Things were better in the old days...

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack Stout, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. Jack Stout

    Jack Stout Member

    While there is so much good in the brass band movement today why is it that when we come to the selection of composers for test pieces are we left looking like the poor relatives of banding in the 40's and 50's?

    As far back as 1928 we had the likes of Holst composing for bands, 1930 Elgar, 1950 Herbert Howells and not forgetting Arthur Bliss, John Ireland, Malcolm Arnold, Robert Farnon, Robert Simpson and laterly Joseph Horowitz.

    We live in a world that has the likes of Adams (John), Ligeti, Williams (John), Gorecki, Sallinen, Bennett (Richard Rodney), Glass, Nyman, Tavener and Tower yet we manage to have five pieces by Philip Wilby in the space of 15 years at the Nationals.

    How is it that so many years ago the great composers of their day were being commisioned by bands but today when bands are supposed to be part of the musical mainstream do we use the same old culprits over and over again.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with Wilby or Sparke, it is just a thought that will we not look back in years to come and wonder what some of the great living composers would have treated us to.
  2. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member


    Couldn't agree more. And people moan about how we are perceived in the wider musical world! Sadly, the easy answer is that there isn't enough money to commission composers to write music for the banding world. If Harrison Birtwistle can earn £100K writing an opera, or £5K writing a band piece, he really can't be blamed for choosing the former.

    Until proper funding is found to commission 'real' composers (by that I mean composers with an international reputation outside the banding cocoon), bands will have to stick with what's available.
  3. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Money's one factor but reputation is another! Unfortunately it might be the case that more than a few banders don't have the time or passion to seek out alternative styles or forms of music and reject it at first glance. I'll go back to Judith Bingham as a prime example. As one of the top current composers in her field, I felt embarrassed at the way Prague was dismissed as rubbish. What chance realistically has the likes of Jimmy MacMillan got?
  4. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    In fact, the world doesn't have the likes of Gyorgi Ligeti anymore, on account of the fact that he died last year. And although you might be forgiven for thinking that Philip Wilby is one of 'our' composers, he does in fact have an active musical life in the mainstream environment.

    If you are referring to the list of composers you mention at the top of your posting, I think you'll find that most of them were commissioned, not by bands, but by contest promoters who were first and foremost businessmen with no other particular connection with bands. I'm not sure I'd agree that all on your list qualify as 'great' composers either - unless you mean 'great' as in 'super', rather than 'towering genius'.

    Are they? That's news to me. Although it is of course possible that I went missing in a canoe some time ago and have forgotten the events of recent years.

    Don't be too despondent. At least one of your wishlist nominees - Richard Rodney Bennett - has indeed written an original work for band. And there are many other works by other established or promising contemporary composers in the repertoire. The reason you may not be aware of them is because they are predominantly written for, and/or commissioned by individual bands with ambitious MD's. Many never see a contest stage and therefore do not get heard by a larger number of bandsmen.

    If you are suggesting that the people who choose contest pieces do not show sufficient imagination in selecting composers, I think you are absolutely right.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2007
  5. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    It should also be recognised that the composers you name were way behind the musical "cutting edge" at the time they were writing - Schoenberg, Webern, Berio, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Nono, Cage and Boulez all seem to have avoided writing any brass band music.

    I'd certainly agree with most of the other comments so far though.
  6. Jack Stout

    Jack Stout Member

    Ligeti gone and not a note written...

    Last edited: Dec 6, 2007
  7. barkiniron

    barkiniron New Member

    During the 1970's Elgar Howarth was responsible for commissioning works from some of the major contemporary composers of the time - Henze, Birtwistle, et al for Grimethorpe. These days it just seems that this task is left up to Paul Hindmarsh to champion pioneering new commissions for the festival of brass at the RNCM.

    The problem is that as a movement we are in a comfort zone with what we expect from the tonality and colours that bands produce. Even after 30 plus years Grimethorpe Aria is rarely played. When it is performed it is only ever at specific festivals mainly attended by the non-brass band public.

    Maybe if the Brass Day At The Proms were to become an annual event then it could be a further showcase for brass bands and mainstream composers, as there would be sufficient funds from the BBC to commission new works. Hopefully it would also receive tv coverage!
  8. Leyfy

    Leyfy Active Member

    I'd LOVE to see what some of those composers would have come up with as a test piece!
  9. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    Just because someone is well-established with a good reputation (and a well-deserved one at that), doesn't mean everything they write is automatically wonderful. I agree that there was a lot of ignorant, narrow-minded rubbish generated at the time about Prague - but I also know that I wasn't alone in thinking "This isn't very good; not up to what I was expecting. What a shame". And let's be fair, Severn Suite is not exactly top-notch Elgar is it?

    That said, I agree with Duncan about the funding issue. Composers, like everyone else, have to make the decisions that make good business sense. It would be great to see a new work from James MacMillan or John Adams...but it has to be an attractive offer for them as well as ourselves.
  10. Rob

    Rob Member

    I think many people have tried to justify Prague being a good piece simply because Judith Bingham is not a composer who writes solely, or even mainly for the brass band medium, therefore feeling that the piece's faults must be excused somehow to try and welcome a 'mainstream' composer into the banding world.

    Many, many players in brass bands listen to a wide and diverse range of music, but the simple truth is that many also hated Prague from both a playing and a listening point of view (myself included). If it is so good, why have there not been mass calls for it to be used as a set piece again? Additionally, how often does it crop up on concert programmes, even those at our more 'serious' events??
  11. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    About as often as Birtwistle, Patterson, Henze, etc! Doesn't mean that everything 'bad' is never played and everything 'good' is. By your logic, that would make Hootenanny the greatest piece in the brass band repertoire! I can see your point and agree that Prague certainly did not make too many friends in the brass band world, but you can't make a curry without cracking cumin seeds! If composers from outside of the banding cocoon are not invited to write music, then there would be no music by Holst, Elgar, Vinter etc.

    The reaction to Prague by some minority idiots was nothing short of an embarrasment. I believe that even one of our erstwhile adjudicators commented that he thought it was rubbish in his summing up. How on earth can the banding world complain about the lack of new pieces of any substance when composers get that sort of reception? Some of the comments about Prague made me feel ashamed to be part of the movement!

    Sorry, rant over. I think that music from all sources must be encouraged. New pieces for band are in danger of becoming pastiche, as any break from the normal (fast bit, slow bit, cornet solo, hard bit in funny time signature, euph solo, fast bit, C major chord to end) is greeted with such derision. Where Wilby and Sparke have provided many pieces for the medium, neither have attempted to push the envelope any further than the confines of the brass band comfort zone.
  12. cornetcheese

    cornetcheese Member

    On the topic of mainstream composers writing for band, hasn't HK Gruber written a brass band piece?

    I remember attending a composer workshop with him before and I'm sure he mentioned a love of brass banding (surprising I know!)

    Just my curiousity...
  13. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Aye, it was called Demilitarized Zones, March-Paraphrase for brass band written in 1979. :wink:
  14. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Only you would know that, mate!
  15. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I haven't heard it though ... :frown:
  16. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    ... but I did find out that it lasts 6 minutes and you can hire it from Boosey & Hawkes.
  17. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    As a piece of music, what was wrong with it? Technically it was within most bands' grasps at the areas but musically? It was certainly in character with what she's written previously for brass band and elsewhere. :confused:
  18. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    Nothing was "wrong" with it as a piece of music - it just didn't move me and didn't impress me. It was certainly technically suitable and I applaud now (as I applauded then) the attempt to broaden banding's horizons a little. And it was definitely "in character"...but I'll go back to my earlier example of Severn Suite. It's definitely Elgar, it has all the hallmarks of his style and it's technically fine. There's nothing "wrong" with it; but it can't honestly be said that it stands comparison with 'Enigma' Variations or Dream of Gerontius as his best work. And that's what I'm saying about Bingham and Prague - for me, it wasn't one of her best.

    I actually met somebody once who hated Resurgam - they acknowledged that Eric Ball was good at what he did and deserved his fine reputation, and that the piece was technically very good - but it just did nothing for them. Did I disagree with them? You bet I did. I even pitied them a bit. :( But have they got a right to their own feelings? Of course, because they were aware that it was just their opinion.

    I think my comments here and in other places bear out my honest thoughts that it can only be good for banding if we attract the 'big names' of composition to work with the medium and to bring their own styles - Judith Bingham included. But I also think it's important to note that among all the outcry about Prague, getting swallowed up and shouted down by all the bigotry and closed-mindedness that sadly characterise any adventurous musical choice (and not just in banding either!), were some of us who applauded the thinking, gave the music every chance, and gave the performance just as much thought and attention as we would any other piece...but just plain didn't like it.
  19. Masterblaster jnr

    Masterblaster jnr Active Member

    Have never heard that piece of music, have you a YouTube video of it:rolleyes:
  20. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Lol, unfortunately no! :rolleyes: I knew other band works by her before Prague came along, including Four Minute Mile, Brazil (both written for Leyland) and The Stars Above, The Earth Below (a masterpiece of scoring in my opinion). One piece I would really like to hear is Down and Out, her tuba concerto premiered by Jimmy Gourlay.

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