Why Do You Grieve

11 mins, for 11 instruments or orchestra

-- Recently nominated for an Ivor Novello Composers Award --
More info can be found here on their website.

Written for Oliver Zeffman and Music x Museums, a concert which "looks at different ways in which composers have explored time as the essential medium through which their works are experienced."

Programme note
Why Do You Grieve has two starting points: first, a Bach chorale whose first line gives the piece both its title and the notes of its musical material. Second, Stephen Hawking’s work, which for Marsey highlights the difference between the ‘small, simple ‘time’ of our daily lives, and the kind of huge, relativistic ‘time’ used when discussing large celestial objects’. 

Parsed through Marsey’s lucid visual imagination, abstract notions of physics become processes that can be translated into music. As objects fall towards a black hole, extreme gravitational forces distort them, stretching them into a string one atom thick – an extraordinary process called ‘spaghettification’. Marsey applies this process to music, imagining the music of Bach inscribed on Voyager 1’s golden disc while the space probe is pulled into a black hole. 

Why Do You Grieve has a sinister, rumbling undertow that seems constantly to drag on the glassy, celestial layers of counterpoint high above, creating a lurking sense of dread. Lonely horn calls echo across the music’s wide-open texture. At the end of the piece the music seems to rise up, sparkling optimistically in the major mode before fading away. This closing section refers to Hawking radiation, which offers a glimmer of hope: some energy is theoretically able to escape the seeming inevitability of a black hole, radiating away until the black hole evaporates. 

-- Programme note by Anthony Friend


Sheet music

Why Do You Grieve Full score PDF


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Total £15.00

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Past events
  1. Elias Brown conducts Why Do You Grieve with an orchestra of players from Colburn School, alongside music by Ligeti and Debussy.

  2. Platoon release Live at the Science Museum, part of Oliver Zeffman's Music x Museums.

  3. Why Do We Grieve is out on Platoon as a Visual Album, released as part of Music x Museums, a series of albums and films with Apple Music.

  4. The premiere of Why Do We Grieve, for 11 instruments. Performed at the Science Museum under Oliver Zeffman, part of his Music x Museums series.

    Ivor Novello Award Nomination | William Marsey, Composer

    Oct 2023


    Ivor Novello Award Nomination

    I'm honoured to announce I've been nominated for a Ivor Novello Award for my 2022 composition Why Do You Grieve, in the chamber ensemble. The piece was commissioned by Oliver Zeffman to accompany the Hawking Exhibition at the Science museum, and was performed there last summer as part of Music X Museums. In the chamger category I'm up alongside Thomas Adès, Jasper Dommett, Luke Bedford, and Hannah Kendall. Stiff competition! The winners are announced in November -- more info here.

    May 2023


    Live at the Science Museum release

    Oliver Zeffman's Live at the Science Museum concert, featuring a new commission by me and recorded live last year, is now out on streaming platforms. All the links are here.

    Mar 2023


    Why Do We Grieve out soon

    Orchestral piece written for Oliver Zeffman and Music x Museum, filmed and recorded last summer at the Science Museum for Platoon and Apple Music, is out at the end of the month. Being released as a series, trailer here.

    May 2022


    New work for Music x Museums

    A new piece, Why Do You Grieve, will be performed at the Science Museum on Tuesday 17 May, accompanying the Hawking Exhibition there. Ticket here.