A Starlit Dome

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Raymond Clarke (piano)
(Diversions 24111)
By kind permission of Divine Art Recordings

A Starlit Dome was composed in 1995 in response to a commission from the Criccieth Festival in association with the Arts Council of Wales. It was written for the pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones, who gave the first performances and to whom it is dedicated. In 1997, shortly after its London premiere, I revised the end of the work.

The title comes from W.B. Yeats’ Byzantium – lines which exactly sum up my feelings about the universe:
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

As a keen amateur astronomer, it often occurred to me that if I were to try my hand at writing a nocturne it would probably be very different in character from those of, say, Chopin or Field. And so it proved: ‘A Starlit Dome’ is an astronomical nocturne.

When one looks through a telescope at the Great Nebula in Orion, for example, the image is at first faint and unclear (hardly surprising, as it lies some 1600 light years away). It seems little more than a patch of grey mist in the night sky, silent and apparently quite still. But the longer one looks, the more detail emerges: a greenish tint to the mist and a recognisable structure, which, after a few observations, can easily be drawn from memory. At the centre of the nebula lies a trapezium of bright new stars. It is by their light that the nebula appears to glow. In fact the whole thing is a whirling mass of gas and dust, gradually coalescing into new stars and perhaps new planetary systems.

This piece tries to reflect something of how I feel about such phenomena. It begins quietly and mysteriously, slowly coming into focus. Gradually the pace quickens and the activity increases, the music becoming louder and more virtuosic, until at the end it is bursting with energy.

John Pickard