Night Songs

For viola and piano, with optional spoken voice

Composition Date: 2020

Duration: 12'


BEAMISH Night Songs incorporating texts by Carol Ann Duffy and W. B. Yeats for viola

and piano, with optional spoken voice

I.Wide Night 3’30”

II. Tread Softly 4’

III. Blues 4’30”

These ‘songs’ were commissioned by Gerry Mattock, and was the last in a chain of numerous works supported by

him spanning more than twenty years. Gerry sadly died just after I’d completed the piece, and Night Songs

completes a remarkable journey of friendship and support, following his first commission, Bridging the Day, in 1998.

My brief was to write a piece that I would play myself, to celebrate my marriage in August 2019 to writer Peter

Thomson, at the place of our wedding: Brighton Friends Meeting House. The planned concert was cancelled due to

the pandemic.

The premiere would be with pianist Nancy Cooley, and with Peter performing poems of his choice and the idea was

that the music would also reflect the jazz and blues songs Peter had sung on our doorstep during the 2020 lockdown,

with viola and guitar. Nancy had suggested we perform Rebecca Clarke’s Morpheus, and this gave us a theme for the concert: sleep, and dreams.

The three poems Peter chose were: Words, Wide Night, by Carol Ann Duffy, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,

by WB Yeats (this one a favourite of Gerry’s), and Refugee Blues by WH Auden. He recorded readings of all three,

and I took his voice as my starting point.

I have ‘set’ them for viola and piano; the first song based on the la lala la from Duffy’s love poem. This is heard as a

repeated motif on the piano throughout the piece, which is in a gentle waltz time. The viola ‘sings’ the text - which is

a description of love and separation - as a lyrical counter melody.

The second song has a Celtic feel, and the viola opens with a direct musical transcription of this well-loved poem,

following its spoken rhythms; played solo, then repeated with a simple piano ostinato. The poem may then be read,

while the viola lights the text with harmonics.

The third song is a blues. It is not a literal setting of Auden’s words, but expresses the desperation and rootlessness

of immigrant populations, forced to the margins of society. The relentless rhythm that characterises this music is a

direct response to the blues rhythms in the poem.

Sally Beamish

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