Elegy for Strings

What is it?

Elegy is a single-movement piece for a conventional string orchestra, lasting about ten-and-a-half minutes. It has been compared favourably with such well-known works as Samuel Barber’s 'Adagio for Strings' and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 'Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis'.

From a technical point of view it is within the capabilities of a reasonably proficient high school chamber orchestra (as was demonstrated in April 2015 by the chamber orchestra of Park City High School, Utah), although its frequent changes of time signature require careful attention.


For the purposes of this video I have attempted to reconstruct as accurately as possible the sound of the performance given on 16th April 2015 in the George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Centre Theatre, Park City, Utah by the Chamber Orchestra of Park City High School, rehearsed under the baton of Scott Tanner and conducted on the night by myself.

My sincere thanks to the Park City Education Foundation for providing the grant that paid for my visit to Park City and to the Stein Eriksen Lodge, Deer Valley, for accommodating me free of charge.


Elegy is the result of an improvisation. In a sense, therefore, one could say that it was composed in the ten-and-a-half minutes that it took me to play it. Granted I have made minor adjustments subsequently but it remains essentially as it was improvised on the spur of the moment. In the early summer of 2010 two friends of mine lost their mothers in very different circumstances. One had been ill for a long time. Her death, while distressing for the family, was nevertheless not entirely unexpected. The other died when her car was struck by a heavy lorry on a slip road of the M4 motorway near the city of Bath in the south of England. That certainly was a tremendous shock for her family. Quite by coincidence the two funerals were scheduled to take place at the same time: one in Trowbridge, England; the other in Swansea, Wales. During the evening before the funerals I felt it right to pray for the two families, but no words came to me. So I sat at my keyboard and started to play, a software sequencer recording my every keystroke. Ten-and-a-half minutes later I reached what seemed a natural conclusion. I reset the sequencer and listened to what I had just played.

Stuart Brown
Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake, photograph by Stuart Brown

In order to understand what I'm about to tell you, you need to appreciate that until this time I had never thought of myself as a composer. Yes, I wrote the occasional song or had a stab at writing something more adventurous; but nothing of such obvious merit that I could with confidence use the word composer to describe myself.

Elegy changed that. As I listened to what I had played, I remember feeling a sense of confusion verging on awe. The music was so far removed from anything I had previously composed that it felt to me as if some higher purpose had taken over during those ten-and-a-half minutes. I recorded the music as an mp3 and sent it to a few people whose musical judgement I trust. The responses that I received confirmed my feeling about the music. People were comparing the piece to works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Tavener, Samuel Barber and George Butterworth.

As a child I had dreamed of becoming a composer. Elegy made me realise - finally - that I had achieved that ambition.

“I was deeply moved. You didn’t compose that. You were just the instrument.”

(Peter Maskrey)