snapshot of score of Sleep

Sleep (1973)

for 60 solo strings with piano, harp and percussion

During my final year at King’s college, London I became very disillusioned with academia and came close to dropping out of the course. Fortunately my then wife Ruth prevailed and made sure I stuck it out, took the finals and got the degree. However, to give myself a breather I took a bit of time off to write the first version of this piece and my String Quartet.

That first version was for brass band, and came about through one of my fellow students, Mike Trumble, inviting me along to a rehearsal of the City of London Brass Band in which he played the euphonium. Although I originate from South Yorkshire, brass bands were not part of my upbringing, and I was enthralled by the possibilities of massed brass instruments. At that time I was particularly interested in Ligeti’s music and the use of clusters, so this thick wodge of near-monochrome sound appealed to me. I went away and wrote Sleep, which was directly inspired by Salvador Dalí’s painting of the same title. Approximately the third quarter of it is, perhaps predictably, a dream sequence consisting mainly of quotations from other music (and yes, I was familiar with Berio’s Sinfonia).

I took the piece to a City of London Band rehearsal where the conductor Geoffrey Brand took them through it, every now and then turning round to grimace at me. Although Brand was generally dismissive of it, the principal cornet was James Watson (for whom I later wrote my Trumpet Concerto), who told me I’d get nowhere with Brand and should contact Elgar Howarth, which I duly did. He took the piece up to Grimethorpe to try it with the famous Colliery Band, but he said that, much as he liked the music, it just wasn’t practical: too long, slow and sustained and the players were all red in the face by half way through it.

He suggested I do a version for a symphony orchestra string section — another near-monochrome. This gave me an enormously expanded canvas, with up to sixty string parts, more percussion, piano and harp, so I made a completely new version, with a different set of quotations, more suited to strings, for the dream sequence. I submitted this to the Society for the Promotion of New Music, who accepted it and put it on in an open rehearsal with members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with Howarth conducting. This was the beginning of Elgar Howarth’s championing of my music.

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