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Gumboots by DAVID BRUCE


"The second it ended, their listeners leaped to their feet, screaming and shouting, like they'd been blown out of aircraft ejection seats."
Charleston City Paper
"an engaging new work which deserves a place in the chamber repertory"

Gramaphone Magazine

There is a paradox in music, and indeed all art - the fact that life-enriching art has been produced, even inspired by conditions of tragedy, brutality and oppression, a famous example being Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, written while he was in a prisoner of war camp. Gumboot Dancing bears this trait - it was born out of the brutal labour conditions in South Africa under Apartheid, in which black miners where chained together and wore Gumboots (wellington boots) while they worked in the flooded gold mines, because it was cheaper for the owners to supply the boots than to drain the floodwater from the mine. Apparently slapping the boots and chains was used by the workers as a form of communication which was otherwise banned in the mine, and this later developed into a form of dance. If the examples of Gumboot Dancing available online are anything to go by, it is characterised by a huge vitality and zest for life. So this for me is a striking example of how something beautiful and life-enhancing can come out of something far more negative. Of course this paradox has a far simpler explanation - the resilience of the human spirit.

My 'Gumboots' is in two parts of roughly equal length, the first is tender and slow moving, at times 'yearning'; at times seemingly expressing a kind of tranquility and inner peace. The second is a complete contrast, consisting of five, ever-more-lively 'gumboot dances', often joyful and always vital.

However, although there are some African music influences in the music, I don't see the piece as being specifically 'about' the Gumboot dancers, if anything it could be seen as an abstract celebration of the rejuvinating power of dance, moving as it does from introspection through to celebration. I would like to think however, that the emotional journey of the piece, and specifically the complete contrast between the two halves will force the listener to conjecture some kind of external 'meaning' to the music - the tenderness of the first half should 'haunt' us as we enjoy the bustle of the second; that bustle itself should force us to question or revaluate the tranquility of the first half. But to impose a meaning beyond that would be stepping on dangerous ground - the fact is you will choose your own meaning, and hear your own story, whether I want you to or not.

David Bruce, St Albans, Sept 2008

With the Julian Bliss and the Carducci String Quartet at the recording of Gumboots for Signum.

Press / Latest Reviews / Jul 2019
Martin Dreyer

Bliss and the Carduccis raised the roof with David Bruce’s Gumboots (2008), which refers to South African labourers’ footwear in flooded gold mines. Its innocent opening, with bass clarinet, is deceptively calm. What follows, with normal clarinet, is a whacky dance that grows increasingly wild, with jazzy syncopation, crazy cross-rhythms, trills and eventually all three together. The enjoyment of all five of these brilliant players was irresistibly infectious. / Nov 2018
Angus McPherson

Between the two string quintets, clarinettist Georgina Oakes joined Chen, Nakamura, Thompson and Stender for British composer David Bruce’s delightful 2008 work Gumboots for clarinet and string quartet The opening was magical – the high register of Oakes’ bass clarinet fused with Thompson’s viola to create an exquisite, glowing texture, the pair drifting apart only in their Blues-inflected ornamentation, before the sound unfurled to encompass the other musicians. While Bruce is careful to point out in his program note that this piece is not “about” the gumboot dancers of South Africa – the dance tradition, rooted in the horrendous conditions forced upon black gold miners – it certainly inspired the work, which celebrates “the rejuvenating power of dance”. The reflective opening movement, which saw clarinet crying over strings, viola sliding and the cello’s upper register luminous, found at one point a more rhythmic motion, but it wasn’t until the second movement – a suite of five short pieces – that the music really began to dance. Oakes’ gave a lively, cheerful performance, the folky first dance giving way to a quirky second, before a visceral Gershwin-slide from the clarinet opened the third. The fourth dance’s clarinet filigree, deftly negotiated by Oakes, gave way to bouncing energy and joyous trilling in the finale. A pleasure.

Classical / Aug 2017
Vance R. Koven

One of the more popular recent works of chamber music (by which we mean a piece that has been performed and recorded by several discrete ensembles, to general acclaim) is David Bruce’s Gumboots for clarinet and string quartet (2008)... Commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Todd Palmer (who performed it on this occasion) and the St. Lawrence String Quartet, it is popular for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, it is in an idiom that is immediately accessible, even pop-inflected. Gumoots’s emotionally engaging back-story involves Bruce’s study of South African gumboot (Wellies, high rubber boots) dancing that began as a form of communication among black gold miners during the apartheid years, when they were chained together and forbidden to speak. And finally, the piece follows that most appealing of musical progressions, from grim despair and anger to joyous celebration (think Beethoven 5 or 9), as the dancing evolves from protest to celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. Bruce has not sought to replicate the music of gumboot dancing, though he may have incorporated some of its rhythmic patterns, both of stepping and slapping the boots. .. The crack up-to-date string writing included the slapping rhythms well portrayed by snap-pizzicato in several movements. The sly ensemble writing places the clarinet’s accents frequently at odds with those of the strings...The rousing finale brought the house to its feet

The Clarinet - The International Clarinet Association / Dec 2016
Gregory Barrett

This is a moving work of great beauty and vitality that conveys a sense of journey. It starts with searching reflection and
travels to jubilation....Bass clarinet in nearly unison rhythm with viola begins the slow, tender, melancholy Part 1. The other strings join and sustain the expressive, contemplative mood. This is music in no hurry – it provides time for deep thought and feeling... As the music unfolds, the Bass clarinet reaches its highest note with profound intensity, a C-sharp, five ledger lines and a space above the treble staff...Part 2 is a series of five “gumboot” dances that climb step by step to higher and higher levels of defiance, jubilation and enthralling ecstasy. The first dance begins klezmer-style with pizzicato beats from the cello and sharp offbeats from the higher strings...Played attacca, the second dance ensues at double the tempo of the first with layers of five against eight notes per measure. .. Dance 3 sets off with an upper register glissando in the clarinet, propelling this 7/8 movement forward. The music is boisterous and the relative brevity of this dance gives a sense of accelerando to the work as a whole. The listener is in a sense breathless, wondering what will come next. What does come in Dance 4 is a light-hearted essay in hemiola – think of the shuffling of dancing feet in the fantastic rhythmic patterns created. The music skips forward in increasingly embellished and fanciful form. Rushing scales conclude the dance. Dance 5, “Jubilante,” is celebration music in 9/16 with bounding rhythm and sparkling trills in the clarinet. No one can resist the joy of this music and indeed of Gumboots as a whole. Check it out!


Planet Hugill / Jun 2016
Robert Hugill

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

David Bruce's evocative modern classic

...The result though is beautifully evocative rather then being specific. The remaining five short movements are about the same duration in total as the opening movement, these five are all dances. Joyous pieces, each increasingly rumbustious and energetic.

This a lovely piece, and here it receives a fine performance from Bliss and the Carducci Quartet. Bruce wrote the work in 2008 and the recording came about because Julian Bliss was asked to play the piece at a music festival in 2014, a circumstance which led directly to the creation of this recording in 2015.

Gramophone Magazine (Editor's Choice) / Jun 2016
Mark Pullinger

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

An engaging new work which deserves a place in the chamber repertory

Financial Times ★★★★ / Apr 2016
Richard Fairman

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]
David Bruce's Gumboots looks back to the apartheid regime in South Africa, when miners had to toil in flooded gold mines wearing gumboots.

The rhythms of them slapping their boots and chains are transformed into a set of African-inspired dance movements for [sic] bass clarinet and string quartet — at first haunting, then breezy, catchy, exhilarating.

The Times / Apr 2016
Neil Fisher

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]
Bruce's piece pivots on the contrast between its elegiac first movement and the five dances that follow it, and Bliss and the Caduccis relish the expressive variety. The piece is not preachy and nor is it particularly "African" in feel...but what it does eloquently trasmit in its 20-odd minutes is a vital journey towards exhilarating physical release.

The Guardian / Apr 2016
Erica Jeal

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

David Bruce has been on UK audiences’ radar most recently as a composer of operas for young people – The Firework Maker’s Daughter, and Glyndebourne’s Nothing. Gumboots, written in 2008, is a quintet for clarinet and strings in which he looks to Gumboot dancing – born out of how black miners in apartheid South Africa, forbidden to speak, communicated by slapping their boots and chains. After a long opening movement of heat haze, come five increasingly complex dances, reverberating with the smack of wood and bow on string and with the wheeling, almost klezmer-like playing of Julian Bliss, who flits seamlessly between regular and bass clarinet. The joyous rhythmic barrage of the finale could almost be out of a Falla ballet

Sydney Morning Herald / Apr 2015
Martin Duffy

Drawing on the experience of black miners in apartheid era South Africa, Gumboots is composer David Bruce's recent inspirational work for string quartet and clarinet.

In a terrifically exciting performance Griffiths and Bogosavljevic were joined by violinists Elizabeth Sellars, Paul Wright and violist Christopher Cartlidge. In two parts, the opening exploits the beautiful tones of the bass clarinet in its upper registrar accompanied by spare open strings, which unfolds into a moving evocation of the human spirit in adversity. The second section is a series of five ever more frenetic African-inspired dance movements whose joyous polyrhythms reach an incredible high-energy peak for Griffiths in the race to its conclusion. / Jun 2014
Rob Barnes

David Bruce’s Gumboots was full of depth and yearning with some brilliantly sharp rhythmical jousting between the strings.

Northern Echo / Jun 2014
Gavin Engelbrecht

Festival founder Jonathan Bloxham took to the podium to direct David Bruce’s Gumboot’s Part 1, allowing its slow melody to grow organically and shaping an account of stunning beauty. David Orlowsky's warm opening on bass clarinet, joined seamlessly by violist Liisa Randalu, was a treat. / Mar 2012
Jack Fishman

On the second half of the program, the quartet was joined by clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg in David Bruce’s Gumboots. This wonderful new piece was the highlight of the concert. It is in two sections — a slow, meditative recitative in a melodic style that shared a little bit of a Renaissance quality from the first work on the program. This is the kind of melody, when played with the care and tenderness that Camerata produced, that makes you hold your breath while listening. Again, like the first piece on the program — stunningly beautiful. The second section was five very rhythmic high-energy dances that featured dazzling fast and high clarinet playing by Ilya Shterenberg. Ilya also played a few notes on bass clarinet on the first movement. I wish the composer had utilized the bass clarinet a bit more, as he created some beautiful sonorities with the low notes coupled with the string quartet. Gumboots is both fun and moving. I’m looking forward to hearing more David Bruce in the future.

Charleston City Paper / Jun 2010
Lindsay Koob

The second it ended, their listeners leaped to their feet, screaming and shouting, like they'd been blown out of aircraft ejection seats. So much for the misguided notion that you can't please a crowd with modern music. This one should be required listening for anybody who's afraid of the music of today.

Post and Courier / Jun 2010
Carol Furtwangler

Given the historic visual image, the music makes even more sense, and is more melodic than many modern compositions. The audience sprang from their seats to offer a standing ovation mid-concert.

Skidmore News / Feb 2010
Andrew Lane-Lawless

The highlight of the night turned out to be the new piece, Gumboots. Written in 2008 by David Bruce as a commission for Carnegie Hall, it includes many elements of African dance music in string quartet format with clarinet. Part I of the piece built tension between the string quartet that carried through the hall with growing force, but never fully exploded, reaching a peak tension and then slowly fading out behind a repeating arpeggio figure from the viola.

However, during Part II, a group of five dances, took the lingering tension and released it cathartically in a string of buoyant and breezy movements. The highlight of these was the fifth dance, which showcased clarinetist Sarah Beaty's immense talent. Her trills and shrill tone wove in and out, leading each piece. In the fifth dance, these trills came in waves, each one reaffirming the last and giving it a sense of unity, recalling its triumphs in the final moments with just the right sense of nostalgia and without sounding like a retread. The piece received a standing ovation and again at the end of the concert, when all the performers walked back out, it received jubilant applause.

[Skidmore News]

Daily Gazette / Feb 2010
Geraldine Freedman

"David Bruce's “Gumboots” (2008) was next. Bruce writes with intelligence, inspiration and a knack for creating sound pictures that are almost cinematic. The first part was plaintive and yearning with desolate landscapes and horizons that seemed to stretch forever. The second dance-y part moved with vigor, loud and snappy rhythms, some of which had Caribbean flavors or the high energy of carnival. Beaty was fabulous in a brilliantly virtuosic part that required a lot of flair and style. "

[Daily Gazette]

Overflow Arts Journal Blog / Nov 2008
Harvey Sachs

"..the St. Lawrence's dazzling, rumbustious world premiere performance of David Bruce's Gumboots"

[Overflow Arts Journal Blog]

New York Times / Oct 2008
Vivien Schweitzer


Download or Stream


for Clarinet and String Quartet

1 Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet)
2 Violins

Duration 23 mins
Composed Feb-Sept 2008
First performance Todd Palmer, St Lawrence String Quartet, Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, NYC, 23rd Oct 2008
Commissioned by Carnegie Hall Corporation

Future Performances

Past Performances


  • Gumboots - ACJW
  • David Bruce & - ACJW Interview
  • Callino Quartet - RTÉ

Related Posts

 • Julian Bliss/Carducci Quartet CD release. (5/3/2016)
 • Foot in the door (10/12/2012)
 • Boots, Forgotten and International (6/8/2012)
 • The origins of the dance (4/18/2011)
 • Complete Gumboots (12/16/2010)
 • Aviles (11/23/2010)
 • Gumboot month (11/2/2010)
 • Forgotten Boots (10/14/2010)
 • Performance Today (10/6/2010)
 • Share the love (8/3/2010)
 • Parallel bars and pummel horses (6/8/2010)
 • Raising the roof (6/6/2010)
 • Spoleto 2010 (4/29/2010)
 • Joana Carneiro; Ghent; John Adams in cartoon (3/21/2010)
 • Repeat Performances (3/15/2010)
 • New Music Box/ Counterstream Interview (2/18/2010)
 • Skidmore reborn (2/4/2010)
 • Carnegie Interview (1/24/2010)
 • Gumboots in Berko (11/30/2009)
 • Golden Gumboots (10/30/2009)
 • Gumboots in Queensland (9/16/2009)
 • Freshly polished Gumboots (8/20/2009)
 • Gumboots and Groanbox Recordings (4/18/2009)
 • Gumboots Interview (3/3/2009)
 • A new piece for Dawn (2/14/2009)
 • Olé! (10/25/2008)
 • Ole (10/25/2008)
 • It warms the cockles... (10/22/2008)
 • Rhythmic games (9/30/2008)
 • Gumboots (9/10/2008)


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