Giles Swayne

Giles Swayne was born in Hertfordshire in June 1946. His infancy was spent in Singapore and Australia, his later childhood in the Wirral and in Liverpool, and at a grim boarding-school in Yorkshire. He began composing when he was ten, and in his teens was helped and encouraged by his cousin, composer Elizabeth Maconchy. He studied the piano with Gordon Green, Phyllis Hepburn, James Gibb and Vlado Perlemuter. On leaving Cambridge in 1968 he won a composition scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he studied with Harrison Birtwistle, Alan Bush and Nicholas Maw. On leaving the RAM he worked as an accompanist & repetiteur, and was on the Glyndebourne music staff in the 1973 and 1974 seasons. In 1976-77 he made visits to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Olivier Messiaen (at his invitation).

In 1980 his huge piece CRY for twenty-eight amplified voices (dedicated to Messiaen) was premièred by the BBC Singers under John Poole. Widely hailed as a musical landmark, it has been performed four times in Britain (twice at the London Proms, in 1983 and 1994) and many times in Europe and America. The 1985 recording was issued first on vinyl and then by NMC Records on CD. In 1981 Swayne made a field trip to Casamance (southern Senegal) to record the music of the Jola community; these recordings are in the British Library’s Sound Archive and available online. Between 1990 and 1996 he lived in the Eastern Region of Ghana, where he built a house at Konkonuru in the Akuapem Hills – a house now owned by Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s widow.

I cannot remember how I got into composing; it was nearly 60 years ago, when I was twelve. Since then I have written 147 pieces. Messiaen (with whom I briefly studied) was asked this question by a journalist, and replied that one does not ask an apple-tree why it bears apples. The answer begs the question, of course; but it’s an existential and almost meaningless question because life is for the most part fairly random. In my childhood I heard music a lot: the Liverpool Phil was our local orchestra and was good. There was some music in my family: the composer Elizabeth Maconchy was my mother’s cousin, my father’s mother and grandmother were good amateur musicians, trained in Germany, and Elgar used to visit my grandparents’ house near Hereford, as he lived not far away. I fell in love with the music of Bartok and Stravinsky at a very early age, and it went on from there.
— Giles Swayne
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Benedicta filia

A reflection on the Plainchant Antiphon, Benedicta Filia.

Benedicta filia is a light-hearted and almost balletic meditation, trope or rap on the plainchant antiphon for the Vespers of the Assumption. Scored for unaccompanied SATB choir with 4 solo voices (also SATB), it was commissioned in 2016 by ORA100 for Suzi Digby OBE and the singers of ORA, and recorded by them in May 2017.

WORLD PREMIERE: 23rd February 2018, #Renaissance- Mercy, Cheltenham College Chapel