Voice and instrumental ensemble

Monodrama for soprano, 2 clarinets, violin and viola (1 player), cello and percussion

Text by Fleur Adcock

Hotspur was commissioned by Gemini with funding from the British Council. They premiered the work in Darlington, United Kingdom with Margaret Field (soprano), conducted by Peter Wiegold. Gretchen Albrecht designed 5 banners for the performance which are now in the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui.

About the work

Hotspur was written while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts, United Kingdom. It was completed at Great Bavington in Northumberland in October 1980, while Fleur and I were both fellows of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The piece is the lament of Elizabeth Mortimer, wife of Henry Percy, the 14th century north of England warrior known as ‘Hotspur’.

While writing it in Northumberland, not so far from the site of the battle of Otterburn, I was very aware of the harsh quality of life in those border regions in Hotspur’s day, when skirmishing and rieving was the way of survival in a wild and exposed, though beautiful landscape, with a climate sometimes benign, but often treacherous. Something of this has influenced the music.

Although the piece is not simple technically, the text called for certain simplicity. The vocal line had to be direct, and could not depart very far from the idea of the ballad except in the reflective middle movement, and in the recurring prophetic sections. The instrumental sections sometimes accompany, sometimes comment on, sometimes reinforce the expression of the text. They also often contrast suggestions of movement and stillness, or of sounds of battle and sounds of nature.

There are 5 sections in Hotspur:

  • Elizabeth sings of her husband
  • The siege of Newcastle
  • Carrying Hotspur’s child, she reflects as she waits on the evening of the battle of Otterburn
  • The battle of Otterburn
  • The death of Hotspur

Scores and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Hotspur — SOUNZ

There is a recording on Volume 32 of the Anthology of Australian Music on Disc.

Anthology of Australian Music: dramatic vocal music — CD

SOUNZ also has an archival recording.

Gillian Whitehead: selected works — CD