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War poet Edward Thomas

1 May 2020 Comments Off on Colin Riley Choral Music Commemorating the Poet Edward Thomas Views: 157 CE News

Colin Riley Choral Music Commemorating the Poet Edward Thomas

Colin Riley
Colin Riley

In this moment of relative quietness when we have the opportunity to look with calm into some projects and recordings, Colin Riley tells us about the project Roads Shining Like River Up Hill After Rain – Ghost Shards for choir and cello.

Three years ago I composed a piece for cello and choir to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the poet Edward Thomas. It was premiered on the anniversary of his death. Thomas was killed on Easter Monday 1917 in Arras on the Western Front when a German shell passed so close to his body that the air was sucked out of his lungs and he died without a mark on him. The contents of his pockets, sent home to his wife, contained his diary, a photograph, and a letter on the back of which were scribbled some fragments of incomplete poetry including the lines:

‘Where any turn may lead to Heaven
Or any corner may hide Hell
Roads shining like river up hill after rain.’

I was lucky to work on the libretto with Robert Facfarlane who’s book The Old Ways was a source of original inspiration for the piece. We talked for a long time about what shape the piece might take and eventually arrived at the idea of fragments of poetry from a wide range of his work. What binds the piece overall is a sense of walking, often via the cello lines, and each section ends with a stanza from a poem called Roads. 

The solo ‘cello acts as both an embodiment of Thomas himself as well as providing the sense of travelling through a landscape with the rhythmical suggestions of walking. It plots a melodic pathway allowing the text fragments to act as viewpoints or reflections on the journey. Rather like the evolving perspectives of a walk, where one landscape merges into the next in an ever-changing perspective, so the fleeting fragments of the incomplete poetry, like unfinished thoughts, mingle together to form suggestions rather than anything complete.

The piece has been performed splendidly by a variety of choirs including the Oxford Bach Soloists and the Wooburn Singers, and was recently recorded by Pegasus and the hugely-talented cellist Gabriella Swallow. It is a melancholy and quite often intensely-dark piece, best listened to in quiet isolation. 

I am most grateful for the support of the Hinrichsen Foundation to develop this project. Thanks also to Rob, Gabi and to the choirs and conductors who had faith in my original idea’.

Composers Edition is proud to publish Colin Riley’s music, including Roads Shining Like River Up Hill After Rain, which is available for purchase through our website.

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