David Bedford

David Bedford: Star Clusters, Nebulae & Places in Devon; The Song of the White Horse

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The Song of the White Horse is the original 1983 pressing of the album subsequently reissued (by Voiceprint and Classicprint) as Star Clusters, Nebulae & Places in Devon/The Song of the White Horse. Originally issued on Mike Oldfield's short-lived eponymous label, it is comprised of just two pieces of music -- both of which can now be referred to as the title track. Originally composed in 1971 and performed by Bedford and former Soft Machine keyboardist Mike Ratledge, "Star Clusters, Nebulae & Places in Devon" was titled for Bedford's discovery that the stars that are visible today are only now shedding the light that was originally emitted during the Bronze Age; it is, accordingly, a lengthy piece that seems fully aware of the mysteries inherent in such vast distance. The piece itself is often bizarre -- one passage, toward the end, seems to transform the singers into a flock of chattering penguins; elsewhere, the two choirs' librettos all but battle one another, the first set of voices reciting local Devonshire place names, while the second sings out the names of the stars. Equally disconcerting is the abrupt halt to which the performance comes, a shade under 25 minutes in. "Song of the White Horse," too, is concerned with ancient mysteries -- in this instance, the giant horse carved into the chalk hills above Uffington in southern England. Originally composed for the BBC television program Omnibus in 1977, its five sections follow a journey along the lines of hilltops known as the Ridgeway; one section is named for Wayland's Smithy and another for the Blowing Stone, an ancient rock that Bedford himself "plays" during this portion of the piece. Instrumental for much of its duration, "The Song of the White Horse" finally lives up to the first half of its title during the fourth movement, when a choir enters the proceedings. Led by singer Diane Coulson and built around a lengthy G.K. Chesterton poem, the choir's arrival is initially intrusive but one rapidly warms to its presence, and the piece builds to a simply gorgeous climax, the Coulson showpiece "Postlude."

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