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Sweeney History


William Sweeney

William Sweeney was born in Glasgow in 1950 and educated at Knightswood Secondary School. He studied music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama with W T Clucas and Frank Spedding, and then at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Alan Hacker and Harrison Birtwistle. He has written many works for his own instrument, the clarinet, but his output covers a wide range of instrumental and vocal forces. He has received commissions from a number of organisations, including the BBC, Cappella Nova, Mayfest, the STUC, Glasgow University, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the Jim Henson Organisation.

The two main inspirations of his music are traditional Gaelic music and jazz, these can be found combined in his work An Rathad Ur for jazz saxophonist and orchestra, although the influence of one or other of these musical streams is seldom far away in any of his works.

"I try to write the kind of music I have always liked - well-defined gestures, non-traditional tonality, metrical organization as a base for rhythmic freedom and primary tone-colours. As well as Scottish traditional music, I listen to a wide range of ethnic music - I like its directness, earthy colours and rhythmic Žlan. Also important is jazz - not only for the element of improvisation, but for the brooding lyricism of, for example, Gil Evans, or the intellectual fervour of John Coltrane." says Sweeney.

"I am not interested in private, coded messages nor in obvious propaganda, but I do hope that my music can play some part on the side of common humanity against the cynics, sell-outs, exploiters, racists and other enemies of culture."

The incidental music for a film An Iobairt (The Sacrifice) won the Scottish BAFTA Award for Best Music in 1997. This was scripted by Aonghas MacNeacail, who was the librettist for the opera An Turus (The Journey), an opera commissioned by Paragon Ensemble, Scotland and premiered by them in 1998. Further collaborations have been Airc an dualchais (Inheritance Ark), commissioned for the opening of the Museum of Scotland in November 1998 and Na thˆinig anna a churach ud (All that came in that one coracle), commissioned for the opening of Arainn Chaluim Cille (the new campus for the Gaelic College on Skye) in 1999.

In September 2000, appointed as Research Fellow in Creative Development at the RSAMD for a period of two years in order to develop a new opera (in English) with Aonghas MacNeacail.

List of Works through 1996

including details of first performance


Paraphrases on Poems by Rilke 20'
commissioned by Colin Kingsley
Edinburgh 1978
Colin Kingsley
paraphrases on 'The Panther', 'Going Blind' and 'Sonnet to Orpheus'


Nine Days....: Piobaireachd for Clarinet Solo 20'
solo clarinet
Aberdeen 1977
Alan Hacker


Three Poems from Sangschaw 8'
Voice / 2 clarinets basset-horn (bass-clarinet)
Aberdeen 1977
Jane Manning / Matrix Ensemble
text: Hugh MacDiarmid
also version for soprano and piano

Two Concert Arias 10'
soprano / 3332 / 4331 / timpani, 3 percussion & strings
Glasgow 1979
Christie / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Stewart Robertson
text: Salvatore Quasimodo


The Heights of Macchu Picchu 13'
soprano / flute, viola, harp & percussion
Glasgow 1980
New Music Group of Scotland
text: Pablo Neruda


An Og-Mhadainn 12'
basset-Clarinet in A with obbligato accompaniment
commissioned by Youth and Music, Yorkshire
Yorkshire 1979
Alan Hacker

A Vision of Scotland 25'
soprano / 2222 / 2200 / timpani & strings
commissioned by Stewart Robertson
California, USA 1980
Miller / Hidden Valley Chamber Orchestra / Stewart Robertson
text: Hugh MacDiarmid


Voyage of Discovery 12'
speaker, piano, children's voices & percussion
commissioned by Scottish Opera
Glasgow 1980
Scottish Opera for Youth
text: Howard Hoffman


String Quartet 28'
commissioned by Glasgow University (McEwen Bequest)
Glasgow 1981
Edinburgh Quartet


Sextet 25'
clarinet, piano, 2 violins, viola & cello
commissioned by Quintessence
Londonderry 1982

Trio 14'
clarinet, viola & piano
commissioned by Yorkshire Arts
Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire 1982
Lesley Schatzberger, Alan George & Karen Evans

Landscape 10'
3 guitars
commissioned by Phillip Thorne
Third Eye Centre, Glasgow 1982
Phillip Thorne


Glasgow 10'
3 percussion, piano & strings
commissioned by Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Glasgow 1985
RSAMD First Orchestra / Adey

Maqam 16'
piccolo, alto-flute, oboe, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, contra-bassoon, 4 horns, trumpet & flugelhorn
commissioned by BBC Scotland
Glasgow 1984
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Kraemer


Life Study No 1 3'
clarinet and piano
Edinburgh International Festival 1986
Alan Hacker and Karen Evans


Sonata for Viola, Marimba and Claves 15'
viola, marimba & claves
commissioned by James Durrant
Glasgow 1988
James Durrant, Dawn Durrant &Heather Corbett

Sunset Song 27'
3333 / 4331 / timpani, 3 percussion, piano & strings
commissioned by the Scottish TUC
Glasgow 1986
Scottish National Orchestra / Alexander Gibson


Bagpipe Music 25'
2222 / 2200 / timpani & strings
commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Edinburgh 1986
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
orchestral music with 'windows' for young people's compositions; structure is variable

Fantasias for 13 Wind Instruments 20'
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contra-bassoon & 3 horns
commissioned by Paragon Ensemble
Edinburgh 1986
Paragon Ensemble / David Davies

Life Study No 2 5'
clarinet & Piano
Glasgow 1987
Alan Hacker and Karen Evans


An Seachnadh / The Avoiding 32'
SATB divisi
commissioned by the John Currie Singers
Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow 1987 (incomplete performance)
John Currie Singers
text: Aonghas Macneacail
first complete performance - Cappella Nova, Airdrie 1993

Cumha / Elegy 14'
2222 / 4331 / timpani, 2 percussion & strings
commissioned by St Magnus Festival
Orkney 1987
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / William Sweeney

Life Study No 3 3'
clarinet & piano
Glasgow 1987
Alan Hacker and Karen Evans

Salm an fhearainn / Psalm of the Land 13'
commissioned by Cappella Nova
Glasgow 1987
Cappella Nova / Alan Tavener
text: Aonghas Macneacail

Scenes from Old Stirling 21'
mezzo-soprano / 3222 / 4331 / timpani, 3 percussion & strings
commissioned by Central Regional Council
West Germany 1987
Frances McCafferty / Central Regional Orchestra / White
text: adaptions of folk songs

Sweeney Astray 15'
2 clarinets
commissioned by Platform (Scotland)
Glasgow 1987
Alan Hacker & Tony Coe
requires improvisation

Springburn 13'
clarinet & tape
commissioned by Scottish National Orchestra for Musica Nova
Glasgow 1987
William Sweeney


An Rathad Ur / The New Road 19'
tenor sax / 2222 / 4331 / timpani, percussion, harp & strings
commissioned by the BBC
BBC, Glasgow 1989
Tommy Smith / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Richard Bernas

The Elements Danced....
wind 'animateurs', percussion, timpani & strings
Glasgow 1988
scored for various possible combinations chosen by performers

Three Poems of William Soutar 20'
SATB / 2222 / 2220 / timpani, 2 percussion & strings
commissioned by Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society
Kirkcaldy 1989
Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society / Graeme WIlson
text: William Soutar


Air, Strathspey and Reel 16'
4333 / 4331 / timpani, 4 percussion, piano & strings
commissioned by the Glasgow Evening Times for the SNO Proms
Glasgow 1990
Scottish National Orchestra / Alexander Gibson

El Pueblo 28'
baritone / 3 clarinets, trombone, piano, percussion & double bass
commissioned by Glasgow University (McEwen bequest)
Glasgow University 1989
Oke / Paragon Ensemble / David Davies
text: Pablo Neruda

Seann Orain: Songs from South Uist 16'
commissioned by Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Ullapool 1989
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Bell

Sharakan 12'
flute, clarinet, viola, cello, double bass, & electronics
commissioned by New Beginnings
Glasgow 1989
Paragon Ensemble / David Davies


Concerto Grosso 18'
clarinet choir. timpani & strings
commissioned by Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Strathclyde Regional Council
Paisley 1990
Renfrewshire school pupils with Scottish Chamber Orchestra / William Sweeney
in association with the Strathclyde Concerto project

I Will Wait 25'
orchestra, chorus and jazz ensemble
commissioned by NALGO
Sechaba Festival, Glasgow 1990
Association of South African Students, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Philharmonic Singers with Tommy Smith / David Davies
text: Mongane Wally Serote

Hallaig 12'
commissioned by George Wilson
Dublane Cathedral 1990
George Wilson
title taken from Sorley Maclean's poem


A Set for the Kingdom 19'
commissioned by Fife Regional Council
Kirkcaldy 1991
Fife Junior String Orchestra / Robert Tait

Soruidh Slan 19'
soprano & baritone / 2 clarinets, double bass, piano and percussion
commissioned by MacNaughton Concerts
St Giles, Cripplegate, London October 1992
Ensemble X / William Sweeney
text: Niall Mor Macmhuirich, Aithbhreac Inghean Corcadail

St Blane's Hill 12'
3333 (and soprano saxophone) / 4331 / timpani, 3 percussion, harp & strings
commissioned by Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Glasgow 1991
RSAMD First Orchestra


A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle 90'
narrator, baritone, 3 sopranos / 3 clarinets, trombone, viola, cello, double bass, piano & percussion
commissioned by Mayfest
Glasgow 1992
Iain Cuthbertson, Alan Watt, Alice Dumas, Mhairi Lawson, Amanda Morrison / Virginia Henson, Edward Pillinger, Nicholas Ross, John Kenny, Patricia Field, Robert Irvine, Lio Moscardi, Chick Lyall, Kirk Richardson / William Sweeney
text: composer after Hugh MacDiarmid
commissioned for the centenary of MacDiarmid's birth

Two Lyrics 8'
2 sopranos / SATB
Skye 1992
Cappella Nova
text: Hugh MacDiarmid


A' Bhirlinn Taibhseil / The Ghost Longship 10'
concert wind band
commissioned by Contemporary Music Making for Amateurs
Sheffield 1993
COMA Summer School Concert Band

Birth / Procession: for chamber orchestra 25'
2222 / 2200 / timpani, percussion, piano & strings
commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Glasgow 1993
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / William Sweeney

The Loch: Autumn 25'
cello & 3 clarinets
commissioned by BBC Scotland
Glasgow 1993
Chamber Group of Scotland
music for natural history television documentary broadcast 1994

October Landscapes 20'
2222 / 4331 / timpani, 4 percussion & strings
commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council
Kilmarnock 1993
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / William Sweeney
in association with the Strathclyde Concerto project

Coilltean Ratharsair / The Woods of Raasay 38'
soprano & bass / 2222 / 4331 / timpani, 2 percussion, harp & strings
commissioned by BBC Scotland
City Hall, Glasgow March 1995
Virginia Kerr, Stephen Varcoe / BBC SSO / Martyn Brabbins
text: Sorley Maclean


Agua 28'
mezzo-soprano / tenor saxophone, cello & marimba (or Vibraphone)
commissioned by Chamber Group of Scotland
RSAMD, Glasgow May 1994
Frances McCafferty / Chamber Group of Scotland
text: Federico Garcia Lorca

Seeking Wise Salmon 27'
soprano / clarinet, trombone & 2 synthesisers (one pre-recorded)
commissioned by Moving Music Theatre
Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow September 1995
Fiona Rose, Ian Stuart, John Kenny, Gareth Giles
text: Aonghas Macneacail


Quintet for Clarinet in A and string quartet 22'
clarinet, 2 violins, viola, & cello
commissioned by Alan Hacker

A Song from South Uist 12'
symphony orchestra with younger players in recorder and string ensembles
commissioned by Dalkeith Symphony Orchestra
Edinburgh 1995
Dalkeith Symphony Orchestra

Life Study No 4 5'
clarinet & piano
commissioned by Lawrence Gill in memory of Alexander Gibson


A'Bheinn air chall / The Lost Mountain 10'
concert wind band
commissioned by Inverness Wind Band and Inverness Wind Ensemble
Culloden March 1996
Inverness Wind Band and Inverness Wind Ensemble / Nigel Boddice
to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden

Sweeney Astray 25'
concert wind band
commissioned by Leicestershire Arts in Education
Glasgow 1996
Leicestershire Schools Wind Band
a reworking and expansion of work for two clarinets


  • El Pueblo. Paragon Ensemble / David Davies. Continuum CCD 1031. (1991)
  • salm an fhearainn. Cappella Nova / Alan Tavener. Linn CKD 014. (1994)

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