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For Oboes, Horns and String Orchestra

Composition Date: 2018



Commissioned by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and first performed on 21 February 2019 in Sarasota, USA

EP 73308

Programme Note:


in memory of Sir Neville Marriner

As a viola player, I played with the Academy of St Martins in the 1980s, and my mother, violinist Ursula Snow, played with them in the 70s. Neville Marriner was very supportive of my work, and invited me to write for the orchestra before I was established at all as a composer. This is my fourth major commission for the orchestra. It is very exciting and stimulating to write for musicians whose playing I know well, and who are all soloists in their own right. Above all, the work is dedicated to Neville’s memory. We discussed the piece, and my residency, not long before he died.

The piece was initially inspired by Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem The Windhover, which depicts a falcon wheeling and gliding in the morning air.

The idea of ‘hovering’ chimed in with my imminent move from Scotland to England, after living in Scotland for nearly half my life. The sense of being suspended and rootless affected my writing after the decision to move, and I wrote a series of chamber pieces for different ensembles, as ‘farewells’ to Scotland. One of these contains a lullaby for viola, which reflects the apprehension of leaving my Scottish family behind and returning to my own country. This lullaby forms the centre of Hover – again on solo viola.

Hover portrays anticipation and exhilaration as well as melancholy, and is also a response to the beauty and destructiveness of nature.

The piece opens on solo oboe, as if coming from a distance. The two oboes then interlace; hovering above a static string texture.

The mood settles into a stillness, out of which emerges the Celtic-inspired lullaby, introduced by solo viola, which then duets with oboe.

The fiery images which predominate in the second part of the poem are depicted by horn flourishes, which stir the music into an unsettled passion.

A brief calm follows, which is subverted by downward swooping - almost violent - string passages.

The threatening mood is resolved by a return of the lullaby, combined with the opening hovering theme. A coda marked ‘misterioso’ concludes the piece, with joyous horn interjections.

It was commissioned by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and first performed on 21st February 2019, in Sarasota, USA.

Sally Beamish 2018

The Windhover To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


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