William Sweeney: Nine Days [download]
Piobaireachd for clarinet, composed 1976.
Photocopy of handwritten score (19p) scanned to pdf for immediate download.
The “Nine Days” of the title refer to the nine days of the 1926 General Strike in Britain. A titanic, and ultimately fruitless, struggle between organised labour and a government determined to lower living standards, it nevertheless forced many to re-assess their political outlook. The work was written in 1976, the 50th anniversary year of the strike. The struggle then was between those who regarded it something slightly shameful, to be marked formally if at all, and those who saw this as an opportunity to re-open a piece of forgotten history. Certainly the strike itself brought to the fore many of the distinctive characteristics of the British industrial working class and I have tried to represent those of tenacity, plain speaking and the sense of a pre-industrial heritage. This latter is perhaps quite particular to Glasgow, with its population of displaced Highland Gaels, Irish immigrants and Lowland Scots from the agricultural areas which stretch from Ayrshire north-east to Buchan.
The form of the work is “piobaireachd”, or “pibroch”. This is the Ceol Mor (Big Music) of the Highland bagpipe. Essentially a set of variations on a ground (“urlar”), the form exploits the virtuosity of the performer in a progression of more and more complex decorative figures to the point where the steady, insistent pulse is disrupted by the sheer weight of notes to be played. Rather than copy the formalised figurations of the bagpipes, I have tried to develop figures which exploit the characteristics of the clarinet, including some techniques associated with late 20th century developments.