JMW Turner’s late painting The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846) shows an apocalyptic scene rather different from the impressionistic sea and cloudscapes by which he is perhaps better known. In it appears the Archangel Michael, flaming sword in hand, on the Day of Judgement. Painted at the centre of a fiery orange maelstrom, he is surrounded by flocking vultures and, in front of him, almost obliterated by the light, scenes from the Old Testament of murder and betrayal.
It is unsurprising that Deborah Pritchard was drawn to this painting. A synaesthete who hears sounds as colours, her music is frequently connected to works of visual art, either independently of or in collaboration with artists themselves. Like that other famously synaesthetic composer, Olivier Messiaen (whose work she is an expert in), she often also turns to religious themes, light and colour having for her, as they did for Turner, clear spiritual connotations.
Her short orchestral work is certainly as dramatic as Turner’s painting. It begins with a thud, then a highly chromatic, searing string melody, whose penetrating quality is punctuated by brass and enhanced by piercing winds: the sound of Michael’s blaze of light. Tom-toms, timpani and a solo trombone add their own apocalyptic touches. At the centre of the work the winds come together in a strident melody of their own; at its height they are joined by the full orchestra in powerful chorus. The work reaches its climax with interlocking flurries of wind over a sustained and dissonant string chord. Both slowly fade to an ending (marked “ethereal”) of soft strings and descending chimes as Judgement is finally passed.
'The Angel Standing in the Sun' was originally written for the London Symphony Orchestra through the LSO Discovery Panufnik Composers Scheme, supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. It was performed in a public workshop on March 11th, 2016 by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by François-Xavier Roth with the world premiere given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Martyn Brabbins on the 9th July, 2016 at Lichfield Cathedral during the Lichfield Festival where Deborah was composer in residence, supported by the Sound and Music Embedded Scheme.