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Castell Dolbadarn


At first sight the commission to write a short work for cello inspired by the painting of Dolbadarn Castle by JMW Turner seemed interesting and relatively straightforward. It certainly proved interesting, but the realisation of the work was not as easy as it first appeared it might be. In particular, I was keen to reflect the structure as well as the atmosphere of the painting. Turner is, of course, arguably the greatest of British landscape painters, but his work is already atmospheric and impressionistic. Although music can well amplify these qualities, I was keen to relate to the subject matter on an additional, more structural, level.

What this level might be was not immediately clear. The clue came, however, at an exhibition of another painter: a superbly curated exhibition of the work of Vuillard, which I was fortunate enough to see in Montreal. As well as preparatory drawings for paintings, there were sometimes two or three versions on the same subject. Although there is only one painting of Dolbadarn Castle by Turner, I decided to take this approach—drawn from the visual arts—in writing the music.

I began with a set of 36 chords, like a sketch or outline for the composition. Having divided the chords into three equal groups, I composed a study with the first 12 chords. I then replicated the exact rhythms, dynamics and all musical features of the first section using notes derived from the other two sets of chords to create three separate studies to be performed as a whole without a break. Though this sounds like quite a technical approach, the result will be, I believe, clear to the listener. Each section begins quietly in a low register, builds to a climax and dies away—like an image seen from dawn to dusk. Three pictures of the castle emerge, each with the same essential features but viewed, as it were, at different times and in different weather conditions. The beginning and ending of each of these images can be clearly perceived. The modal nature of the music also helps to define the qualities of both the piece and the painting—simultaneously sombre, tranquil and majestic. Because of the particular nature of the musical construction, I was very keen that the music for the two instruments be as dramatic and idiomatic as possible, and I am grateful to Elinor Bennett (harp) and Nicola Thomas (cello) for their help in the final editing of the piece.

from notes by John Metcalf © 2009


Metcalf: Paths of Song
Studio Master: SIGCD203Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track-specific metadata for SIGCD203 track 7

Recording date
25 February 2009
Recording venue
Rhos y Gilwen, South Wales, Wales
Recording producer
Alexander Van Ingen
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch & Alexander Van Ingen
Hyperion usage
  1. Metcalf: Paths of Song (SIGCD203)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: August 2010
    Download only
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