Naaotwa lalá

for 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, harp, strings
14 mins.

Commissioned by the BBC and first performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Downes at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester on 4th December 1984.

Programme notes

Naaotwá Lalá was commissioned by the BBC and first performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Edward Downes, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 4th December 1984.

The title means ‘Naaotwá’s Song’ in the Ga language of southern Ghana, and the piece was dedicated to my second wife NaaOtwá. It is scored for a peculiar orchestral line-up, in that almost no low instruments are used. I had been so impressed by the violins of the BBC Philharmonic when they had played my earlier orchestral piece Pentecost music the previous year that I decided to write a piece that featured them – not divided into firsts and seconds as is usual, but in a single section, in order to take advantage of the wonderful sheen that is created when a large body of violins play a single line. I used the violas to extend and support the violins, but cellos and basses take a minimal (but important) part in the piece, supplying a quietly pulsing bass. Flutes, clarinets, horns and trumpets add occasional touches of colour, and the most featured instrument is the harp, which plays almost continuously, and whose part is the source of all the musical material. I imagined a solitary harpist repeatedly playing a refrain which gradually changes and develops; as the harp plays, other sounds are conjured up, as if from an imaginary forest, and the orchestra gradually materialises. At the end, the orchestra fades away and the harp is left alone again, as if the preceding orchestral sounds have been a dream.

Giles Swayne 2008

Programme-note by Anthony Burton available from:


“… last night’s discerning audience… greeted this beautifully scored piece… with the acclaim it deserved. Swayne… managed to communicate in a way which ought to be a lesson to lesser lights.”

– Manchester Evening News, December 1984

“Giles Swayne’s Naaotwá Lalá was most warmly received at its première in a BBC Philharmonic concert conducted by Edward Downes – as well it might be, for everything about the piece radiates warmth of intention… There was an inner glow in the new work which seemed genuinely to strike home with the audience… the resourcefulness with which limited materials… are made to yield up intensely memorable melodies.”

– Musical Times, March 1985

“Naaotwá Laláhas that rare combination of breadth of appeal and total absence of condescension… What is remarkable is the purposefulness with which ideas germinate from one another, and the sureness of timing throughout. You feel gently picked up at the outset and as gently set down by the end, having been on an entrancing journey of discovery.”

– Guardian, December 1984