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William John Sweeney (born 5 January 1950) is a Scottishmarker composer.


Born in Glasgowmarker, he attended Knightswood Secondary Schoolmarker. He studied the clarinet and composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 1967 to 1970, and at the Royal Academy of Musicmarker from 1970 to 1973, where his teachers included Alan Hacker and Harrison Birtwistle. He went on to teach woodwind instruments, and then composition at the University of Glasgowmarker. An early influence was the European avant-garde, particularly Karlheinz Stockhausen, though he returned to tonal composition in the mid-1970s.

His work is strongly influenced by traditional Scottish folk music; in particular, he has utilised the heterophonic style of Gaelic psalm-singing, and the piobaireachd form; he varies melodies through ornamentation, as in traditional pibroch, and in their contour; he modifies instruments' tone-colours through alternative fingerings. He has a strong regard for the music of Leoš Janáček. He has also addressed the reconciliation of classical and traditional music with jazz, using improvisational techniques and sometimes combining the two idioms. He has been influenced by ancient Greek poetry, and Indian and Arab traditions in his use of ostinato and other techniques of varied repetition.

Selected works


  • An Turus (A. MacNeacail), 1997


  • Maqam, 1984
  • Glasgow, 1985
  • Sunset Song, 1986
  • Cumha, 1987
  • An rathad ùr: saxophone and orchestra, 1989
  • Seann Orain, 1989
  • Air, Strathspey and Reel, 1990
  • Concerto grosso: 9 clarinets, strings and timpani 1990
  • St. Blane's Hill, 1991
  • A Set for the Kingdom: string orchestra, 1991
  • October Landscapes, 1993
  • Birth/Procession, 1993
  • The Lost Mountain (A-bheinn Air Chall): wind band, 1996
  • Sweeney Astray, 1996


  • Salm an Fhearainn', 1987
  • An Seachnadh, 1988
  • I Will Wait, 1990
  • Two Lyrics, 1992
  • Airc an dualchais, 1998


  • 3 Poems from Sangschaw, 1977
  • The Heights of Macchu Picchu, 1988
  • El Pueblo, 1989
  • A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, 1992
  • An Coilltean Ratharsair (The Woods of Raasay), 1993
  • Seeking Wise Salmon, 1994
  • All that came in that one coracle, 1999


  • Mackay, Neil. 'William Sweeney's an seachnadh'. Tempo, new series, no. 188 (Scottish Issue, March 1994): 58.
  • Morris, Francis J. 'Sweeney, William (John)', Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 2007-06-07),
  • Reid-Baxter, James. 'William Sweeney and the Voice of the People'. Tempo, new series, no. 188 (Scottish Issue, March 1994): 26–30.

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