Three Interludes

(2017) 9’
1 The Deep; 2 Shore; 3 Fleet


Three Interludes is a set of short orchestral sketches for a larger work, an opera I’m currently writing for WNO. The interludes are standalone works, but they will also provide means for depicting character, place and action as the opera develops. Composing these three short pieces has allowed me to make early explorations of musical material I am creating for the opera. The interludes explore ideas relating to the sea and are inspired by Matthew Arnold’s lyric poem Dover Beach.

Arnold’s poem conjures in its opening lines the shore of Dover, facing out to Calais. The poem describes a calm sea upon which the light of the moon ‘Gleams and is gone’. However, the poem also points to a more disquieting sense of the sea: ‘Glimmering and vast’ in nature. In the opera, the first interlude is performed as an underwater city, The Deep, is revealed; a futuristic, technological dystopia in which people live below the surface of the ocean in a tightly controlled, automated and authoritarian society, never seeing the land and sky above. The music is largely derived from the opening gesture, an ascending flourish on upper woodwind and strings. The interlude is busy, dancing almost, with a sense of fiery anticipation. However, there are darker moments pointing towards a more foreboding undercurrent.

The second interlude, Shore, accompanies the protagonist of the opera being washed up, semi-conscious, on a coastline. As she comes around, she is confronted by an ugly, polluted wasteland instead of the paradise she is desperate to see. The music, a dark chorale for low strings and brass, ebbs and flows, occasionally punctuated by sinuous fragments of melody which grow in intensity as the music progresses. Devastated at the wasteland around her, our protagonist turns to leave the shore and return to her oceanic home, but in doing so she realises she is not alone.

The final interlude, Fleet, (which will actually appear before Shore in the opera) describes the protagonist’s journey from The Deep to a viewing platform where she can see and hear the land and sky above. She has heard stories of the beauty of the surface of the Earth and yearns to feel the air on her face, to hear birdsong. However, visiting the surface is forbidden for ordinary citizens of The Deep, she must be quick and deft to escape discovery! The music is largely fast and rhythmic, growing from a single line melody which fragments across the orchestra. MB

Articles & reviews

Mark Bowden on Writing for BBC NOW at 90 / Steph Power / Wales Arts Review
‘the second Shore movement was particularly effective as an illustration of a desolate polluted wasteland and will doubtless seize the attention of an opera audience in the theatre’ / Seen and Heard International
Live BBC NOW Contemporary Evenings 1 / Nigel Jarrett / Wales Arts Review