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Sun Paints Rainbows on the Vast Waves for Wind Ensemble by DAVID BEDFORD (England, 1937 – 2011)

[#242] March 11, 2024

1984 | Wind Ensemble | Grade 5 | 10’ – 15’ | Tone poem

British composer David Bedford

Sun Paints Rainbows on the Vast Waves, by British composer David Bedford is our Composition of the Week.

The work was composed between June and August of 1982, following a commission by the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music, and it was premiered in 1984. It is Bedford’s first composition for the wind band medium.


“This was largely because of the work of Timothy Reynish and Clark Rundell at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Bedford creates what amounts to a tone poem, based largely on the eight chords heard at the outset. As in much of Bedford’s music considerable use is made of repeated ostinato-like rhythmic figurations that occur regularly and are a stylistic remnant of his avant-garde days. The initial eight chords are subjected to a range of transformations and metamorphoses, heard most obviously in the middle section where they are presented in a series of static blocks set against percussion.”


Recording review by Christopher Thomas


“The title comes from a jotting in Coleridge’s notebook during the period when he was working on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and is a reference to a passage which the poet had read in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This was a letter from a Father Bourzes, of which the pertinent paragraph reads: “I shall add an Observation more concerning Marine Rainbows, which I observed after a great Tempest off the Cape of Good Hope. The Sea was then very much tossed, and the Wind carrying off the Tops of the Waves made a kind of Rain, in which the Rays of the Sun painted the Colours of a Rainbow.” It is this evocative description that provided the stimulus for this composition and influences the feeling and atmosphere of its sound- world.” Program notes by David Bedford 

“Sun Paints Rainbows On the Vast Waves” is scored for:

pic, 2fl, 2ob, ca, ecl, 3cl, acl, 2bcl, bn, 2asax, tsax, bsax,4hn, 3crn, 3tpt, 2trb, btrb, tuba, euph, timp, 4perc.


It has a duration of 14 minutes, and it is available at Novello Editions.


David Bedford studied music at the Royal Academy of Music under Lennox Berkeley, and later in Venice under Luigi Nono.

Besides pop music, Bedford has written avantgarde classical works. One of his better-known works is Star Clusters, Nebulae and Places in Devon (1971), for chorus and brass instruments.


From 1969 to 1981, Bedford was Composer in Residence at Queen's College, London, and from 1968 to 1980 taught music in several London secondary schools. He was noted for the large amount of educational music he wrote for children. The musical notation he used was often unconventional, frequently making use of graphics, thus letting his works be performed by children and others who cannot read conventional notation. In 1996, he was appointed Composer in Association with the English Sinfonia. In 2001, he was appointed Chairman of the Performing Right Society, having previously been Deputy-Chairman.


In general, Bedford's music had a tendency towards harmonic stasis, the main interest being created by shifting timbres and textures. In his music for voice, he set many texts by the poet Kenneth Patchen. Science fiction was a repeated area of interest for him.

He also worked with a wide variety of other artists, including A-ha, Billy Bragg, Camel, Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madness, Andy Summers, Alan White (drummer for Yes) and Robert Wyatt.

Bedford's music has been described as modernist, avant-gardist and experimental.


Other works for winds include:


  • Canons and Cadenzas

  • Ronde for Isolde (1985)

  • Sea and Sky and Golden Hill (1985)

  • Symphony No.2 (1985)







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