Three Brunel Crossings

Genre: Instrumental


Forces: String orchestra

Length: 16 Minutes


Three Brunel Crossings (1994) – For string orchestra, 16’.

Three Brunel Crossings appears on the album Like Water and Like Wind, available here, played by the Bingham String Ensemble.

Sheet Music

Watermarked (Free)




Printed Copies


Programme notes

‘Three Brunel Crossings’ is primarily concerned with rhythm. It combines classical forms with rhythms from jazz, folk and Latin-American styles, with a dash of minimalism.
The piece has no formal programme. It is intended as ‘pure’ music. However, there are some elements - especially rhythmic - which listeners may relate to specific features of the story of Marc and Isambard Brunel, two of Britain's greatest engineers.
Both men were visionaries, and, overcoming the criticism of their contemporaries, achieved things that were considered impossible. Their determination is salutary.
The Rotherhithe tunnel was begun by Marc Brunel in 1825 and completed with the help of his son Isambard in 1843. The construction, though executed with typical Brunel flair and invention, was dogged with problems: inundation, death, money, delay.
Working in appalling and dangerous conditions, the Brunels and their workmen toiled for years.The project finally broke the elder Brunel's health, while Isambard was nearly drowned. Despite these hazards, the completed tunnel - the first under the Thames - remains in daily use today as part of the Underground system, a supreme engineering achievement.
The Saltash bridge also remains in daily use, an inspiring sight by rail or by road, spanning the river Tamar and its estuary. In two graceful spans, it carries the trains from Devon to Cornwall under piers which bear the engineer's name. But as it was completed, I K Brunel was dying, broken by the labours he had undertaken. The keynotes of his work were simplicity, unfussiness, directness, and a refusal to accept the existence of the impossible.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge dominates the skyline, towering above the Severn as Brunel bestrode his times. But he never saw it built. It was completed by his fellow engineers as a memorial to him. So those people who like to have a programme in their music may look for these elements: rivers; The Sea; The Colossus; trains; the navvies; graceful spans; inundation; determination and the overcoming of obstacles; achievement and disappointment, elation and despair; ill-health and death. Family legend has it that the Wedd family were related by marriage to the Brunels.

F L Dunkin Wedd
Tonbridge, Kent


First performance:
14 Aug 1997, London String Soloists, Merton College, Oxford.

Three Brunel Crossings appears on the album Like Water and Like Wind, available here, played by the Bingham String Ensemble.