Luke Bedford: Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

Luke Bedford Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale
Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

Luke Bedford: Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for 10 players
Luke Bedford
Instrumentation details:
clarinet in Bb
horn in F
1st violin
2nd violin
double bass
More Less


Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

The piece is a reworking of my Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale for violin, viola and 15 players. The original title was 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.

In creating this version for 10 players, I was forced to move the soloists back into the Ensemble. Hence the new title – the two heads might have been removed, but the nightingale sings on.

The two basic harmonic ideas, from which everything else in the piece is created, are heard in the opening section. 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. 

There are four definable sections to the piece. After a duet between the violin and viola, the ensemble gradually enters and takes over the rhythmic impetus. This builds to a crisis point, and the music collapses, leaving just a series of stark chords. Instead of simply fading away, the opening material springs back into life, which brings the piece to a close.

Luke Bedford

Special prints

Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

Luke Bedford: Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

study score
for 10 players , 8’

Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

Luke Bedford: Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale

study score
for 10 players , 8’

World première

Cuvilliéstheater, München (DE)
Ensemble Modern
Oswald Sallaberger

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