The title is taken from a poem by the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins (1906-1967), one of the Kardomah Boys (along with Dylan Thomas, the artists Frederick Janes and Ceri Richards and the composer Daniel Jones) from Swansea. The piece is continuous and does not follow the narrative of the poem but uses quotations from it to head the five major sections of the work.
“The Broken Sea” is a description of a brooding sea at night-time as it moves from a cold landscape to a furious storm followed by a sorrowful calm at dawn before the power of the sea returns renewed.
1. “A cold, a moon-struck place
……..Born of the broken sea”
2. “Waves, hooded, raging, thunder, hiding contagious guilt,
Tossing, high on the shale, the hard and scribbled stones.”
3. “Still, still the moon pulls on the waves
which magnify their lunatic insistence…”
4. “Beside the magnificent, quiet, sinister, terrible sea
I hear the pebbles grieve……”
5. “I hear the breath of the storm. The engulfed, Gargantuan tide
Heaped in hills by the moles, hurls to the mountain’s head…”
Painter: Furnace of Colours, song-cycle for soprano and orchestra to texts by Vernon Watkins. Recording of world première given by Claire Booth (soprano) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen. BBC Hoddinott Hall Cardiff Bay March 9th 2011
Painter: Symphony No.3 “Fire in the Snow”
First performance by the Orquesta de la UNAM conducted by Alun Francis at the Sala Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico City on June 19th 2010
Christopher Painter: Furnace of Colours
Song-cycle for soprano and orchestra to texts by Vernon Watkins. Recording of world première given by Claire Booth (soprano) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen. BBC Hoddinott Hall Cardiff Bay March 9th 2011
Furnace of Colours
Music of colours swaying in the light breeze,
Flame wind of poppies.
.……. All life begins there, scattered by the rainbow;
Yes, and the field flowers, these deceptive blossoms,
Break from the furnace.
I was first drawn to the poetry of Vernon Watkins when I was in my late teens and his poems have a deeply personal resonance for me. The only time that I have directly used his words was in 1985 with a setting of his “Peace in the Welsh Hills” for soprano and tenor soloists, chorus and orchestra although I have taken his poetry as a starting point for many of my works.
Watkins was born in Maesteg, as was my father, and worked for many years as a bank clerk in Swansea, refusing promotions in order to have more time to write. I recently discovered that my mentor and friend Alun Hoddinott was not only a great fan of Watkins’ work but, as a schoolboy, had known him and often waited for him outside the bank in order to walk home with him and discuss his latest poems.
Although a prodigious songwriter, Alun never set any of Watkins’ verses; surely a sign of the love he had for them, feeling that they needed no music to enhance them.
For this cycle, I have chosen texts from Watkins’ “Music of Colours” – a series of poems celebrating the beauty of nature and linking this to both music and to the fact that the Welsh are inextricably connected to their land and history.
Waking entranced, we cannot see that other
Order of colours moving in the white light.
Time is for us transfigured into colours
Known and remembered from an earlier summer,
These texts remind me of my childhood when summers were seemingly longer and hotter and we would run, short-trousered, through the bracken, our legs raw from stinging nettles but never caring, and lie on the grass, in a cloud-watching haze amidst the scent of the flowers.
“Furnace of Colours” is also my reference to the music of Alun Hoddinott. Alun was blessed (or cursed) with synaethesia which linked his sense of colour to sound and resulted in his mastery of orchestration and his rich use of harmony.
This work is written in memory of my great friend and mentor, Alun Hoddinott, and is dedicated to the players - past, present and future - of his beloved BBC National Orchestra of Wales, a true furnace of colours.
© 2011 Christopher Painter