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  • Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 17: Anna Clyne

I’m often asked to name my favorite living composers—Anna Clyne is always on that list. Clyne (b. 1980) is an English composer—although she now lives in the US—whose contemporary, yet accessible music I find endlessly appealing and rewarding. Her work is largely tonal, with clearly delineated structures, and smart use of extended techniques. In other words, it’s often just the right amount of “new” for an audience that really just came to hear Beethoven 5…again.


Clyne has received numerous awards, as well as a Grammy nomination. She has also been engaged as Composer In Residence with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, and the Berkeley Symphony. Most recently, she is Associate Composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Not bad, right?

While I have become familiar with many of her works, Within Her Arms was the first one I ever heard, and it’s still my favorite. It’s a (relatively) simple string orchestra piece written for Clyne’s late mother. The grief and sense of loss in the work are palpable, but so is its fragile, elegiac beauty. And I completely agree with The New Yorker critic Alex Ross’s observation, in which he noted, “intertwining voices of lament bring to mind English Renaissance masterpieces of Thomas Tallis and John Dowland.”


Here is the note Clyne herself provides for the work:


Within Her Arms is music for my mother, with all my love.


Earth will keep you tight within her arms dear one—

So that tomorrow you will be transformed into flowers—

This flower smiling quietly in this morning field—

This morning you will weep no more dear one—

For we have gone through too deep a night.

This morning, yes, this morning, I kneel down on the green grass—

And I notice your presence.

Flowers, that speak to me in silence.

The message of love and understanding has indeed come.

—Thich Nhat Hanh


— Anna Clyne


This live performance by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, probably done without a conductor, is the best I’ve found: https://youtu.be/kVxy-_aS0N4

Enjoy! :)


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