Gareth Glyn: Anglesey
Composer – A first exploration of some
of his music
Glyn was born in 1951 in the town of
Machynlleth in mid-Wales. After secondary
schooling he graduated from Merton College
Oxford although he apparently began
composing whilst still at school and
received his first broadcast performance
when at University. Later he earned
a Composer Licentiate of the Royal Academy
of Music. Glyn has been composing for
nearly 40 years and has addressed a
wide variety of musical genres and instrumental
combinations. A brief look at his opus
list reveals works ranging from a Symphony
through to simple songs specially aimed
at schools. He has experimented with
‘pop’ music as well as more traditional
classical pieces. He has written works
for both the concert hall and for the
Gareth tells me that
he works largely to commissions and
is usually on a tight deadline. His
webpage notes that a number of ‘big
name’ stars have premiered his music
including "the world-renowned baritone
Bryn Terfel, the international superstar
Charlotte Church, the BBC Concert Orchestra,
the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC National
Orchestra of Wales, the organist Jane
Watts and many others - including Jonathan
Pryce, the villain in the James Bond
film Tomorrow Never Dies, who
performed a work for narrator and orchestra."
The composer presently lives on Anglesey
with his wife Eleri Cwyfan; they have
two grown-up sons.
Technology is important
to Gareth Glyn. I have not seen any
of his scores, but I understand that
he uses software to set down the notes.
This can then be turned into a musical
file that can be played back and finally
posted on the Internet. All the instruments
will take their proper cues and the
piece will sound very much like what
it would be if played live. Obviously
there are limitations – for example
for choral and vocal works. And I guess
that the ‘computer’ realisation will
lack much spontaneity. However, it is
a great way to introduce potential listeners
and concert promoters to his musical
Glyn writes in an eclectic
style. It would be wrong to describe
him as a ‘light’ music composer – even
although three of his works appear on
a ‘light music’ CD label. Yet it would
appear that melody and listener enjoyment
are critical to his musical philosophy.
The one problem in
approaching Gareth Glyn’s music is the
language barrier. A brief glance at
the catalogue on his webpage reveals
that nearly two-thirds have Welsh titles
which are typically a closed book to
non-Welsh speakers. Now this may not
be an issue when his music is programmed
in Wales, but outside the Principality
it could be a barrier to the progress
of his works. Of course, I imagine that
the composer will happily provide a
translation of any title and no doubt
concert programme notes would file an
explanation and description, but at
first glance I would like to see bi-lingual
titles in his web page.
A number of works have
caught my eye in the list. These include
(A Festival for the name-day
of a local saint) which is written for
organ and orchestra. There is also a
‘serious’ overture ‘Fresco’
which seems to be an ideal candidate
for recording. A number of interesting
chamber works includes a Sonata
for Classical Guitar and
an exploration of the Mabinogi
by a chamber ensemble. It is possible
to hear 30 second extracts of these
works on his webpage; yet I do not believe
it is possible to write critically about
these compositions in this introductory
article. However listeners are fortunate
in having three important and enjoyable
works on CD.
One of the longest
of Gareth Glyn’s compositions currently
available is his ‘Legend of the Lake.’
This work is a spin-off from a film
called ‘Madam Wen’ which was produced
by the Welsh Film Council. The derived
work is a Suite which, of course,
stands in its own right. Yet the layout
of the work and the titles of the movements
suggest that the plot of the film is
never too far away. The ‘Madam Wen’
of the title was apparently an aristocratic
lady who lived a double life: when not
socialising she was the head of a criminal
gang. There is little about this notorious
lady written in English – but she may
well have been a ‘real’ person and her
crime was likely to have been smuggling.
The plot of the film suggests that after
much treachery she is tempted to leaves
her criminal ways by falling in love
with a magistrate!
The suite is written
in five movements –
2. Night Flight
5. Spirit of the Lake.
is a trumpet solo with no other instruments
in support. This music epitomises Madam
Wen’s enduring spirit and provides the
work with a haunting quality. This theme
acts as a kind of leitmotiv throughout
the suite. But soon the mood changes
– Night Flight was originally
an attractive description of a ‘joyous
gallop’ made by Madam Wen and her lover.
The orchestration reflects this by using
pairs of instruments to define phrases:
it is in fact an effective scherzo.
is the heart of the work. Gareth Glyn
writes that this music portrays the
longing of the lovers to be together
– in spite of their awkward circumstances
and incompatible trades. A new theme,
not used in the film is added to this
music to increase the pathos. It is
a lovely interlude which is perfectly
poised and finely scored. I am almost
tempted to suggest that this movement
could stand alone.
Yet the reflective
longing is swept away by the relentless
percussion and brass of ‘Manhunt.’
This was the moment in the film when
the smugglers were pursued by their
erstwhile allies. They are cornered
and finally end up in a quicksand where
they die long, slow agonising deaths
as befits their crimes. As the movement
builds up to its conclusion, the ‘Wen’
theme is heard once again.
The final movement
is the Spirit of the Lake. Does
Madam still haunt this remote Llyn?
Does she still gallop with her lover
over the moors on a night with the full
moon? Are the smugglers still seen shipping
the ‘Brandy for the Parson,’ and the
‘Baccy for the Clerk.’ Who knows?
This suite is well
written and has many attractive moments.
Perhaps the nature of the original film
music has meant that there is a little
imbalance between the movements, but
typically this is a good and enjoyable
work. My only concern is with the name
Madam Wen – to English speakers
a ‘wen’ is a growth on the side of the
nose – not exactly the stuff that fine
romances are made of…but perhaps it
translates as Mrs White?
Perhaps the most satisfying
of Gareth Glyn’s works currently on
record are the Anglesey Sketches.
The composer told me that this work
was misnamed on the CD cover! In fact
they were originally the Anglesey Seascapes!
The error was corrected when the work
was re-issued on the Halcyon Days compilation.
Personally I find ‘sketches’ more appropriate
to this piece – but obviously bow to
the composer’s intent! He tells me that
it was "very deliberately conceived
as five views of the sea from the Anglesey
coastline, and not various snapshots
of parts of the island itself."
The liner notes suggest
that the Sketches are "infused
…with the Celtic spirit- lyricism, expressiveness
and extremes of temperament." Each
of the movements of this work is named
after locations on the islands beautiful
and complex coast.
The first is an ‘elegy.’
It is called ‘Llanddwyn’ which is a
magical place associated with St. Dwynwen
who is the patron saint of lovers. A
lovely romantic melody is supported
by pizzicato strings opens and closes
the proceedings. I think the second
movement is just amazing. It is entitled
‘Malltraeth’ and supposedly depicts
a brisk walk beside the sea. It is typically
a happy, jaunty and breezy movement,
with perhaps just a tinge of melancholy.
The intermezzo has nautical overtones;
from the priory at ‘Penmon,’ overlooking
the Menai Straits, yachts can be seen
during Regatta week. The ‘scherzo’ evokes
happy days by the sea-side. This music
is not so much Welsh as just fun and
a bit mischievous. At ‘Cemaes’ Bay in
the very north of the island there are
donkey rides, children’s games, rock
pools, sandy beaches for paddling. This
movement acts as a foil to the sad,
but memorable ‘Moelfre’ which reflects
on the dangerous but very beautiful
coast which has claimed so many lives
and has caused so much grief and sadness.
The first four movements are good music
– the last is great.
The last piece that
is currently available is the Snowdon
Overture. It is an exiting work
that perhaps does not present the listener
with the expected ‘tone poem’ image
of a three thousand foot mountain in
the depths of a National Park.
was originally part of a larger tone
poem which was written for what is now
the Gwynedd and Anglesey Youth Orchestra.
The original work was called ‘Eryri’
which is Welsh for Snowdonia. Glyn was
commissioned to produce a shorter version
of this tone poem for a subsequent concert.
The current piece presents
a picture of Snowdon as a holiday destination:
the music is full of bustle and excitement.
I guess that when I first listened to
this work I expected a deep meditation
on the ‘spiritual’ or the ‘sublime’
aspects of this mountain: I imagined
the ‘Celtic’ connection. What Glyn has
done is to look at the landscape ‘in
the round.’ He has not ignored the obvious
characteristics of the region – but
has synthesised this with a more popular
view of the mountain. Let’s be honest
– there are three groups of people who
are likely to visit Snowdon – the day
tripper – sight seeing. Then there are
the mountaineers and walkers who see
the hill as a challenge and lastly the
poets, who come here for reflection
and to be moved. Who is to say what
the most valid approach is?
opens with a big gesture, followed by
a jaunty theme. The brass is well to
the fore and the scoring lends an air
of anticipation. The charabancs have
arrived and the passengers are taking
in the views. There is a fine big tune
which nods to more serious matters –
the general impression is of tunes-
like visitors- arriving from all directions.
However, a third of the way through
the piece, the mood changes. This is
the reflective part of the overture.
It is hard to tell if we have moved
from summer tourism to winter solitude
–but there is certainly a frosty feel
to some of this music. A lovely long
woodwind melody opens this section.
Another fine tune emerges before some
sharp edged chords interrupt the proceedings.
The big tune emerges again, giving something
of the majesty of the mountain. The
last section of the work begins with
a stroke of the bass drum followed by
good brass writing. For a few bars we
are back to the day trippers. Perhaps
they are now getting back into their
coaches and are thinking about the long
trip back to Eccles, Warrington and
Stockport. Yet Snowdon is not phased
by these visitors: it retains its dignity
and mystery. A hymn-like tune is heard
supported by brass chords. The overture
builds up to a great finale – revealing
the power and the glory and the majesty
of the mountain. A dashing coda leads
to a rhythmic last few bars.
This work may not be
a tone poem that can compete with a
work by Arnold Bax or Jean Sibelius.
Yet there are elements of this overture
that deserve appreciation. For example
the scoring is superb. The balance of
‘everyday matters’ with the deeper,
spiritual aspect of the landscape is
an important development that perhaps
goes beyond the offerings of the two
above named composers. And that is what
gives the work its value. It is easily
appreciated and enjoyed, without being
in any way trite or sentimental.
The composer has promised
to send me a recording of his Symphony.
I decided not to comment on this work
here, as it is not commercially available.
Yet I look forward to hearing a modern
Welsh Symphony by a composer
that shows great competence as a melodist,
an orchestrator and as a subtle painter
of musical pictures. I shall duly give
a report of the work in these pages!
Anglesey Seascapes -
on British String Miniatures
2 (ASV White Line WHL 2136)
A Snowdon Overture
- on British Light Overtures
2 (ASV White Line WHL 2137)
Legend of the Lake – on
British Light Music Discoveries Vol.
6 (ASV White Line WHL 2149)
Gareth Glyn: A Composer
At the end of October
I asked the composer to give me an update
of what he was doing, musically. Bearing
in mind that he lives on the Anglesey,
which is a wonderful place, but which
has suffered a worse than average summer,
he remains remarkably upbeat! In fact
on the day that he replied to me, he
told me that there had been ‘apocalyptic
is as it should be. A lot is happening
in his musical life that is positive
and encouraging. There is a forthcoming
CD that will feature a piece of music
in which the main protagonists are Dominic
Seldis (star of Maestro recently
on BBC) and Jonathan Pryce (Bond villain
and star of such films as Pirates
of the Caribbean, Rise of Cobra
and Evita) with the Royal
Ballet Sinfonia, in Glyn’s Welsh
Incident. This is pending future
release on the Dutton label.
More immediately important
is the fact that the Gwynn publishing
company of Penygroes in North Wales
have embarked on a major programme of
publishing Glyn's choral works. This
will put into the public domain a number
of interesting and singable pieces.
They have recently published Fy Ngwlad
(My Country), Cymru (Wales),
Y Gymraeg (The Welsh Language)
and Gwinllan a Roddwyd (A Vineyard
was Given), all for SATB and piano and
separately published under the umbrella
title of Four Patriotic Songs. In
the coming months Machynlleth Fair,
Feet, Fluff and Sixth Birthday
(the set Four Playful Songs),
and 'Never was Dawn so Bright' (all
for SATB) and Psalm 150 and The
Harp (both for male voices and piano
or orchestra) are due for publication.
Recently, there have
been a number of important performances
of Gareth Glyn’s works. His chamber
suite Mabinogi received several
performances in Ensemble Cymru’s tour
of North Wales in October. In the same
month, in London, Eleanor Turner played
his suite for harp Child’s Play
at the Wigmore Hall.
Seldis has also recorded
as soloist, Glyn’s superb Microncerto
for double bass and orchestra, which
is a great treat for all music enthusiasts.
It certainly beats Dragonetti's and
Dittersdorf's! Much of this work is
an inspired use of jazz, yet somehow
it is not a jazz concerto as such. However,
the double bass so often associated
with jazz (Charlie Mingus et al) that
it must be hard to avoid such a label.
What does impress me is the singing
tone of the more reflective moments.
It has a personality far removed from
the inevitable pizzicato. My only complaint
and it is a big one, is that at just
under 5 minutes- it is way too short…!
Finally, the Royal
Ballet Sinfonia, recorded his Cariad
for orchestra .The title of this
work means 'love’. This is an orchestral
work which is composed in a Friday
Night is Music Night style. It presents
several Welsh folksongs on the theme
of love in one span of about eight minutes.
Glyn pointed out to me that "they
aren't all, strictly speaking, love-songs
as the Welsh folk tradition is full
of songs about unrequited and spurned
affection, but there aren't that many
expressing true and reciprocated love."
Glyn is presently working
on a Trumpet Concerto, which
has been commissioned for Philippe Schartz
and the National Youth Wind Orchestra
of Wales It will be given its first
performance on their tour in Luxembourg
and Germany. Finally, he is working
on an as yet unnamed piece which has
been commissioned by the city of New
Bern in North Carolina to mark the 300th
anniversary of its foundation.
A few months ago I
heard a recording of Gareth Glyn’s Symphony.
It is one of the finest new works in
that genre I have heard in many years.
It was largely recorded at a live event.
However the ‘scherzo’ was played by
‘Sibelius’ from the digital musical
score. It is certainly a piece that
deserves to be recorded. There is not
doubt that Glyn comes from the same
‘symphonic’ stock as Daniel Jones, Alun
Hoddinott, Grace Williams and William
Mathias and surely deserves to be recognised
John France November