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Wild Swans

for violin and piano

Composition Date: 2018

Duration: 8'



Commissioned as part of St John’s Smith Square Young Artist’s Scheme, and first performed at St John’s Smith Square on 31 May 2018, by Mathilde Milwidsky and Huw Watkins.

EP 73145

Programme Note:

Wild Swans

Written for Mathilde Milwidsky and Huw Watkins;

and dedicated to Peter Thomson

In December 2017 I co-directed a course on word-setting at Snape, with actor/writer Peter Thomson, as part of the Offstage initiative. This led to conversations about the relationship between music and natural spoken inflection.

I asked Peter to record Yeats’ poem The Wild Swans at Coole, and made a transcription of his voice as the starting point for this piece.

The poem explores themes of loss, in contrast to the constant renewal of nature. The work begins with an introduction, followed by a setting of verse one, low on the violin. After this, episodes reflecting the poem, and exact settings of verses 2 and 5, form a paraphrase of the poem.

I met Mathilde Milwidsky when I returned to viola playing in 2015, and we have performed together several times. Her playing struck me immediately as direct and expressive, with a translucent beauty. Huw Watkins has recently premiered my Night Dances, and I am a great admirer of his musical sensitivity and clarity, both as pianist and composer.

It was commissioned as part of St John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme, and first performed at St John’s Smith Square on 31st May, 2018, by Mathilde Milwidsky and Huw Watkins.

Sally Beamish

The Wild Swans at Coole

WB Yeats

THE TREES are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold,

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?


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