West Wind

for tenor and piano


Composition Date: 2016



Commissioned by Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffmann, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation. It was premiered by James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook at  Wigmore Hall on 22nd June 2016.



Programme Note:


West Wind

for tenor and piano


Text: Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792–1822


for James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook



James Gilchrist approached me in 2014 about his series 'Schumann and the English Romantics', his idea being to pair three British composers (myself, Julian Philips and Jonathan Dove) with three great Schumann song cycles, using British texts from Schumann's time.


James assigned me Schumann's Eichendorff settings Liederkreis op.39, and 

I chose to set Shelley's Ode to the West Wind


The poem reflects on the powerlessness of the poet when compared to the wind, and expresses a longing to harness the wind to disseminate his words.


It is in five stanzas, and I have created a five section work, made up of five 'songs'. On comparing the Eichendorff with the Shelley, I found common themes, and have highlighted these in the choice of material.


I began by creating a short improvisation on each of the Schumann songs, and used these as starting points for my own music. Some of them are very loosely related – representing a free meditation on the Schumann. Others are more easily identified, by rhythmic or thematic ideas. The central third part, for instance, echoes the stillness of Mondnacht, and this returns at the end of the piece as a gentle reflection. The piano begins with a swirling cadenza-like passage, and often represents the wind, with the voice of the poet being drawn in and stepping back by turns; sometimes overwhelmed and silenced by the piano, sometimes equally powerful.


West Wind was commissioned by Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffmann, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation. It was premiered by James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook at  Wigmore Hall on 22nd June 2016.


 Sally Beamish 2016






Ode to the West Wind




     O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being


Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead


Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,




Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,


Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou


Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed




The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,


Each like a corpse within its grave, until


Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow




Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill


(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)


With living hues and odours plain and hill;




Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;


Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!  






Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,


Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,


Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,




Angels of rain and lightning!  there are spread


On the blue surface of thine airy surge,


Like the bright hair uplifted from the head




Of some fierce Mænad , even from the dim verge


Of the horizon to the zenith's height,


The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge




Of the dying year, to which this closing night


Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,  


Vaulted with all thy congregated might




Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere


Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!  







Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams


The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,


Lull'd by the coil of his crystàlline streams,




Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,


And saw in sleep old palaces and towers


Quivering within the wave's intenser day,




All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers


So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou


For whose path the Atlantic's level powers




Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below


The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear


The sapless foliage of the ocean, know




Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,


And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!






If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;  


If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;


A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share  




The impulse of thy strength, only less free


Than thou, O uncontrollable!  if even


I were as in my boyhood, and could be




The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,


As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed


Scarce seem'd a vision—I would ne'er have striven




As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.


O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!


I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!




A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd


One too like thee— tameless, and swift, and proud.  






Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:


What if my leaves are falling like its own?


The tumult of thy mighty harmonies




Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,


Sweet though in sadness.  Be thou, Spirit fierce,  


My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!




 Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,  


Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;


And, by the incantation of this verse,




Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth


Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!


Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth




The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,


If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?  



 Percy Bysshe Shelley 1819



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