The Night Trumpeter (2002)

Duration: 11 minutes

  • Trumpet, piano
  • 1. The power of dreams  |  2. Kircher’s Ear
  • Brass Wind Publications
  • Score cat no AR C10
  • Commissioned by The Fibonacci Sequence
  • First performance 28 September, 2002  |  Paul Archibald, Kathron Sturrock  |  Minterne, Summer Music Society of Dorset
  • On the ATCL Recital syllabus of TrinityGuildhall Examinations This work is also scored for the same combination as La Revue de Cuisine
  • See also: chamber music

Both movements reach for historical connections between different uses, in the 16th Century, of the trumpet as a conveyor of information. Inspiration for the opening movement has been drawn from Rose Tremain’s novel, Music and Silence, where she describes how the Duchess of Mecklenburg hired a night trumpeter to stand guard over her sleeping grandson, the future King of Denmark, Christian IV. If the baby awoke the trumpeter was instructed to sound the alarm (probably waking the entire royal household as he did so). The Duchess feared the “power of dreams” so the trumpeter was also commanded to play a lively melody “to chase away the child’s terrors”.

The introduction sets the nocturnal pace, followed by a gentle rocking motion in the accompaniment with sustained trumpet line. Darker textures follow, leading to an alerting call. The middle section gives way to a distant bright trumpet tune to lift the babys spirits. The nightmare dispatched, the household now returns to its somnolent state.

The German architect, Kirchner, a contemporary of Christian IV, designed an early “bugging” device which was shaped like a huge trumpet, structured on the Fibonacci sequence. This trumpet “ear” was secreted between walls where Court conversation could be monitored in seclusion. In my imaginings this aural instrument might have produced diverse results, from sweeping reverberation to a perpetuum mobile of discourse. The trumpet opens the movement with the bell directed into the piano, to exaggerate the resonance of the harmonics. After this, all manner of musical exchanges follow.

Three Antiphons (2006)

Trumpet and organ
Duration: 9′
Brass Wind Publications
Available on CD: Brass Classics

Three Antiphons for trumpet and organ are adaptations of original Latin motets for unaccompanied choir:
Ave Regina | Ave Maria | Regina caeli

Programme note:
Three Antiphons for trumpet and organ are adaptations of Latin motets for unaccompanied choir, commissioned originally by Janet and Douglas Mackay for the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir and first performed in Faversham, Kent, in April 2004. Regina Caeli, as a motet, was nominated for the Liturgical section in the British Composer Awards, December, 2005. The rescoring for this combination was made for Paul Archibald and Leslie Pearson and first performed at the Yoxford Festival in 2004.

The three texts I chose for the choral motets address the Virgin Mary. The first movement, Ave Regina, is a gentle and lyrical response to the ‘Queen of the heavens . . . from whom the light came into the world.’ The Ave Maria, originally written for upper voices, is more intimate in expression with a plainchant-like muted opening. In contrast, the final movement, Regina Caeli, is robust and exultant. Each chordal passage (an Alleluia in the motet) punctuates the linear writing of the ‘verses’ which make use of the plainchant footprints of the Regina Caeli itself. Three Antiphons have also been arranged for trumpet ensemble and organ and have been recorded in this version by the International Celebrity Trumpet Ensemble for the Brass Classics label. The motets are published by OUP and have just been released on the Chandos label by the renowned American choir, Phoenix Chorale.

Link to Score:

Winter Music (1992)

Wind quintet
3 movements
Hunt Edition
Score cat no HE51
First performance March 1992 | Sheridan Wind Quintet | St Martins-in-the-Field

An attractive and accessible wind quintet in three movements. The first and last, full of character and humour, encompass a thoughtful and poignant middle movement that draws its inspiration from Schubert’s Winterreise. Written in memory of the compser’s father

Recording: Deux Elles label DXL 1033

Programme note

Link to Score:

Link to recording:

Piper’s Dream (2002)

Flute and piano
Duration: 4′
Commissioned by Georgina Roberts
Hunt Edition

McDowall has drawn from her Scottish background for inspiration in this piece. In the central section of Piper’s Dream the music hints at real Scottish folk music. The outer sections are freer, and the players are encouraged to enjoy the spirit of improvisation. At times the flautist reflects the sound of the bagpipes, imitating the characteristic ‘fall’ in the closing phrases of the piece. Near the end the music fades, as if this Scottish fantasy were just a dream.

Programme note available

Link to Score:

Skerry and Fjord (2010)

Trombone and piano
Duration: 12′
Gemini Publications (contact composer)
Commissioned by Newark Brass Festival
First performance 24 January 2010 | Michael Buchanan (trombone), Helen Reid

Programme note:

Skerry and Fjord was commissioned by the Newark Brass Festival for the 2009 overall prizewinner, trombonist Michael Buchanan. The first performance was given by Michael Buchanan and Helen Reid, piano, on 24 January, 2010 at Barnbygate Methodist Church, Newark upon Trent, Nottinghamshire.

There is something so majestic and yet so dark and perilous about the Nordic, ice-scoured coastline. At the mouth of the deep-cut, resounding fjords, pinnacles of rock (skerries) pierce upwards and give menace to the incautious navigator. The trombone seems the perfect instrument to draw out sonorous images of this powerful landscape. Listening to a recording of the Canadian alphorn specialist, Mike Cumberland, playing at the summit of a glacier and I was transfixed by the way in which the alphorn reverberated in that vast open space. The sound would slip behind the mountain, emerging transformed, many seconds later, from the other side of the valley.

In the opening and closing passages of Skerry and Fjord the major/minor third makes an interplay between trombone and piano, jangled and echoing.  Long lyrical lines rise and fall above the ringing accompaniment, which often gravitates towards the lowest region of the piano. Occasional, fast patterned upbeats break the length of the solo line. The central section, faster paced and more urgent in manner,  allows turbulence to surface before returning to the sustained, reverberating section which brings the work, which lasts for about 12 minutes, to a close.

Subject to the weather (2010)

Wind quintet
Duration: 5′
Oxford University Press
Commissioned by the Presteign Festival for the Creating Landscapes project
First performance September 201 | Galliard Ensemble | St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne, Wales
Also see: chamber music

Subject to the Weather uses the Welsh folk song The Blackbird as its inspiration, but also references Wesley’s hymn tune Aurelia: The Church’s one Foundation. The music evokes country life and birdsong in a charming and engaging style.

Programme note:

Creating Landscapes was a cross-arts project which brought together composers and visual artists to create new pieces of music and art for the 2010 Presteigne Festival. The project also giave young people from primary schools in rural Herefordshire and Powys the opportunity to work with The Galliard Ensemble, composers and artists. The inspiration for the project was the natural beauty of the landscape and rich heritage of the Border Marches. The pretty Welsh folksong, The Blackbird, was used as a focus for five compositions. The four other composers were Mark Bowden, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Paul Patterson, and Lynne Plowman.

Subject to the weather (wind quintet with a focus on the flute and on the outstandingly beautiful Hick’s Farm, Powys)
Seeing the poverty and attending difficulties which faced farm labourers and their families in the Border Marches in the late 19th Century, the local Methodist schoolteacher, Thomas Strange, gave inspiration and support to the co-operative venture in the 1880s for Hick’s Farm (one of the places of outstanding natural beauty in the area) which emerged from the trade union movement of the time. As Methodism lies at the heart of Hick’s Farm I have used the well known hymn tune, Aurelia: The Church’s one foundation, written by Samuel Wesley’s son, S. S. Wesley, to underpin the structure of the quintet. (Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born 200 years ago on 14 August, 1810 and began his working life as organist at Hereford Cathedral).

The work opens with the hymn tune’s first phrase stated by the horn, accompanied by an outline of The Blackbird. This is followed by a lively motif derived from the opening of the folksong. The first section of the quintet is a sort of perpetuum mobile (which seems about right for farming life) and the little motif is shared between the players, with the flute presenting ‘out of time’ fragments of the song. The flute solo, blackbird-like, leads from the bustling of the first section to the meditative second and final section. Here the folksong appears complete, woven through the solemn under structure of the hymn. The title, Subject to the weather, is a quotation from Johnny Arkwright, local landowner, magistrate and supporter of the labourers’ movement; Arkwright, speaking of farming, said: No other industry is to the same extent subject to the weather.

Commissioned for the 2010 ‘Creating Landscapes’ education and community project by Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts Limited with funds from Arts Council England. The first performance was given by The Galliard Ensemble wind quintet on 30 August at St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne.


Link to Score: