‘A pleasingly original, high quality hour of music and drama – not quite a concert, not quite musical theatre and not quite an illustrated talk. Maybe Burnside has invented a new performance art form?‘ (Lark review, November 2017)

Iain Burnside presents SWANSONG, a new production for 2017, showcasing his acclaimed reimagining of music in a theatrical context alongside the brightest young actors and musicians.

SWANSONG is a story about Schubert’s final masterpiece, told by a singer, a pianist and 6 actors. An askew, sideways glance at this famous work, SWANSONG weaves a freshly-imagined spoken narrative into the 14 songs for a new generation of listeners.  Fragmented yarns and memories, passions and unfulfilled desires mingle with Schubert’s glorious music, traversing centuries and continents as  SWANSONG impinges upon the lives of six characters;

  • IVOR GURNEY (1890-1937), the brilliant, difficult, strong willed, stroppy composer/poet incarcerated in City of London Asylum, locked up and forgotten  for last 15 years of his life
  • TOBIAS HASLINGER (1787-1842), a successful Viennese publisher, whose decision to bring these songs together resulted in Schwanengesang
  • FRANZ VON SCHOBER (1796-1882), Schubert’s closest friend, the handsome, sexually successful life and soul of the party that Schubert could never be
  • JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897), too young to have known Schubert, but hero worships him beyond the grave; a testy North German with a Viennese chip on his shoulder.
  • LIESL (1807-1846), Schubert’s laundry girl, doing her best to make ends meet and offering a mirror on 1820s Vienna and its social/sexual mores
  • EMILY (1993- ), an elegant US grad student, visiting Vienna to research her thesis.

SWANSONG is wry, funny, poignant, bitter-sweet and thoughtful. As pianist, broadcaster, writer and director, Burnside draws on his lively imagination and deep understanding of Schubert’s work to shine a new light on the fear, despair and joy inherent in this collection of songs.   It seems that no-body is left untouched by Schubert’s final farewell to gardens, cities, maidens and the stars…

SWANSONG builds on the previous success of Iain Burnside’s critically acclaimed works for stage: Drums and Guns, A Soldier and a Maker, Lads in Their Hundreds and Why Does The Queen Die?


Lads 3**** Burnside interweaves this bleak biography with some of Gurney’s huge output of music and poetry….the staging is polished and in particular Richard Goulding’s performance as Gurney is a remarkably fine and very touching one.


Andrew Clements | Guardian (A Soldier and a Maker)


IB5**** Iain Burnside is best known as a pianist, but in A Soldier and a Maker he shows himself to be a playwright of surprising technical skill….With its varied pace, confident line of action and recourse to comic interludes, Burnside’s vivid narrative has a freedom that transcends the normal confines of verbatim theatre. It is extraordinarily moving.

Mark Valencia | What’s On Stage (A Soldier and a Maker)

Video extract from A Soldier and a Maker 

SWANSONG Tour dates

  • 18th August 2017, Kilkenney Arts Festival : Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside with actors from The Lir, Dublin – buy tickets here
  • 4th  November 2017, Guildhall School of Music & Drama  (cast with 2 singers, 2 pianists and 6 actors) 
  • 4th November 2017, Guildhall School of Music & Drama (cast with 2 singers, 2 pianists and 6 actors)

SWANSONG is a unique work designed to showcase the talents of emerging artists in conservatoires and universities and to be re-cast accordingly in each venue.

SWANSONG  consists of 14 songs and 14 separate monologues. The number of singers and pianists involved is flexible (from 2-8) and we encourage institutions to respond individually to this work.  Singers and actors may adopt distinct roles, or singers may double up as actors. The casting options and modular framework of SWANSONG offer multiple variants to suit performance spaces and institutions of all sizes.
Each of the monologues can be rehearsed independently, developing and exploring the specific context for each distinct character. Continuity is provided by the musicians who remain on stage throughout (whist the actors come and go) and intersperse Schubert’s 14 songs in between the monologues.  This modular concept is particularly time-efficient, reducing whole-cast rehearsal from weeks to a few hours. Burnside envisages a work that is topical and relevant to the hosting venues and theatre that keeps on reinventing itself.


Production information for venues: 

  •  70 minutes running time (no interval)
  • no age restriction
  •  2-8 musicians, 3-6 actors, SM, producer and 1 technician on the road
  •  1 day get in (on morning of performance)
  •  1 hour strike

Tech requirements

  • Playing Space min. 8m wide, 5m deep and 4m high (75 – 300 seats)
  • One grand piano
  • Simple house lighting rig is favouarble, although interesting alternative spaces (without fixed rigs) are very welcome propositions

Marketing Summary; we will provide

  • Print: A5 flyers, A4 and A3 posters
  • Rehearsal and production photos
  • Trailer & press release
  • Box office briefing sheet
  • Plus regular contact with your marketing department and liaising re. social media in order to reach sales targets
All images from Iain Burnside’s previous productions at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and international collaborations with The Juilliard School, New York and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin.

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