also lost; the version included in the collected edition was reconstructed from a photocopy of the vocal score.
The text by Aleister Crowley is adapted from a number of sources, and the passage beginning “beyond the paths and palaces of day” quotes from my earlier setting of Oscar Wilde’s pagan poem The Sphinx.
Soprano solo and chorus
Mightiest self! Supreme in self-contentment!
palpable, formless, infinite presentment
of thine own light in thine own soul’s eclipse!
Let thy chaste lips
sweep through the aether guarding thee,
touch, draw me with thy kiss
into thine own deep bliss,
into thy sleep, thy life, thine imperishable crown.
All things which are complete and solitary;
the circling moon, the inconsistent drift of stars,
the central systems. Burn they, change they, vary?
Theirs is no motion beyond the eternal bars.
Solitary are the winter woods and caves not habited,
and O! most lone
the melancholy mountain shrine and throne,
where far above all things God sits, the ultimate alone.
Soprano solo and chorus
O soul of tears! for never has fallen like dew thy word,
nor is thy shape showed, nor as wisdom’s heard
thy crying about the city,
in the home where is no pity,
but in the desolate halls and desolate vales of sand.
Baritone solo and chorus
I sate upon the mossy promontory,
where the cascade cleft not his mother rock,
but swept in whirlwind lightning foam and glory
to lure and lock
marvellous eddies in its wild caress;
all earth took up the sound,
being in one tune securely bound,
even as a star,
became the soul of silence most profound.
Soprano solo and chorus
Where thou has trodden, I have trod!
I have no fear to tread thy far irremeable way,
beyond the paths and palaces of day,
beyond the night, beyond the skies,
beyond Eternity’s tremendous gate,
beyond the immanent miracle.
Soloists and chorus
O secret self of things!
I have not feet nor wings
except to follow far beyond Heaven and Earth and Hell,
until I fix my mood, and being in thee,
I grow the thing I contemplate:
that selfsame solitude.
WHISPERS OF HEAVENLY DEATH
Whispers of Heavenly Death, to a poem by Walt Whitman, was originally scored for full chorus and orchestra but was then recast for eight soloists and organ for the first performance given in the Lower Machen Festival in 1974 by the Medici Ensemble with Bruce Grant (organ) conducted by the composer. The reworked vocal parts were then incorporated into the original orchestral version.
Whispers of Heavenly Death murmur’d I hear,
labial gossip of night, sibilant chorals,
footsteps gently ascending, mystical breezes wafted soft and low,
ripples of unseen rivers, tides of a current flowing, endlessly flowing
(or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)
I see, just see skyward, great cloud-masses,
mournfully slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing,
with a times a half-dimm’d, sadden’d, far-off star,
appearing and disappearing.
Some parturition rather, some solemn immortal birth;
on the frontiers to eyes impenetrable,
some soul is passing over.
to listen to the first performance given by the Medici Ensemble conducted by the composer:
SONGS OF THE MARK
The Songs of the Mark were part of an abortive opera cycle on which I was working during the 1970s based on J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. They were originally intended to have full orchestral accompaniment, but at that time never progressed beyond short score. Subsequently they have been fully scored and form part of The Lord of the Rings: episodes and fragments.
The arrangement of Llef stemmed from the same desire to rid a beautiful and curiously irregular hymn melody of the standardised Methodist harmonies and rhythms into which it had been straitjacketed. It was originally written for an abortive opera about a South Wales mining disaster, and was intended to form a prologue in which the victims of the disaster were being buried. As such it used the same orchestration as my other chamber opera of the late 1970s The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric. However a later version was made in the late 1990s for male choir and organ with solo parts for flute and timpani.
O Iesu mawr, rho d’anian bur O mighty Lord, give thou thy hand
i eiddil gwan mewn anial dir, to succour one in barren land,
i’w nerthu drwy’r holl rwystrau sy that he may in his upward quest
ar ddyrus daith i’r Ganaan fry. through conflicts find eternal rest.
Pob gras sydd yr yr Eglwys fawr, All graces that the church can know
fry yn y nef, neu ar y llawr, in heaven above, or earth below,
caf feddu oll, eu meddu’n un, I claim them all as my due right,
wrth feddu d’anian Di dy Hun. if I possess thy nature’s might.
Mi lyna’n dawel wrth dy draed, I’ll cling to thee while I have breath,
mi ganaf am rinweddau’r gwaed, I’ll praise the virtues of thy death,
mi garia’r groes, mi nofia’r don, I’ll bear the cross, I’ll breast the tide
ond cael dy anian dan fry mron. if thou thyself in me abide.
This fragment from Zenobia is all that was ever written of an opera which was drafted by Leon Wiltshire as a successor to The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric (although scored for a considerably larger orchestra). The text for the first act was completed, but was never set (the unset portion of the text is given below in smaller type); and the second act remained unwritten. The opening contains the hymn to Mithras sung by two ladies of the Palmyran court with distant female voices in the distance.
Palmyra, the capital of Zenobia’s once far-flung empire. A room in the palace with a great window looking eastward towards the sunrise, decorated with many ornaments. Three Palmyran serving maids. Distant voices
Greatest of Gods, the world’s bright eye,
whose wanderings start on the desert’s edge
and nightly bathes herself in the waters of the West,
refreshed once more to start another day.
Welcome, great Mithras!
Welcome, destroyer of the dark!
And in your glory lighten the gloom
in which our palace is cast.
First LADY Perhaps the sun and these flowers will gladden her eye.
Second LADY This royal-coloured gown will bring a glow to her cheek.
First and Second LADIES [variously] These silks from Cathay...this marble from Greece...this gold from Ophir...this saddle from Spain to grace her favourite palfrey...this gifts and the morning alone must cheer the heart of the loneliest Queen, will bring back a smile to her most downcast face.
Third LADY [interrupting them] You know nothing of Queens—two spoiled handmaidens, whose minds are full of baubles and trinkets!
First and Second LADIES We thought only to cheer; we know no other way.
Third LADY She, the Queen of the East alone in her sorrow, grieving the death of her Lord Odenathus. These two like gods held sway from the Nile to Babylon, lords of the desert and city alike. Vanquished were their enemies, and the might of Persia trembled at their name.
First and Second LADIES Happy those times, golden the age, when peace like a mantle covered the East. Fortune herself seemed to smile on the land. The spice from afar, the jewels, the caravanserai, the silver and gold of all the world seemed to pass through Palmyra.
Third LADY We grew too rich, our wealth and fame reached out to the West; and in his marble halls in Rome, the world’s conqueror seethed with envy.
First LADY What then?
Third LADY Unhappy days. Rome the invincible stretched out her hand to seize the wealth. No power on earth Rome’s legions can withstand. Sea or land have no margins for her, the gods themselves lead their squadrons to battle. Their soldiers like locusts cover the land.
Second LADY But Palmyra, and Zenobia, are still free.
Third LADY My heart grows pale to think again. The Lord Odenathus gathered his force and, like wild stallions, Rome and the East met; and then it seemed that the old order changed. Rome was thrown back; victory was ours.
First and Second LADIES Why does your heart grow pale? Victory is ours!
Third LADY Fortune frowned. Victory was ours; the land rejoiced, and so did the King. Banquets and feasts the palace held, the wine flowed free and loud the people sang. And mid the feasting and carousing the King held a mighty hunting expedition to supply the meat; and in one dark moment a spear, accidentally thrown, struck the King a mortal blow. And he lay dead at Zenobia’s feet.
First and Second LADIES The Gods have mercy; our poor Queen! A great victory and a tragic death.
Third LADY Fortune still frowned. The Roman wolves gathered again, led by their Emperor, a son of Mars. Again the East met the West, as two wild bulls over a herd would fight; and Zenobia, without her King to lead, was thrown back to Palmyra with her army defeated. Now she waits the final thrust from the army and spears of Aurelian. But quiet! tend to your duties! arrange your flowers, tidy the room! The Queen comes.
ZENOBIA [entering, to the Third Lady] May the Gods smile on you, my Severa; and on you also, my little handmaidens. Away with you two now!—but stay with me, my Severa. [The First and Second Ladies leave] What news? What other troubles can you add?
Third LADY Nothing, my lady. All has been quiet through the night; but your generals and advisers wait outside.
ZENOBIA Kind Severa, leave me now. [The Third Lady leaves. Zenobia wanders aimlessly about the room, touching the gown, saddle, statues, etc. She smells the flowers]
Can these blooms more fragrance bring to me
that when my husband’s breath I breathed?
Can all these treasures buy for me
one moment with the one I loved?
The wandering moon my nightly vigils keeps
with me, while stars that never moved
can see my sorrow. While the sun
which burned while oceans seethed,
can’t staunch my tears that spring so readily.
The wandering moon my nightly vigils keeps
with me, while stars that never moved
can see my sorrow. No more, no more!—
my heart will bound no more
till distant seas no more will beat upon the shore.
She walks to the corner of the room and beats gently on a gong. A slave enters
Bring Longinus to me.—No more!...
LONGINUS [enters] Why delay longer, my lady? Aurelian at this moment is preparing his assault on the city walls. The desert is wide; with fast horses, we can be well away from the city by nightfall.
ZENOBIA What shall I do?
LONGINUS As I say. Leave the city.
ZENOBIA These people have been like my own children. I cannot desert them thus in their hour of need. Odenathus would not wish me to do that.
LONGINUS My gentle lady, all the love in the world cannot bring back Odenathus. Neither can all your hate drive back Aurelian from the city walls. Think of this: am I not worthy? Am I not a soldier? Was I not Odenathus’ friend? and this: have I not always loved you? Perhaps now is not the time to speak of my love, but for your sake let us flee, raise another army, and make ourselves a new kingdom further towards the East.
ZENOBIA This is not the time to talk of your love for me, Longinus; neither by word nor deed have I encouraged such a passion. Indeed, I have been almost like a sister to you, and Odenathus as your brother.
LONGINUS Do you recall the days, when like two young gods your court did keep? when days would never end, or nights begin? A thousand Eastern dancers would sweep the floor with dances to amuse you. Your faces showed the pleasure; your eyes with wine and music sparkled. Did you look on me at all? For, if you had, you would have seen no delight on my face. I did not see the dancers, or your blazing court. My only delight was when, perhaps, you smiled on me.
ZENOBIA How could I have seen?
LONGINUS How blind is love?
ZENOBIA My eyes, and love, were only for the King.
LONGINUS Yes!—and my heart beat only for the Queen.
ZENOBIA and LONGINUS
To you my heart was never turned;
for you a sister’s love was shown;
one love I gave, and that one only burned
for him, my Lord and King.
LONGINUS My lady?
ZENOBIA Tell me of this Roman Mars, this Roman Emperor who in the night straddles this world, whose wish is an Empire’s command.
LONGINUS Like fabled Alexander, who put the East to flight, this Aurelian with his youth and wisdom, his courage in battle, his leniency in conquest, has so endeared himself to his countless legions that they would support and follow him, even if her were to make war on Hades itself.
ZENOBIA What of his bearing and manners, his court and counsellors?
LONGINUS When first in battle, along with Odenathus, we met the Western wolves, the Roman legions had gathered in warlike formation. Their swords and their helms, their breastplates and spears gleamed as sunlight sparkles on the quiet waters of an oasis. Amid the legions, shining like brazen mirrors, were the captains of the cohorts, each like sons of the Great Old Gods. Suddenly the ranks opened, and forward rode Aurelian; the legions and captains were dimmed by his brilliance. Alone he rode, blazing in his martial dress, like Mithras himself when he outshines the dog star in the heat of the morning.
ZENOBIA What chance is there of mercy and justice from such a man? He and his legions will lay waste our cities, and our people will be taken into a vile slavery, taken into the grey Western countries where Mithras himself rarely smiles, their tears mixing with the incessant rain.
LONGINUS Ablaze with martial spirit as he is, there lies in his breast compassion too. He did not slay the already wounded; he treated not ill the unhappy prisoners. The cities he has taken are not laid waste or violated, and he dispenses justice with mercy.
ZENOBIA There is then some hope, some ray of light.
LONGINUS Of what do you speak?
ZENOBIA From your own description. You speak of mercy, compassion and justice. Surely, is there anyone who requires these virtues more than I? mercy for me who fought for my land, mercy for my subjects who fought and died in my cause, and now live under the shadow of the yoke. Who could deny compassion, when they hear my tragic tale? Zenobia, Queen of the East, now humbled, defeated, widowed by Fortune’s cruel joke. Come then, Justice, to my aid! Right the wrongs that I have suffered, make not my subjects pay for my mistakes or reap the tragic harvest I have sown. The slender thread for which the downcast grope, some not in vain, spun by the God called Hope, perhaps into my hand may fall so that I may grasp at still the slightest chance.—Not for myself alone, but for the one who loved and love and now are gone.
LONGINUS Enough. You and I will suffer no more. At the rising moon’s appointed hour, swift horses over the wide desert’s rolling waste will take us from this ill-starred land to a haven far from the cries of war.
ZENOBIA Indeed the swift horses will fly over the rolling desert’s waste, but not with me astride.
LONGINUS Why, what is your reason?
ZENOBIA You, my dearest friend, will ride to Aurelian’s camp and there plead my cause, and surrender my land and people to the waiting legions.
The Requiem Canticle was originally intended to form part of a larger Requiem Mass which I sketched during the late 1960s but never finished. The first movement was then extracted and re-orchestrated in the early 1970s for a performance in memory of my father, who had recently died.
The missing scores
During the years 1973-74 I wrote a short oratorio entitled The Watchman. There were both a vocal and an orchestral score completed, and the vocal score also existed in a photocopied facsimile.
The score was designed for performance by the London School of Economics Orchestra Chorus and Orchestra, who had previously given the first performance of the first suite from The Hobbit at a concert in June 1971. The orchestration was designed with this in mind, including two pianos (the concert room at which the body performed had two grand pianos available). The full score and the photocopied vocal score were given to the musical director Gordon Kirkwood for that purpose.
The original copy of the vocal score was retained by myself and was eventually passed to Graham Barrar, director of the Nelson Choral Society, who had also expressed an interest in performing the work.
Neither performance materialised, and some years later when I attempted to reclaim the scores I was advised by both the directors that the scores could no longer be traced.
The only remaining material that existed was a complete chorus part for the sopranos and altos, a partial chorus part for the tenors and basses and some orchestral parts which had been prepared before the orchestral score left my possession. It is not possible from these fragments to reconstruct the whole work, but the text—of which a copy was retained—is included here.
One section of the full score was subsequently used as part of my ‘Second Symphony’—not The Great Dance which was subsequently given that number, but a work for chamber orchestra written for a performance in the mid-1970s by the Workers’ Music Association. This work was substantially quarried from other pieces —the first two movements were identical to the Four movements from Diarmuid and Gráinne—but the fourth movement included substantial sections lifted from The Watchman, from which it might have been possible to make a reconstruction had this work for chamber orchestra not also been lost.
These losses occurred, inevitably, at a time when photocopying was prohibitively expensive—although the original full score of the Hymnus Mysticus, which did exist in multiple copies, was also mislaid and had to be reconstructed from the existing vocal score (which fortunately, being written after the completion of the orchestral score, contained substantial indications of instrumentation). Other works lost in a similar manner include the only complete vocal score of Fire and water (of which, however, substantial excerpts did exist in orchestral score and other extracts), the only copy of my first song O men from the fields, the only copy of the ‘Second Symphony’ referred to earlier, and all scores of the Three Songs of Faith (which however it proved possible to reconstruct from a recording of the first performance). I thought at one time a similar fate had befallen my only orchestral score of Llef (I had indeed prepared a reconstructed full score working from the vocal score) but this was subsequently found amongst my manuscripts deposited at the National Library of Wales in time for inclusion in the edition of my collected works. It is of course possible that some or all of these scores may re-emerge in due time.
The work sets out to give a brief summary of the prophecies of Isaiah. It commences with his calling by God to prophesy to the people of Israel, and continues as he prophesies the end of the present order of the world, and the creation of a new order in which none will benefit by the misery of others. But this new order is only to be created by the suffering of the present, and the work ends as the chorus anxiously interrogates the baritone soloist: But watchman, what of the night?
The musical structures are made up of two contrasted and conflicting groups of material. The first represents the existing order, and is a series of contrasted chords in block formation and a rigid rhythm. The other represents the new order, and consists of a melody in flowing triplets with an undefined sense of rhythm. Between these two there is the reconciling force of a third strand, symbolising the gentle power of the Lord which will bring about this change; this is the floating theme which begins the work. It is only in the final pages that the theme of the new order finally subdues both other themes to its will, and the work ends with the rival themes in a new and gentler form.
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with his glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.
Woe is me! for I am lost: because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: yet mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.
Lo! the coal hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Go, and tell this people: Hear ye in hearing, but understand not; and see ye in seeing, but perceive not. The heart of this people is fat, their eyes are heavy and their ears are shut; they see not with their eyes, and hear not with their ears, and understand not with their heart, that they may turn and be saved.
How long, O Lord, how long?
Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses unpeopled, and the land be utterly desolate. And the people shall be devoured, as an oak or a terebinth set to the fire. ear, O Heavens, and give ear, O Earth: for the Lord hath spoken. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. And yet, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be as red as crimson, they shall be as wool.
Who is this that cometh with dyed garments, that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?
He that speaketh in righteousness, mighty to save.
Thou hast trodden the wine-press alone; for thou hast trod them in thy anger, and trampled them in thy fury.
For the Day of my Vengeance is come, and the Year of my Redeemed is in my heart. For behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth; and the former shall not be remembered, and shall not come into mind.
And I will rejoice in my people; and the voice of weeping shall be heard no more, nor the crying of tongues. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another reap; the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my Holy Mountain, saith the Lord.
For the Earth shall be full of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea. And every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. And they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Come ye, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
But watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?
Baritone soloThe morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come