Caol I (2002)

Project Summary

An orchestral piece commissioned by Glyndebourne for Glyndebourne Youth Opera Group and Brighton Youth Orchestra in 2002.Performed on tour in Scotland and at Brighton Festival. Also part of the Elemental concert performed at Glyndebourne in 2004.


Caol I (Gaelic) means ‘the sound of Iona’ – the narrow strip of water that separates the islands of Mull and Iona.

The work is, essentially, a play on the words ‘sound of Iona’, in the sense that it is based on traditional melodies from that area (played by the pipes) and from the distant island of Barra that one could imagine being ‘heard from Iona’.

Caol I attempts to create a natural picture of the Hebrides free from the over-sentimentality and ‘Gaelic- kitsch’ found so often in highland tourist shops and charter coaches. It does not try to be a religious work but captures and reflects the spiritual charm and beauty of the Hebrides.

In its original form Caol I had only one vocal soloist singing far behind the orchestra. This was modified for the Elemental concert in 2004, which contained expanded parts for a group of vocal/movement performers from the Glyndebourne Youth Opera Group realising a choreographed representation of Caol I by Clare Whistler.

The pipes play three traditional melodies. The first is Thalaidh Inn Thu (‘If you were mine’). The second is called Laoidh Chaluim Chille (‘St. Columba’s Hymn’). The words describe a boat journey across the sounds of Mull and Iona (it is interesting to note that this melody was played as the body of the ex-Labour leader, John Smith, was taken across the sound of Iona for his burial there in 1994). The third is called Leanabh an Aigh (‘Child in a Manger’), familiar to most as Morning has Broken.

The vocalists perform the beautiful Talahd Chriosta (the ‘Christ Child’s Lullaby’) from the Island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

Creative Team

Composer/Conductor Ian McCrae