Tales of the Invisible

For Clarinet and String Quartet
(2019) 15 minutes

Commissioned by the Presteigne Festival and premiered at St. Andrew's Church, Presteigne on 24th August 2019 by Rozenn Le Trionnaire and The Albion Quartet.

Programme note

When looking for ideas to spark my imagination for Tales of the Invisible, I thought back to an event at the 2017 Presteigne Festival where writer Nicholas Murray introduced his new book Crossings:

“Part travel book, part personal journey, part meditation on the meaning of borders, literal and metaphorical, Crossings is also rooted in the author’s thirty-year residence in the Radnor Valley in the border country of Mid-Wales.”

This piece, whilst not ‘about’ anything, takes inspiration from the chapters of Murray's book that explore the borders between busyness and peace, sanity and madness, night and day, the borders within one's own self, and of course, the borders between countries. I also looked to a book referenced in Murray's writing: A Short Border Handbook by Gazmend Kapllani, which tells the story of the author’s perilous crossing over the mountains of Albania to “the-world-beyond-borders—Greece, whose twinkling electric lights seemed to offer freedom, riches and love”.

Tales of the Invisible is in three movements: ‘Andante’, ‘Largo espressivo’ and ‘Allegro Scherzando’. The title is taken from the prologue of Kapllani's book, which states that “tales of the invisible, psychological borders experiences in a foreign country rarely reach a conclusion...”

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2019


"Distinctive titles are a feature of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's music, The Madness Industry, How to Win an Election and My Day in Hell among them. Her new clarinet quintet – commissioned by the Presteigne Festival where she is a composer-in-residence this year – is Tales of the Invisible. Not so obviously quirky – and suggested by the “invisible psychological borders” referred to by Gazmend Kapllani in the prologue to his A Short Border Handbook – Frances-Hoad’s title signals a piece that explores liminal territory.

The sense is of the clarinet as an outsider on the boundary, a wind instrument set among strings, not a usurper, yet a potentially threatening presence. Their musical exchanges take place outside the comfort-zone, an environment bordering on the hostile. Thus, the opening Andante marks the tentative approaches of clarinet to the fierce strings, the instrument both withdrawn and assertive, and the finale progresses to more lively, if occasionally grudging, gestures of acceptance. It is in the central Largo espressivo, from the clarinet’s first utterance of a simple plaintive melodies to its later impassioned declamatory lines, that the music speaks most persuasively. Rozenn Le Trionnaire and the Albion Quartet played it with much sensitivity.

Far from any basking in the collegiate warmth of Mozart and Brahms’s clarinet quintets, Frances-Hoad’s has the chill of unspoken hostility as well as a certain humanity. It should prove a good foil for the classic works.

Rian Evans, The Guardian

"American nostalgia shifted to something more ambiguous in the shape of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s impressive clarinet quintet, Tales of the Invisible (the title after Gazmend Kapllani). The work’s stimulus came from Nicholas Murray’s meditative travel book, Crossings, exploring personal boundaries between sanity and madness, night and day, as well as geographical borders. The three movements evolve from unearthly string murmurings and a benign clarinet through to an uneasy accommodation between the two protagonists, variously troubled and calm, a nomadic harmonic language allied to a battleship-grey background, resolution kept at bay. Played with assurance and penetrating insight, Frances-Hoad’s enigmatic piece bewitches and bewilders. 

David Truslove, Classical Source

Performance history (post-premiere)

2nd April 2020 - John Slack (clarinet), Jamie Campbell (Violin 1), Hannah Dawson (Violin 2), Simon Tandree (Viola), Cara Berridge (cello) at Toll Gavel Church, Beverley, UK, as part of the New Paths Music Festival. 


Due for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in January/February 2020