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Power and Grandeur


GORDON RUMSON investigates Wilfrid Mellers the composer


 << Continued from part II 

And what of the vocal/literary works that so profoundly characterise the music of Wilfrid Mellers? Among them are numerous songs and choral pieces. The Rose of May: A Threnody for Ophelia, mentioned above, on Shakespeare's great mad scene from Hamlet, is a powerful composition which combines the spoken and sung word with two different performers supported by a small ensemble. The melodic lines are long and wide-ranging, while the instrumental lines come as fragments of an unheard whole. Mellers' composition is a vivid rendition of Ophelia's madness and deserves wide recognition.

In all of the vocal music one notices a conscientious respect for declamation and the sound of the words turned into melody. The texts chosen are of high quality -- as befits a man with high academic training in literature. And most importantly the texts are chosen for their dramatic, social, philosophic or mystical value.

Of the operas it is not possible to speak because they are neither published nor available. The most intriguing is the The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe, which garnered respectful reviews even in nothing more than a workshop performance. That the composer has destroyed the score is a terrible loss. Of the larger orchestral/choral works we also cannot speak, though they do not all seem to have suffered the fate of the operas.

Wilfrid Mellers has established a major reputation in the literary, musicological and scholarly realm. His prolific literary output and the dearth of recordings have blinded us to his merits as a composer. With the wideness of ideas that characterise his intellectual life's pattern, we can note that he has produced works in every genre and taken up many stylistic techniques. Throughout we hear powerful, beautiful and well-crafted music. What is clearly called for is a re-release of the recorded music on CD as well as new performances and recordings of the other important works. Then the significant contribution Wilfrid Mellers has made to composition will be openly recognized as it so much deserves to be.

Copyright © Gordon Rumson, October 18th 1999


Wilfrid Mellers - a web page and Works List

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