The Naxos CD Cover Design for `The Prophecies of Merlin’
Here is the first glimpse of the Naxos CD cover design for the `The Prophecies of Merlin’ – Symphony for Violin and Orchestra. The painting is by the violin soloist Peter Sheppard Skærved, also entitled `The Prophecies of Merlin’. A big thank you to Nick Stains at Naxos for the CD artwork design.
The recording `The Prophecies of Merlin’ (8.579127) will be released in June this year and will be available on CD, iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music, and other major digital music services.
Nigel to write a new symphony entitled`Bruegel’
Nigel will write a large-scale symphony for conductor Neil Thomson and the critically acclaimed Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra (Brazil). The symphony’s premiere will take part in the second half of 2025, and the planned work will be entitled `Bruegel’ Symphony for Piccolo/Flute(s) and Orchestra. The soloist will be Jennifer Gunn, (Piccolo/Flute the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Jennifer will play the Piccolo, Flute and Alto Flute and, as a soloist, will take on the same role with the Orchestra as the Viola in Berlioz’ symphony `Harold in Italy’. Nigel’s plan, is to base each movement of his symphony on one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings. The culmination of this project will be to record `Bruegel’ for the Naxos label alongside two other orchestral works. `Bruegel’ will be Nigel’s s second major Naxos recording collaboration with Neil Thomson.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1530 – 9 September 1569) was a Dutch/Flemish Renaissance painter sometimes referred to as `Peasant Bruegel’.
New Recording of The City In The Sea
The British brass band Foden’s Band have just released a new recording of Nigel Clarke’s 1994 Euphonium Concerto `The City in the Sea’. This new rendition of his chilling ghost story is given an electric performance by Gary Curtin (Euphonium) and Michael Fowles (Conductor). Foden’s Brass Band are currently 2022 National Brass Band Champions of Great Britain.
The concerto starts off with the eerie sound of a foghorn played on the Euphonium. This sequence of music eventually breaks into a piercing scream, accompanied by the mournful ringing of the submerged church bells of Dunwich. He has used at various points in the piece quotations from Debussy’s piano prelude ‘La cathedrale engloutie’ (the submerged cathedral). Clarke has used quotations to recreate the image of the Franciscan monks chanting their ancient verses.
The overall disc featuring `The City in the Sea’ is entitled `Seascapes’ also features:
James Cook, Circumnavigator – Gilbert Vinter
The City in the Sea – Nigel Clarke
Seascapes – Ray Steadman-Allen
The Submerged Cathedral – Debussy arr. Howard Snell
Penlee – Simon Dobson
Un Vie de Matelot – Robert Farnon
The disc is either available to purchase from the Fodens Band Website (https://www.fodensband.co.uk/product/Seascapes) or download from:
The World of Brass at: https://www.worldofbrass.com/
Extract from The City in the Sea (Concerto for Euphonium and Brass Band )
Gary Curtin (Euphonium) Michael Fowles (Conductor) & Foden’s Band
The City in the Sea (Programme Note)
The history of the East Anglian village of Dunwich is a chilling tale of the consequences of the gradual erosion of Britain’s eastern coastline. The capital of East Anglia in medieval times, Dunwich was an important port with nine churches and a population of 5000. Successive storms led in 1326 to the city being engulfed and effectively vanishing from the map. Today Dunwich is a quiet village offering little evidence of its proud past lying beyond the beach and sanddunes.
To this day the sea has continued to erode the cliffs away and threaten Dunwich’s last surviving church, All Saints, which stands on the cliff-top. Gradually all the tombstones in the churchyard have disappeared beneath the waves and only the last remaining one has been rescued and moved to the safety of the Dunwich Village Museum.
The demise of this medieval city has thrown up a number of legends and ghost stories: It is said that the bells of Dunwich’s nine churches ring out on stormy nights and that the ghostly forms of some of Dunwich’s medieval inhabitants can be see walking close to the shoreline. Dunwich’s ruined monastery, Greyfriars, is also linked with the supernatural, in that a ghostly procession of Franciscan monks is said to walk around the ruins chanting ancient verses.
Dunwich is also featured in a traditional legend of three holy crowns buried in East Anglia to protect England from invasion. It is said that one of the crowns was buried there and lost when the city was engulfed by the sea. The second was said to have been dug up at Rendlesham further down the Suffolk coast in the 18th Century. The third has not yet been found!
The City in the Sea:
`The City in the Sea’ (1994) is written as a Concerto for Euphonium and Band, and is dedicated to the Euphonium player Robert Childs and the Black Dyke Mills Band. The Concerto’s title comes from the poem by Edgar Allen Poe, `The City in the Sea’.
`The City In The Sea’ is one movement but in three sections and lasts for approximately 16 minutes.
© Nigel Clarke – 1998
`Outrageous Fortune’ rescheduled for its premiere in Argentina for August 2025
Nigel Clarke’s `Outrageous Fortune’ Symphony No.2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor and Symphony Orchestra is to be rescheduled for August 2025. Originally the premiere was to have taken place in the summer of 2023, but was cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The artists for 2025 will still be Trombonist Brett Baker and the Santa Fe Orchestra under the baton of Walter Hilgers.
Clarke has reimagining the work for symphony orchestra, from his original symphonic wind orchestra version.
Here is a recent review from Music Web International of the Classical label Toccata Next Series CD entitled OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE [TOCN0003].
Outrageous Fortune (Symphony No 2) (2016) [24:00]
Brett Baker (trombone)
Natalie Grady (actor)
Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble/Reed Thomas (conductor)
rec. 2016/18, Hinton Hall, Middle Tennessee State University, USA
[Other composers featured on the disc are Jan VAN DEN ROOST, Søren HYLDGAARD and James STEPHENSON]
The Toccata Next Series disc can be download from iTunes and heard on Spotify and other main streaming music services.
The concluding work on the new disc is Clarke’s follow-up Symphony No 2 – the composer characterises Outrageous Fortune as a ‘symphonic drama’ rather than as a concerto per se, and it makes use of the accomplished vocal acting skills of Natalie Grady as if to reinforce the point. Clarke identifies Berlioz’s Harold in Italy as a structural model, while, as the title suggests, the literary inspiration is Hamlet, who is portrayed simultaneously (and in turn) in the piece by the solo trombonist and the actor.
The work begins in the depths, with a ghostly hum, gongs, distorted bell and other atmospheric percussive sounds. It’s Elsinore again, and it’s tastefully filmic. It’s gloomily lit. Natalie Grady delivers Hamlet’s monologue “O that this too, too solid flesh would melt,” with true theatrical intensity, in a pleasing voice that’s musical in itself and flecked with the sound of Lancashire rather than RP. Brittenish chords emerge from the wind backcloth. Violent drum tattoos and ostinati blast and nag, while instrumental voices that by turn growl, bark, and sneer build to a tumult; yet at 4:40 the belated entry of solo trombone is assertive but stumbling. Clarke certainly knows how to draw the maximum in terms of garish colour and unusual texture from this ensemble. I caught some almost Sibelian figures in the flutes.
Clarke’s first section here is roughly half the length of the “To be or not to be” monologue that succeeds it. This ushers in the protagonist’s descent into madness, which is reflected in suitably manic and repetitive fanfares in the trombone. This extended section is basically a theatrical cadenza for trombone and actor. It is a striking and uncommonly ambitious device on the part of the composer and Baker’s playing is mesmerising. This clearly isn’t jolly band music; it’s neurotic and unsettling, and the exclusively blown or struck sounds take a bit of getting used to. Outrageous Fortune is a piece that needs a few listens to fully convince, (and to grasp the concept) especially as the pace is pretty slow for much of the first half. When the introspective turmoil and self-loathing takes over in the music, Clarke’s new symphony is thrilling and uncomfortably uncompromising. I couldn’t help re-visualising the extraordinarily energetic and bloody conclusion on stage at the conclusion of the Brett Dean operatic version of Hamlet I recently reviewed. The composer describes it as a ‘birth to death’ piece, and it moves for sure from brooding silence via inner conflict, violent psychosis and death to a more abruptly realised silence, a trajectory punctuated by creepy little distortions and dissonances towards its end. I loved it. Richard Hanlon
Listen to `OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE’ Symphony No.2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor and Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No.2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor and Symphony Orchestra [Part 1] – symphonic wind orchestra version
Symphony No.2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor and Symphony Orchestra [Part 2] – symphonic wind orchestra version
Clarke designed his symphony `Outrageous Fortune’ as a melancholic drama, bleak and sardonic in style. It follows programmatically the story of William Shakespeare’s tragedy The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hamlet) written between 1599 and 1601. The score is prefaced with the bard’s despairing words:
“Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind”.
Hamlet is a tale of conspiracy, betrayal, suicide, revenge and murder, and also a ghost story. Both the trombone soloist and the actor take on the role of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. `Outrageous Fortune’ reflects the protagonist’s despair, his self-doubt and self-loathing and his advance towards mental breakdown. Hamlet’s character is full of bitterness, but alongside this he shows profound wisdom beyond his years.
The Danish castle of Elsinore is the setting for the drama. Clarke has set to music, two of Hamlet’s soliloquys:
- “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt”
- “To be, or not to be, – that is the question”.
Hamlet’s first monologue sees him longing to be dead and contemplating his own suicide although he is concerned that the Almighty has forbidden this option by sacred law. The cause of Hamlet’s malady is his distress that his mother has just remarried following the death of his father (the former King), less than two months ago. His mother’s suitor is his father’s own brother, Hamlet’s uncle! Hamlet rails against the rashness of his mother’s actions without apparent concern for his father’s death:
“She married. O most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”.
The second soliloquy “To be, or not to be, – that is the question” finds Hamlet near to mental breakdown, grappling with the choice between killing himself, or living on to avenge his father’s murder? To kill himself brings uncertainty as no one has ever returned from the afterlife – who knows what suffering awaits there?
“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns – puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”.
Hamlet’s release from his dilemma, comes in the final act after he has avenged his father’s death, with his subsequent murder.
Clarke selected various lines of dialogue from Shakespeare’s tragedy to help give the symphony structure and a sense of continuous and cohesive narrative throughout. These fifteen lines also serve as scene titles in the score, outlining the unfolding drama that is reflected in the music.
Solo soliloquies recited by the actor are found at the beginning and in the middle of the work. The trombone is the voice of Hamlet and represents both his inner thoughts and outward actions. The trombone soloist is in an accompanying role during the actor’s rendition of `To be or not be’. This section is in effect a cadenza for both actor and trombone, with the trombone weaving in and out of Shakespeare’s immortal lines. The dialogues chosen from Shakespeare’s drama are highly descriptive, lending themselves particularly well to music-setting – for instance: `The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out’ or `The rest is silence’. `Outrageous Fortune’is a ‘birth to death’ piece – it grows from nothing, in this case a quiet and ominous atmosphere, to end in decay, despair and deathly silence.
`Outrageous Fortune’ scene-titles:
1. `O that this too too solid flesh would melt’
2. `Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’
3. `The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out’
4,.`Alas, poor ghost’
5. `Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!’
6. `To be or not be’
7. `Get thee to a nunnery’
8. `The Mousetrap’
9. `What warlike noise is this’
10. `The King’s Jester’
11. `Revenge should have no bounds’
12. `Unbated and envenomed’
13. `Rapier and Danger’
14. `Now crack a noble heart’
15. `The rest is silence’
* * * * * * * * ** *
Outrageous Fortune Text
Text 1. – “O that this too too solid flesh would melt”
O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seems to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah, fie!, ’tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature
Process it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead – nay, not so much, not two –
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. O Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on. And yet within a month!
Let me not think on’t – Frailty, thy name is Woman.
A little month, or e’re those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears. Why, she, even she –
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer! married with mine uncle,
My father’s brother but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month!
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing of her galled eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good.
But break, my heart, or I must hold my tongue!
Text 2. – “To be, or not to be – that is the question”
To be, or not to be – that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep –
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die: to sleep –
To sleep: perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns – puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn away
And lose the name of action.
New Work for the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra
Nigel has just finished a new work for conductor Helen Harrison and the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra to be premiered in the orchestra’s 2023 autumn concert season in 12th November. The work is entitled `Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine’.
Nigel’s work is a energetic musical celebration of Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine, one of the oldest fairground amusement rides in the world – Maxim’s ride took centre stage at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1904 is still an attraction for holidaymakers today. Hiram Maxim’s invention is, in many ways, a gigantic merry-go-round with suspended rocket-shaped capsules – the faster the ride goes around, the more the rocket cars splay out, giving its passengers a sensation of flying!
Hiram Maxim (1840 – 1916) was an American/British engineer and inventor known for inventions such as the hair-curling irons, the mousetrap and steam pumps. In 1901 Hiram Maxim received a knighthood for his innovations; he even patented a pocket menthol inhaler to help relieve the effects of his bronchitis. Maxim used his fairground ride to help subsidise his interest in developing powered flight, but these efforts did not succeed. On a darker note, Hiram Maxim is credited as the creator of the first automatic machine gun, the `Maxim Gun’.
More details will be posted soon about `Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine’.
`Earthrise’ recorded by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, leader Kristina Šuklar, and conductor Neil Thomson, recorded Nigel’s orchestral transcription of `Earthrise‘ on 31 August this year for the Naxos CD label..
– After a photograph taken from Apollo 8 in 1968
Earthrise is a musical celebration of one of the most iconic photographs in history. The NASA image AS8-14-2383 was taken by William Anders and the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968 during the first manned mission to orbit the Moon.
I have emulated the speed and power of Apollo 8’s Saturn V rocket, using the Earth’s gravitational force to catapult it towards the Moon. Preceding the central section of Earthrise is a large-scale, multi-layered cadenza featuring most instruments in the band in free time floating bars, portraying the weightlessness experienced by the astronauts on their odyssey. The final section of the work depicts Apollo 8 hurtling back to Earth at an incredible 25,000 miles per hour on its quarter of a million-mile journey, hitting Earth’s narrow atmospheric corridor and finally splashing down in the Pacific.
For more information about Nigel’s works that were recorded by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra – go to previous post.
Here is a short extract from Nigel Clarke’s new orchestral transcription of `Earthrise’ published by Studio Music Company
RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra Naxos Recording Project
Nigel has just recently attended the recording of `The Prophecies of Merlin’ a 5 movement Symphony for Violin & Orchestra. The RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of British conductor Neil Thomson and the British violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved recorded the 65 minute work in Studio 6 ORF Funkhaus.
“The seed of the idea for a symphony for violin and orchestra came from a short text message that I received at the beginning of the pandemic from Peter Sheppard Skærved:
“Nigel, I am determined, despite everything, to make this year as positive and creative as possible. SO – why don’t you and I think about what we would like to do? Enough with these windy, brassy things, and come back to horse hair!! It’s been too long since we made a project, and I think we should not let the grass grow any longer!!”
“Peter pointed me to the 12th century writings of the cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth who depicted the magician Merlin in his `De gestis Britonum’ and `Vita Merlini’. As soon as I read this text, I knew that this subject-matter would lend itself to the structure of a symphony”.
Monmouth presented his writings as a chronicle of Merlin’s life, although they have little or no historical basis. What can be said is that Monmouth forged enchanting tales from the shards of myth and from his vivid imagination. The ‘Vita Merlini’ begins with Merlin as a grief-stricken prophet, who has escaped from the wars with the Scots to seek refuge in the Calidon Wood, the once-great wildwood of northern Britain. Mentally enfeebled and distraught from the slaughter of so many comrades, the sorcerer takes up the life of a hermit, but by winter he is near starvation and madness. News of his plight reaches his sister Ganieda, wife of the Cumbrian King Rodarchus and she summons Merlin to court, where she seeks to cure his madness through music and song, binding him with chains for his safety. Once his mental and physical health is restored, Merlin convinces Ganieda and Rodarchus that he is a prophet and that he should return to the Calidon Wood.
From this moment on Merlin begins prophesying a terror-filled future for the islands and peoples of Britain; mountains and valleys would be levelled and rivers and streams would run with blood. Addressing King Rodarchus, he describes how men would grieve the destruction of their cities, how the Severn Sea would burn and boil for seven months and how fish would die and from their dead carcasses, great serpents would be born.
Merlin also foretells how the progeny of Igraine and Uther, King Arthur, ‘The Boar of Cornwall,’ would trample on the necks of the Saxon invaders and how a shower of blood would fall from the sky and afflict all peoples with starvation and pestilence. Traitors would begin preaching, men would be imprisoned and many would go to war. The land of the Britons would tear itself in two, and the great River Thames would turn to blood, while elemental winds would do battle and ill-omensspangle the constellations.
Merlin’s litany of wild prophecies surges on relentlessly, but suddenly an enchanted spring of bright water appears in the Wildwood. Merlin drinks the waters and his sanity is restored; he then renounces the gift of prophecy and retreats deep into the wood, away from a godless world.
`The Prophecies of Merlin’ has five movements which simulate five medieval musical tapestries with each movement named after a location mentioned in Monmouth’s writings. I have cast the violin as the maddened Merlin, either raging alone, or caught up in the wildwood tumult of the orchestra.” The five movements are entitled: Tapestry I. Calidon Wood, Tapestry II. Calaterium Forest, Tapestry III. Severn Sea, Tapestry IV. Canute’s Wood & Tapestry V. Daneian Forest.
Nigel’s symphony brims with rhythmic drive and bravura orchestration, juxtaposing savage musical outbursts with moments of sheer transcendental beauty. Listen below to some short extracts from `The Prophecies of Merlin’ performed by The RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neil Thomson and soloist Peter Sheppard Skærved. The recording will have a Naxos CD label release in the second half of 2023. `The Prophecies of Merlin’ will soon be available from Nigel’s publisher Studio Music Company.
Extract from: Tapestry I. – The Calidon Wood
Extract from: Tapestry II. – Calaterium Forest
Extract from: Tapestry III. – Severn Sea
Extract from: Tapestry IV. – Canute’s Wood
Extract from: Tapestry V. – Daneian Forest
More photos from our time with The RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Nigel to be part of the Brussels Muzieque Creative Team for the 2022-2023 Season
“I am very excited to be part of the Brussels Muzieque creative team as one of their two Composer-in-Residence for the 2022-2023 Season”.
Other artists include: Eduardo Tonietto, Aleksey Shadrin, Lily Maisky Misako Akama, Walter Hus, Gordon Fantini, Sarah Oates, Antonio Capolupo, Matteo Del Monte, Silvian Dmitry, Nadja Nevolovitsch, Aldo Baerten, Elaine Ng, Nigel Clarke, Maura Marinucci, Monika Mlynarczyk, Mavroudes Dakis Troullos, Jacqueline Preys, Monika Dars.
Brussels Muzieque is a versatile collaborative classical music platform based in the capital of Europe. Brussels Muzieque purpose is to promote musical culture at the highest standards in all of its different acting fields. Originally, as a main activity, Brussels Muzieque is a regular monthly concert series; they grew furthermore into a digital channel producing our exclusive videos. The development of pedagogical projects in the form of masterclasses and agenting our programs and musicians also figure among our activities. Artists have been carefully chosen from among the concertmasters and soloists of the most prestigious Belgian and European orchestras (London Philharmonia, Brussels Philharmonic, Brussels Opera House ‘La Monnaie’, Belgian National Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, Antwerp Symphony, Flanders Symphony Orchestra) and artists of the highest level who reside in Belgium or are invited from all over Europe, granting in this way our main goal: to deliver artistic excellence to the Belgian music scene and to their internet following public.
To find out more information about Brussels Muzieque and their future concerts and events go to: