Peter Parkes' comments, The Brass Herald

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by James Yelland, Aug 20, 2004.

  1. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Peter Parkes, normally such a sensible and talented chap, has made a number of comments in this quarter's Brass Herald that make me wonder if the strains of age are catching up on him. For example:

    Why do we have to compete against each other? We all know the answer - without contesting their would be little or no new music and certainly nothing at all from first rate composers.

    Well, it all depends what you mean by first rate composers, of course, but I can think almost instantly of several dozen repertoire items by people that I would count as first rate which were never commissioned, written or intended as contest pieces. And with a bit more time to think, I'm sure between us we could come up with several hundred more. I'm not sure if Parkes is including those composers who bandsmen tend to think of as 'in-house' composers as first rate - Philip Sparke, Edward Gregson and so on - but even amongst them there are dozens, if not hundreds of non-competitive works. And from other sources, well..........Harrison Birtwistle, Robin Holloway, Thea Musgrave, George Benjamin, Stephen Oliver, Alan Rawsthorne, Peter Dickinson, Alan Hoddinott, Hans Werner Henze - the list goes on and on. The idea that there would be no new music if there were no contests is demonstrably untrue. And even if we didn't already have a large body of work to disprove Parkes' theory, the implication that individuals, bands and associations would not commission new music, or that composers would not simply write new music unprompted, is absurd.

    Since 1928 almost every one of Britain's greatest composers has provided at least one work for use as a test piece.

    Except perhaps Benjamin Britten, Sir Michael Tippett, William Walton, Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies, Sir Harrison Birtwistle..........

    Again, it depends on who you consider to be a great composer of course. Parkes mentions Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. Then again, there are many who would argue whether the last two mentioned come into that category. Parkes did well to say 'almost every one', but even so, it was a rather thoughtless statement.

    Parkes goes on to contrast the alleged lack of 'great works' in the wind band medium compared to the brass band medium.

    Where is the catalogue of great works for their medium? It hardly exists....(except for Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy).

    Again, it depends on what you call 'great works'. Parkes implies that the brass band repertoire is bulging with them. If you accept that great works are only written by great composers, I wouldn't say that the brass band repertoire is exactly overflowing with them, would you? Parkes mentions the works of Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. Whether all three are truly great composers is debatable, as is the question of whether the pieces they wrote for brass band are great.

    My knowledge of wind band repertoire is limited, but even I know that Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Gounod, Milhaud, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Peter Sculthorpe, Alan Bush, Dominic Muldowney, John Corigliano, Robin Holloway, Thea Musgrave. David Bedford and Paul Patterson have all contributed to the wind band repertoire - and if Parkes' defintion of 'great' includes our 'in-house' composers, you can add Philip Sparke, Edward Gregson, Philip Wilby, John McCabe, Derek Bourgeois, Gordon Jacob and Joseph Horovitz to the list.

    I've had enough now. I would have written to the Herald to put these points but they don't seem to have a letters page. i'll probably get much more feedback and debate here. :wink:
  2. nickjones

    nickjones Active Member

    I think he must have forgotten about "Festal Brass with Blues" Sir Michael Tippett written for the 1984 Fairey Band tour of Hong Kong and Grimethorpe Aria and Salford Toccatta - Sir Harrison Birtwistle
    As a movement we have loads of music written by the best composers like Richard Rodney Bennett ( flowers of the forest ), Michael Ball ( Hammer of the North ) , Judith Bingham ( 4 min mile , the stars above the earth below ) , Robin Holloway ( Men Marching ) , Chi ( Gary Carpenter ) , Arthur Butterworth ( Odin , Paean ) , Lowry Sketchbook ( Philip Wilby ).
    they are just not performed often which is a shame..
    just because Oliver Knussen or Sir Peter Maxwell Davies have not been commissioned to write a work yet does that make the Brass Band movement less in peoples eyes.
    I suppose it is down to bands not able to afford commissions , I know arts associations are reluctant to provide funds for competitions , the money is out there we just have to keep looking and not over using the talents of people like Philip Wilby , as we are finding with Peter Graham there is a bit of a back lash of lack of originallity.
  3. cornetcheese

    cornetcheese Member

    This is a real can of worms purely because terms such as "first-rate composers" and "great works" are so subjective! However, the comparison between works for wind band and brass band that Parkes makes I cannot understand. I have always felt that the works written for wind band are far more diverse than those written for brass band because more mainstream "orchestrally based" composers tackle the medium. In discussion with a very well known Scottish composer about why more mainstream composers do not tackle the brass band medium, he said it was because of the "formulated nature of brass band compositions". Now, I can think of many works for band which you could certainly not describe as formulated, but in more recent years I can only think of a handful of mainstream orchestrally based composers writing works for band (Judith Bingham and Harrison Birtwhistle off the top of my head) against around 30 mainstream composers who have written for wind band recently. The composer I spoke with felt that band composition is too insular to break into, and used the controversy surrounding Bingham`s "Prague" as a fine example, as he felt this piece was well regarded by many mainstream composers before it was used as an area test piece.

    Of course, many would argue that the term "mainstream" is also subjective, but the majority of composers who write for brass band definately have the core of their output for that medium whereas successful orchestral composers seem far more inclined to tackle wind band than brass band writing.

    I have to say, from personal experience, as a composition student myself I would never submit a piece for brass band for a composition folio at my conservatoire, as I have been discouraged from doing so as the ensemble is not taken seriously, whereas wind band composition is ok!
  4. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Who forgot? Me or Major Parkes? Either way, none of the pieces you mention - fine though they are - were written (or ever used, as far as I know) as test pieces, which is what Parkes is saying. And I fear that Festal Brass with Blues was not written originally for brass band, although I can't quite remember how it did start life.
  5. nickjones

    nickjones Active Member

    Not you James...yes I know these pieces have never been used at a competition , I think there is a blurring in what the Major regards as a high class piece , I think as a movement we have some great music that would test the best of bands ( music for speilberg , songs for BL ) but audiences / conductors/competition organisers / bands think they are not " popular enough " to use in concerts.
    Even pieces like " English Heritage and Salamander" were not commissioned for competition use.
  6. So how would you define a great composer if you are not going to include Elgar, Holst and RVW in the canon? I agree that the work they have done for brass band may not be as sparkling as some of their other work but show me any composer who is consistent across genres? I happen to be conducting the centenary concert of Capel Choral Society tomorrow including work by all three of these composers and I challenge anyone to listen to Vaughan Williams' 5 Mystic Songs and tell me he is not a great composer. (Incidentally if anyone is in the Dorking area and at a loose end tomorrow evening pm me for details of this concert featuring Fulham Brass Band and Capel Choral society in a programme of English music from the 20th century :wink: )
  7. jambo

    jambo Member

    What is the point of this posting?

    To discuss the contributions of 'great' composers based on an article featured in the brass herald or..

    to poke fun at Major Parkes, his oppinions and they way in which he has conveyed them?

    From your comments regarding his age I would suggest it is the latter. I'd be careful on this one mate.

    Whilst everyone has their faults, the Major included (and yes I have worked under him to comment) anyone who has served the banding movement as long and as well as Major Parkes should not be subject to any form of public ridicule regarding his oppinions, let alone signs of his age.
    An open forum to debate his comments is valid but to mock is not.

    So i'm having a bad away! :x
  8. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Perhaps James, it's because certain elements of the brass band fraternity come out with such statements that Elgar, Delius and Holst aren't great composers (a bit like that bandsman all those years ago who rejected the merits of A Moorside Suite because it didn't conatin a single semiquaver ....) that recognised composers who aren't necessarily brass band composers stay away from the brass band world (I doubt if Judith Bingham will go near brass bands again.....).

    There does seem to be an unwritten rule that dicates the style and form of a fair number (not all, obviously) of the higher section brass band test pieces of recent years, (big opening, finger and tongue-contorting technical wizardy based development section, slow section with exposed solos, build up to final section, wham-bam-thank you ma'am ending. That's not to criticize those type of pieces or their composers, but a fair few of them, in my view, more than is musically healthy, are of that ilk...). Perhaps that's why when 'outsiders' come in and offer something a little bit different (like pieces without semiquavers) that it's a shock to the system to some, who knows?

    Funny, going back to Resurgam, though, most of the semiquavers are in one of the slow sections..... it's the triplets wot cause the most technical problems! ;-)
  9. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Well, exactly. It's a tricky one. That's why I try to avoid using the word 'great' myself. But if I was pressed, I would say that he/she would have to satisfy certain conditions:

    1. A lengthy period of time would have to have elapsed after the the composer's active period to allow time for his/her music to be evaluated and put into context. Greatness is often not recognised at the time. Tchaikowsky's first piano concerto and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring are examples of two pieces which were derided when first performed, but few would doubt their greatness today.

    2. The music would have to have permeated the consciousness of the population at large, not just that of the cognoscenti. Most people in the street will recognise a bit of Beethoven or Mozart if pressed, for example. Whereas, arguably, the only bit of brass band music that has permeated the national consciousness is, er, the Floral Dance! Therefore, um, the Floral Dance is great music!!

    I think I'll shut up now. :? Except to say, I'll stick my neck out and say that in 100 years time, one of our number will be recognised as a truly great composer - Wilfred Heaton.
  10. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Absolutely not. I have the greatest respect for the man- principally because he gives 'imho' some of the most thoughtful and original interpretations of many pieces. Look back in the archives of this forum and you will find a posting by me nominating my most cherished recording of recent times - Grimethorpe's From Sonnets to Jazz, conducted by Parkes. To which I would also add the famous Complete Champions CD and both Vinter CDs.
  11. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Agree on Wilfred Heaton. In fact, I think he's great already. Whether universally recognized is another matter, but I think he's great.

    Your logic for Floral Dance, though..... Someone fetch the nurse, quick! ;-) :lol:
  12. JR

    JR Member

    peter parkes

    Whether Holst or Vaughan Williams are great composers or not is open to debate. What is not in doubt is the fact that Peter Parkes is a great brass band conductor.
    I'm glad Jim Yelland acknowledges Parkes's contribution musically - contest or no contest. Apart from the pieces already cited I would mention Parkes's brilliant "Connotations" reading which everybody tries to copy (particularly at the ending!), his first ever test piece "Une Vie de Matelot" in 1975 - again much copied and "IMHO" the definitive reading of "Epic Symphony".
    More recently what about his completely different interpretation of Isiah 40 with Grimethorpe circa 1996?
    I studied under the Major and learnt an awful lot from him as did many others currently conducting.
    Incidentally I believe the Major had the best interpretation of Elgar's Severn Suite (1997?) and Holst's Planets at Birmingham last year.

    John Roberts[/quote]
  13. cornetcheese

    cornetcheese Member

    I agree with your point Dave about repetitions in musical style for many testpieces, particularly in the top section. I have always thought that several pieces at this level incorporate certain musical features because that is what`s expected from a champ section testpiece. Because of the nature of he contesting "league" system, bands within it expect a piece to provide particular challenges to seperate bands out, not necissarily to be well written! This is a big area my composition collegue mentioned. Most mainstream orchestrally-based composers who write for band run into the problem of getting their reputation scathed because their music does not "conform" to the conventional testpiece formula and never getting it played again. Even the Holst and Vaughan Williams works for band are not played so often despite being standards of the band repertoire. As for Birtwhistle et al, I don`t recall any of these works being played again, Grimethorpe Aria for example? It seems that the reason many mainstream orchestral composers avoid brass band writing is because of the formulaic nature of many brass band works, which one could cynically say has led to the same piece being written over and over again!

    As for musical "greatness", does the term still exist in our postmodern society? (Apologies - shades of a music aesthetics essay question I had to answer last year!) :wink:
  14. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Re: peter parkes

    Absolutely right.
  15. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    I'm sorry I didn't see any mockery in James' post. I think it's justified to point out when senior musical figures in the movement publish statements which are controversial and in this case not entirely justifiable. Major Parkes has been a great servant of the movement over the years, but it does not mean he is above criticism, especially when he makes statements in a major brass banding journal that are so easily proved to be incorrect, or to be so subjective as to be meaningless.

    I think you're being a bit harsh and possibly a bit trollish too.
  16. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    I'm sorry I didn't see any mockery in James' post. I think it's justified to point out when senior musical figures in the movement publish statements which are controversial and in this case not entirely justifiable. Major Parkes has been a great servant of the movement over the years, but it does not mean he is above criticism, especially when he makes statements in a major brass banding journal that are so easily proved to be incorrect, or to be so subjective as to be meaningless.

    I think you're being a bit harsh and possibly a bit trollish too.
  17. jambo

    jambo Member

    Really, that must be a compliment then oh bottom scraper

    trollish na, just not an out and out liberal
  18. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    'Even heroes have feet of clay'. Worth remembering. I'm with Mr Satterley on this one. Whilst I might not agree with Mr Yelland's points, (particularly the bit about Elgar, Holst and RVW) there's no reason to say he isn't entitled to have and make them. Anyway, I enjoy a good argument! ;-) :lol: Perhaps comments like 'I wonder if the strains of age are catching up with him' were unnecessary but other than that, all Mr Yelland did was disagree based on his own outlook. He even admitted that he'd get more feedback here than from the Herald so he knew he was potentially putting himself up for both agreement AND ridicule himself. Credit to him for having the balls to do it in the first place.
  19. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Just for the record, I didn't actually express my own opinion about the relative merits of these composers or their brass works - I merely said that the matter was debatable - a point subsequently proved by the debate which has ensued. However, nailing my colours to the mast, I have to say that in my opinion A Moorside Suite is a very fine work indeed; that The Severn Suite is, as Elgar Howarth once described it, a flawed masterpiece; and that VW's Variations are less than fine but a valuable addition to the repertoire. Just my 2 euro's worth.

    I couldn't think why such an intelligent man should publically suggest something that could so easily be countered, so I made my own, recognisably light-hearted suggestion as to what the reason might be as a way of getting the argument off to a dynamic start. It worked!

    The usual tenner, Dave? :)
  20. Sorry, I'm slightly confused here but what exactly is "liberal" about having a difference of opinion with a recognised authority on a given subject? Major Parkes has done great things for bands but I don't see why this should preclude him from criticism. Is it perhaps that "liberal" suggestions such as freedom of speech don't sit comfortably with you which makes you use the word in a pejorative fashion?

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