Sally Beamish In Focus: Works for Solo and Duo


Sally Beamish Awuya for solo harp (short version)

Holly-Alice Morton harp

Sally Beamish Unquiet for solo guitar

Christopher Godhard guitar

Christopher Cook Emergence for solo viola

Jeannette Szeto viola

Sally Beamish Gala Water for solo cello

Andrea Kim cello

Sally Beamish Birds

  1. Birds + reprise
  2. Swans
  3. Cuckoo
  4. Doves in Acacia
  5. Cocks and hens

Sophie Clarke, Spark Sanders-Robinson, Priscialla Fong, Phoebe Watts, Olivia Hamblyn mezzo-sopranos
Yifan Ma piano

Programme notes

Sally Beamish: Awuya for solo harp (short version)

Science expands our understanding of the world we live in and is thereby rich in images and concepts of great significance to contemporary society. Despite this, the expression of scientific ideas in the creative arts is rare, and few scientists harness artistic media to engage the public in an appreciation of the importance of scientific discoveries. This piece uses the powerful emotive language of music to express the tragedy of sleeping sickness and the hope provided by scientific endeavour. The piece is inspired by African drumming rhythms, by a pentatonic harp used by a central African tribe and by the tune of a lullaby from another central African tribe decimated by sleeping sickness in the 1940’s. The original words of the lullaby, sung to a little girl called Awuya, are hauntingly reminiscent of the symptoms of the disease.

Note by Sally Beamish.

Sally Beamish: Unquiet for solo guitar

I wrote this short set of variations as an exploration of the Dowland lute song Unquiet Thoughts. This was part of my work on a larger piece (Sonnets) for three pianists and two pianos, based on the story/theory that Shakespeare had two obsessive loves: the ‘dark lady’, and the ‘fair youth’, and that many of his sonnets were motivated by his ensuing turmoil; not least, when the two of them got together – excluding him, and causing him considerable jealousy and agony.

In the piano piece, I drew on the lute songs of John Dowland, including Unquiet Thoughts, which seemed particularly apt.

In these guitar variations, the theme comes last, and the piece opens with a spiky, bitter adagio, punctuated by repeated references to a chord sequence from the lute song. The second variation is contemplative and lyrical, and the third a quirky dance. Variation 4 is dramatic, passionate and virtuosic, again quoting the Dowland chord sequence, but this time as a flamenco-like figure. After this, the final variation is wistful and ruminative, and leads to a direct exposition of the Dowland theme.

Unquiet was written as part of the Royal Academy of Music’s bicentenary project: a collection of 200 new solo pieces, which opened in 2019 with the first performance of the recently discovered Last Postcard from Sanday by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was first performed by Sergiu Hudrea at the Angela Burgess Recital Room, Royal Academy of Music, on 25th January 2022.

Note by Sally Beamish.

Chris Cook: Emergence for solo viola

Emergence is centred around the concept of imagining the possibilities and potential ideas contained within a single note and how multiple parallel realities can simultaneously co-exist. At the start, you will hear a single strand repeatedly being broken and intersected, often in sudden and aggressive ways. In this first section, there are also fragmentary hints there could be a second character hidden below the surface. Through a number of transformations, these initial intersections eventually start to form the primary melodic material of the piece, an imagined Celtic folk melody centred on the pitches, F-Sharp, G, C and B. This melody is quickly disintegrated by the second emergent character who we caught a glimpse of earlier in the piece. We eventually return to our single thread with the interjections now becoming increasingly more spread out as we reach the conclusion. I was inspired by the way in which Sally Beamish has often worked with and interacted with Celtic folk melodies and techniques in her compositional output and I have made the harmonic and textural language in my piece reminiscent of this.

Christopher Cook is proudly supported in his studies at the RNCM by the Richard Newitt Fund.

Note by Chris Cook.

Sally Beamish: Gala Water for solo cello

Gala Water was written in 1994 for Robert Irvine. It was commissioned by Galashiels Arts Association and uses a local folk tune, ‘Braw, Braw Lads of Gala Water’, part of which is heard at the end following a set of variations which embrace a range of emotions.

Sally Beamish: Birds

Commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival, this short song cycle sets four of the poems originally written by Alexander McCall Smith for performance alongside Saint-Saens’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’. 

I have chosen the four that describe birds. To these, the poet has added ‘Doves in Acacia’, which reflects the 2017 festival’s theme of ‘forgiveness’. 

Each song takes as its starting point the calls and movement of birds. The first is an imaginary tropical soundscape. The second describes the gliding of a swan, and no.3 is based entirely on the interval associated with the cuckoo – the falling third. The accompaniment of the fourth song is created from the notated chanting of doves, referencing African doves* in the central section. Cocks and Hens begins with the crowing of a cock, quoting a theme from my recent work The Judas Passion – the crowing of the cock as Peter betrays Christ – again, highlighting the theme of forgiveness. But this song is light hearted, and the piano clucks and struts like hens in a farmyard.

After the fifth song, the first is sung again.

Birds was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival. The first performance was given by Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano) and Simon Lepper (piano) at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, on 28 July 2017.