Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-ppllx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-31T11:51:30.482Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2014


This article is the first extended analytical study of the music of the Irish composer Andrew Hamilton. It explores the aesthetic ideas that inform Hamilton's music, which often have as much in common with the work of contemporary visual artists and writers as they do with that of other composers. It discusses the particular sense of humour underlying many of his pieces, as well as his music's use of common and supposedly simple materials, which are put in the service of new and original aims.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Stravinsky, Igor, Poetics of music in the form of six lessons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947)Google Scholar, p. 47.

2 Hamilton's teacher, Louis Andriessen, once described his music as being ‘like a beautifully carved wooden box, with nothing inside’. Andrew Hamilton, personal communication.

3 O'Brien, Flann, ‘The Tale of Black Peter’ in The Short Fiction of Flann O'Brien (Dublin: Dalkey Archive Press, 2013)Google Scholar, p. 44.

4 He often comments how he would walk around with the score of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron under his oxter.

5 Charlie Wilmouth, Composers Who Matter: Andrew Hamilton, (accessed 14 August 2013).

6 Music for cows (or horses) (2004). Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds is one of his favourite novels, and perhaps music for cows was written for the type of cow that appears at the end of the novel.

7 Email to the author, 22 October 2011.

8 The piece was commissioned by the Crash Ensemble, with funds from the Irish Arts Council, in 2009.

9 Jonathan Grimes, ‘An Interview with Andrew Hamilton’, Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland, 5 October 2005, (accessed 13 August 2013).

10 Reinhardt, Ad, ‘art is art: 25 lines of words on art statement’, in Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt (New York: Viking Press, 1975)Google Scholar, p. 52.

11 Email to the author, 5 November 2009.

12 Brief repeated iterations of the same chord, which sound like a skipping CD.

13 This brief interjection of contrasting material, which develops gradually throughout the course of the piece, is one of Hamilton's favourite compositional devices.

14 Of all the percussion instruments to choose, the deadened resonant attack of the oil drum is one that doesn't interfere or compete with the spectrum of the ensemble but has enough presence to suggest a punch-drunk attack: dull, but present.

15 Reinhardt, ‘art is art’.

16 From C minor to an interrupted cadence in G sharp major at bar 353.

17 Writing in his PhD commentary in 2002 Hamilton wrote: ‘Making musicians whistle and sing relates I think to my experiences playing in the gamelan in which a player will clap, sing and shout. It could be said that these non-instrumental outbursts are sometimes made in desperation due to the limitations imposed on the material they play on their own instruments’. Andrew Hamilton, Portfolio of Original Compositions, PhD Thesis, York University, 2002.

18 Charlie Wilmouth, Composers Who Matter: Andrew Hamilton.

19 Commissioned by Kettle's Yard, in 2009.

20 Commissioned by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and the Cork International Choral Festival, 2009.

21 Hamilton is currently working towards an album of solo pieces, to be released later in 2014.

22 Email to the author, 3 May 2009.

23 Jonathan Grimes, ‘Interview with Andrew Hamilton’.

24 This is a man who will play the start of Wagner's Die Meistersinger in the middle of the street, simply because he would like everyone to appreciate how good it sounds.

25 Email to the author, 3 December 2009.

26 These oohs and ahhs function more as musical objects than as carriers of meaning.

27 Taken from Thomas Bernhard's award speech for the Austrian State Prize for Literature in 1967.

28 At the end of the live recording of this work (available on his MySpace page, a wonderfully uncontrollable, possibly Corkonian exclamation resounds during the initial applause, a testament to the strange affect of joy and bewilderment that his work can have on the unsuspecting listener.

29 Composed for string quartet, soprano, alto, tenor, bass and commissioned by Endymion and EXAUDI and Sound Scotland with the support of the RVW Trust, the PRS Foundation, Creative Scotland and the Marina Kleinwort Charitable Trust.

30 right and wrong is his most concise effort in fragmenting the time of a piece, although music for roger casement (2006) employs a similar approach to cutting up materials. Hamilton is currently planning a larger work based on the life of Roger Casement.

31 Kevin Volans, liner notes to Concerto for piano and wind instruments (Chandos CD 9563, 1997).

32 Irving Sandler interview with Martin, Agnes, in Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings, 1977–1991 (London: Serpentine Gallery, 1993)Google Scholar, p. 12.

33 Martin, Agnes, ‘The Untroubled Mind’, in Agnes Martin: Writings, ed. Schwarz, Dieter (Ostfildern: Cantz, c. 1991)Google Scholar, p. 38. I believe Hamilton's preoccupation with using artists' statements as texts stems not from their status as ‘insider information’ but from a desire to refocus the attention on art, the artist and the struggle to create something that moves the listener.

34 The dynamic break comes exactly at the reverse golden section, the wrong right if you will.

35 Compare bar number 1 with 125–126.

36 Compare bar number 2 with 136.

37 Since 2011, all his works have incorporated a greater control of dynamic contrast (see O. A. I. R., beyond victory and defeat and O'Rourke, all 2013).

38 Hamilton, Portfolio of Original Compositions, 2002.

39 Email to the author, 12 December 2011.

40 Paul Howard's satirical mouthpiece of ‘Celtic Tiger’ Dublin.

41 The diminished seventh.

42 Commissioned by Isabelle O'Connell, with funding from the Arts Council of Ireland. The title is drawn from a short story by Robert Walser, Food for Thought.

43 De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa, A Choreographer's Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elena's Aria, Bartok, by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker & Bojana Cvejic (Brussels: Mercatorfonds; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)Google Scholar, p. 27.

44 Dorment, Richard, ‘Loveable in Parts, Jasper Johns: Gray’, New York Review of Books, 3 April 2008.Google Scholar