Spirit of the Staircase

Spirit of the Staircase has a lot of very fast music and a lot of very slow music, and often frequent changes between the two.

The fast music often features long staircase-like chains of semiquavers winding upwards and downwards – incrementally climbing or descending before leaping back a few steps and starting again. These are first introduced by a solo piano around three minutes in, but increasingly come to dominate the music in various guises in the first half and last third of the piece. In between these poles, an extended section of music sees the ensemble steadily drift through a sonically strange terrain. This music’s sinuous progress is punctuated only by solos from an enigmatic muted trombone, an insouciant celesta and (most significantly) a leaping, fanfare-like bass flute.

In French, ‘l’esprit de l’escalier’ (staircase wit) is the name given to the phenomenon of thinking of a perfect retort or remark only after the event (when one is already halfway down the staircase).

Dedicated at considerable velocity towards Camden Reeves.

‘None of it seemed to be contrived. The scheme was worked out with impressive assurance; everything was fresh, precisely imagined and made full use of what the Sinfonietta can do at its best’

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

‘Tom Coult’s witty, light-fingered Spirit of the Staircase was just as inventive instrumentally but a lot more recognisably structured and frankly more fun. Still in his twenties, he’s a name to watch.’

Richard Morrison, The Times

‘Coult soon proved he’s very much his own man, conjuring amusing dialogues from simple scale-like figures (thus the “staircase” of the title). The piece was funny and surreal and delicately poetic, all at once.’

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

‘The rapidly emerging British composer Tom Coult left a strong impression with Spirit of the Staircase (2016), played for the first time. Alternating, though not in any formulaic sense, rapid “stairways” of fast notes, zipping up and down, with passages of near inaction, this had impressive individuality.’

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer



1 June 2016
London Sinfonietta, Martyn Brabbins (cond.), St John’s Smith Square, London, UK

World premiere


15 instruments: 1(=picc+bfl).1.1(=cbcl).cbsn - - perc(1): glsp/vib/mar/bongos/3 tuned gongs - pno(=cel) - harp -


18 mins




Commissioned by London Sinfonietta with support from Michael & Patricia McLaren-Turner and an Elliott Carter legacy

View Score Online