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Universal Edition - David Sawer – Flesh and Blood

David Sawer

David Sawer
Flesh and Blood

Year of composition: 2011
Scored for: for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra
Composer: David Sawer
Text Author: Howard Barker
Original Language: Englisch
Soloinstruments/Soloists: mezzo-soprano; baritone
Instrumentation: 3 3 3 3 - 5 3 3 1 - timp(2), perc(4), hp(2), cel, str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute
3rd flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe
3rd oboe (+c.a)
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb
3rd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
3rd bassoon (+cbsn)
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
5th horn in F
1st trumpet in Bb
2nd trumpet in Bb
3rd trumpet in Bb
1st trombone
2nd trombone
3rd trombone
bass tuba
1st timpani
2nd timpani
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
4th percussion
1st harp
2nd harp
violin I
violin II
double bass
Duration: 30′
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Audio Excerpt

Flesh and Blood

World Première

Location: Barbican London / Great Britain
Date: 15.02.2013
Orchestra: BBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Ilan Volkov
Main Soloists: Christine Rice, MS; Marcus Farnsworth, Bar

Work Introduction


This new work, with words by the British playwright and poet Howard Barker, is about the parting of a soldier from his mother. It begins with the soldier expressing his dread and anxiety and wish for love and concealment, but as the scene develops this is revealed to be part of a ritual in which the soldier eventually insists that his mother send him to his death because she created him and therefore only she can dispose of him.

The conclusion is that she does then send him away, knowing he will never return, or only as a body. It is therefore shown that it is the mother (rather than, conventionally, the soldier) who makes the supreme sacrifice of their flesh and blood.

The music for the mother is at first lyrical and expressive, and that for her son more rhythmic and driven. As the piece develops, the two types of music gradually swap over.

David Sawer

Please note that this text is not to be used as a programme note.


Flesh and Blood (2012) was a great success, a 23-minute “dramatic scene” by David Sawer on the subject of love and war, a soldier departing from his mother. If Howard Barker’s text is sometimes impenetrable, Sawer’s music reveals all, vivid and explicit enough to set an opera before us, with even these singers’ respective ages being reasonably close to realistic.” – excerpt from Colin Anderson's review

“Barker, a playwright not renowned for clarity of characterisation, applies just the right level of dramatic ambiguity and poetic abstraction to the story of a mother sending her son off to war. […] Around this spare and allusive text, Sawer let the BBC Symphony Orchestra, tightly controlled by Ilan Volkov, burst into an engrossing series of cold furies: twitching harp and guttural strings, distressed, fluttering woodwind and discordant brass fanfares almost Mahlerian in their weight.” – excerpt from Neil Fisher’s review from The Times

“Attendant complexities of love, loss, violence and death are explored in a condensed way, with a fierce orchestral brilliance (equally effective use of tense pizzicato and blaring brass) and arresting vocal lines that were presented theatrically, persuasively and in Second World War costume by Marcus Farnsworth and Christine Rice.” – excerpt from The Sunday Times review

“Sawer’s vocal writing was assured and character-driven, assisted no doubt by his experience of writing a full-length opera, From Morning to Midnight. It is a measure of his achievement that the eloquent and vivid treatment of certain key words such as ‘clung’ and ‘fret’ were reminiscent of Britten at his most inspired. […] With its unusual but entirely apposite setting for two middle-range voices, and its judicious handling of a considerable body of orchestral players, Flesh and Blood was a darkly dramatic work in which David Sawer impressed by his innate sense of drama and his refreshingly unhackneyed approach to instrumentation. I hope this passionate and directly communicative score will soon be set down in a recording studio so that its many felicities may be more readily appreciated on CD.” – excerpt from Tempo, vol. 67/265, July 2013, Paul Conway

View the full study score

1 Ensemble that has played this work:

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