The Castle of Arianrhod
The Goddess Trilogy is a set of three pieces for horn and piano, designed to be performed either separately or as a single work. It is based on the idea of the Great Goddess in ancient Celtic mythology, whose three sister-aspects are Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd and Cerridwen. The first piece, The Castle of Arianrhod, was written in 1973 for an American tour by Ifor James and the composer, the remaining two works being completed in 1975 - the whole trilogy was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival, Worcester, in 1975.
Arianrhod, whose name has been translated as "She who turns the Silver Wheel of Heaven", is the goddess of birth and initiation - her Castle is the place where the mighty dead, chieftains and heroes, go after death to await reincarnation, and it has also been linked with the Milky Way constellation. The musical idea underlying the piece is that of the decay of a musical sound and its rebirth, perhaps in another form - thus, each section rises to a climax which disperses, the musical material reassembling for the start of a new section. The opening flourish returns to make a violent conclusion.
Floraison (literally, "flowering" or blossoming") depicts the flower maiden and love goddess Blodeuwedd (which means "bloom maiden"), who is also an owl goddess of wisdom. She is made of nine kinds of flowers, and in one pagan ritual her husband was sacrificed, ascending after death into the skies in the form of an eagle. It is the lyrical flowering of the increasingly elaborated melodic lines that forms the basic musical impulse for this piece, which is cast in the form of a passacaglia with nine free variations. The image of a flower gradually opening and closing governs the shape of the music, with its intense growth towards the climax and then a return at the close to the opening ideas.
Cerridwen, the death goddess, was variously a white sow (devourer of human flesh), a screaming black hag, and giver of the "inspired arts" through necromancy, divination and "speaking with tongues". She was a shape-changer (hence the title of this piece), who pursued the miraculous child Gwion (representing perhaps the changing year). Formally, this work is a rondo, mostly quite quick and using a free variation technique and a good deal of inner changing of the motifs, and at the close it recalls the opening flourish from
The Castle of Arianrhod.
© 1991 by John McCabe