Composition Date: 2013
Orchestration: Solo Soprano / 2[pic]2[ca]2[bc]2[cbn]/ 2200/ TP/ str
Flodden was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, supported with funds from the PRS for Music Foundation, RVW Trust, Cruden Foundation and Hope Scott Trust. It was first performed in September 2013 at Hamilton Town House, conducted by Joseph Swensen, with soprano soloist Shuna Scott Sendall. The text was compiled in consultation with Judy Steel.
Sally Beamish 2013
for soprano and chamber orchestra
1. A Dream: soprano and orchestra
2. Dawn: Interlude
3. The Liltin’: soprano and orchestra
4. The Shivered Spear: Interlude
5. Lament: soprano and orchestra
The tragedy at Flodden Field in 1513 represents the greatest loss of British troops in a single battle until the bloodshed of the Somme 400 years later. As in the case of the Somme, the devastation of Flodden Field is matched only by its futility.
When I was first approached to write a work for the 500th anniversary, the idea was to set Sir Walter Scott’s Flodden-based poem ‘Marmion’, for male voice. But I then looked at various poems about the battle which offered a more intimate view: the grief of those left behind – particularly the women and children.
I found these poems intensely moving, and have set three of them. However, references to Scott’s powerful work remain in the two short orchestral interludes. My idea was to convey a sense of human tragedy and loss through the voices of those who did not fight. This led me to write for a female soloist.
The piece is constructed around three songs, with the two interludes between. The opening song begins with a ‘keening’ line for the soprano, which gives way to a heavy, sighing accompaniment in the strings.
The first Interlude, ‘Dawn’, was suggested by Scott’s description of the troops gathering before the battle – a ‘ceaseless march…rising from the dimwood glen’. The Scots created a wall of smoke by burning camp refuse, and this combined with a drizzly dawn to make visibility difficult.
The second song is an interpretation of the ballad ‘The Liltin’’ – also known as ‘Flowers of the Forest’. The following interlude is a depiction of battle – a short, brutal scherzo which takes its title from Scott’s lines: ‘..shivered was fair Scotland’s spear, And broken was her shield!’
This is followed by a setting of J.B. Selkirk’s bleak ‘Lament after Flodden’, which uses the idea of birdsong, and also the ghostly echoes of a loom.
The orchestration throughout the work is spare and angular; characterized by stark exposed solo lines, nervy ornamentation, and blurred string textures.
Flodden was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, supported with funds from the PRS for Music Foundation, RVW Trust, Cruden Foundation and Hope Scott Trust.
It was first performed in September 2013 at Hamilton Town House, conducted by Joseph Swensen, with soprano soloist Shuna Scott Sendall. The text was compiled in consultation with Judy Steel.
Full programme note, including poems and glossary, available here...