music samples available:


Symphony No 1 [complete]:

Symphony No 3 [complete]:

Symphony No 4 [complete]:


for analysis see below




The Mists of Time

The composer looks back through the opaque mists of time.  Slowly these dissolve and an ancient procession is discerned, proceeding on its way to a solemn ceremony.  The lord seats himself and a harpist plays and sings for him.  The lord is anointed to the accompaniment of gentle organ tones; and after the priests have withdrawn the harpist’s melodies are taken up and turned into a dance of increasing wildness.  But eventually the mists of time veil the scene once more, until they too die away into the darkness.


   The symphony opens with a prologue in which a drifting theme is immediately stated:



This is followed shortly by a motto theme which will permeate the work:



An acceleration in tempo leads to the first subject:







and this is restated before the return of the motto theme leads to the second subject, stated first by the harp:



A development section combines the existing material before a slow liturgical statement of the entire first subject, and the second subject then returns in a wild dance eventually counterpointed by a statement of the first subject on the trombones. There is then a slow episode which depicts the crowning of King Edgar in 973, climaxed by a setting the Anglo-Saxon salutation Waes du, Edgar, hal!:



This is succeeded by a final statement of the second subject before the opening material returns, finally dying away in a final statement of the drifting theme.


below: photograph by the composer of the woods at Ross Island, Co Kerry

The Great Dance

The Great Dance is my Second Symphony, an entirely choral setting of passages from C S Lewis’s Perelandra. It was originally intended for broadcast by BBC Wales but because of original difficulties over the copyright of the lyrics it remained unperformed. The scoring, for wind sextet and harp, allows the words of the male chorus, so often overwhelmed in works for full orchestra, to come through undisturbed. At the end the male choir, clapping in rhythm, add a percussive rhythm to the perpetuum mobile of the wind players.

The score is inspired by a passage from the novel:








And now, by a transition which he did not notice, it seemed that what had begun as speech was turned into sight, or into something that can be remembered only as if it were seeing. He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties. Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity – only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern not thereby dispossessed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated. He could see also (but the word seeing is now plainly inadequate) wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected, minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew somehow that these particles were the secular generalities of which history tells—peoples, institutions, climates of opinion, civilisations, arts, sciences and the like—ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were things of a different kind. At first he could not say what. But he knew in the end that most of them were individual entities. If so, the time in which the Great Dance proceeds is very unlike time as we know it. Some of the thinner and more delicate cords were beings that we call short-lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain, and once (he thought) a wave of the sea. Others were such things as we also think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains, or even stars. Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colours from beyond our spectrum were the lines of the personal beings, and yet as different from one another in splendour as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals; some were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him then to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood together against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams: but afterwards, when he came back to Earth, he wondered. And by now the things must have passed out of the region of sight as we understand it. For he says that the whole solid figure of these enamoured and inter-animated circlings was suddenly revealed as the mere superfices of a far greater pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds: till suddenly as the movement grew yet swifter, the interweaving yet more ecstatic, the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension and that part of which could reason and remember was dropped farther and farther behind that part of him that saw, even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of the sky, and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness. He went up into such a quietness, a privacy, a freshness that at the very moment when he stood farthest from our ordinary mode of being he had the sense of stripping off encumbrances and awaking from trance, and coming to himself. With a gesture of relaxation he looked about him…


The beginning of the Great Game, of the Great Dance!

Speak not of when it will begin! It has begun from before always. The dance which we dance is at the centre, and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!

Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After beasts, not better beasts but spirits; after a falling, not recovery but a new creation; out of the new creation not a third but the mode of change itself is changed for ever. Blessed be He!

It is loaded with righteousness as a tree bows down with fruit. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order. Heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!

They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, shall not come near His greatness. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped; Deep Heaven is inside Him that is inside the seed, and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!

Each thing was made for Him, who is the centre. In His City, all things from the smallest grain of dust to the strongest Immortal is the end and final cause of all creation, and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest, and so returns to Him. Blessed be He!

Thus each is equally at the centre, and none are there by being equal, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small by their smallness, the great by their greatness, and all the patterns bound and linked together by the union of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!

All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!

All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans that it looked for. So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on one movement, and it will lead you through all movements, and will seem to you the master-movement. Blessed be He!

Yet this seeming also is the end and final cause for which He spreads out Time so long and Heaven so deep; lest, if we never meet the dark, and the question to which no answer is imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the Father, into which, if a creature drop down his thought for ever, he shall hear no echo return to him.

Blessed be He!


Quite apart from its programme and the use of a text, The Great Dance also has a purely musical structure as a symphony which―like its predecessor The Mists of Time and its successor Ainulindalë―consists of an extended sonata form in one movement. The first subject is stated after the initial introduction by the solo tenor, not by the choir but by the oboe:

and the end of the first verse leads to the second subject, a setting of Blessed be He! which will frequently recur:




This theme leads into a new verse, where the third subject is stated: 

These three themes, separately and in combination, form the main constituents of the first ‘movement’, which concludes with a chord which acts as a bridge into the second ‘movement’:

This second ‘movement’ opens with a new theme: 
and the middle section of the movement consists of a series of dances in the form of a suite, the first a sarabande for unaccompanied voices based on the second subject, the second a gavotte for solo woodwind based on my own initials (in a cipher constructed with acknowledgement to John Jordan), the third a bolero for solo harp, before the return of the earlier theme.

   The bridge chord recurs and leads into the final section, a combination of recapitulation and development in which all the previously cited subjects and themes recur. The third theme takes on a new form as a basis for a rondo:

This leads into a final choral meditation, which at first seems to entirely follow the meaning of the text without reference to the previous musical material; but the final statements of Blessed be He! leading to the choral handclaps bring a final statement of the rondo subject interspersed with pauses of increasing length.






below: photograph by Michael Morton used as the cover design for the Ainulindalé symphony


There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been awakened into song.’

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of  Melkor  to interweave matters of  his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and the glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.

Some of these thoughts he wove now into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor arose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his  countenance  was  stern; and  he  lifted  up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at once time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

    In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Ilúvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Ilúvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased. 


The symphony follows this programme of Tolkien’s opening chapter of The Silmarillion, and the original manuscript quoted the whole of the quoted passage over the music; but these superscriptions are not included in the work as published. The score opens Adagio molto with two extended chords for divided strings, one centred on C and one on D (but both chords comprising all the twelve tones of the chromatic scale: a representation of chaos, indeed).  Then, in E appears the first main theme, stated by the trombones:




This is successively taken up by bass clarinet, violas, horns and finally trumpets before the another theme crashes in:



building to a full orchestral climax.  Abruptly all is still and a number of individual strands emerge in various parts of the orchestra. First we hear a theme on clarinets:



and this is followed almost immediately by another, very quietly introduced by trumpet, harp and oboes:



Two further themes appear, the first on cor anglais:



and another, a long sinuous melody rising from the depths:



After a further climax over a pulsing series of rhythms generated by this theme, one final theme is heard:



before a thunderous recurrence of the opening theme 1 brings to an end the exposition of the symphony.

   A second movement Più mosso opens with a restatement of 4 which is then developed in a rather quicker tempo—the symphony accelerates progressively throughout its length. It is now accompanied by a rushing figure in the strings: :



Another jerkily accented theme appears, first in the trumpets and then in the horns:



and then it is followed by distorted versions of 3, 5 and 6, the last in the highest sarcastic register of the clarinet. 9 returns and leads to restatements of 7 and 8 before a solo timpani returns the music to 1 in an accelerating crescendo.

   A new movement Lento moderato begins with a fff chord from the organ and a restatement of 1 by harp and piano, followed by a more grandiose repeat on trombones. A new theme now appears:



which leads immediately into a long-flowing melody:



before 10 returns on a solo violin, counterpointed ominously by 4 before an eruption Molto vivace by strings and xylophone.

   The pace quickens further in a Con molto fuoco development section as a distorted version of 11 is hustled along by rushing string figures based on 10 and is then overlaid with a woodwind statement of 6. The long-limbed melody is interrupted by whispering flutes and then by violent rhythmic figures in the brass before the insinuation of 4 leads to a violently climactic statement of 2.  Over a thudding accompaniment of timpani the violins rip into a restatement of 3—this is effectively a developed recapitulation of the earlier material, which reaches a massively climactic statement of 7 and then 1 played on amplified tubular bells.

   The final Presto section of the score opens again with a fff chord on the organ, and a new rondo theme appears:



   At first this lengthy melody is stated in isolation, but after it has been completed stated material from earlier sections returns to interrupt it. Firstly 9 emerges on the bass clarinet, counterpointed by 8 chattering on the oboes; then 3 is stated by the muted trumpets; then 1 by the trombones below a slithering descending scale on the bassoons; then 4 rising up in the woodwind. The rondo melody 12 returns but it is now reduced to a skeletal form on the piano as a counterpoint to a final statement of 11. The two melodies proceed in harmony with each other, but there is increasing uproar from the rest of the orchestra, who threaten to overwhelm both of them; and this culminates in a frenetic series of restatements of 4 Prestissimo on the trumpets. Finally the whole returns to the key of D and the opening discord, now reinforced by a ffff organ chord, which suddenly cuts off leaving a roll on two timpani which would seem to anticipate a final chord on the home key of C; but this too suddenly cuts off leaving the music in a sense of hanging suspense



The Four Elements

My fourth symphony The Four Elements was the first substantial piece of absolute music that I had written for some time, being composed in a sudden and rapid burst of inspiration during January and February 2008. But of course, as the subtitle implies, it is not entirely absolute music. The programme is directly inspired by the four elements of pagan mythology and philosophy, and the order of the movements is that adopted generally in modern pagan practice—which fortunately also happens to be the standard order of a normal four-movement symphony with scherzo second and slow movement following.

The first movement is a meditation on the element of Air, opening with upsweeping harps which lift the music on to a high and almost featureless level. Violins in their highest register hold a long sustained B (released by a single note on the glockenspiel) while far below woodwind outline a series of rising fourths:


This series of open fourths is of course one of the original elemental terms of harmonic language, and it deliberately echoes the opening theme of my Third Symphony where it was also employed as a description of the creative spirit. In this movement it leads immediately into a statement of one of the basic melodic elements in many pagan chants, delivered in its highest register by the piccolo:



These two themes form the whole subject matter of the first movement, but underpinning the two themes there is a third element. This is the phrase BEDC which was first used by myself in Territory and which forms an acrostic formed from the initials of the dedicatee of the symphony. But where in Territory the use of the phrase was in the foreground, making up the major substance of the music, here it is a harmonic underpinning which forms a background to the whole course of the movement but which is not consciously recognisable to the listener. The long held B in the violins moves to E, then to D and finally to C (each time with a lift from the harps and glockenspiel); but there remains throughout no bass line, no foundation upon which the air is rooted. There are slight movements in the upper strings, like a breeze playing across the mind; but all is delicate, still and calm as versions of 2 are passed around between the woodwind, finally coming to a rest with the violins alone.

The calm is finally interrupted by a sudden flickering burst of sparks in the woodwind and a pounding rhythm on the drums as the scherzo depicting the element of Fire begins. The main theme is a twelve-tone one, wayward and fickle as the element itself:



but this is immediately underpinned (by harshly muted horns) playing the outline of 2; fire, after all, is by its very nature the element which exists in air. The opening material is underpinned by a rushing series of chromatic scales as the fire gathers strength, and then 2 is stated harshly by the brass over the original rhythm of pounding drums and cymbals culminating in a blaze from the trumpets before the original material returns. It then bursts out into a prominent statement of the Territory theme (in a whole series of new and different keys) which lies at the heart of the fire:


This is repeated twice and then taken up and subsumed into the chromatic wreathings of the fire itself. The opening material returns once more, but this time the drum rhythms are overlaid with a further burst of flame from the woodwind before 2 is once more wreathed in chromatic scales.  And then suddenly the music dies down to a whisper, as the woodwind turn 3 from a fast dance into a slowly sustained and slightly eerie melodic line. This is fire as the element of the hearth and home; the chromatic rushings in the strings are quieted beneath a feeling of contentment.         And then a final sudden and even more explosive eruption of the opening scherzo material leads directly into the third movement.

Water is initially introduced as a sudden downpour as of rain, teeming downwards in woodwind, strings and harps over a sustained whole-tone chord in the brass:



Against this, as it rapidly dies down, there rises a slower rising whole-tone scale like the water evaporating back into the air again:



 and finally (over rippling whole-tone scales in celesta and dripping molecules of water in the harp) a complete pagan chant is hinted at by the brass:



 This is the chant that is familiar to the words

We all come from the Goddess,

and to her we will return

like a drop of rain

flowing to the Ocean.

It is at first underpinned by freely flowing rhythmic figures, running over and through each other; but then the oboe introduces a new theme which runs in counterpoint with the chant itself:



This is taken up by the violins before the opening pattern of the rain 5 returns. 6 is taken up by the clarinets over a repeat of the chant 7 and yet further ripplings of themes like ever more complex patterns of running water. As the waters gather pace, like a river going to the sea, the second phrase of 7 becomes the focus for an ever-grander series of statements, all anchored over a slow-drawn foundation of the BECD theme 4. The music becomes increasingly dramatic and pained; the passage back to the Goddess is through the waters of Death. Finally, as the waters are all gathered to the Ocean, 8 returns in a radiant statement on the strings, and then on the horns in counterpoint with 5. Now finally the original pagan theme 2 appears, taken up and elevated by the brass to ever greater heights. As the movement comes to an end, it is hoisted by 6 on the flutes back to the clouds—whence it descends as a slow misting drizzle of 5 while the oboe delivers a drifting and extended statement of 8.

   The final movement, Earth, opens with an entirely new theme which will act as a bedrock throughout the movement:






This is delivered in full splendour by the whole orchestra and then repeated more gently by the strings. The woodwind give out a fully harmonised statement of 2 and then the strings an even richer version of 9. The themes from the earlier movements are passed in review; the rising fourths of 1 lead to the theme of fire (3) and then the cycle of water is outlined as 5 and 6 surround a restatement of 7; finally the Ocean of Life itself is proclaimed in a grandiose restatement of 8.  Between each of these restatements the theme of the Earth as the Mother 9 is given out in ever-increasing richness of harmony. Finally 4, the heart of the fire that refuses to be extinguished, rises in ever-increasing heat from the bass and joins in a massive counterpoint with the outline of the pagan chant 2 that represented air in the first movement. It now needs only the addition of the opening phrase of the water melody 8 to unify all four of the elements in a firmly-rooted restatement which brings unity to the whole.