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The Entertaining of the Noble Head

Composer: Tim Porter. A Play with Music and Songs,1973

Composer's note:

There are many strands intertwined in this piece, but it is the wood that one wants to see, not the trees, so I won’t say much.

As the “Noble Head” and “Arthur” stories lead on from one another, I have presented them as two twists in the same spiral pattern, thus:

Each step in the spiral can also be looked at as a season, so that the spiral, starting with the decapitation (spring) represents two years, ending in winter with Avalon; accordingly, I have taken the passage of two years as my time scale.

The question arises ‘where does the next turn of the spiral take us?’ What doies the third Spring bring? - Arthur’s second coming? One cannot be sure: yet one fascinating piece of evidence remains… Arthur, himself committed to the earth like the head, was likewise exhumed, so history says, at Glastonbury in 1190.

Another view of the play which has only recently occurred to me is that it is the dream of someone who has read, and half digested, The Box of Delights, The White Goddess, The Old Straight Track, the Mabinogion, and certain poems by Wordsworth, Flecker, Masefield, Edward Thomas and so on: the dream, in short, of someone who has under his fingers the keys of a magical instrument, but doesn’t know how to play. This would account for Katy. I wondered what she was doing there, because I thought I was writing about the British Countryside.

The music is partially based on a magical cipher worked out from one of the ancient tree-alphabets in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. This cipher has been put to many uses, notably to construct the musical riddle concealing Bran’s name. Bran gives the game away when he entertains the merry throng with the hymn Lead Kindly Light wherein the word B-R-A-N (A-G#-A-B in the cipher) is concealed in the words “lead thou me on.” This spelling-out of names and words finds fullest expression in the séance scene.

Otherwise the music has been written by instinct.

Tim Porter

Cast list

1  Male role (mostly spoken) - also plays flute and recorders
2  Male or female role - also plays bassoon, recorders and celtic harp
3  Alder - also plays recorder
4  Katy
5  The Betrayer - also plays flute
6  Arthur
7  Gwydion
8  Male or female role - also plays violin
9  Male or female role - also plays viola 1
10 Female role - also plays viola 2
11 Carlia - also plays viola 3
12 Cole Hawlings/Alfred Watkins (speaking part) - also plays cello


Aug 1973: Tour West Country

Aug 1978: Tour West Country