4 WORKS TO REMEMBER FOR 2015
A Plain Man’s Hammer (1984) by Martin Dalby, premiered in 1985
Hommage a Stravinsky (1985) by Ole Schmidt
Sea and Sky and Golden Hill (1985) by David Bedford
Dona Nobis Pacem (1995) by Martin Ellerby
A Plain Man’s Hammer (1984) Martin Dalby
Commissioned by the Dunbartonshire Wind Ensemble with funds provided by the Scottish Arts Council.
First performance by the Dunbartonshire Wind Ensemble, conductor Trevor Green, at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on 19 June 1985.
MARTIN DALBY was born in Aberdeen in 1942. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and in 1960 won a Foundation Scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied composition with Herbert Howells and viola with Frederick Riddle. In 1963 the Octavia Prize and a Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarship enabled him to spend two years in Italy where besides composing he played the viola with a small Italian Chamber Orchestra. In 1965 he was appointed as a music producer to the BBC's newly formed Music Programme (later to be Radio 3.) In 1971 he became the Cramb Research Fellow in Composition at the University of Glasgow and in 1972 returned to the BBC as Head of Music, Scotland. In 1991 he relinquished this post in order to pursue a more creative role. In 1993 he retired from the BBC and now composes full time.
In Baden-Baden in 1955 Pierre Boulez' Le Marteau sans Maitre was heard or the first time. The work quickly established itself as one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century and it is still regarded so today. I had for some years fancied the idea of writing some sort of opposite to Le marteau sans maitre and the Dunbartonshire Wind Ensemble's invitation provided the opportunity to do so. Hence Marteau translates into Hammer.
Le Marteau is a highly intricate and rhythmically complex work to perform, requiring the skill of highly adept and dedicated professional musicians. Hammer, on the other hand, is directed towards the exuberance and enthusiasm of amateur players (which is not to say that it is all that easy to play). Equally, Le Marteau is an esoteric, elusive work to grasp, though increasingly less so as the years pass. Hammer's style and material, tunes if you like, are intended to be direct and forceful (and that is not to say that its construction lacks complexity), so mine is a "Plain Man's Hammer".
As for the form of the work: the whole shape owes something to classical sonata form. Put over-simply, this is a two part form of which the first is an exposition containing two tonally contrasted subjects and the second contains a development section where harmonies move towards a recapitulation of the two original subjects, this time being reconciled in the home key.
The first section is an exposition containing two main ideas and other material associated with them. Development is replaced by a parade of incomplete parodies: a waltz almost in the style of Chopin; a sort of tango; a Mahlerian March; something close to Janacek; a cheap imitation of Flamenco; a corruption of Oranges and Lemons; a pop song; a military march which gets somewhat out of hand; a Viennese Waltz to set your feet tripping and an even cheaper imitation of Flamenco.
At the end of the work the associated material of the opening reappears in maturity; the major ideas play a subservient role, reappearing only in the final coda.
Hommage a Stravinsky (1985) Ole Schmidt
Ole Schmidt is one of Denmark's leading composers and conductors; his Hommage a Stravinsky was written in early 1985 and has already been broadcast and performed many times in Denmark. The work is a humorous and affectionate tribute to the music of possibly the most eclectic of composers, lgor Stravinsky, and this homage reflects all of the different facets of his output. Within the three short movements there are obvious references to works as disparate as the Mendelssohn Wedding March and Rhapsody in Blue, entwined with well-known material from all of Stravinsky's major works, as well as a more subtle employment of favourite motifs and rhythmic patterns. But much more significant than this is the striking way in which Schmidt has captured the very essence of Stravinsky's various styles in his instrumentation, harmonic and rhythmic procedures and in the overall construction of the work. One constantly feels that Stravinsky might well have produced exactly this piece if he had been asked for a witty pot-pourri of past masterpieces.
Sea and Sky and Golden Hill (1985) David Bedford
Commissioned by Avon Schools Symphonic Wind Band, premiered at BASBWE Conference in Bristol 20 September 1985, conducted by the composer
The piece falls into sections as follows:
1. Slow introduction using fragments of themes to be developed later
2. A rhythmic chord progression which features alternating bars of 6 beats and 5 beats, which then become the accompaniment to the main melody of the piece
3. A chorale sequence of 6 chords
4. A second melody in triple time, unrelated to the melody of 2 except that the bass line is a variation of its second phrase. Every so often the alternating 6 beat – 5 beat chord sequence is superimposed
5. The chorale from 3, brass only, leading to
6. shortened repeat of 2
7. The chorale from 3, woodwind only (with a brief appearance of the triple melody from 4)
8. Very quiet, very peaceful slow section with solo fragments of all the main themes sometimes played by instruments which would not normally expect to play a solo.
9. Finale, a massive “build up” using the chorale-like chord progression repeated over and over. Later the main melody of 2 is heard, followed by the 6 and 5 chords of 2, so that by the end, all the main material of the piece is being played together. After a huge climax, everything dies away and the piece ends softly with a shortened repetition of 8.
The title comes from a poem by Kenneth Patchen, the imagery of which seemed to fit the sound of the music very closely.
Dona Nobis Pacem (1995) Martin Ellerby (b.1957)
Martin Ellerby’s Dona Nobis Pacem was commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2. The work is in one movement, falling into five clearly differentiated sections, the first an uneasy build-up full of foreboding, the second a fleet savage scherzando which dies away before erupting into a couple of huge chords to bring the section to a close. The third is a scoring of the Bach chorale “O Sacred Head sore wounded”, followed by a rather skittishly rhythmic danceband section, replaced by a variant on the Bach chorale accompanied by background of “popping” on mouthpieces and finally a slow coda which finally resolves movingly onto the words “Dona Nobis Pacem” sung by the band sotto voce.