Gladestry Quatrains is a setting of twelve short poems by Jo Shapcott, from her collection of the same title. It originated in a project for the 2003 Presteigne Festival called A Garland for Presteigne, in which ten composers associated with the Festival were asked to write a short song each, celebrating the Welsh border country – the choice of poetry ranged widely, and I chose two of Jo Shapcott’s evocative miniatures (still adding up to slightly less than the timing I had been requested to provide!). As I wrote them, I started to make sketches for some more settings from the same collection, and the Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts very kindly commissioned this new, larger song-cycle proper for their 2005 Festival.
The original pair of poems form the third (Gwaithla Brook) and last (Cefn Hir) of the songs, in which the eighth combines two poems, Burl Hill and Newchurch. Throughout, I have been aware of the sights and sounds of nature, the character of the landscape, and the sense of history and timelessness of this beautiful part of the world, as reflected in Jo Shapcott’s poetry, as well as (I hope) the wit and directness of her expression. The whole work, though it has eleven songs, still lasts only about twenty minutes – the concision of the texts, and the need to find musical equivalents to this, was an important part of the concept of the piece.
© Copyright 2005 by John McCabe