2004 European Championships - Own choice selections


Over the years this has proved to be the most fascinating aspect of the contest as bands have tried to "showcase" their talents to impress the judges. Sometimes though the music loses out as the bands try to bring the house down.

Fashion and composers change and it is interesting to note how the successful choices have moved from the likes of Vinter, Arnold and Gregson through to Sparke and finally Wilby. In between though we have had a touch of Ravel and memorably Heaton and Bourgeois as well. Which composer will come out on top this year then?

Philip Wilby...Dove Descending – Philip Wilby

Dove Decending was written for the British Open Brass Band Championships of 1999 which was won by Yorkshire Building Society conducted by David King. The title is taken from the T.S. Eliot poem "Little Gidding" and is described by the composer as a Sonata in open tones. The performance requires a standard seating arrangement but in addition requires two groups of fanfare stands for ten cornet players which are to be placed in a five right/five left formation, plus three extra stands for trombones placed at a distance from the band and from each other. There is an optional organ part as well as the requirement to use a CD player. A seating plan is issued for the performing band to adhere to.

In essence the work is divided into two main parts – the first which the composer notes contains three elements – a heraldic fanfare, a musical picture of Time composed in the open tones of the harmonic series and then the Old Testament description of the coming of Christ. The second part by contrast is a beautiful solo prayer entitled Nativity which finally leads into a resolution and return of the coming of Christ.

The piece has proved to be immensely popular with both bands and audiences, even though it is a very long work in terms of time. It is though a very demanding work that only the very best bands can really make a true performance of.

The piece has been chosen on a number of occasions by bands for this contest since 2000 with Yorkshire Building Society playing it in Birmingham as well as Fodens Courtois. Aarhus used it again in 2001. It was used by both BB Willebroek and Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag in Brussels in 2002, and again by Willebroek in Bergen last year.

Three bands will perform this work at the contest this year.

Philip WilbyRevelation – Philip Wilby

Revelation was commissioned by the British Open Brass Band Championships with funds provided by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and the Harry Mortimer Trust for the 1995 British Open Championships, which was won by the Black Dyke Band conducted by James Watson.

It is titled "Symphony for Double Brass on a theme of Purcell" – 1995 being the tri-centenary of the English composers death, whilst it's inspiration comes from the poem by John Donne who describes "Revelation" as "At the Earth's imagined corners, blow your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise from death, you numberless infinities Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go. All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow. All whom war, death, age, agues, tryannies, Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes Shall Behold God, and never taste death's woe."

The work lasts some 15 minutes and requires virtuoistic playing from both soloists and ensemble. Many of the solo lines must be played standing to the front of the band, which is split into two brass ensembles with percussion at its centre. The climax of the music is declared with a section of abandonment before the Revelation of God's creation is reaffirmed in all its glory.

Since its use at the Open the piece has proved immensely popular with bands throughout Europe and at this contest it has been used twice in 1996 (YBS and Black Dyke who came 1st and 2nd in the own choice section), once in 1999 by Midden Brabant and twice in 2002 by Black Dyke and CWS Glasgow. It was used three times again in 2003, by BAYV Cory who won the Own Choice Section of the contest with it, and by Brass Band Fribourg who came 7th and Krohnengen who came 10th.

Two bands will perform this work at the contest this year.

Philip SparkeMusic of the Spheres – Philip Sparke

Music of the Spheres was written late 2003/early 2004 and reflects the composer's fascination with the origins of the universe and deep space in general.

The title comes from a theory, formulated by Pythagoras, that the cosmos was ruled by the same laws he had discovered that govern the ratios of note frequencies of the musical scale. (‘Harmonia' in Ancient Greek, which means scale or tuning rather than harmony – Greek music was monophonic). He also believed that these ratios corresponded to the distances of the six known planets from the sun and that the planets each produced a musical note which combined to weave a continuous heavenly melody (which, unfortunately, we humans cannot hear). In this work, these six notes form the basis of the sections Music of the Spheres and Harmonia.

The pieces opens with a horn solo called t = 0, a name given by some scientists to the moment of the Big Bang when time and space were created, and this is followed by a depiction of the Big Bang itself, as the entire universe bursts out from a single point.

A slower section follows called The Lonely Planet which is a meditation on the incredible and unlikely set of circumstances, which led to the creation of the Earth as a planet that can support life, and the constant search for other civilisations elsewhere in the universe.

Asteroids and Shooting Stars depicts both the benign and dangerous objects that are flying through space and which constantly threaten our planet, and the piece ends with The Unknown, leaving in question whether our continually expanding exploration of the universe will eventually lead to enlightenment or destruction.

The piece will receive it's World Premiere at the contest.

Peter GrahamMontage – Peter Graham

Montage was commissioned by the All England Masters Brass Band Championships to be used for their contest in 1994, which was won by the BBS Fodens Band conducted by Howard Snell.

Peter Graham had written extensively for brass bands before he wrote Montage, but this composition represented a major shift in his compositional outlook and sought its inspiration from the likes of Lutoslawski and Messian. It is a three-movement work that lasts around 15 minutes in duration. The first movement intrada forms a perfect ABCBA arch. Generative thematic fragments appear in A above a pulsating timpani line which in turn is mirrored by the glockenspiel; B is characterised by glittering cornet work and figures whilst C is a sinuous duet punctuated by sharply descending semitones.

The middle movement is a beautiful detached chaconne, both expressive and melodic which revolves around a chord sequence, which builds to the climax of the whole piece. The final Rondo is full of drive and verve and moves towards a powerful conclusion, direct from the opening soprano and bass feature towards to very ending, which makes immense demands on player's stamina and technique.

Since its use at the Masters Montage has proved a popular work and has been used extensively throughout Europe. In 1998 it was used as the regional test piece for the National Championships. At the European it has been used by Manger Musikklag in 1995, Tredegar and Tertnes in 1996, De Cuivre Valaisan and Point of Ayr in 2000 and Yorkshire Building Society (to win the own choice section) in 2001. It was used again in 2003 by Lyngby Taarbaek who came 9th in the Own Choice Section of the contest.

Two bands will perform this work at the contest this year.

Peter GrahamThe Essence of Time – Peter Graham

Peter Graham wrote The Essence of Time as the set work for the 1990 European Championships which were held in Falkirk in Scotland in 1990. Since that time it has proved to
be one of the most popular test pieces for bands at the Championship and First Section level.

The piece takes it's inspiration from The Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 and commences: "To every thing there is a reason, and a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born; a time to dance; a time to love; a time to hate; a time to die; a time to mourn; a time for war; a time for peace."

It is in effect a piece based on variations on a central theme which attempt to portray the individual characteristics of the moods of the activities listed. "The Essence" is left to the interpreter and the listener to decide.

Although not seen as the most technically challenging of test pieces it is musically one of the most satisfying to listen to – the variations are both superbly constructed and rounded to feature both individual and ensemble strength and weaknesses. It requires an understanding of the composers intentions and punishes those who indulge too much in over theatrical musical posturing. It has a beautiful simplicity in many of the more subdued movements whilst the faster variations are bright and witty.

Its popularity has been such that it has been used here in the Own Choice Section by Tredegar who came 3rd with it in 1991 and Stavanger in 1996, as well as it being used at the Grand Shield Contest in 1992. It has also been used as the First Section set work for the Pontins Championships in 1998 and as the National Championship First Section Finals test piece in 1994.

Peter GrahamHarrison's Dream – Peter Graham

Peter Graham wrote this wonderfully descriptive piece for the National Brand Championships of Great Britain held at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 21st October that year and which was won by the BAYV Cory Band. It has remained since that time one of the most popular major test pieces at the top most level of banding.

It takes its inspiration from a naval disaster of 1707 and the ceaseless work of the clockmaker John Harrison to produce a timepiece that could be used to measure Longitude, and thus enable ships to navigate safely.

The composers relates the story himself : "At 8.00pm on the 22nd of October 1707, the Assocation, flagship of the Royal Navy, struck rocks off the Sicily Isles with the loss of the entire crew. Throughout the rest of the evening the remaining three ships in the fleet suffered the same fate. Only 26 of the original 1647 crew members survived. The disaster was a direct result of an inability to calculate longitude, the most pressing scientific problem of the time. It pushed the longitude question to the forefront of the national consciousness and precipitated the Longitude Act. Parliament funded a prize of £20,000 to anyone whose method or device would solve the dilemma.

For carpenter and self taught clockmaker John Harrison, this was the beginning of a 40 year obsession. To calculate longitude it is necessary to know the time aboard ship and at the home port or place of known longitude, at precisely the same moment. Harrison's dream was to build a clock so accurate that this calculation could be made – an audacious feat of engineering.

This work reflects on aspects of this epic tale, brilliantly brought to life in Dava Sobel's book Longitude. Much of the music is mechanistic in tone and constructed along precise mathematical and metrical lines. The heart of the work however is human – the attraction of the £20,000 prize is often cited as Harrison's motivation.

However, the realisation that countless lives depended on a solution was one that haunted Harrison. The emotional core of the music reflects on this and in particular the evening of the 22nd October 1707."

After those initial Championships, the piece was used as an Own Choice selection at the 2001 Europeans by both BAYV Cory and CWS Glasgow, and by Tredegar in 2002. The popularity of the piece has meant that it will also be used as the set work for the 2004 All England Masters Championships.

Diversions on a Bass Theme - George Lloyd

George Lloyd wrote Diversions on a Bass Theme for the 1986 Mineworker's National Brass Band Contest, which took place at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool on November 8th that year. It was made possible by funds provided by Bass North Limited – a brewery firm.

This is what perhaps gives the piece a very dark wit, for musically it is a set of variations on a tune that first appears in the bass line of the band. However the play on words means that the piece has a secondary identity in that it takes its title from its sponsors. Therefore you wonder whether to call it "Diversions on a Bass (pronounced as in the tuba) Theme" or "Diversions on a Bass (as in the fish) Theme" – the name of the brewers. That's by the way, as it remains a very fine test piece for the modern brass band.

The composer notes that, "This piece is a set of variations. Traditionally variations were what they said they were ie, a given tune was treated in a variety of ways. The pattern of "Diversions on a Bass Theme" is made the other way round; a number of tunes grow out of the first bar, played by the Basses, which provides the motif for the whole work."

Lloyd himself was a deeply intelligent and warm man, with, as Alan Jenkins once described "a total lack of cynicism about music". His work was ignored for many years by the musical establishment but following his "Royal Parks" in 1985 he found an enthusiasm for writing for brass and the following year this piece appeared followed later by English Heritage and King's Messenger.

A superbly constructed work in the English tradition, its musical structure is finely delineated and almost elegiac. It is a deeply satisfying work to listen to and to perform and has remained a testing work for bands at the highest level.

The work was used as the set work for the 1998 British Open Championships which was won by the Williams Fairey Band and has been performed at the European Championships by the Cory Band in 1989 as well as Black Dyke in 1991, Desford Colliery in 1993, Brass Band de Waldsang in 1995 and De Bazuin Oenkerk in 1998.

The composer himself died shortly before the work was used as the test piece for the British Open Championships.


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