Arwel Hughes: Fantasia in A Minor
Arwell Hughes (1909-1988) was born near Wrexham, North Wales. He attended the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams. Hughes worked as a professional organist and conductor, leading the way in premiering new works by Welsh composers. He often worked alongside the likes of Alun Hoddinott, Grace Mary Williams and David Wynne. Further to his conducting duties, Hughes was also a composer who wrote, arranged and orchestrated music for live radio broadcasts.
Hughes became Head of Music at BBC Wales in 1965, receiving an OBE for his services to Welsh music in 1969. As a composer, Hughes is perhaps best remembered for his large-scale oratorios Dewi Sant, Gweddi and Pantycelyn. Hughes also wrote a number of orchestral works including Suite for Orchestra, Anatiomaros and Fantasia in A minor.
Fantasia in A minor was composed in 1936, and is perhaps the composer’s most-performed orchestral work. The music is based on an old Welsh ecclesiastical melody. The music is quintessentially British, with Hughes utilising modal forms and a pastoral way of composition. The elegiac melody is first heard by a solo cello that wistfully introduces us into this incredible musical landscape.
As the ensemble unite for some powerful chords, the intensity is soon stripped away as Hughes uses pizzicato to lighten the scene. Threaded throughout Fantasia in A minor, Hughes creates a nostalgic feel within the music, making it comfortable to any listener. The rich harmonies that douse the delicate folk melodies adds to the overall appeal of the work.
With a handful of gushing climaxes, the light and shade that Hughes is able to create is impressive highly effective. By the end of the work, Hughes has exploited the upper ranges of the violins and violas, which heightens the tension further. The rumbling of the lower strings adds to the fizz of the music, leaving you wondering where the music is going to end. A delicate swell on what was also the opening chord finishes this lusicous piece of music.
Although seldom performed today, Arwel Hughes’ Fantasia in A minor is a wonderful work for string orchestra. Oozing the quintessential ‘English sound’ of the pastoral landscape, it really is a shame that Arwel Hughes’ music rarely sees the light of day anymore.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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