Hagar in the Wilderness

Chamber Opera

 

Composition Date: 2013

Duration: 25'

Instrumentation: S.T.Bar/fl(pic,afl)/va,db/hp/perc(mba)

Libretto: Clara Glynn

 

Information:

 

Commissioned by Nova Music and Presteigne Festival.

 

First performance at St Andrews Church, Presteigne, on 21 August 2013. 

 

Programme Note:

 

Hagar in the Wilderness

 

Libretto: Clara Glynn

Music: Sally Beamish

 

I was struck by the universal resonance of the story of Hagar, and also attracted to the spiritual and human questions raised by it. Clara Glynn’s libretto is characterised by its simplicity, and I wanted the music to illustrate the stark nature of the subject, and the bleakness of the scorched environment.

 

I chose an accompanying ensemble of five players: flute/piccolo, percussion, harp, viola and double bass. The percussion is characterised by drums played with hands, and marimba, giving a real dryness to the sound, while the use of crotales (small bells) reflects the mystical aspect of the story.

 

The viola and double bass, rather than violin and cello, have a gentle poignancy and a ‘covered’ quality which I feel gives an air of mystery and other-worldliness to the piece. I have used flute, sometimes almost as a folk ‘pipe’ and sometimes to add virtuosic colour, with the piccolo representing the ‘call of the sandpiper’.

 

To give greater clarity to the text, the arias are sparse and understated, often with marimba and/or harp accompanying with a repetitive pulse; and the word setting is mainly syllabic.

 

There are several references to music from the Middle-East. In the opening scene, I have used Klezmer-inspired dance music, with drums and a raw viola with no vibrato.  And at the end of the opera, the voice of the Angel draws on Koranic chanting.

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