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Keats’ nightmare

October 3, 2008

The nightmare in question seems to have haunted Keats not so much at night as during his waking hours, invading and derailing his daily thoughts and moods in a truly obsessive fashion. It’s a sudden vision, in brilliant and unwanted clarity, of the remorselessly savage cycles of the natural world – what Robert Browning later called ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’. I chanced across Keats’ ruminations on these haunting and melancholic thoughts in a verse letter he wrote to his friend J.H Reynolds, and soon found myself wanting to set them to music.

Some time later came a request for a new piece for tenor, horn and piano, a combination firmly stamped with the hallmark of Benjamin Britten, and for that reason initially somewhat intimidating to write for. But once I had found the first musical idea, I was able to forget about this and plunge back into Keats’ nightmare. The piece is called Unbidden Visions, and was written in August 2008.

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

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