SONGS with instruments

above: broken tombstone of the composer's great-grandfather at Aldbury churchyard
The Deserted Village was the first of my songs which was not originally score for piano or harp accompaniment but for a chamber ensemble, consisting of two trumpets placed on either side of the singer and a group of three trombones immediately behind the baritone for whom the lyrics are set.  Structurally it consists of an opening desolate fanfare figure for the trumpets, followed by an opening stanza for the baritone and then a refrain to the words Ill fares the land.  The fanfare figure recurs during the course of the poem, and the work ends with a full recapitulation of the opening stanza (for trumpets and trombones) and the refrain (in a higher key). The text was adapted from Oliver Goldsmith by Alun Alban Davies.

A time there was, ere England’s woes began,

when every rood of land maintained its man,

his blest companions, innocence and health,

and his blest riches, ignorance of wealth.

But times are altered: trade’s unfeeling train

usurps the land, and dispossesses the swain.

And now the sounds of population fail;

no cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale;

these, far departing, seek a kinder shore,

and rural mirth and manners are no more.


Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

where wealth accumulates and men decay.

Kings and princes may flourish, or may fade;

a breath can make them, as a breath hath made;

but a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

when once destroyed, can never be supplied.


How different now from all that charmed of yore,

now there is altered all that was before!

Now matted weeds where birds forget to sing,

and silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;

now poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,

where the dark scorpion gathers death around,

and crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,

to savage men more murderous than they;

while oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,

mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.


Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,

I see the rural virtues leave the land.

Down, where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail

that idly waiting flaps with every gale,

downwards they move, a melancholy band,

pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.

And thou, sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,

art first to fly where sensual joys invade.


Still let my voice, prevailing over time,

redress the rigours of this inclement clime.

And, slighted Truth, with thy persuasive strain,

teach erring man to spur the rage of gain.

Teach him that empire hastes to swift decay,

as ocean sweeps the laboured mole away,

while self-dependent power can Time defy,

as rocks resist the billows and the sky.


Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

where wealth accumulates and men decay.

Kings and princes may flourish, or may fade;

a breath can make them, as a breath hath made;

but a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

when once destroyed, can never be supplied.
to listen to a performance given by the composer as singer with Brian Truman at the piano:
The Three songs of twilight were commissioned by Sheila Searchfield and Ray Lewis for performance at the Greenwich Festival, and consist of three adaptations of poems by the late Roman poet Ausonius. The accompaniment is for a chamber group consisting of flute and harp. The flute cadenza at the end of the second poem was written by the composer in association with Mary Sutherland, who played the flute in the first private performance of the songs. The work makes use of a number of then novel harp techniques.

Mosella                                                Evening on the Moselle   


Quis color ille vadis, seras cum populit umbras                    What colour is it now, the lonely stream below in the

Hesperus et viridi perfudit monte Mosellam!                        sunset? How vividly the light illumines the Moselle!

Tota natant crispis iuga motibus et tremens absens           All is bathed in crimson, in reflected hue. The bushes

pampinus, et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.                      quiver in the shade, and all above is seen in brightly mirrored


De rosis nascentibus                        On newblown roses 


Ver erat, et blando mordentia frigora sensu                        Spring it was, the white-shaded deathly pale cold before sunrise

spirabat croceo mane revecta diem.                                     breathing the frosty air cold ere the daylight’s dawning.

Stricteor Eos praecesserat aura                                            Sharply a cool wind blew into the garden

iugales aestiferum suavens anticipare diem.                     caressing, lightly breathing, yet presaging a humid warm day.

Errabam riguis per quadrua compita                                   And I walked in my shaded garden before the sun

in hortis, mature cupiens me vegetare diem.                     had risen, in expectation of a glorious and bright morn.


Sylva myrta                                    The fields of sorrow 


Errantes silva in magna et sub luce maligna                    They wander sadly in deep woods and under light most mournful

inter harundineasque comas gravidumque papaver      by the shores of reed-tangled pools and through fields of drowsy-
                                                                                                headed poppies,
et tacitos sine labe lacus, sine murmure rivos,                by silent lakes and by streaming waters with no sound of water

quorum per ripas nebuloso lumine marcent                    and in the dim day of the twilight gently there by the rivers,

fleti, olim regios et puerorum nomine, flores.                  those that once were mighty kings and princes known to all the
to listen to a performance given by Sheila Searchfield (mezzo-soprano), Mary Sutherland (flute) and Sioned Bowen (harp):



The first poem in The arrogance of youth to be set was the fifth, Dichotomy, which was publicly performed in 1976. The remainder of the songs were then commissioned for a concert promoted by Compass in 1977 and were given a first performance in London. The chamber ensemble required for the accompaniment is three clarinets and piano, although the first complete performance was given with an adapted scoring including flute instead of the third clarinet. The poems were drawn from an extensive unpublished collection by Liam Blake, who collaborated in their selection and performance.



I’ll bring you water to anoint your sorrow,

stroke your aching head with the fronds of palm-leaves,

make a hollow in the earth and lay with you softly,

cover you with warm leaves and bracken under which to dream.


The shadow


You came like a raven out of the shadow.

I couldn’t see you, but heard your wings beat the air.

Landing firmly at my side you wrapped your wings round me.

You tore my flesh, but there was no pain;

your beak pierced my soul, but left no scar;

you ate my seed, then flew back into the shadow.


The separation


I’ve lost sight of when it started.

Perhaps when we parted, that first meeting,

I don’t know where the words came from.

Perhaps rising from the sea, the clouds formed somewhere near.

Like you I needed to touch them, scything through their form.

I could not grasp them.

The clouds drifted northwards over the land.

Sometime they will return to the sea as flooding rivers.




All sense in me is gone;

no world such as this can ever content me.

Life and death surround me;

prosperity and poverty abound about me.

I see beauty where many see ugliness;

I see death where many see achievement.

What I have achieved, can I alone understand?




Sometimes I ask the light to speak to me:

only the dark replies in solemn tones:

                Don’t weep for me.

Then call my children to the sun,

for they are blind and cannot run:

                Don’t search for me.

Then hide Time behind the clouds

to lay in shade an empty shroud:

                Forget me.




J’etais né, j’habitai, et à la fin je mourirai…
to listen to a performance given by Stephen Jackson (baritone), Compass Ensemble conducted by the composer:
Shadow-bride was the last of my independent songs to words by J R R Tolkien (until the Lay of Eärendil some twenty years later), written with viola and piano accompaniment as a commission for Sheila Searchfield and Myra Ricketts who gave the first performance at the Greenwich Festival in 1978.  The material from the song was later utilised (to describe a similar situation) in the second scene of The Fall of Gondolin.

There was a man that dwelt alone,

as day and night went past;

he sat as still as carven stone,

and yet no shadow cast.

The white owls perched upon his head

under the winter moon;

they wiped their beaks and thought him dead

under the stars of June.


There came a lady clad in grey,

in the darkness shining;

one moment she would stop and stay,

her hair with flowers entwining.

He woke, as he had sprung of stone,

and broke the spell that bound him;

he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,

and wrapped her shadow round him.


There never more she walks her way

by sun or moon or star;

she dwells below, where neither days

nor any nights there are.

But once a year, when shadows yawn

and hidden things awake,

they dance together then till  
Planctus is a setting of Peter Abelard’s lament David for Jonathan, a song written in the late 1970s with chamber accompaniment for flute, violin, cello and guitar or harp. The English singing translation given below is by the composer after the 1930s paraphrase by Helen Waddell.

Vel confossus pariter                                          Low within thy tomb with thee

moretur feliciter                                                   would I lie most happily,

cum, quid amor faciat                                        for my passion and my love

maius hoc non habeat,                                       never could recur again,

et me post te vivere                                             and since my life after thee

mori sit assidue,                                                   would be death eternally,.

nec ad vitam anima                                            with my soul and my inspiration

satis sit dimidia.                                                   broken and rent in twain.


Vicem amicitae                                                    Defiance do I cry,

vel undam me reddere                                        for either I will thee save

opportebat tempore                                            despite the snares of Fate,

summae angustiae                                              bursting through Time’s dark gate,

triumphi participem                                            thy triumph will I share,

vel ruinas comitem,                                             or share with thee thy grave,

ut te vel erriperem                                                either will I rescue thee

vel tecum occumbere,                                        or else with thee shall I lie,

vitam pro te finiens                                             laying down my life for thy sake,

quam salvasti totiens,                                         future joy will I forsake,

ut et mors non iungeret                                       so that death which sunders us

magis nos disiungeret.                                         now might bring thee nigh.


Do quietem fidibus:                                            Ah, my lute, be silent!

vellem, ut et planctibus                                      be still, bid thy strings to cease

possem et fletibus:                                              their wailing and crying:

laesis pulsi manibus,                                           let my heart resume its sighing,

raucis planctu vocibus                                        so his soul may find release,

                                deficit et spiritus.                                                  and my sorrow rest in peace.
The first of these Two Chamber Songs, scored with an accompaniment of flute, bassoon, guitar and percussion, was the first use of the theme that later became the last of the Three Songs of Faith and finally found its way into Beren and Lúthien.  It was first performed in London in 1976. The second song, The nightjar, was begun as a companion piece also using guitar but this time with string trio; but because the poet could not find the second stanza, it remained incomplete for many years.
The lover at sunrise                                         Algernon Charles Swinburne

Love laid his sleepless head

on a thorny rosy bed;

and his eyes with tears were red,

and pale his lips as the dead.


And fear and sorrow and scorn

kept watch by his head forlorn;

till the night was overthrown,

and the world was merry with morn.


And Joy came up with the Day,

and kissed Love’s lips as he lay,

and the watchers ghostly and grey

fled from his pillow away.


And his eyes as the dawn grew bright,

and his face waxed ruddy as light;

Sorrow may reign for a day,

but day will bring back Delight.
The nightjar                                                                               Leon Wiltshire

Green meadows lie beneath my feet,

while distant sun horizon nears.

Soon Stygian depths will shade my sight,

and I’m alone with foreknown fears,

and the scream of the nightjar in my ears.

Within that hour I seem to see

my end, and all eternity.

The sepulchre and womb are one,

concealing me from the raging sun.