Ben Heneghan

Ben Heneghan (b.1957)

Ben was born in London in 1957, and now lives in Pontypridd, S. Wales. He studied music at Aberystwyth university with Ian Parrott, and Cardiff with Alun Hoddinott.

He has for several years pursued a career composing for television and film, with hundreds of credits to his name, as part of a composing partnership with fellow-composer Ian Lawson. The partnership’s most notable successes have been in the field of children’s animation, including the ever-popular Fireman Sam, The Legend of Lochnagar (based on the story by HRH Prince Charles), and The Little Engine That Could.

Away from the screen, Ben has written several works for choir, as well as for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo voice, and the intermittent eleven-piece rock band he sings in, The Boo-Hooray Theory.

His music has been performed by the BBC NOW, the Hallé, the City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Lithuania, Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society, and Cantemus Chamber Choir Wales, and has featured in The Vale Of Glamorgan Festival and the Welsh Proms. In 2017, his orchestral piece Outbreak was featured in BBC NOW’s annual new music showcase, Composition Wales.

Recordings include Walking The Wild Rhondda (Chandos), Summer To Autumn (featured on Ariel, an album of pieces for flute and piano performed by Catherine Handley and Andrew Wilson-Dickson – HAL Records), The Contingent World (choral music performed by Cantemus Chamber Choir Wales – also HAL Records), and Follow The Gleam, the debut album by The Boo-Hooray Theory.

Some of our most modern arrangements (incidentally, with the most musical jokes buried in them!) are by Ben Heneghan.

Ben’s compositions  for flute quartet include:

  • Three Scenes for Four Flutes
    • Garden of Fifths
    • Flight
    • Winter Candles

This piece had its premier performance in Bedern Hall, York in March 2012.

Here are Bens sleeve notes:

Garden of Fifths

When I was asked to write some music for A Garland of Flutes, my first thought was panic – how do you keep up the interest using an ensemble of one timbre and no notes lower than G below middle-C? I decided not to listen to any other flute-quartet pieces at all, but just start writing and see what happens. Before long, the imagined restrictiveness fell away and the ensemble became like any other – a potential door into another world. Eventually mental pictures began to appear, which is why the three pieces are “scenes”.

The underlying structure of this first scene is a relaxed stroll right round the circle of fifths, but with the resulting key-changes made as unobtrusive as possible, so that at first only the players should be aware of them. The circle became the garden of the title once other types of musical fifth emerged: a patch of clashing parallel fifth chords, and some blooms here and there that recall famous fifth symphonies. The movement ends with a fragment of melody that drops by a fifth, then rises by a fifth to return to the same note – a quote from Bruckner’s fourth.

Flight

In my home-town of Pontypridd, the town hall has a small, open belfry where birds congregate. I’ve often thought it would be nice, if you climbed up into the belfry, to discover that you can understand bird-language, but only there. Perhaps, as Thomas Nagel speculates in his essay What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, you would recognise some elements of (in this case) a bird’s daily life, while others feel very strange: balking at the theory of eating worms and insects, but in practice finding them weirdly palatable. Hence the patches of astringent harmony, which I hope don’t feel random but merely unfamiliar.

My workplace looks across a wide valley where the bigger birds glide while the smaller ones wheel and swoop in formation. I tried to work some of that movement into this second scene.

Finally, I’ve often wondered if, on long-haul migratory flights, birds have to fall into a sort of trance if they’re ever going to make it, so there’s a little passage where that happens: every other bird disappears, but occasionally impinges on the “radio-silence” of our bird.

Winter Candles

The third scene is a rainy day in a small house, when the only thing that shines is candles, and stories are conjured out of wood-smoke: quests through dark snow-bound forests, and encounters with heartbreakingly-beautiful creatures of pure light. Five-and-a-half minutes of hygge (an untranslatable Danish word that evokes, among other things, warmth, cosiness, friendship, and mulled wine).

Ben’s arrangements for flute quartet include:

  • Three Welsh Songs
    • Ar Hyd Y Nos
    • Sospan Fach
    • Suo Gân

Here are Bens sleeve notes:

These songs are well known all over Wales, and wherever Welsh people gather near beer: Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through The Night), Sospan Fach (a song about two saucepans, an ailing servant, a hurt finger, and a fierce cat), and finally one of the most beautiful lullabies on the planet, Suo Gân.

There are so many arrangements of this last song that I thought it would be okay to expand on it a bit. It turned into a reverie, in which fragments of the first two songs show up, interlocked with glimpses of the future life of the baby who is being rocked to sleep, and who finally drifts off, leaving the lullaby hanging unfinished in the air.

Ben’s arrangements of Christmas music include:

  • The Angel Gabriel
  • Quem Pastores Laudevere
  • Ding Dong! Merrily on High
  • Infant Holy
  • Masters of this Hall/All Around my Hat
  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Click here to buy Ben Heneghans compositions and arrangements from his publisher Fieldgate.