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Luke Bedford: Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale

  • for solo violin, solo viola and 15 players
  • 0 2 0 0 - 2 0 0 0, vln(6), va(2), vc(2), kb
  • Duration: 14’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    1st violin
    2nd violin
    3rd violin
    4th violin
    5th violin
    6th violin
    1st viola
    2nd viola
    1st violoncello
    2nd violoncello
    double bass
  • Composer: Luke Bedford
  • Commission: The Scottish Ensemble With support from Britten-Pears Foundation PRS for Music Foundation

Work introduction

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


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Inverness (GB)
Scottish Ensemble
Main soloists:
Jonathan Morton, vln; Lawrence Power, vla

Press reviews

Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale, a new double concerto by British composer Luke Bedford, is a bold, dense and arresting blast of a composition – a work that forcefully reiterates Bedford’s voice and brilliantly showcased its fine set of players.” (Kate Molleson, The Guardian)

“The soloists seem at times to be ‘joined at the hip’ but at other times to be locked in a power struggle.” (Juliet Williams, Classical Iconoclast)

“Offering no comfort, it made me sit up in my chair and listen, as Morton and guest violist Lawrence Power battled with each other, then came together in harmony, just as the conjoined twins who inspired the piece must have done.” (Kelly Apter, The Scotsman)

“The dramatic tension in this piece derives from two solo lines which follow equal mindsets: striving to break free from the other; reunited and more happily resigned to the status of being a twin.” (Alan Coady,

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