7 October 2016

Landslides in Art Part 28: Cantata Memoria – in memory of the Aberfan Disaster

Posted by Dave Petley

Cantata Memoria

Cantata Memoria by Karl Jenkins

Cantata Memoria, in memory of the Aberfan Disaster

Later this month will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster in South Wales, the worst landslide disaster in British history and an event that has left an indelible scar on a generation.  In brief summary, on 21st October 1966 a spoil heap of coal waste failed above the village of Aberfan.  The resulting flowslide struck the village, and in particular the school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  Clearly I will post again on this topic in the fortnight ahead, and of course I posted about it five years ago.  To mark the anniversary, the composer Karl Jenkins has written a new piece entitled Cantata Memoria.  This is released by Deutsche Grammaphon today an\d will be premiered at a concert in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff tomorrow.

Last Saturday, the Guardian ran a piece that provided some background to the composition of Cantata Memorium.  The article is worth a read – in this extract Karl Jenkins explains the thinking behind the work:

Cantata Memoria: For the Children/Er Mwyn y Plant is both music and a poem. It is not a documentary, nor even a dramatisation, but it does include a conflation of ideas and facts that are by now part of the legacy. There wasn’t just one cortège (the title of a movement), but we do know that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” was sung at Pantglas School from time to time. A poignant line in the hymn has sinister ambiguity in our context as the “rivers running by” alludes to the hidden river running underneath the village that contributed to the disaster. The Welsh song “Myfanwy” (written by Joseph Parry from nearby Merthyr Tydfil and also quoted) was sung by the soldiers who dug for victims. “Myfanwy” was also the first piece performed by the local Ynysowen Male Choir, formed after the tragedy, and from which the community sought to find some solace.

The text is multilingual: English, Welsh and Latin (from the Mass), while also referencing words in many other languages which, it is hoped, symbolise how this memorial is at once both specific and universal.

Cantata Memoria, sung by Bryn Terfel among others, is in two distinct sections but performed continuously. The first deals with the disaster and its immediate aftermath, and the second moves from darkness to light, reliving memories and celebrating childhood.

There is a an extract of the work on the Classic FM website, and it should be viewable below:


It is haunting to the degree of being almost painful to me.  It is a wonderfully fitting memorial to this most outrageous tragedy.  It sits beautifully alongside the work by Laura Siersema, also written to remember the tragedy.

Other posts that may be of interest