Music that tells a story


Supporting Member
I was driving home from work the other day and was getting fed up with Classic FM so I thought I'd put a CD on. Reaching into the pile I pulled one out and stuck it in the machine. What eminated from the speakers was Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony. It takes me about 50 minutes to get home and by the time I arrived I was exhausted. Not with the mental strain of the 50 minute drive but of listening to The Alpine. Astonishingly descriptive music - especially the storm scene. Awesome.

Anyway, this got me thinking. And here is the question:

What brass band piece can you think of that just lets your mind wander with the music and mentally carries you along with the story of the music -often depicted merely by the title of the piece.

I'm sure everybody gets emotionally moved by pieces but which ones actually tell a story so intense you just ride along with it.

Sorry I'm getting a bit heavy now. But, I can think of four just now:

Moor of Venice - obviously associated with the Shakespeare story
Blitz - self explanatory (and already mentioned as one of my faves on a different thread)
Tam O'Shanter - I know this has actually got the story written on the score but if you're just listening it can be spell-binding
Resurgam - In my opinion the ultimate. Just close my eyes and the story unfolds into my ears. "Ye Shall Rise Again" - magnificent.

What piece engulfs you and tells its own story?


Resurgam - In my opinion the ultimate. Just close my eyes and the story unfolds into my ears. "Ye Shall Rise Again" - magnificent.

Resurgam doesn't have the same effect once you've heard the last movement of Mahler's 2nd Symphony.

Anyway other pieces:

Oceans (we're playing that for our next contest)

Notice they are mostly older ones...
I'm trying to write one at the moment actually!
I dont know how successful it will be...

But i agree that Resurgam is very descriptive.

I was however listening to Die Walkure from Wagners Ring cycle today- wow. Thats exhausting.

What a piece....

Dave Euph

In terms of brass bands there's:

Tristan Encounters - Ellerby
Euphonium Concerto 1 - Golland
Fantasy for Euphonium - Sparke

There's also a couple of other non-band pieces:

Aurora (wind orchestra) - Thomas Doss
Prelude de l'apres-midi d'un faune (orchestra) - Claude Debussy


Tristan Encounters when played well but my old fave again
Plantagenates(I put this on every post about test pieces) :oops:


Checkmate by Sir Arthur Bliss, however I do find the Orchestral version more descriptive due to the different colours that are available in an Orchestra.
I did a presentation at Uni on Checkmate (orchestral version) and it remended me just how good the suite really is!!!

Okiedokie of Oz

Active Member
Jacob De Haan's Oregon is very descriptive
Last year's test piece Seven Wonders of The World, while it didn't flow, I found to be very descriptive of each of the Seven Wonders.

LE Roi D'ys....

and non-BB
How can anyone dismiss Pictures?


Staff member
John McCabe's Salamander. For some reason, I always think "sci-fi" when listening to this piece, specifically a dragon-hatching.. :shock: followed by first flight. The exciting bit at the end makes me think of a bunch of them zooming down cave passages and out into the open air, diving down to sweep the grass, and back up into the air for the final bars. Would love to someday see a "Disney Fantasia" style animated short put to this music..

Maybe I'm just odd

James McFadyen

New Member
MRSH said:
What brass band piece can you think of that just lets your mind wander with the music and mentally carries you along with the story of the music -often depicted merely by the title of the piece.

Oddly enough, I am one those composers who usually chooses to have a story for the music. I think it is a great way of connecting with the listeners and is great for composers to think like novelists, create imagary, apply metaphor, create characters, have a plot, etc.


The pieces I've enjoyed listening to in an imagery sense are;

Howells - Pageantry (Self explanatory movement titles)
Wilby - Lowry Sketchbook (Images of Industry in the first movement, Nostalgia in the second - the third movement does nothing other than be a good romp)
Aagaard Nilson - Aubade [Dawn songs of the fabulous birds] (Conjures up all sorts of images of the most ridiculous winged ones)
Walters - Hootenanny (Hell on Earth)

Toby Bannan


Supporting Member
John McCabe's music always puts pictures in my head or tells a story (perhaps he was a cartoonist in a previous life?!). You're not the only one who got dragons from Salamander Kepps, but then I'm odd too!

The single most descriptive piece for me has to be Cloudcatcher Fells - try listening to it lying on your back in a dark room....

My other favourite descriptive pieces are Oregon, Contrasten (4th section finals piece about 20 yrs ago, written after Chernobyl), Blitz and Ballet for Band.


Active Member
Victorian Snapshots, On Ratcliffe Highway is an extremely imaginative piece. Think it's by RSA. Essays for Brass vol1


Three Impressions For Brass by Arthur Butterworth.

1st movement - Wyven Colliery. Here the music describes the sounds and impression of a coal mine in the North East.

2nd movement - Deserted Farm. The title says it all :!:

3rd movement - Royal Border Bridge. The music in this movement paints a picture of a train passing over the bridge that spans the River Tweed in Berwick. The sudden rit at the end I've heard describe once as the driver thinking "*BEEP*.........STATION!!" :!:

I like East Coast Pictures by Nigel Hess and also Tintagel for their descriptivness of the individual movements.


The topic of the thread was pieces that can insinuate stories or the imagination into creating a personal connection with the music. Since band music is full of pieces that tell stories then it shouldn't be hard to find pieces that tell a story! For instance, Labour and Love. Isn't Salamander the piece based on Dragons and olden times ?
With band music the title is usually the major issue in whether a person likes the piece even before you play it. What people don't like is being shocked with pieces like Prague or Grimethorpe Aria etc. Their shock is in the fact that story lines have been used for so long that when a piece is, for arguments sake Prague, which is descriptive but allows the listener to follow their own story within the music they get really confused and end up scratching their head saying "what was all that about ?". If the person sat to the right of the listener in the hall said "I think Prague, for me, reminded me of the Bridge in Prague when it was really foggy and misterious", the listener takes that on board and if someone asks him outside what was Prague about he'd reply what the bloke told him because he must be right. HOWEVER if the listener turned to the bloke sitting on his left hand side and asked him the same question and he didn't get the same answer then the listener, instead of sitting there with an open mind or blank canvas to create a picture for himself he has the confused images of the opinions of the other two, which just confuses him. The same happened with Maunsel Forts, there was no romantic story line but the composer tried to paint a series of landscapes. Sometimes I feel that should a composer write a test piece and give it no name or just the number 1, even if it turns out to be a masterpiece will fail completely. I hope that in the near future a composer will write a piece which has no abstract at the beginning describing what its all about and just call it 34(a) or something like that ! Imagine the different stories that lead from a title like that ? 34(a) could be a question ? a house number or even a bra size! And I'm sure there's more connotations for the number. A piece entitled 34(a) would make the audience think of the piece in their own manner than be spoon fed story lines to make a piece make sense

for instance, what piece am I describing here :-

a coal miner working down a pit, he works very hard, he gets frustrated, kicks out in anger and eventually goes too far and gets sacked. His family can't survive on no money and will get evicted, so his wife begs his employers to let him back to work. He apologises and he gets his job back and piece finishes suggesting that things are happy again or life goes on?

No prizes for suggestions or acurrate answers!! lol


Active Member
Labour and love Mr Jones???

I think Vinter's Spectrum is fantastic and very descriptive. I agree with others about Wilby's Lowry Sketchbook, that's one fabulous piece of music, and also Cloudcatcher Fells. Both are incredible to play and the music is so colourful.

I wish I had a brain sometimes....... :(


Aratunian Trumpet Concerto! It works for all those sort of stories.

I went to a masterclass Jim Watson held a few years ago, and he used Boris the Russian bath tub manufacturer as the example.


Staff member
Re Salamander - I think the title was inspired by the mythical fire-dwelling lizard, but the piece was written, I believe, to celebrate old buildings or something (very vauge.. I can't remember)

Re your comments MMW, I've never seen the score, the music or read anything about it. I listened to the music and found a story. I doubt Mr. McCabe has the same odd things rumbing about in his mind as I do (I hope not)

Mind you, having said that, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with telling a specific, defined story in music.

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