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Grace Williams-Four Illustrations


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Author Topic: Grace Williams-Four Illustrations  (Read 950 times)
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Frederic Cowen (1852-1935)


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« on: March 08, 2016, 09:52:12 am »

From Malcolm Boyd's invaluable study on Grace Williams (Composers of Wales 4, University of Wales Press, 1980):

The last and most ambitious of Grace Williams's pre-war orchestral works has the title Four Illustration for the Legend of Rhiannon and is based upon incidents from the Mabinogion, that great medieval treasure-house of ancient Welsh legend, history and folklore. Each of its four movements illustrates part of the first branch of the mabinogi, the story of Pwyll, Lord of Dyved. The first, a stormy, impassioned movement entitled 'The Conflict', tells of the rivalry between Pwyll and Gwawl, son of Clud, for the love of Rhiannon, the beautiful daughter of Heveydd the Old: 'And thereupon Pwyll's house-hold came down upon the palace and seized all the host that had come with Gwawl and cast them into prison'. The second movement, 'The Nuptial Feast', is descriptive of the marriage feast for Pwyll and Rhiannon: 'And they went to the tables and sat down. And they ate and feasted, and spent the night in mirth.' The third movement deals with the penance Rhiannon was forced to make for having supposedly killed her son, Pryderi; it takes the form of a sombre chorale prelude on the Welsh hymn tune Hen Ddarbi, later used by the composer in the slow movement of her Violin Concerto. The final movement, telling of how Teirnon Twrvliant slew the monster that had snatched Pryderi away and of Rhiannon's reunion with her son, also uses a traditional Welsh air, Cainc Dafydd proffwyd, as its main theme. It strongly recalls a theme in the first movement of Sibelius's Second Symphony.

Despite the evident intention of giving it an overall symphonic shape (the second movement has the character of a scherzo and the third functions as a slow movement), the work remains disjointed and episodic. Only the first two movements are at all convincingly shaped, and even then the quality of the music rarely rises above that of a good film score. On a technical level, too, the Rhiannon Illustrations represent a withdrawal from the radical position occupied by the Elegy. Their musical language is more conservative, harking back to the idiom of the early works, particularly in the last two movements (later discarded), in which the introduction of traditional material entails the use of key signatures once more. Grace Williams was to tackle again the problem of symphonic narration on a large scale in the Symphonic Impressions [Symphony No.1] of 1943, but it was one she was never to solve with complete success.

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