EISTEDDFOD for flute, harp, and viola
(Program Notes reprinted from the 1979 Aldeburgh Festival Programme Booklet)
Eisteddfod was written in the summer of 1972 at the request of the Orpheus Trio, to whom the work is dedicated. Its title (literally, a 'sitting down together') refers to a legendary Welsh contest in which the heroes fought against each other with games and musical instruments. The only surviving musical relic of these contests is the Penillion, an ancient form of Welsh music practice in which a harpist plays a well-known air while a singer extemporises a somewhat different melody over it.
In this work, the competition takes its form as a set of variations and penillion on Ymadawiad y Brenin (Departure of the King), a tune first appearing in the Welsh Harper of 1839, and first heard by the composer in a recorded performance by Osian Ellis. The opening viola cadenza exposes the textures and motives which will shape each of the twelve variations to follow. Only at the end of the work is the tune heard in its original form, played by the harp and serving as the harmonic basis for the return of previously heard material in the other two instruments.
N. B. The performance by Osian Ellis, Peter-Lukas Graf, and Peter Shidlov at the 1979 Aldeburgh Festival and broadcast by the BBC led to many other performances and recordings throughout the world.