Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale

Luke Bedford (1978)

Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale 2011

0200/2000/strings (33221)

The title is taken from a 19th century poster advertising a pair of singing conjoined-twins: Millie and Christine McCoy. They were born in slavery in 1851, sold to a showman, and yet managed to escape the fate of many performers at freak shows and built a relatively normal life for themselves. Something of their story and the poster intrigued me, and I found some parallels with the music I was trying to write. From early on in the composition process I knew that the two soloists would be forced to play either identical or very similar music for most of the piece. I felt the tension between their combined, unified sound and their desire to break free from one another could be richly exploited. But I also knew that they would never be successful in tearing free. They would remain as locked together at the end of the piece as they were at the start.
The two basic harmonic ideas, from which everything else in the piece is created, are heard in the soloists' opening duet. The first is familiar: the bare fifths of open strings, while the second is altogether stranger: the flattened F played by the ensemble on its first entry. These two building blocks - fifths and quarter-tones - are matched in rhythmical terms, by a few short patterns, which are combined in constantly changing ways, so that the overall result is never predictable. As well as the soloists and strings, the piece is written for a pair of oboes and horns, just as Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante is. However in my composition, one of each of the wind instruments is tuned a quarter-tone lower, to enable them to play the flattened notes mentioned above.
There are five definable sections to the piece. After the aforementioned duet between the soloists, the ensemble gradually enters and takes over the rhythmic impetus, whilst the soloists play a sustained line over the top. The soloists reach the point where they cannot sustain the line anymore, and they fall silent, leaving just a series of chords from the ensemble. Out of the remains of this, an expressive duet between the soloists emerges, supported by the strings in harmonics. Finally we are led back to the opening material, which brings the piece to a close.

Luke Bedford

17.2.12 Inverness: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
18.2.12 Aberdeen: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
19.2.12 Queen's Hall, Edinburgh: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
20.2.12 Dundee Cathedral: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
22.2.12 Concert Hall, Perth: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
23.2.12 City Halls, Glasgow: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
24.2.12 Wigmore Hall, London: Jonathan Morton / Lawrence Power / Scottish Ensemble
14.6.15 Aldeburgh Festival: Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Francois-Xavier Roth
Violin II
Double bass