STAGE WORKS

Op. 5 - The Black Gate Is Closed

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (subsequently revised)

A formative part of Paul's "Tolkien Cycle"

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Op. 7 - Diarmuid and Gráinne

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (2.2.3.2:2.3.0.0:1.2:hp.str)

The score of Diarmuid and Gráinne, with words by Michéal Mac Liammóir adapted from his unpublished English translation of his play Diarmuid agus Gráinne, has required some revision, because when sections of the full score were detached to be sent to Radio Telefís Éireann for a proposed performance in the 1970s that section of the score became lost; and the vocal score prepared at that time contained a number of cuts with the results that the music of those sections was never copied. Extensive searches by RTÉ, the heirs of Gerard Victory (at that time the head of RTÉ music), Aloys Fleischmann (who had sent the score there with a recommendation for performance) and in the papers of Michéal Mac Liammóir in the National Library of Ireland have failed to locate the original material.

The vocal score was complete insofar as some of the missing extracts were concerned, and some parts of the vocal score which had been omitted in the original manuscript were restored by reference to the full score. The only passage which had to be entirely recomposed was that in the Third Act during the chess game; at that point the vocal score only contained a piano reduction of the original orchestral parts, and the vocal lines were altogether lost (although no bars of music were actually missing). The vocal lines were then recomposed by reference to the original text.

At one time a proposal was made that the whole opera might be set, and performed, in the original Irish text by the author. However this proved to be impracticable, because the original Irish text was wildly rhythmically different from the author’s English translation which had been employed for the musical setting. Two pages of the projected Irish setting (the opening of the first scene) are given as an appendix to the vocal score, and from this the substantial alterations to the score that would have been necessary may be noted.

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Op. 8 - The Hobbit

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.3:1.4:2hp.pfte/cel.str)

The sixth and seventh parts of the "Tolkien Cycle".

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Op. 10 - Tom Bombadil

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

This score formed part of a massive cycle which Paul planned in the 1970s with texts from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  The score was substantially completed in short score in the summer of 1976 but was then abandoned.  In preparing the final version in 1998 he completed the episode in accordance with the original plans and sketches, and the orchestration was completed as far as possible from those sketches, with only minor amendments to the original short score for reasons of practicability.

This 1998 version was slightly cut and then became part of Paul's final version of The Lord of the Rings completed in 2021.

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Op. 11 - The Grey Havens

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

This episode originated in the song The Sea Bell written in the early 1970s and was then expanded and completed in vocal score during the following years.  However I always  regarded  the  final  segment  as unsatisfactory, and when I was orchestrating the piece in 2001 I took the opportunity to compose a new ending drawing on material from similar scenes in The Silmarillion

It is this revised version which is included in the collected edition; the original manuscript is lodged in the Welsh Music Archive at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

This 2001 version was underwent further cuts and revisions to become the epilogue of Paul's final version of The Lord of the Rings completed in 2021.

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Op. 16 - The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric

Scored for soloists, chorus ad lib and chamber orchestra (1.1.1.0:0.0.1.0:1.1:hp.org.str)

This chamber opera, employing words from the old Irish legends in a new adaptation by Leon Wiltshire and specifically designed for church presentation. It was first performed at St Catherine’s Church, Pontypridd, on 14 July 1979, with Anthony Campbell and Jason Shute in the roles of the protagonists, Pendyrus Chamber Choir and the Celtic Chamber Opera conducted by the composer. It was then revived in 1981 in a fully staged performance at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. The scoring, as befits a church opera, includes a major part for church organ.

Óisin, the great Bardic poet of the old Celtic legends, set sail in the days of his youth to seek contentment in the Uttermost West, leaving behind him his father Fionn and the other heroes of the Fianna. Returning to Ireland after many years of wanderings, he finds that the land of his youth is now under the rule of Saint Patric and the armies of the Church. He is converted to Christianity and enters a monastic order.

The action opens as Óisin, now near to death, is aroused from his sleep by Saint Patric, who seeks to turn his mind towards God and the glory of the heavenly destiny awaiting him. Óisin cannot at first comprehend him, since his memories are full of the long-distant past—I have heard the song of the blackbird. Patric warns him of the perils of Hell into which his old companions have already fallen, but Óisin in increasing ecstasy finds in himself no response to Patric’s admonitions. He relates his own death, as an old blind man in a monastery, to that of his father—Fionn was lucky—and spurns Patric’s increasingly urgent evangelism.

At last he rouses himself to call on his dead friends to come to his aid, and Patric’s protestations—It is my King that formed the Heavens—no longer move him. But the only voices that respond to his summons are the voices of the priests, who as he dies chant a requiem for the soul of the hero. The final words are left to the orchestra, who play the melody formerly heard when Patric declared It is better to be with God for one hour, than the whole of the Fianna of Ireland forever. It is on this question—to hope or to despair?—that the drama draws to its close.

The original Irish legends of Óisin fall into two discrete parts. The first, describing his journeys in mystical realms in the West, clearly belong to a pagan realm of dreams and visions parallel to other such voyages in Celtic mythology: Maeldune, Brendan, Madog, and so on. But the second part, describing the encounter of the hero with Saint Patric on his mission to Ireland some centuries later, is rather different since it is equally unambiguously placed in a realistic historical setting where indeed the speecifically supernatural elements found in the tale of his wanderings are entirely absent. As such this forms a parallel to other laments credited to ancient Fenian heroes such as Goll Mac Morna and Caoilte, although it is far more extensive and the specifically religious elements of the discussion—indeed, the argument itself—are much more pronounced even than in similar Christian conclusions that one finds attached to other pagan subjects such as the Children of Lyr or the death of Conchubar.

 

In his 1889 narrative poem William Butler Yeats inserted his own version of the pagan myths into their later Christian context, employing the latter as a framework surrounding the former. But in her comprehensive 1904 collection of Irish legends and mythology Gods and Fighting Men, his contemporary and sometime collaborator Lady Augusta Gregory reverted to the two distinct tales of the Irish originals, rendering them into colloquial rural dialect of the early twentieth century. Her reasons for so doing were clearly explained—she wished to reclaim the myths for the Irish people who remembered them, rather than for the Irish upper classes “where I have not heard them” —but even by the 1970s, when I came to read her translations, the idiom she employed was irreparably antique and dated, reading more like a burlesque of Victorian Irish stage brogue than anything more elevated, and thereby obscuring the very real nature of the debate which was taking place between the hero and the saint. This indeed was an astonishingly modern discussion, in which the relative merits of spiritual salvation through faith in divine revelation competed against the worship of nature and the place of humanity within what would now be described as “an environmental context”—something quite outside the normal scope of mediaeval debate. It says a great deal for the anonymous author (presumably an Irish hermit or monk) that he constructed such a well-reasoned dialogue between the two protagonists, in which each was given the full opportunity to make the best argument he could in the course of a long and discursive text.

 

I suggested to my friend the poet Leon Wiltshire that something dramatic could be made of this unique dialogue if the language could be brought into a more contemporary style, having in mind elements of the treatment of ancient conversation employed by Robert Graves in his historical novelisations of Roman history. What was needed was not a scholarly treatment of the original Irish text, but a rationalisation of the argument so that the words of both Óisin and Saint Patric could resonate with and engage a contemporary audience. To bring the dialogues to an end—in Lady Augusta’s translation they peter out somewhat unconvincingly—we added Óisin’s famous lament for his fallen comrades, sung as a counterpoint to the Latin chanting of the priests at his funeral rites. I was much gratified when, following the first performance in 1979, various members of the audience commented (not always with approval) that I was clearly on the side of the pagans or the Christians, depending on their own views on the words of the protagonists—which led me to hope that the ambiguous conclusion at which I had consciously aimed had been achieved.

 

The musical treatment of Leon’s extensive transformation is not intended to be symbolic in any way. There are however recurring musical themes and occasional references to my other works on Irish mythology written at this time. There are two quotations from my short symphonic suite The wanderings of Óisin (based on the Yeats poem): the first the theme associated with Óisin himself, which enters halfway through the dialogues, and the second a brief reference to the phrase “God is Joy, and Joy is God!” from Yeats’s description of Óisin’s travels, appearing here as Patric tries to adopt a more convivial tone in his reassurance of the dying man. There also appears, although not until the closing stages of the work, the opening theme from my opera Diarmuid and Gráinne, which may perhaps be taken as a reference back to the heroic days of Óisin’s youth although it does also occur at the end of The Children of Lyr as part of a rather different Christian consolation. Two other themes from my first symphony The Mists of Time also figure at different stages in the score, and one of these—the extended melody of consolation at the end—is a modified version of a similar theme which will return in The Silmarillion as Lúthien passes to the realm of Death. Its appearance here is not in any way intended to be symbolic except as a reference back to Patric’s earlier words, and indeed in the closing bars it is combined both with the opening theme from The wanderings of Óisin and the plainchant Magnificat which launched the dialogues themselves. There are other direct references to Gregorian chant, most notably the well-known melody of the Dies irae which appears when Patric first makes reference to the dangers of Hell but afterwards is subsumed into the music as a whole, making a final appearance as a distant counterpoint to the Kyrie chanted by the monks as Óisin dies. Otherwise much of the music derives from evolutionary development of the plainchant themes, with a counterpoint provided by the many sounds of the natural world apostrophised by Óisin in his lyrically impassioned outbursts.

 

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OASP_edited.jpg

Image from The Western Mail, showing a rehearsal for the first performances of The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric

Op. 21 - The Nightingale and the Rose

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (2.2.2.2:4.2.3.1:1.4:hp.str)

The Nightingale and the Rose was written very quickly in the years 1974-75. It was originally conceived as a chamber opera in one act, to be a companion to The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric, but this version was abandoned very early on and the whole work was recast for a full symphony orchestra. After the work was completed a suite for chamber orchestra was extracted from it (the original version of The Cold Crystal Stars), and this was performed in 1976. 

  

Although this work is described as a fable it is not in the mind of the composer, who himself adapted the text from the well-known short story by Oscar Wilde, to force any specific interpretation upon the listener. It may be taken that the Nightingale stands for Romantic Music, that the Beloved represents dodecaphony and that the Student is symbolic of the audience; such a reading could be substantiated by the music itself. But those who wish to discover alternative meanings, or those who desire to return to the original story in order to do so, may easily take such a course.

The idiom is deliberately straightforward, even old-fashioned. The Beloved’s twelve-note row is firmly anchored within the diatonic system, consisting as it does of a simple series of fifths (ascending) or fourths (descending); thus it does not offend against the overall nature of the work. Much of the music is melodically founded, and the few motifs which do recur are to be regarded as purely symphonic in character, and not as dramatically representative.

 

The work is also designed to be presented in the conventional way, in a conventional theatre with proscenium arch. It will almost certainly be found necessary, however, to amplify the voices of the singers, in particular those of the Nightingale, the Rose Trees, the animals and the chorus, since in the nature of the production it would seem inevitable that the singers will spend all their time in the wings while production effects represent them on stage. At all costs, the flavour of the traditional English pantomime must be avoided, as this would prove fatal to the nature both of the text and the music.

Volante Opera Productions is currently working on a complete commercial demo recording of this work, with plans for it to be released in 2022.

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Op. 28 - The Children of Lyr

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1.1.1.0:0.0.1.0: 1.3: hp.org.str)

The Children of Lyr was originally written as a libretto for Julian Hodgson, who was looking for the subject of a children’s opera in 1971. However he never used the text, and in the early 1980s Paul took it up himself as a work for soloists, chorus and chamber orchestra.

 

The First Act was written at that time (although the orchestration was not fully completed) but the Second Act was only just begun when the score was abandoned. In the 1990s the First Act was published in isolation as a work in three scenes only, but then in the late 1990s Paul turned back to the incomplete Second Act and the original libretto and brought the whole work to a conclusion. The writing of the complete score, then, took nearly thirty years.

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Op. 28 - Arcturus

Scored for soloists and orchestra (1.1.1.0:0.1.0.0: 1.1: pfte duo.org.str)

This opera was specifically written for performance at the Sherman Theatre Cardiff where it was first given by New Celtic Opera in 1983.  The text was adapted from David Lindsay’s novel by Richard Clive Rose; the scoring is much the same as for the earlier chamber opera The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric, with the substitution of trumpet for trombone, piano duet for harp, electronic organ for church organ, and the addition of double-bass and synthesiser or tape to provide various sound effects.

David Lindsay’s novel A Voyage to Arcturus was first published in 1920.  Since that date it has been a seminal influence on many authors. J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis both recognised its power; more recently Colin Wilson has described it as “one of the strangest, and certainly one of the greatest, books of the twentieth century” and predicted that it “will one day take its place as a classic of English literature.”

The book describes a journey—metaphysical, psychological and philosophical—undertaken by the protagonist Maskull. At a fashionable séance in Hampstead he encounters two uninvited strangers, Nightspore and Krag, and is persuaded to join them in a quest to Arcturus in pursuit of the mysterious but powerful Surtur. When they arrive on the distant planet, Maskull is abandoned by his companions and encounters various elemental characters—the graceful and loving Tydomin, the poetic Panawë, the religious mystic Spadevil, and a vision of Surtur himself—and learns the meaning of pleasure and pain, love and death. When he rejoins Krag on the barren shores of the great Ocean, he knows that his own death approaches. Only by his surrender of self in death can Nightspore be reborn; it is Krag, coeval with Surtur, who is the stronger and the mightier.

 

Unsurprisingly the book has attracted almost as many interpretations as interpreters. Colin Wilson may claim that “there can be no doubt about the meaning of Arcturus,” but his statement that “Christianity is decisively rejected” is itself rejected by Lindsay’s friend and confidant E H Visiak, who proclaims that “the message of A Voyage to Arcturus is a profoundly Christian one.” In translating the book into an opera, one cannot hope to unravel these contradictions, although much of the thought of Lindsay has perforce been condensed and simplified.

Lindsay himself made much use of musical imagery in his book—the encounters with Surtur and Krag are heralded by drums and trumpets, the séance is significantly accompanied by music from The Magic Flute, and the scene in the Wombflash Forest is deliberately based upon the scherzo-finale transition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Similarly in the music a strong melodic, rhythmic and harmonic contrast is drawn between the worlds of pain and pleasure, death and love, Earth and Arcturus. The various scenes that make up the four sequences change kaleidoscopically, instantaneously; much of the music is conveyed in a close imitation of natural speech patterns; the scale of the music is human and interior, not supernatural. In addition there are four ‘visions’ incorporated into the sequences, where the singers remain silent while the orchestra probes the meaning of the action—visions of pain, love, death and finally rebirth.

A collection of criticism on Lindsay refers to him in its title as a “strange genius”; Lindsay himself called Arcturus “an inconceivable world.” It is possibly open to music to make the strange and inconceivable explicit in a manner that is not possible for the spoken or written word.

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Op. 46 - Fëanor, The Silmarillion Part One

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

The first part of the Tolkien Cycle and the beginnings of The Silmarillion.

A large scale operatic work depicting the creation of Middle-earth, the life of the elf Fëanor and the creation of the Silmarils.

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Op. 47 - Beren and Lúthien, The Silmarillion Part Two

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

The second part of the Tolkien Cycle and the second part of The Silmarillion.

A large scale operatic work depicting the continuation of the strife of Beleriand as it is under the siege of Morgoth. This work focusses on the love story between Beren, of the race of men, and Lúthien, an elven princess.

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Op. 48 - The Children of Húrin, The Silmarillion Part Three

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

The third part of the Tolkien Cycle and the third part of The Silmarillion.

A large scale operatic work depicting the continuation of the strife of Beleriand as it is under the siege of Morgoth. This work focusses on the tragedy of the children of the mortal man Húrin.

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Op. 49 - The Fall of Gondolin, The Silmarillion Part Four

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:4 rec:4.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

The fourth part of the Tolkien Cycle and the fourth part of The Silmarillion.

A large scale operatic work depicting the continuation of the strife of Beleriand as it is under the siege of Morgoth. This work focusses on the mortal man Tuor who is tasked by one of the Valar to seek out the hidden city of Gondolin and warn them of their impending destruction.

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Op. 56 - Zenobia

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (2.2.2.2:2.3.3.1:hp.str)

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; and the second act remained unwritten.

 

The opening contains the hymn to Mithras sung by two ladies of the Palmyran court with female voices in the distance.

Op. 64 - I Am Nothing

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1.1.1.1:2.1.0.0:1.1:hp.pfte.str)

The libretto for I am nothing was prepared in the mid-1980s for a one-act opera based on a short story by Eric Frank Russell.  It expanded on the precedent set by Paul's use of melodrama in the epilogue to The Children of Húrin to make use throughout of spoken dialogue over an accompaniment for small orchestra.

 

At the time this was written it clearly reflected the influence of American involvement in the Vietnam War, but even now many years later it still has resonances of later acts of aggression and the character of President Korman, an echo of Nixon, has found a later simulacrum in more recent times . 

The style is deliberately laconic, and the scoring for a small orchestra of flute, clarinet and strings ensures that the spoken dialogue over the music can be clearly heard in performance without the need for rhetorical declamation.

The message of the work remains as pertinent today as when the original story was written, but unfortunately the optimistic conclusion has not found any parallel in more recent historical events.

Op. 71 - The War of Wrath, The Silmarillion Part Five

Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra (3.3.3.3:8.3.3.1:1.4:hp.pfte/cel.str)

The five part of the Tolkien Cycle and the fifth and final part of The Silmarillion.

A large scale operatic work depicting the continuation of the strife of Beleriand as it is under the siege of Morgoth. This work focusses firstly on the fall of the realm of Doriath then to the journey of Eärendil across the sea to seek aid for the people of Middle-earth.

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Op. 72 - Blithe Spirit

Scored for soloists and orchestra (1.1.1.1:2.1.0.0:1.3:hp.pfte/cel.ondes.str)

This "improbable farce" in three acts is the composer's only full-length comic work, based on the 1943 play by Noel Coward with a text adapted and abridged by Julian Boyce. The actual libretto closely follows the original version of the play (which was substantially altered for later film versions) and much of Coward's quicksilver dialogue is carefully and exactly preserved. The original play called for a substantial role to be taken by a gramophone recording of Irving Berlin's song Always, but this did not lend itself to the extensive development required by an operatic treatment and the composer therefore substituted an instrumental version of his own 'torch song' Sunsong originally written some thirty years earlier for an uncompleted project. The melody of the song itself is not heard at full length until the final scene, where it ironically accompanies the exorcism of the ghosts of the two wives and expands into a lyrical quintet; but elements from the song are heard throughout beginning with the interlude in Act One, and featuring in the gramophone record played by Madame Arcati during the séance. There is also a slower waltz theme accompanying the initial reminiscence of Elvira (his first wife) by the author Charles Condomine, which returns as the spirit of Elvira attempts to seduce him at the end of Act One and then is disclosed as another of her favourite gramophone records - an "un-merry-widow waltz" - during Act Two. Other than these two principal extended melodic paragraphs, the remainder of the score mainly consists of a patchwork of some dozen or so shorter thematic motives associated with individual characters - such as Elvira herself and her marital successor Ruth - as well as elements of social intercourse and mood, and of course the music associated with the occult which ranges from the elemental open string harmonies associated with Madame Arcati to her more lightweight evocation of the powers of nature, the subtly jarring chromatic modulations of the séance itself, and the occasional insinuation and screaming of the ondes martenot at moments of supernatural tension. However during Act Three the lyrical elements of the music are given some greater weight in an orchestral Intermezzo combining elements from Charles's earlier duets with both of his wives.

These musical elements serve as a background to a lightweight conversational style of singing, where the natural rhythms of Coward's words are largely allowed to set their own pace and rhythm. At the same time, as the composer notes in her preface to the score, "I should like to take this opportunity to convey my apologies to the shades of Johannes Brahms, Sergei Rachmaninov and Giacomo Puccini, none of those music is treated in this score with the slightest degree of due respect. Similarly, the rose that Elvira throws at Ruth in Act Two seems to have strayed in from my Oscar Wilde parable The Nightingale and the Rose with an equal lack of propriety. All part of the fun."

The opera is being recorded by Volante Opera productions for probable release in 2023, with the following cast: Julian Boyce (Charles Condomine), Rosie Hay (Ruth Condomine), Helen Greenaway (Madame Arcati), Helen Jarmany (Elvira), Emma Mary Llewellyn (Edith), Simon Crosby Buttle (Dr Bradman) and Stella Woodman (Mrs Bradman),