I - 'Night resonance recedes'
II - 'Miracle, bird or golden handiwork'
III - 'That gong-tormented sea'
The titles of the three linked tableaux that make up this piece come from the first, third and fifth stanzas respectively of W. B. Yeats' late poem Byzantium, which is rich in evocative and arcane imagery. While this provided the catalyst for the piece, the titles should not be taken as programmatic in a narrative or literal sense. Rather, in the symbolic spirit of Yeats, the music is a manifestation of the same concerns underlying the poem: a journey through a dark world of startling contrasts, visions of ecstasy and a deep yearning for permanence and transcendence.
The piece was commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and first performed by the orchestra conducted by Grant Llewellyn on 23/11/12 at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
THE unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.
W. B. Yeats (1930)