A song for Haddi

for flute, clarinet in A, conga drums (2 pairs; one player), viola, cello, bass
15 mins.

Commissioned by the 1983 Bath Festival, at which it was first performed by the Nash Ensemble on 4th June 1983.

Programme notes

A SONG FOR HADDI was commissioned by the 1983 Bath Festival, and completed in May of that year. It is scored for flute, clarinet in A, drums, viola, cello and bass, and lasts about eleven minutes. It was first performed by the Nash Ensemble at the Bath Assembly Rooms on 4th June 1983.

The drums used are hand-drums – two pairs of large congas, which are the nearest readily available equivalent to the Bug├írabu drums of the Jola drummers of Southern Senegal, whose music I studied and recorded in the field in 1981. The piece is not an imitation of Jola drumming, however; my idea was to make melodic use of drumming so that the drummer provides the core and source of all melodic material. This is very common in African music, but quite alien to European classical music, where drums are for the most part used for emphasis and dramatic effect.

The drummer plays continuously throughout, and the other instruments gradually grow around him until all are involved. The basic formal structure consists of a verse and a clearly contrasted chorus. The drummer repeats verse and chorus until both have been played four times. The music of the other instruments, though it stems from the verse/chorus structure of the drum music, does not repeat itself in this way but develops continuously from verse to verse. After the fourth version of the verse/chorus, the drummer plays the verse for the fifth and last time – at which point the song itself is heard. This is a simple little tune, which, together with the drumming, was the germ-idea which sparked off the piece. The drummer ends with a short coda and a final flourish.

Giles Swayne 2008


“a happy little piece”

Paul Griffiths – The Times

“here was a contemporary work which quickly proclaimed that music can be fun as well as valid. It was amusing to watch the faces of the audience change from incredulity to sheer enjoyment… the work dances, wiggles and sways to a jaunty conclusion. Absolutely delightful.”

– South Wales Argus

“…complex yet unpretentious, accessible yet never banal; all in all a shrewd and successful piece of commissioning from a composer who is rapidly becoming one of the most authoritative voices of his generation”

– Classical Music

“…a rather empty twelve minutes”

– The Daily Telegraph