Andrew Webb-Mitchell

The English Composer

  • "....his competence as an orchestrator is faultless, over-ridden by his genuine creative gifts. Imagine, if you will, a latter-day Tippett at the outset of his career: it is that good.”
    Matthew Robert-Walker
  • "In Songs of Awe and Wonder, Andrew Webb-Mitchell has created a stunning set of symphonic songs on a grand scale. The music is full of passion and heroism, with glorious harmony and beautiful textures...
  • ....The orchestration is beautifully detailed and the vocal writing creates a soaring line that carries the listener right through the vast canvas of the cycle."
    Tasmin Little OBE
  • "What a work it was! I could go on and on about its beauty, accessibility, anti-modern but still new and different, use of color throughout the ensemble, ...But most importantly... The little touch of magic....
  • ....(the) ability to craft a score that was so intense, thick, and full of rich and challenging parts for every individual instrument..
  • and, at the same time, one that the average patron with little musical background can embrace."
    Robert Trocina, Music Director, Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra
  • “Songs of Awe and Wonder is a beautiful, joyous and uplifting new work by a very accomplished composer....
  • ...Soaring vocal lines, sparkling orchestration and direct, vivid storytelling. A great new work.”
    Michael Price
  • "Andrew Webb Mitchell has produced a remarkable and important work in Songs of Awe and Wonder...
  • ...Dedicated to Gustav Mahler, this is passionate music on a grand scale – a modern day Song of the Earth."
    John Lenehan
  • "There is dream, daring and duende in the poetry of Songs of Awe and Wonder....
  • ...The core of these lyrics is their sheer, stark elegiac power reminding me of how I felt the first time I heard Rilke's Duino Elegies."
    David Morley

Works


Songs of Awe and Wonder

Songs of Awe and Wonder is a symphonic song cycle in nine movements for soprano, tenor and orchestra. The music is written in a direct and lyrical musical language – contemporary in style yet filled with references to the past. It is a powerful and emotional piece, striking in its simplicity yet rich in raw emotion. Each of the movements addresses the general theme of inspiration in many connotations.

Select a movement below for audio, images, introductory text and lyrics.

The Artist’s Wife

The first movement, The Artist’s Wife, is written in sonata form and was inspired by a painting by the Viennese expressionist artist, Egon Schiele of his wife, Edith. It is an unusual painting and is quite unlike any of his other works; the tenderness and sensuality of this portrait contrasts starkly with much of his other work, raising the question of how his subject must have influenced both the man and the creative artist. The text for The Artist’s Wife examines this act of creation from this woman’s viewpoint – questioning her role as muse to the artist and her longing to be accepted and valued as a real woman, rather than merely an object of physical beauty.

In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28 October. Schiele died only three days after his wife. He was 28 years old. During the three days between their deaths, Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith; these were his last works.

The Artist’s Wife painting

Words by

You say you see me in this unforgiving pose,
as you position me and move my head in place.
May I not look up?
May I meet your gaze just now and then?
Show myself to you as I am?
Let me raise my head.
Let me look up, let me meet your gaze.

Now you say you have me perfectly posed.
You need to understand
that there’s so much more in me than meets the eye.

How to show a woman just as she is?
I’m more than cheek and hand,
more than curve of hip and breast alone could be.

Can you picture my innermost self,
the essence of my soul?

Is this how I appear to you tonight?
Will you show me to the world in a physical form
as a body without mind, without heart?
Or will you look deeper to paint me with insight
revealing your subject as more than an image
to put on display?
Make me a truer part of your work!

Am I real in your eyes,
or am I just a muse, creation of your art,
and nothing myself?
As you look into my eyes this interchange of looks will show you how I feel
and then perhaps you’ll see me with a new-found tenderness.

See how my gaze enhances your art.
The painting slowly takes shape as you work
revealing your mastery anew.

This is the way it ought to be, how I’ve made you see me tonight.
Now you understand how to bring this portrait to life,
I’m at last drawn by your painter’s hand,
now truly myself shaped by your touch.

I’m at ease in your company, at ease with your artistry,
and time passes by in a dream as I watch you work absorbed, focused.
And as the sitting ends we wake to the world.

Everything I hoped for is achieved.
This interchange of looks,
I to you and you to me,
has set me on the canvas.

All my doubts and worries have been overcome.

Reaching beyond a sensual yearning
you have discovered an intimate vision
of a woman, true and profound.

You and I
bound in these colours.
Timeless art
living for ever.

Kites Over Malvern

Kites Over Malvern pays tribute to the English composer Edward Elgar, depicting him pursuing his passion for flying kites over the Malvern Hills. As he stands on the hillside, the kites are reeling in the cosmic symphony that he feels all around. He watches the kites soaring skywards and holds himself in readiness to transcribe this enigmatic artistry.

One of the pre-eminent musical figures of his time, Elgar bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the finest English composer since the days of Handel and Purcell. Elgar's most fruitful period was the first decade of the twentieth century, during which he wrote some of his noblest, most expressive music, including the Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 (1907-1908), and the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1909-1910). His best-known works from this period, however, are the first four of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-1907); the first of these, subtitled "Land of Hope and Glory," became an unofficial second national anthem for the British Empire.

Kites Over Malvern offers a glimpse of the man in his earlier years before public recognition, drawing inspiration from his love of the open countryside and consolation for his artistic isolation.

Kites Over Malvern

Words by

The music lingers in the air
and sings on the wind that I hear all around;
I know its voice.

It lifts the line of the hill,
the phrases singing the landscape alive.

Turf and soil and rock
hear and rouse themselves to wake.

Suddenly the winds are strengthening
as they curve to the crest of the rise;
the kites rejoice.
My hand controlling the string

my kite up there in the mystical sky,
and now it’s riding the rising air,
the sway of the breeze and the swell of its breath.
They soar and glide and soar again
high as all my hopes could ever be,

an airy spiralling of sound
raising my soul to ecstasy.

The string is taut and I’m tuning in 

my heartstrings to the harmony,
the soul of universal sound;
the kites are reeling in
that cosmic symphony that’s all around.

I watch them soaring skywards,
and hold myself in readiness
to trace the enigmatic artistry
that nature shows to us,
and I transcribe afresh in mastery.                              

My feet are steady here on earth,
turbulent air goes surging high.

They soar and glide and soar again
climbing high then turning on the wing,
an airy spiralling of sound
pitched to a heavenly echoing.

The string is taut, harmonics haunt the air
vibrating in the atmosphere
and now they resonate in me,
and I repeat their song,
become a sounding board for what I hear.

And there’s the tower below me:
it lifts the city’s heart and soul,
and indicates the journey heavenwards
that man and music make
to take me mounting high in rhapsody.
A mighty orchestra of chords,
jubilant echoes flying high.

And when I soar to greater heights
this is where my heart takes up its stay
and I will stand in memory
where air sings nobilmente.                                                                                                    

The hills sound forth their deep chorale
in grand mysterious harmony
that rings through all eternity.

Bridges

All views of the Newcastle riverside are dominated by the seven famous bridges across the Tyne, which link the city to Gateshead on the south bank of the river. Bridges not only reflects this spectacular imagery but also the significance of the bridges to the people that live there; they witness and inspire the changing landscape of a developing city.

The Quayside was once an industrial area and a busy commercial dockside. However during more recent times, the docks had become extremely run-down as industry in the North East fell into dramatic decline. The Quayside has since been heavily redeveloped to provide a modern environment for the modern arts, music and culture, as well as new housing developments. The bridges have played a key role in this process of renewal

In a wider sense, Bridges examines the symbolic significance of bridges to humanity, promoting the co-existence and unification of communities.

Bridges

Words by

Claiming the gentle first light of the day
the historic bridges witness the city awake.

Spanning the watery barrier, guiding the people across
the bridges reach out
joining opposing banks
embracing each stranger and friend.

Like characters playing a role in the drama
they quietly influence all that they see.
They speak of past and of future,
imparting their lore.

Joyful bridges boldly arching above
bear their witness to renewal,
watching the quayside transform,
moving on from its proud industrial past.

All bridges proclaim a message
simple and concise
that all people
should live in harmony.

With history engraved in the steel
the structures draw us back through time.

Crowded trams pass by as they hurry across,
weary workers yawn on their way to the mills.
The mighty steam trains labour with their heavy loads:
as they near the river the bridges prepare
and brace for the strain.

Now the coal-laden ships leave the staiths
setting forth for the sea,
setting forth on their voyage
and under each bridge they journey
heading for distant lands.

But the flowing currents change with the passing of time,
inspiring the city anew.

A debutante arrives on the scene
casting a flirtatious eye she celebrates on the quay
greeting all who enjoy great buildings serving art.

All bridges give voice to a triumphant song.
They sing a message of reconciliation and peace.
Conferring their strength on the city all around as they sing
they bring people together in a spirit of unity.

The Inspiration of Night

The text for The Inspiration of Night takes us back to the dawn of time suggesting the awe and wonder of primitive man as he gazed towards the heavens, referring particularly to a bronze-age artefact, the Nebra Sky Disc; an amazing and beautiful example of early humanity's craftsmanship and skill in astronomy.

The disc was found in a cache of bronze goods, including axes and daggers, in a Bronze Age site at the top of a mountain, the Mittelberg. It is thought that the site would originally have had a good view of the skies and the horizon all around, and might have been used as an observatory. The astronomical information on the disc is particular to the latitude of the location where it was found, so it is likely that the disc was made for and used in the site where it was finally hidden.

It has gold-leaf appliqués representing the sun, the moon, and the stars is the oldest visual representation of the cosmos known to date.  A cluster of seven dots has previously been interpreted as the Pleiades constellation as it appeared 3,600 years ago. The explanation of the disc's purpose sheds new light on the astronomical knowledge and abilities of the Bronze Age people, who used a combination of solar and lunar calendars as important indicators for agricultural seasons and passage of time.

The Inspiration of Night

Words by

Now as the night enfolds us to cradle our human awaking
the dark unfurls her wings.

Then souls will stir and wake to skies
that encircle the earth with their nightly beauty.

Now the pulse of the visiting night still holds our souls enraptured,
the cloak of darkness all about us:
for we could fear the night yet do not.

Stars burst forth with bright display,
planets gleam for guidance,
constellations arch above us
now as night’s veil drops down.

Now the firmament shines high over the earth
so that we long to show it forth

And so by our hands and by our artistry
this gleaming metal shines for ever.

See the crescent Moon encircle the Bear
as they soar above us,
Seven Virgin Sisters dancing on high.

Here on this disc we show
glorious visions of night’s awe and wonder,
we map the sky in gold.

And so we hold the record of heaven
now as night enfolds us in darkness.

The Ascent of Gailly

The Ascent of Gailly examines the inspiration which compels human fortitude to great feats of endurance, and is based on the story of Etienne Gailly, the Belgian marathon runner who only just failed to win the marathon in the 1948 London Olympics.

Gailly had never run a marathon before, but traded the lead with more established names throughout the first 26 miles. Despite underestimating the dehydrating effect of the severe and unusual heat and humidity, he beat back challenges on two occasions and for some time it looked as if a big surprise was in the making. He entered the stadium first, shortly ahead of Argentina's Delfo Cabrera and Britain's Thomas Richards. Gailly had barely a lap of the track to complete, but the crowd could see his legs wobbling and his path wavering to and fro. Groans rang out around the stadium as he dried up to a walk and was overtaken by Cabrera and Richards. In a shocking reminiscence of Pietro Dorado collapsing within view of the tape 40 years earlier (the last time the Games had been held in London), Gailly fell to his knees on the home straight. But, to a standing ovation, he straightened up and staggered over the finishing line for a bronze.

The Ascent of Gailly

Words by

Heat oppresses me, weighs me down,
and it shimmers till my vision is blurring,
dimming my aim and my goal.
Can I hold on to my lead, this precarious lead,
or must others outstrip me, leave me with everything ruined?

My body gives way; I stumble, am falling,
am passed, and passed again.
How can I keep on in vain?
For my vanishing hopes are melting away to nothing.

Yet something unexpected captures the emotion of the crowd,
willing me on to the finish, forcing me back to my feet.

willing me on to the finish, forcing me back to my feet.
For resolution will brace my strength for the final lap of all,
to set me on the chill summits of endeavour
with their thin and icy air,
to conquer the gleaming peaks of destiny.

Dreams of Flight

Dreams of Flight is set in Kitty Hawk on a cold December morning in 1903. The Wright brothers are hard at work with final preparations to make the world’s first controlled powered flight. They briefly reflect on the immensity of the task they face but are now willing to throw caution to the wind. As they start the engine, the propellers begin to rotate; movement begins to wake in The Flyer, longing for wind in its wings.

The first flight was made by Orville and lasted only 12 seconds, during which the airplane flew 120 feet. That same day, however, on its fourth flight, with Wilbur at the controls, the plane stayed in the air for 59 seconds and traveled 852 feet before a severe gust of wind severely damaged the craft.

The Wright Brothers helped found modern aviation through their curiosity, their inventiveness, and their unwillingness to give up their vision.

Dreams of Flight

Words by

We were young when we began to look up.
We’d ask ourselves whether we’d rise to the heights.
All along we knew we could conquer the skies,
All along we knew what was at stake.
Our dream of flight must challenge us now to throw caution to the winds.
It’s time to see if our courage will hold.

The tense winter air is holding its breath.

Blades rotate, dance and spin.
Drama mounts as movement begins to wake in The Flyer,
now tugging at the rope for its freedom,
longing for wind in its wings!

Tension uplifts us tossed by cold winds gusting to and fro.
Fear and elation buoy us up then bring us back to earth.

Years of work hindered by sceptical minds
tested our resolve time and again.

We were forced to widen the frontiers of innovation.

But now no one can take this away from us
we were first to be there with the birds in the air

The endless line of the horizon lies before us
reminding us our work is just beginning.
A new age has begun.
This is not a time to be discouraged,
We must be undaunted in our purpose and resolve.
Earth and sky lie in wait.
The unreachable heavens elude us no longer.
The eternal cerulean is drawing us closer.

Higher and still higher, further with God speed,
we will follow our vision and hold fast to our fate
as the world looks on.

Dances of Life and Death

Dances of Life and Death is an intimate portrait of Anna Pavlova as she prepares for the role in which she became most closely associated, The Dying Swan.

Anna Pavlova was a Russian ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th century. She is widely regarded as one of the finest classical ballet dancers in history and was most noted as a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. Pavlova is perhaps most renowned for creating the role of The Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Michel Fokine. The ballet, created in 1905, is danced to Le cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. Pavlova was purported to have studied the movements of swans in depth before attempting her performance. In 1912, she bought a home in London called Ivy House, which had an extensive garden and a pond. Several pictures were taken during this time showing her entwined in an embrace with her favorite swan, Jack.

While touring in The Hague, Netherlands, Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died of pleurisy, three weeks short of her 50th birthday. She was holding her costume from The Dying Swan when she spoke her last words, "Play the last measure very softly."

Dances of Life and Death

Words by

Every movement seemed to be an understated reinterpretation of the swan.
And the people passing by wondered who on Earth she could be.

Her demeanour, so convincing.
Her charisma, so entrancing.

Each and every gesture that she made revealed a deep instinctive understanding of the role.
By the water it was plain to see one was learning from the other.

This was what she did and who she was, her nature,
servant of an all consuming art,
enacting a transformation and slowly becoming the embodiment of sound.

Dance, dance through the threshold of fear.
Dance, dance with abandon.

In the twilight, an ethereal look.
In the darkness, unforgettable words.

"Play the last measure softly."

Drinking Alone Under the Moon

Re-interpreted and expanded by Joanna Boulter, Drinking Alone Under the Moon is based on a Tang Dynasty Chinese poem by Li Bai; a poet raises his glass and invites the moon to drink with him and in turn the moon shines upon him casting his shadow. These three friends then spend their evening together; as the poet sings his song, the moon sails across the sky. As the poet dances, the shadow dances with him. Finally at the end of the evening the three friends part, hoping to meet again one day on the far reaches of the milky way.

Li Bai is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Tang period, which is often called China's golden age of poetry. Around a thousand existing poems are attributed to him. Like many other classical Chinese poets, Li Bai was particularly known for his depiction of the joys of wine; he even became part of the group of Chinese scholars during his time in Chang'an, called the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. Due to his championship of drunkenness together with his wandering life-style, Li Bai's poetry has sometimes been criticized on moral grounds. It was reported, from uncertain sources, that Li Bai drowned after falling from his boat when he tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the Yangtze River.

Drinking Alone Under the Moon

Words by

Now I’m all alone, no companion near, why should I worry when there’s wine and song?

Moon come down to earth, have a drink with me! You look lonely too, won’t you be my friend?

The moon gracefully sails through the sky and shines down on the poet below.

It casts a bridge of light linking them as friends.

As night goes on the wine flows like a fountain.

Oh! such beautiful wine that we drink! Drinking’s a pleasure, friendship’s truest savour that brings our senses alive.

And as we drink I’ll write my ode both to friendship and to song.

Cheerfully raising the glass to my mouth my imagination sparks.

Here’s another friend come to join us both. Shadow, dance with me, take my outstretched hand.

The shadow happily follows behind and mirrors every small movement he makes.

The moon laughs in delight beaming brighter still.

As night goes on the wine flows like a fountain.

Caught in the rush of creativity the friends discover the poetry that the wine uncovers.

Drinking takes its toll on my spinning head. Time to take our leave till another night.

I will remember this evening passing the time with my friends and hope the moon and my shadow come back to visit me again.

One day we’ll return to drink our wine beyond the Milky Way

Earthscape

Since the first human spaceflight was launched on April 12, 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, men and women from 38 nations have flown in space. Those who have came back with a changed perspective and reverence for the planet Earth. Gone are the political boundaries. Gone are the boundaries between nations. We are all one people and each is responsible for maintaining Earth's delicate and fragile balance. We are her stewards and must take care of her for future generations.

My first view - a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white - was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing - I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.
- Charles Walker, USA

Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty - but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That's where life is; that's were all the good stuff is.
- Loren Acton, USA

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light - our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.
- Ulf Merbold, Federal Republic of Germany

Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth . . . home.
- Edgar Mitchell, USA

Earthscape

Words by

Clothed in her endless blue horizon far below us,
she slowly rotates unveiling her beauty

and as I gaze at the Earthscape, it’s hard to imagine
the forces that are swirling beneath us,
strength of storm and hurricane winds.
I can hardly credit the power
wielded by the oceans.
Mighty currents circle the vastness of the seas
surging round the globe.

As the Earth continues in motion
every feature comes to the fore,
everything is put in perspective.

From this altitude I am awed by the sight
and it forces me to consider
how selfish and careless we are becoming,
Man the unworthy prince of the planet.

Earth’s our refuge, we must tend her,

but we’re careless in our duty.

Earth in her solitude, nurturing all life,
fragile and delicate, thinly veiled in cloud.

But it’s human nature to destroy as we try to progress.
Man the unworthy prince of the planet
needs to beware!

Danger lurks, ready to lay waste.

But hope remains even when the Earth rotates into darkness,
even though desolation threatens
because hope dawns upon Earth with every new day!
Breaking through the clouds,
warming every life,
reaching every soul,
drenching us in light.

Such a lovely sight, comfort to our hearts
snowy-capped with gleams of ice;
glorious many-coloured orb,
blue and green, our only home
our beloved Earth waits for us below.

Few will have seen her like this,
(few will know)
awed at the sight,
(the awe of this wonderful sight)
beautiful as a dream
(beautiful dream)
given on trust
Earth waits for our care.

Where’s the wisdom we need?
Where’s the courage we crave?
Yes! we can find them here in Man’s spirit,
humble custodian, child of the Earth.
Now we will prove our worth,
now we embrace our ideals,
now we are bold in heart, vision and faith.

Inspiration fires us
flame of hearts and minds
like a beacon here at the borders
where our journey begins.

So pilgrimage beckons,
new knowledge awaits
showing us clearly our vision for humanity,
shining, gleaming with all our aspirations and our dreams.

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