Odysseus remembers

First performance, BBC Maida Vale Studios, 3 February 2006.

Review by Paul Driver, Sunday Times, 12 February 2006.

It proved a remarkable work. Half an hour long, it is a single span, as it were, of memory. Odysseus, whose role is taken by a narrator, recounts his release by Circe, his receipt of prophecies from Teiresias in Hades, his poignant meeting there with his mother, Anticleia, whom he had not known was dead, and his passage to the island of the Sirens. A long flute solo depicts the Sirens’ song, and there we leave this slice of the Odyssey

The use of a narrator is dramatically effective because the lyric voices seem to arise from within Odysseus’s recollection, rather than being there for the form’s sake; while the consummate lyricism of the Sirens is all the more tantalising for being represented instrumentally. But the score has an usual dramatic power from its first notes. These are those of an extraordinary duet for antiphonal sets of tubular bells (which return several times, and provide the work’s ending). One knows one is in for a sonorous adventure, and sure enough the bells give way to the utterly contrasted sound of ultra-high, pianissimo violins, some muted, some not, moving in glacial, silvery polyphony as Odysseus begins to speak; and gamelan-like blocks (harps, piano, gongs, tamtams) to signify Circe, while astringent winds chorale Teiresias.

Hayes keeps these and other ideas as distinct as possible. Writing with spareness learnt perhaps from Webern, whose biography he has written, or Dallapiccola (composer of the opera Ulisse), he makes no attempt at ‘blended’ orchestration, and the hard-edged result has a compellingly alienated quality, a sort of barbaric clangour, that one can imagine as evoking Homer’s Greek. Not that that language is ever heard, for Hayes sets his own translation. His skill at pacing an extended structure, and building a climax was manifest in this highly persuasive account. Odysseus remembers rises to the challenge of its moving subject-matter and shouldn’t be missed when broadcast. It deserves a more public live performance, too.

Corpus Christi

First performance, St Michael’s Church, Battersea, London, 17 November 2007.

Review by Andrew Stewart, Classical Music, 22 December 2007.

An exquisitely crafted setting of the late medieval Corpus Christi Carol stepped into the world in November, with an accomplished performance from the Syred Consort under Ben Palmer. Former Oxbridge scholars with good ears and fast-rising city careers do not always make the best advocates for new work. These representatives of the species certainly did, confirming what I already know about the eloquent music of my friend, fellow journalist and admirable composer, Malcolm Hayes. His Corpus Christi, with its seductive quartal harmonies, subtle metrical shifts and beguiling blend of solo and choral textures, deserves to enter the chamber choir repertoire following its publication by Faber Music next year.


First performance, BBC Maida Vale Studios, 26 January 2013.

Review by Paul Conway, Tempo magazine (Cambridge University Press), June 2013.

Though Hayes has already established his ability to create compelling large-scale structures for voices and orchestra in his Stabat Mater and Odysseus remembers, he has [in Byzantium] chosen not to follow the example of John Joubert’s and Michael Tippett’s vocal settings of Yeats’s haunting text, fashioning instead an evocative 15-minute, purely orchestral tone poem in a single span divided into five paragraphs corresponding to the visionary poem’s five stanzas, each signalled by trumpets, gongs, and antiphonally placed bells. From introductory, mesmeric tamtam rolls emerged two ideas from which the rest of the piece evolved: unison trumpets playing soft but majestic fanfares, and tubular bells intoning the sounds of Byzantium’s domed churches. An impassioned descending piccolo solo over divided upper strings evoked a scene in the cathedral square at midnight; lower strings with their gruffly contrapuntal incantations conjured up an encounter with an unpurged spirit; the artefacts of a great civilization, ‘Miracle, bird or golden handiwork’, were represented by brilliantly glittering percussion and strings; wind and string chords fanned out, suggesting flitting flames ‘At midnight on the emperor’s pavement’; and, finally, an upwardly-aspiring, wide-ranging theme for violins came to rest in a last vision of the city and its transmigratory spirits borne by dolphins across the ‘gong-tormented sea’.

Gong-strokes and trumpet-calls played a significant role in Hayes’s two earlier substantial works cited above; and his effective, fastidiously gauged use of these instruments, along with tubular bells, crotales and glockenspiel, served to create a timeless yet also very specifically ‘placed’ sound-world to match the epoch-transcending fascination of Yeats’s recreation of the imperial city of perfect and eternal art. Byzantium was a cogent and stirring evocation of the great Irish poet’s eternal artefact, which resonated in the mind long after its enigmatic closing trumpet cadence.

Review by Richard Whitehouse (Classical Source), February 2013



Violin Concerto

Reviews by Andrew Clements (The Guardian) and David Truslove (Bachtrack), August/September 2016