4BarsRest logo



news desk

articles & features


results archive


classified ads

your comments

go shopping




2003 Pontins Brass Band Championships

Pontins Holiday Camp, Prestatyn, North Wales
Sat/Sun 25/26th October

Test Piece Reviews
We cast our eyes over the fine choices made for the 30th Championships this year.

Eric BallFestival Music – Eric Ball

Festival Music was written by Eric Ball as the set work for the 1956 National Championships of Great Britain, which was won on the day by the Fairey Aviation Works Band conducted by Major George Willcocks. It is perhaps the only major test piece that the composer wrote as a pastiche, as its influence is indubitably that of Mozart, who tercentenary of his birth was celebrated that year.

However, “Festival Music” is not a descriptive piece, and although there are three titled movements – “Overture”, “Romance” and “Impromptu” each stand alone as masterful compositional miniatures rather than interlocking developing sections. It is though a truly superb brass band work – exacting in technique (even 46 years after its premiere) and musically crafted with impeccable taste and thought. Nothing is overdone, overstated or used as an excuse to make unreasonable demands on the performer. Eric Ball has given the competing bands and their Musical Directors the ideal opportunity to understand and enjoy Mozartian music written for brass.

The “Overture” in C minor is cast in an abridged classical mould of exposition, development, recapitulation, coda – although there is no introduction, and the technical demands on the lower brass are the equal of the florid cornets throughout. Like the young Wolfgang Amadeus himself, it is brilliantly precocious, full of verve and immensely stylish.

“Romance” is operatic in character, comprising three main themes. The first is heard on the euphonium, horn and baritone, whilst the second employs the three trombones and 3rd cornet! Finally, the flugel and horn take the third, before an almost duo – cadenza for euphonium and cornet leads to a reprise of the first theme and a brief subtle close.

Finally a freely planned “Impromptu” which undulates in a G sharp minor key before developing with a facile tune of lightness and freedom. There is no reprise of previous material though until the very end when the very first theme appears again. Eric Ball though ensures that just like Mozart, his ending is as mysterious as that of the composers life – a beguiling whisper of a trill before a thunderous last climatic chord.

Nearly half a century after it was first used it is a test piece that will test the bands to the full, whilst leave the audience with a satisfying musical listening experience.

Eric BallResurgam – Eric Ball

“Resurgam” is perhaps the most well loved original brass band composition ever. Written by the composer, and reputed to be his own favourite, for the British Open Championships of 1950, it takes its inspiration form the apocryphal Book of Wisdom (III: 1- 3) 2The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them….” It is dedicated to his sister in law, Elsa who died prematurely of tuberculosis in 1942. The winners of the Open that day were Fairey Aviation, conducted by Harry Mortimer, who was perhaps the greatest interpretator of Eric Ball’s music.

The musical character of the work explores the composers understanding of his faith – through times of darkness, sorrow, doubt and despair. There is also anger and conflict, which is underpinned by the bass section of the band invoking the ancient “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) chant and the sound of “Death” itself knocking on the spiritual doors of the disturbed souls. Finally the composers faith in his God wins through in the glorious climax of the piece, which symbolises resurrection – a moment of brass writing perhaps never bettered since.

“Resurgam” remains Eric Ball’s greatest achievement – a piece that transcends the meaning of a prescribed work of music written just as a “test”. It is, and will always remain, music of the soul.

Goff RichardsOceans – Goff Richards

“Oceans” was written by Goff Richards as a commission from the West of England Bandsmen’s Festival for the 60th Anniversary Festival of the famous Bugle Contest, in Cornwall in 1984. It has been used as a set work at Championship, First and Second Section levels and was the Second Section set work for the Regional Championships of Great Britain in 1993.

It is a wonderfully descriptive piece that takes its inspiration from the sea – the Atlantic Ocean - a force of nature that nowhere in Cornwall is far from. It opens with majestic fanfares, which then gives way to a lovely broad and sensual theme first played on the euphoniums. After quieter solo sections the atmosphere builds slowly to a climax – as if the ocean itself is crashing against the seawalls of those beautiful picture postcard villages dotted along the West Coast of the county.

The Ocean though is also an exciting place, and a means of exploration to new lands, and we hear the sounds of the Caribbean in technicolor splendour and rhythmic gaiety, which is only interrupted by a return to the original thematic material. It is as if the Cornish people had to stop having too much of a great time! The piece though ends with a blaze of colour.

“Oceans” is typical Goff Richards – vibrant, exciting, and rhythmic and makes enjoyable technical as well as musical demands on both players and Musical Directors. He has captured the essence of the sea as if he had spent his life upon the ocean wave.

Philip Wilby Suite - The Seasons – Philip Wilby

Philip Wilby was commissioned to write “The Seasons” by Ian Thompson in memory of his wife Myra and the Suite depicts the changing seasons of the year.

The First Movement entitled “Turn of the Leaf: Prelude and Dedication opens quietly before unfolding with solo interludes and beautifully subtle colourings of timbre. The tender melodic line is passed with care between the flugel and euphonium before the solo cornet enhances it further. There is a brief glorious climax before, jest as the turning leaf itself, it fades falls to a quiet deathly whisper.

The Second Movement is entitled “Spring Waltz” and is a joyous waltz that evokes the beauty of newborn life. The waltz is led first by the solo horn, before the soprano, solo trombone and horns again take turns to celebrate. By the time the trombone and euphonium enter the tempo has increased to an almost uncontrolled jollity, before the flugel returns things to a more subtle tempo and the solo horn reprises a close with a swish and seductive musical twirl.

Finally the Third Movement evokes “High Summer: Marziale – with strong fanfare like figures, jaunty and vigorous in character. This is a celebration of the zenith of Summer – golden fields, bright blue skies, joyful people revelling in the beauty of nature at its finest and Wilby captures it fully. The ending itself is almost thunderous, yet triumphant and glorious.

The composer himself noted “My aim was to provide music which was both enjoyable to rehearse and perform, but not forbiddingly difficult to play.” He has done this perfectly.

The piece was used as the set work for the Fourth Section National Finals in 2000, which was won by Beaumaris B Band conducted by William Evans.

Music from Kantara – Kenneth Downie

Despite the exotic name, the origins of Kenneth Downie’s fine three-movement work are very much more prosaic. When the composer and his wife moved into a new home they were intrigued to find it was named “Kantara”, and being the type of people who didn’t wish to upset the outgoing owners, or the Post Office for that matter, decided to keep the name themselves.

With some judicious research Kenneth Downie found out that Kantara was in fact the name of a ruined castle in Northern Cyprus which the previous owners had once visited and when they handed over the keys, left Mr and Mrs Downie with a picture postcard of its location.

Written for a Youth Contest, the piece is in three movements, each of individual character, but in no way descriptive. Each is formally constructed yet each retains a quirky individualism that is so enjoyable about the composers works. It has been used at these Championships before, in 1996 in the 3rd Section when the contest was won by the Milnrow Band.

© 4BarsRest

back to top

print a bandroom copy


  copyright & disclaimer

Fax: 01495 791085 E-Mail: