Sally Beamish: Gala Water


Sally Beamish was born in London. She studied viola at the RNCM with Patrick Ireland, and in Detmold with Bruno Giuranna, and was a founder member of the Raphael Ensemble. She also performed regularly with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and the London Sinfonietta, and was principal viola in the London Mozart Players and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. She moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer. Her music embraces many influences: particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music.


The Music

Gala Water was composed in 1994 and was commissioned by Galashiels Arts Association. Beamish composed the work for cellist Robert Irvine, and he went on to premiere the work in Galashiels, Scotland in 1995. Consisting of four short variations, Gala Water is based on the local folk tune ‘Braw, Braw Lads of Gala Water.’ 


Variation I – Lento

The opening variation, marked ‘Lento’, begins in the cello’s highest register, to the point where one might wonder if it actually is a cello playing. The big interval jumps are revisited throughout the movement, with the emotional emphasis being put here. Beamish’s use of the upper range in this movement is an intriguing one, and makes the timbre all the more exciting when the cello jumps into its rich lower notes. As the intensity grows, the music soon fades away.


Variation II – Andante

The second variation, marked ‘Andante’, takes the theme of big intervallic jumps, but instead the cello is firmly rooted in its middle and lower ranges. The rich and woody texture from the cello adds to the mystery of the movement as it creates quite the emotional impact on the listener. Elements of the folk tune begin to be recognisable in corners of this movement. 


Variation III – Allegro

The quickest variation of the three, the aggressive driving force of this short movement shows the confidence and range of the cello. Big bows and double stopping create an agitated atmosphere as the music becomes more virtuosic than ever before. After the climax as the cello reaches its highest point, the music cuts out.


Variation IV – Adagio

Back into its high range, the cello reveals the last form of the theme. The dichotomy between the rich lower notes and the really high notes creates some disparity between the themes. Grouped with the other three variations, this final movement takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster. The folk tune comes to fruition by the end of this movement as the cello sits in its middle range clearly playing the resolved folk theme to round off this intriguing set of variations for solo cello.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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