by Judith Weir CBE

04 June 2019


‘Blond Eckbert’ is an early classic of German romantic writing, a short story - just 20 pages or so - by a young man (Ludwig Tieck, aged around 25.) At that time folk tales, with their fantastical happenings narrated in plain speech, were greatly in vogue. But when the main woman character, Berthe, starts to tell her life story, she warns her hearers ‘do not take my story for a fairy tale’.

And indeed, this gripping psychological drama (‘psychological’ a century before Freud) reminded me much more of Alfred Hitchcock, with its buried clues, general air of criminality, and incredible narrative twists. It seemed to me that opera would be an ideal medium to express the underlying emotions and tensions of this story. Furthermore, Tieck’s writing is full of musical atmosphere, the sounds of nature plus the song of a bird, who appears as an all-knowing character in the opera.

The opera has a cast of only four singers (Eckbert, his wife Berthe, the Bird and a tenor who plays several mysterious passers-by.) Musically, this gave me the chance to write very extended songlike passages ; for instance, Berthe, when reflecting on her early life, sings for about twenty minutes, on her own apart from some brief birdsong. All four performers are highly prominent and significant in the opera’s musical and psychological unfolding.

Blond Eckbert opened at ENO in 1994, directed by Tim Hopkins and conducted by Sian Edwards. A ‘Pocket Version’ with chamber ensemble instead of orchestra was premiered (by The Opera Group) in the Linbury Theatre in 2006. The opera, in both versions, has had around twenty productions; most recently in Amsterdam (Dutch National Opera Academy) this month.

Judith Weir

The prelude, scene 1 and an extract of scene 3 of Blond Eckbert feature in the National Opera Studio contemporary scenes production Voices of Now (Friday 7 June, 7.30pm; Saturday 8 June, 3.00pm, 7.30pm).

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Judith Weir CBE was born into a Scottish family in 1954, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and studied composition with John Tavener during her schooldays. She went on to Cambridge University, where her composition teacher was Robin Holloway; and in 1975 attended summer school at Tanglewood, where she worked with Gunther Schuller. After this she spent several years working in schools and adult education in rural southern England; followed by a period based in Scotland, teaching at Glasgow University and RSAMD.

During this time she began to write a series of operas (including King Harald’s Saga, The Black Spider, A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom and Blond Eckbert) which have subsequently received many performances in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA. The most recent opera is Miss Fortune, premiered at Bregenz in 2011, and then staged at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 2012.

In 2014 she was appointed Master of The Queen’s Music in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the first woman to hold this position. 

Judith’s music is published by Chester Music and Novello & Co.  She blogs about her experiences of cultural life in the UK at