SLEEPWALKING (for soprano and 8 cellos) op.505 (March 1998)

A concert work in seven movements
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: The Warwick Arts Society for performance in the 1998 Warwick and Leamington Festival with funds provided by West Midland Arts and Warwick Arts Society
Note on Lyrics: The soprano part is wordless - a vocalise
Duration: 13 mins
First Performance: Mary Nelson, John Todd and Red Barn Cellos, St Mary's Church, Warwick, 11 July 1998
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  • 1: Tranquillo
  • 2: Allegretto
  • 3: Maestoso
  • 4: Vivace
  • 5: Adagio
  • 6: Allegro Furioso
  • 7: Tranquillo


Richard Phillips at the Warwick and Leamington Festival asked me if I would like to compose a work for soprano and 8 cellos, the combination used very memorably by Villa-Lobos in his Bachianas Brazileiras no.5. I began to think and dream about the sound of the grouping, which itself seemed to conjure up the world of dreams-cellos effortlessly evoking the surreal landscape of the unconscious, through which a woman walks, singing wordlessly with closed eyes like a painting by Fuseli or Delvaux.

As it begins she lies in a deep untroubled sleep (Tranquillo). Images of childhood (Allegretto) give way to memories of a great occasion -perhaps a marriage? (Maestoso). A crazily-animated helter-skelter of notes suggests laughter and gaiety, yet with fears and dangers (Vivace). There is a memory of tragic , yearning love  (Adagio) but the memory is broken by nightmare images of vengeance and death (Allegro Furioso).  There is a waking moment, then return and sleep (Tranquillo).


7th September 2017 Howard Blake, composer/pianist/conductor with Benedict Kloeckner (cello), Nicolas D'Autricourt (violin) and Sophie Witte (soprano), The Cadogan Hall,Chelsea,London, September 7th. 2017, 7.30pm

An evening of music by Howard Blake OBE in commemoration of  The Lady Diana, Princess of Wales.

SLEEPWALKING  - for 8 cellos and vocalise, solo soprano Sophie Witte.
Composed as a tribute and musical mosaic of Diana's life and tragic death. In seven linked movements: Tranquillo - Allegretto- Maestoso - Vivace - Adagio - Allegro Furioso - Tranquillo

The very sound of eight cellos and soprano seems to evoke a surreal landscape of the unconscious, through which one might imagine a woman walking, singing wordlessly, with closed eyes, as if in a painting by Fuseli or Delvaux. As the music begins she lies in a deep untroubled sleep (Tranquillo). Images of childhood (Allegretto) give way to memories of a great occasion - perhaps a marriage? (Maestoso). A crazily-animated helter-skelter of notes suggests laughter and gaiety (Vivace). There is a memory of tragic , yearning love  (Adagio) but the memory is broken by intimations of danger and violence. (Allegro Furioso). There is a waking moment, then a sense of return and sleep (Tranquillo).
PIANO CONCERTO - piano soloist Howard Blake, conductor Matthew Coorey (tbc)
The Piano Concerto was commissioned from the composer by The Philharmonia to celebrate the 30th birthday of their President, The Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, and was first performed  in her presence on 19 May 1991 at the Royal Festival Hall London with the composer as soloist. A Sony recording, which  included  ‘Diversions for cello and orchestra’ was  released in May 1991 and re-released in October 2008.

1. Tranquillo – Allegro con brio  2. Andante espressivo   3. Vivace    






The arrangement of this work in its orchestral form was commissioned by the great French cellist Maurice Gendron with whom the composer collaborated on the editing of the solo part. The soloist  in this concert will be Benedict Kloeckner who has played this it  many times with the composer as pianist. They met in Bratislava in 2010 when Benedict won the EU young musician of the year  by playing 'Diversions' as the sole test piece. Howard Blake will conduct.

ELEGIA STRAVAGANTE FOR VIOLIN, CELLO AND ORCHESTRA ( FIRST PERFORMANCE) - Nicolas Dautricourt, violin: Benedict Kloeckner, cello: Howard Blake conductor.
Composer's notes:
  • 1: Andante (rapsodico)

    A septuplet 'trill-flourish' motif in C major leads to an upward-sweeping melodic fragment of a minor 2nd and major 7th, which was to be the material on which the work was based.

  • 2: Scherzo malizioso

    I was searching for a 6/8 allegro idea and remembered a spiky, pizzicato fugue idea which seemed to fit perfectly.

  • 3: Tragico

    This begins with the upward-sweeping motif, but is now very slow and sad. It forms a bridge and modulation to E-minor where the cello enunciates a theme of parting which develops rapidly and unexpectedly to a colossal climax, then falls back down to a paused low chord of C major which begins section 4.

  • 4: Grave, molto espressivo

    A cadenza for violin and cello which then starts to accelerate  towards section 5

  • 5: Allegro furioso

    Cello and violin play in unison at the 16th against a constantly turning phrase using the ever-present 'trill-flourish' motif. Martial and tragic hints and twists are now overcome by massive upward scalic movements seeking a major key and suddenly triumphantly asserting that of E major.

  • 6: Giojoso, estatico

    Giojoso, ecstatico transforms and inverts the minor 'upward-sweeping' theme into a major 'hymn of triumph' punctuated with huge low chords. The energy of this is so great however that it must inevitably sink down to regain stability and a hardly-moving harmonic 'thirds duplet' grows gradually quieter and slower until it sinks away to nothing without resolution.

  • 7: Andante, come prima 

    The music of the opening returns but this time in the key to which the piece has ascended - E major, the final bar picking up the 'trill-flourish' motif and giving the whole work a resolution with a coda on violin and cello sounding alone - yet perhaps finally together.




'...most exciting of all a new composition by Howard Blake, receiving its first performance. Sleepwalking, a vocalise for solo soprano and eight cellos, describes in its seven continuous movements a world of dreams in which a woman moves from deep sleep, depicted by an eerie, unearthly sound created through the use of harmonics, throuh a series of episodes, half-forgotten memories and a brief wakefulness, returning at last in a final movement to sleep. The 12-minute work is technically demanding and Blake uses to wonderful effect the dark rich sonority of the ensemble to suggest night and the woman's hazy dreams.

Red Barn Cellos produced ensemble playing of a very high order and Mary Nelson's ability and charm enlightened both the Villa-Lobos (Bachianas Brazileiras No.5) and Blake's marvellous and evocative work.'

John Bradshaw, The Birmingham Post, 14/7/1998

Related Autobiography Chapters

Sleepwalking (1998)
'Woman without a name' (2016)

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