Errollyn Wallen’s Music at the Pendlebury Library

Errolyn Wallen (Photo: Gaby Merz)

Earlier this year, I wrote highlighting a whole range of recent acquisitions for the Pendlebury Library’s collection. But here, I’d like to go into a little more detail about the works we hold by Errollyn Wallen CBE, composer and alumna of the Faculty and King’s College, and this year’s holder of the Wort Residency.

Her works featured heavily in these new library acquisitions, so I would suggest that the Pendlebury Library is now an excellent place to start for anyone who would like to acquaint themselves further with her music. Our collection now contains a fantastic cross section of her extensive output, ranging from large orchestral scores, operas, chamber works as well as numerous instrumental solos and songs.

Wallen, Wallen, Wallen… Just a small selection of the library’s collection of Errollyn’s scores.
(Photo by the author)

Born in Belize, Errollyn moved to London at the age of two and went on to study composition at the universities of London and Cambridge. From the very beginning of her career, she has embraced an open and eclectic approach to music, with the motto of her own Ensemble X being ‘We don’t break down barriers in music… we don’t see any’. And, as you might expect from a composer with this outlook, her music is wide-ranging and hard to pigeon-hole, with songs appearing on compilations alongside such well-known singer-songwriters such as Bjork and Sting, as well as her having a string of commissions from leading classical ensembles and organisations all over the world, including the Royal Opera House, BBC Concert Orchestra, Almeida Opera, Leipzig Ballet, Dunedin Consort and many, many more. The sources and inspiration she draws on in her music are similarly diverse, although it seems to me that lyricism, vibrancy and dance rhythms are all elements that are integral to her unique creative vision.

With such a range of her works in the library, it’s hard to single out any in particular for comment, so I’ll just choose a few that first spring to mind, but there are many more besides and I encourage you to explore further on your own.

The Errollyn Wallen Songbook

It seems that the human voice is central to a great deal of Wallen’s output, so an excellent place to start might be with her Ivor Novello award winning The Errollyn Wallen Songbook, from which Errollyn will be performing songs at the faculty’s West Road Concert Hall on Thursday 02 December 2021 from 8pm. Entry is free, but booking online in advance is advised.

“All these songs were written from my heart and in a state of grace. At last they have made the journey from my battered manuscript sketchbook where they were often feverishly scribbled down. I am very pleased to be able to share them in this book. Improvisation is an important characteristic of my performances. In some songs in this book I have retained elements of my own style of improvisation, particularly in the piano solos and in some vocal lines. In others I have given a bare skeleton, designed to act as a springboard for flights of fancy. I encourage the performer, whether from a pop, classical, folk, or jazz background, to feel free to imbue their performances of this music with their own creative spirit.” — Errollyn Wallen


Wallen’s opera Another America: Earth is an exploration into the black condition, past, present and future. Dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, the opera was commissioned by The Royal Opera House and Nitro, with the première being in November 2003 at the Linbury Theatre and revived again in 2005, including a BBC television broadcast;

The library also has a score to another of Wallen’s operas, The Silent Twins, about the love-hate relationship of black twin girls, which was commissioned by Almeida Opera and first performed in July 2007. It is based on real life events as depicted in the book by Marjorie Wallace and was composed on a libretto by the acclaimed playwright April de Angelis.

Mighty River

Recently performed by the Cambridge University Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Bloxham at the West Road Concert Hall on October 2021, Wallen’s Mighty River is an orchestral work to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery. It was first commissioned and premièred by The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins in February 2007 at Holy Trinity Church, Clapham.

A excerpt from the score of Mighty River

Chamber Works

Some of the chamber works by Errollyn in the library’s collection include: Romeo Turn for viola, cello and double bass; Music for Tigers, a piano quintet commissioned and premièred by The Schubert Ensemble in October 2006; a quintet for flute and string quartet All the Blues I See, premièred by Emily Beynon and the Brodsky Quartet; Dervish for cello and piano; as well as a series of duets and solo pieces for piano, Errollyn’s own instrument.

However, as I mentioned, the scores here are only really scratching the surface of what the library has to offer, but I hope that they might at least give you a taster of the range of her compositions in the collection and may serve as a springboard for exploring the library’s holdings in your own time.

Errollyn will begin her residence in late November, during which she’ll be working with the Cambridge University Orchestra on performances of her music, giving a Colloquium, performing songs from the Errollyn Wallen Songbook, as well as meeting with students individually. She’ll return to the faculty again in Spring 2022.

Composer Errollyn Wallen at a piano in Snape Maltings. By Ben Ramsden
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]


About jamesluff

Senior library assistant at the Pendlebury Library of Music, University of Cambridge
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2 Responses to Errollyn Wallen’s Music at the Pendlebury Library

  1. I just came across this. Thank you and hope to see you in March!

    Happy New Year!



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