(streaming link below)


This work was composed as a result of my being awarded the Jack Lyons Celebration Award, an annual commission for a postgraduate composer at the University of York. As well as a commission fee, the award included a three-week residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. This was a very special experience. The Banff centre is an amazing resource for artists of all disciplines, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a chance to attend.

The work is a setting of a La Cascade, a 1943 poem by Robert Desnos, for double choir and an ensemble of winds, percussion, harps and keyboards, twenty-three musicians in total. I first encountered Desnos about six years ago, reading his work in translation, and found myself very attracted to the images of the natural world he presents, or rather, of the intersection between the human and natural worlds.

La Cascade is dedicated to the French Resistance, and depicts a scene where resistance fighters, one wounded, camp or hide on a misty shore at dawn. The human drama however is eclipsed by the sensual beauty of the landscape and of the sky. The poem is a serenade to nature, and the specific natural landscape of France, and glorifies those who would seek to protect it from invasion, both materially and culturally.

This work is primarily a response to the images and metaphors of the poem, but it is impossible (and undesirable) to escape from the nationalistic context. The piece contains numerous allusions to the landscape of France (musical, this time) – Messiaen, Vivier, Grisey, and Debussy inflect the writing to varying degrees of recognisability. My only hope is that any reference is seen as an hommage, never a parody.

The music is divided into four parts with the four verses of the poem, though the last two overlap. The general progression is one of illumination. The star- or surf-flecked texture of the opening lines gradually brightens and thickens over the course of the work to a point of saturation at the moment of sunrise at the start of the fourth verse; after this the music slowly evaporates, like morning mist in the sun.

The work is dedicated to David Lyons, who funded the commission and whose father funded the building of the much loved Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall at the University of York.

Performance History:

Soloists of the University of York, cond. John Stringer - June 2014, University of York, UK