Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestra/voice
Instrumentation: 2 fl. 2 obs. 2 cls. 2 bns. 2 hns. tpt. 2 trbs. timp. perc (tom-t, cym, vib, bass drum, w/block). strings and choir (satb)
Length: 8 minutes
Text: Michael Longley
Commissioned by: Belfast Festival at Queen’s
Premiere: 25 October 2002, Waterfront Hall, Belfast.
Ulster Orchestra and Cappella Caeciliana, conductor Thierry Fischer


When you walk up the Albert Clock’s winding stone staircase of 96 steps you are led into a whitewashed chamber which echoes to the tick of a pendulum swinging in the centre of a six foot square class case and a swish every thirty seconds as a pair of iron blades revolve driving the minute hands round the dials.  The level above takes you inside the four faces of the clock, each face measuring ten feet across and for the first time you are aware of the presence of the busy city streets bustling below.  The Albert 
Clock has long been an attraction for midnight revelers on New Year’s Eve.  Another tradition was the “Race to the Clock” in which competitors would start at Cornmarket on the first chime and the winner would be the one to reach the base of the clock before it struck twelve.

It was the image of this race that inspired the opening bars of Albert’s Clock, a busy atmosphere where punchy brass and woodwind interrupt fast moving strings.  This idea of the race recurs throughout the work as our journey through the life of the clock unfolds.  Michael Longley’s poem is written in six stanzas, each followed by a short refrain: “In silence the pendulum swings”. This refrain is marked musically by a still atmosphere featuring solo tenor and vibraphone. The regularity of the seconds, minutes and hours ticking by is a constant feature of the work. However in the closing bars a more reflective mood takes over as Albert’s Clock whispers to an end.

Albert’s Clock was commissioned by the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and premiered by Cappella Caeciliana and the Ulster Orchestra at the opening night of the 2002 Festival Sounding The City.  It was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, RTÉ lyric fm and BBC Radio Ulster and later televised on BBC 4.

Joe McKee, Irish News:

Albert’s Clock used the resources of a full orchestra and the choir Cappella Caeciliana singing words from a Michael Longley poem.  This turned out to be the sort of piece that immediately grabbed the audience by its vibrancy and raw energy, an energy that grew from Longley’s text.”


Performed by:
Ulster Orchestra and Cappella Caeciliana