A ballet choreographed by Lynn Seymour
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: BBC TV (Omnibus)
Instrumentation: String Quartet
[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: scenario by Howard Blake and Lynn Seymour based on W.B.Yeats' poem
Duration: 12 mins
First Performance: Recorded July 20th 1977 Delme Quartet, BBC Lime Grove and first shown on BBC2 June 28th 1978. Producer; Bob Lockyer for BBC

Sheet Music Available
Instrumental parts for sale
Study score for hire
Instrumental parts for hire
Score and parts available for concert performance
Recordings Available
String Quartets - Spieltrieb, Leda and the Swan, A Month in the Country, String Trio
Released: 2011
Recorded: 5th June 2010
Artists: Edinburgh Quartet - Tristan Gurney, Philip Burrin, Michael Beeston, Mark Bailey
Available from: Amazon UK Amazon US Naxos Records

1.Naxos 8.572688 'Spieltrieb', Edinburgh String Quartet 2010



Lynn Seymour visited me at Highbridge Mill one day to tell me that she had been asked to create a television ballet for the BBC 'Omnibus' arts programme.

'Would you be interested in composing a score?'

'What's the scenario?'

'I don't have one but I want it to be as erotic and sensual as possible. Have you got any ideas?'

I had written the scenario for our ballet 'The Court of Love' created for Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet for the Queen's Silver Jubillee so this wasn't as surprising as it might have been!

'How about using an erotic poem? For instance W.B.Yeats's 'Leda and the Swan'?'

'Read it to me.'

I took down my 'Little Treasury of Modern Poetry', presented to me when I won the 'Headmaster's Reading Prize' at school. I don't think he would have approved.

'A sudden blow; the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can the body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power before the indifferent beak could let her drop?'

Lynn loved it:

'I will find the most beautiful boy and girl to dance it and in the middle we can have the poem read over the music by Derek Jacobi. How would you score it?'

'Well if it's going to have words over it, it shouldn't intrude too much. Perhaps a string quartet?'


I started work and recorded 'Leda and the Swan'in July at Lime Grove with the Delme Quartet. Unfortunately the programme director, Bob Lockyer, didn't take kindly to the idea of the poem:

'No we can't have a poem in a ballet. Anyway we don't have any budget for it.'

It was excluded, which was a pity because without it the ballet didn't make much sense. It was shown on TV and a newspaper headline said, perhaps with some justification:

'A kiss, some feathers and they call it art.'

The string quartet was buried in a drawer in disgrace and thirty years passed by. In February 2007 I was in Scotland for a wonderful concert given by the Edinburgh String Quartet who proposed a quartet commission:

'Have you ever written one?'

'I've written works which use string quartet - to accompany a singer for instance in Shakespeare Songs or a flute in the Flute Quintet- but not a serious string quartet on its own.'

'We heard you had written one.'

'Well I did once write a ballet for string quartet.'

'Could we see it?'

When I got home I took 'Leda and the Swan' out of its drawer and started printing it up on computer. At first I scrapped large chunks of it. It embarrassed me, but the more I listened to it the more I realised that a lot of it did work, even the intentionally under-powered section meant for the poetry-reading, which in some way created breathing space. It had some purple passages in it but then that's what it was supposed to have had! I took great trouble to try and edit the score to perfection ready for performance.


17th October 2011

The Edinburgh Quartet celebrated its 50th anniversary by commissioning a quartet with the title 'Spieltrieb' ("the urge to play"), given its first performance in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on February 19th 2010 and since recorded on Naxos along with four other new works. On Monday 17th October they will be playing on BBC Radio 3's 'In Tune' programme.

July 1977 Delme Quartet, BBC Lime Grove Studios

Related Works

string quartet
'LEDA AND THE SWAN (string quartet)' op.589 (February 2008)
Concert work in one movement

Related Autobiography Chapters

The Duellists,Stronger than the sun,Leda and the Swan (1977)
'Speech after long silence','Spieltrieb', 'The Snowman Symphony' (2010)

[Back to top]