A Wailing on the Wind

for string quartet and storyteller

Ian Stephens

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for string quartet and storyteller

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Composer Ian Stephens
Year of Composition 2013
Duration 35'-40'
ISMN 9790570680207
Categories (all composers) , , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-is1wotw1


‘The wailing wind brings stories long whispered, but seldom heard. The banshee’s cry, a lost love, a tale to chill the blood. A teenage boy learns family secrets that forge links between the past and present.’

In A Wailing on the Wind, Liz Weir’s words are intertwined with my music. The Mavron Quartet, who commissioned the piece, first came together with Liz and I in July 2012, spending a fascinating day being terrified out of our wits by Liz’s excellently creepy ghost stories. Liz and I met again in January 2013 for a session in which she polished the script, and I worked out exactly how many seconds of music was needed for each section, what character it should have, whether it should be foreground or background, and so on. I wrote the bulk of the piece in February 2013.

The music itself works somewhat on a leitmotif basis – the technique developed in 19th-century opera where a particular musical theme relates to a particular character. Central to the whole piece is a three-note rising pattern which is first heard in the instrumental introduction, which in musical terms is B-C-G. The only direct quotation in the piece is a few notes from the ‘Dies Irae’ (Day of Wrath) plainchant from the Requiem Mass, which I couldn’t resist incorporating at a moment of particularly ghoulish terror. The other tunes – whether it’s what seems to be an Irish ballad or reel, or an American 1940s Big Band number – are my own work, though they draw unashamedly on the musical language of the times and places they are designed to evoke.

The first performance was on 23 April 2013 at St David’s Hall in Cardiff.