Arctic Circle (2001) for piano and wind quintet, takes as its inspiration two myths associated with the Northern Lights. In some Scottish legends the Northern Lights are called the Nimble Dancers and are perceived either as warriors or as benign giants that dance in the sky. In the outer sections of Arctic Circle I imagine these capricious Celtic giants moving with dexterity across the sky, their shapes reflected in the sea. Theirs is a dance of extremes, with few half-measures in dynamics and a certain wackiness. The central section, Fox Fire, draws on the Finnish legend of the arctic fox, which strikes the snow with his tail, causing a shower of sparks to leap into the air. This frosty music spins a delicate web of sonorities. It is then enclosed by those agile but robust giants, bringing the music full (arctic) circle. The work was commissioned by Richard Shaw and Emma Williams for Ensemble Lumiere.
The clangourous sound of a peal of bells always fills me with a sense of great joy. The skill of bell-ringing seems to require such a fine balance between physical strength and perfect timing and yet when the sounds do collide with each other these imperfections seem just as endearing.
I wrote Bells in the Air, a fanfare for trumpet and horn duo, thinking of that characteristically uneven fall of sound and how each pitch can set rich overtones a-jangling.
The musical direction ‘bells in the air’ or ‘bells up’ is an exhortation to the brass player to bring the sound forward by raising the bell of the instrument. But in this fanfare there is also a suggestion that bells of a different kind may be heard, peals of bells, both near and far.
The UK premiere performance was given by Paul Archibald and Stephen Stirling on 11 September, 1999 at the Summer Music Society of Dorset, Minterne.
Five dances stretch a time-line from the 18th Century to the present day, each very different in character. The Allemande, which was often an introductory movement to the Baroque dance suite, ushers in Century Dances with flourishes and trills, using the conventional form of the period. This is followed by Menuet, subtitled ‘ghost dance’, distant and fragmented. Mazurka, a Polish dance form much favoured by Chopin, expansive and stately, is succeeded by the dark intensity of the Tango. The Last Dance rocks the suite to an exuberant conclusion.
Century Dances received its first performance on 1 December, 2005, at St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, and was commissioned by The Thorne Trio with funds generously provided by the Gilbert and Eileen Edgar Junior Fellowship, the Lord and Lady Lurgan Fellowship and the Philharmonia Orchestra/Martin Music Trust Scholarship Fund Education and Outreach Award.
Written for Paul Archibald and Simon Limbrick in 1999, the opening of Cool It is based around the tritone which initiates the song, Maria, from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. A slow, langorous introduction, a dialogue between trumpet and vibraphone, sets the scene. A quick change into a fast-paced 6/8 rhythm with a drum kit underlay allows the trumpet to explore thematic allusions to the song of Riff and the Jets (Cool) from the same musical. Some of the material is linked to the last movement of my trumpet concerto, Seraphim, commissioned by the London Mozart Players and premiered by Paul Archibald, also in 1999.
Crossing the Bridge was commissioned by the National Flute Orchestra with financial support from the Birmingham Flute Commission, the British Flute Society and individual sponsors. The first performance will be given by the National Flute Orchestra, conductor Kenneth Bell, on 27 February 2011 at the Birmingham Conservatoire, England. The work is dedicated to four of the leading flautists and teachers who had a great impact on British flute playing in the twentieth century – Geoffrey Gilbert, Gareth Morris, John Francis and Harold Clarke (Cecilia’s father).
1. Mostar | 2. London Bridge – crossing to America: a short span | 3. Brooklyn Bridge
The structure of this work is itself like that of a bridge. The short middle movement, London Bridge, spans the divide by taking the last phrase of Mostar as its opening, exploring the darker tones of the lower instruments, and the first bar of Brooklyn Bridge as its close. In this movement the old English song, London bridge is falling down, is playfully decorated and shared between the parts. London Bridge, which had spanned the River Thames, England, was transported to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1967.
The opening movement, Mostar, refers to the old single arch stone bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which became such a symbol of peace and hope in the late 1990’s. In the outer sections of this movement the flutes explore the characteristic ‘fall’ at the end of the phrase which is quite a feature of some middle European music. The central section is lively and has a whirling, folk-dance feel to it.
At the time Brooklyn Bridge was built (1883) it was one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It connects Manhattan with Brooklyn across the East River, always busy with traffic, and has a powerful presence on the New York skyline. The third movement of Crossing the Bridge is one of perpetual motion, opening with a bright, staccato texture, and is in the shape of a palindrome or arch. Restless and energetic it drives the work to an upbeat conclusion.
The title, Crossing the Bridge, comes from a Haiku by the poet Alan Spence:
The work is scored for piccolo, 4 flutes in C, 2 alto flutes and bass flute. The score includes optional parts for both the contra bass and the contra alto flutes.
This colourful collection of pieces for trumpet and piano draws its inspirations from a variety of art works. They range from the gentle Parisian waltz, Ball at the Moulin de la Galette inspired by the artist Renoir; an atmospheric night piece, Nocturne in Blue and Gold by Whistler; a bright, dazzling Winter Landscape with Skaters by the Dutch painter Avercamp; the Baroque brilliance of A Choir of Angels by the 15th Century painter, Marmion; and two cool jazzy works, Marilyn Diptych by pop artist Andy Warhol and Walking Man (a powerful elongated sculpture by Giacometti) which is in five time.
The final and most challenging piece of Framed, Overcoming Red, is inspired by the abstract artist, Rodchenko, who asserted in 1921 that the ‘end of painting’ was imminent; an appropriate choice for the concluding work of the picture gallery. Something for all tastes and abilities.
Le Temps Viendra for trumpet in Bb, trombone and piano or oboe/cor, clarinet in Bb/bass clarinet and piano
In 1997 a rare illuminated manuscript came up for sale at Christie’s from an unnamed European collector; this was a medieval Catholic Book of Hours which had once belonged to Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife, Anne Boleyn. It was discovered that she had made an interesting inscription under a miniature painting of The Day of Judgement and in her neat handwriting were the prescient words: ‘le temps viendra’ [the time will come]. This meditative work, originally written for piano, oboe and clarinet, is a contemplation on Anne Boleyn and her possible premonition of death. Thirteen ‘bells’ toll out the structure of Le Temps Viendra and a fragment of Henry VIII’s song, Pastime with Good Company, appears, as if to mock, in different shapes and guises.
The premiere of Le Temps Viendra (scored for oboe/cor anglais, clariniet/bass clarinet and piano) was given in 1999 at the Warehouse, Theed Street, London by Sounds Positive. A new version of Le Temps Viendra has been rescored for the Trio D’Art and is dedicated to Paul Archibald (trumpet) John Kenny (trombone) and Helen Reid (piano) and was first performed at the Dartington International Summer School on 10 August, 2009.
Duration: 10 minutes
This duo for soprano saxophone and piano, commissioned by Amy Dickson, finds its inspiration in the poem Mein blaues Klavier (My blue piano) written during the Second World War (1943) by the German Expressionist, Else Lasker-Schüler. Though the composition is essentially abstract the fractured, tilted world of the poem pervades the piece; it is as if the broken, disused piano, standing in shadow, is a metaphor for all that has been lost in wartime. The work opens with a bright-edged four note motif which then becomes fragmented; it takes many shapes before its final utterance, narrowing down to a single note at the end of the final section. The central section of Mein blaues Klavier is a lament in which the two instruments intertwine their melodies over a falling bass line.
Duration: 8 minutes
Nocturne for horn quartet was inspired by the work of two South American poets; Pablo Neruda (Nocturne) and Jorge Luis Borges (Milonga of Albornoz). Both movements have ‘something of the night about them’. The first movement, Distance and Moon, is based on the poem by Neruda which evokes the
‘high ethereal pampa night . . . a thousand years of silence in a wineglass of calcareous blue, of distance and moon.’
The horns call across the vast desert emptiness, both near and far. Intimations of cascading Tippettian triplets find their way into the overlapping textures, resounding across the plains. The second movement, Under the brim of his black hat, has the rhythm of the tango at its heart. The Borges poem tells of the knife-fight which ended the life of the 19th century Argentine hoodlum, Alejo Albornoz.
‘Whistling a local milonga, Albornoz sidles by. Under the brim of his black hat, morning in his eye.’
In contrast with the gentle evocation of the lunar landscape of the first movement, angular motifs drive a passionate course through to a fiery conclusion.
Nocturne was commissioned by The British Horn Society and is first performed today by Horns Aloud in its complete form at the 2009 British Horn Festival, 1 November, at the Clarendon Muse, Watford School for Boys. The work is dedicated to Horns Aloud. © 2009, Cecilia McDowall
Duration: 12 minutes
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.
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.
Duration: 11 minutes
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 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.