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David Sawer: Flesh and Blood

  • for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra
  • 3 3 3 3 - 5 3 3 1 - timp(2), perc(4), hp(2), cel, str
  • Duration: 30’
  • Soloists:
  • 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
  • Composer: David Sawer
  • Text author: Howard Barker

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Work and composer specifications

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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.


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Barbican, London (GB)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov
Main soloists:
Christine Rice, MS; Marcus Farnsworth, Bar

Press reviews

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


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