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