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Hoddinott's half-dozen operas are one of his most valuable achievements. They embrace arguably his greatest work of all, The Beach of Falesa. Running to three acts and a little over two hours, with a text by Glyn Jones after the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, and premièred in Cardiff by Welsh National Opera under Richard Armstrong in 1974 with a cast led by Geraint Evans and Forbes Robinson, The Beach of Falesa proved, with good reason, a huge success. The opera strains at the leash: just hearing a few extracts today confirms the sheer might of the composer's imagination, the firmness of musical direction, the confidence and ardour of his vocal writing and the richness of his brush and orchestral palette.

Others soon followed: The Trumpet Major was written to a libretto after Thomas Hardy's novel by Britten's librettist Myfanwy Piper, with whom Hoddinott also collaborated on A Contemplation upon Flowers, for soprano and small orchestra (1976). Hoddinott also collaborated (a planned stage adaptation of Balzac's Le colonel Chabert got no further than the libretto) in 1987 on a choral cantata derived from Flaubert' story La légende de Saint Julien l'hospitalier, and on What the Old Man Does is Always Right, an hour-long one-act opera for children with (on the Britten model) adult leads, children's chorus, a compact six-instrument ensemble and a story drawn from Greek mythology, written for the 1977 Fishguard Festival. Then came The Rajah's Diamond (1978); The Magician, a one-acter written for a college opera workshop and later broadcast on HTV television with Geraint Evans again in the lead); and much later, Tower, which was inspired (shades of Alan Bush, perhaps) by Hoddinott's admiration for and empathy with the miners' efforts to save Hirwaun, in the Cynon Valley, the last deep mine in South Wales, which finally closed its doors just a few weeks ago, in 2008.

Hoddinott composed a piece to celebrate H R H Prince Charles' 16th birthday in 1964, and another for his investiture at Caernarvon in 1969. He also wrote a more recent piece for the Prince of Wales, a fanfare which was performed at the Prince's marriage to the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005.

Alun Hoddinott was an honorary doctor of the Royal Academy of Music, Royal Northern College of Music and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and received numerous other awards, including the John Edwards Memorial Award, the Arnold Bax Medal for composers and the Hopkins Medal of the New York St David's Society. He was made a CBE in 1983, and at the 1997 Machynlleth Festival in coastal mid-Wales was honoured with the Glyndwr Award for outstanding contribution to Arts in Wales.

Alun Hoddinott with John McCabe at the Presteigne Festival. Photo © 2004 Keith Bramich
Alun Hoddinott with John McCabe at the Presteigne Festival. Photo © 2004 Keith Bramich

Hoddinott received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts Council of Wales in 1999, was made a Fellow of the Welsh Music Guild, and was presented with a medal by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she officially opened the Wales Millennium Centre, new artistic home to Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

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Copyright © 15 April 2008 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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