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Critical commentary

Graham, P 1999, Critical commentary , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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    Abstract

    The pieces [on this recording] guide the listener along a 15-year musical time-line, from his first major brass band composition, Dimensions, to his latest work, On Alderley Edge.. ' When I first read those comments in late September 1997 I realised that the works being reviewed represented a distillation of my compositional practice. As I write these words eighteen months later it occurs to me that in fact twenty years have passed since my first composition for brass band, a concert march, was written and subsequently published by the Salvation Army. Being brought up in the Salvation Army it was almost inevitable that I would join the local corps brass band and ultimately arrange and compose music for it. Despite receiving piano and theory lessons independently it was my musical experiences within the Salvation Army, as brass performer, singer, pianist, conductor and arranger, which I now believe have shaped my approach to composition. The majority of Salvation Army music is functional, providing both accompaniment to congregational singing and concert music at various levels of difficulty (a latter-day gebrauchsmusik perhaps). Almost exclusively tonal, the music serves to communicate with audiences and rarely exploits what may be considered the more esoteric twentieth century compositional techniques. There are obvious parallels with many of the 'functional1 test-pieces contained in this collection, though the music under review here is not unique in this respect. ..for the most part, brass bands play fine and rarified proletarian music.. 2 Fundamentally it is the need to communicate which I believe is the key part of my compositional make-up. This in turn dictates what some may consider the conservative When I first read those comments in late September 1997 I realised that the works being reviewed represented a distillation of my compositional practice. As I write these words eighteen months later it occurs to me that in fact twenty years have passed since my first composition for brass band, a concert march, was written and subsequently published by the Salvation Army. Being brought up in the Salvation Army it was almost inevitable that I would join the local corps brass band and ultimately arrange and compose music for it. Despite receiving piano and theory lessons independently it was my musical experiences within the Salvation Army, as brass performer, singer, pianist, conductor and arranger, which I now believe have shaped my approach to composition. The majority of Salvation Army music is functional, providing both accompaniment to congregational singing and concert music at various levels of difficulty (a latter-day gebrauchsmusik perhaps). Almost exclusively tonal, the music serves to communicate with audiences and rarely exploits what may be considered the more esoteric twentieth century compositional techniques. There are obvious parallels with many of the 'functional1 test-pieces contained in this collection, though the music under review here is not unique in this respect. ..for the most part, brass bands play fine and rarified proletarian music.. 2 Fundamentally it is the need to communicate which I believe is the key part of my compositional make-up. This in turn dictates what some may consider the conservative When I first read those comments in late September 1997 I realised that the works being reviewed represented a distillation of my compositional practice. As I write these words eighteen months later it occurs to me that in fact twenty years have passed since my first composition for brass band, a concert march, was written and subsequently published by the Salvation Army. Being brought up in the Salvation Army it was almost inevitable that I would join the local corps brass band and ultimately arrange and compose music for it. Despite receiving piano and theory lessons independently it was my musical experiences within the Salvation Army, as brass performer, singer, pianist, conductor and arranger, which I now believe have shaped my approach to composition. The majority of Salvation Army music is functional, providing both accompaniment to congregational singing and concert music at various levels of difficulty (a latter-day gebrauchsmusik perhaps). Almost exclusively tonal, the music serves to communicate with audiences and rarely exploits what may be considered the more esoteric twentieth century compositional techniques. There are obvious parallels with many of the 'functional1 test-pieces contained in this collection, though the music under review here is not unique in this respect. ..for the most part, brass bands play fine and rarified proletarian music.. 2 Fundamentally it is the need to communicate which I believe is the key part of my compositional make-up. This in turn dictates what some may consider the conservativestyle of most of the music. That is not to say that I believe the music should stand still in terms of some kind of musical 'time-warp'. I have a particular sympathy with the view held by Philip Wilby, that: Composing for brass bands demands that there is a consensus between the composer, players and audience. With each new test-piece the composer can provide the audience with increasing demands without repelling them. If you break this consensus then I'm afraid it doesn't work and you are back to square one.3 In deciding which works to include in the collection, a number of factors came into play. The degree 'by published works' is without precedent at Salford and, perhaps inevitably, the publications bestride the previously mentioned musical time-line of around fifteen years. Another factor in determining the choice of material was the decision that the collection should be seen to both relate to current Music Department teaching and research, and satisfy the criteria outlined in the University Regulations: 1. That the collection be a "coherent" body of work and a natural extension of the portfolio requirements of the MA compositional studies programme at Salford; 2. That the collection be seen to foster an ethos in which band styles are seen as susceptible to the same serious and dedicated study as accorded to classical "art" music genres. Both brass and wind works are included, the brass music being genre type contest pieces of the kind previously discussed. The characteristics of the latter include the exploitation of specific instrumental techniques (triple-tonguing etc.) and wide dynamic, stylistic and tempo ranges. These parameters are dictated by the rules and pragmatics of contests and may appear to present an unacceptable restriction of compositional freedom. Ironically, my experience has been that, confronted with such a wide range of constraints, the creative process is actually strengthened. This experience is one which is not uncommon to composers of all kinds: ..my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit.4 Technical challenges aside, the works demonstrate a range of compositional techniques including exploration of colour and texture, symphonic argument embracing tonal conflicts and resolutions and (briefly) more contemporary techniques including minimalism and aleatory music. It is with these points in mind that the following works are presented: Brass Band Dimensions (1983) 9' Symphonic Study No. 1 Boosey & Hawkes Prisms (1988) 13' Symphonic Study No. 2 Rosehill Music Publishing The Essence of Time (1990) 13' Variations Rosehill Music Publishing On Alderley Edge (1997) IT Tone Poem Gramercy Music Publishing Wind Band Symphony for Winds (1998) 17' Rosehill Music Publishing Pentium (1998) 6' Overture Gramercy Music Publishing

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Contributors: Scott, D(Supervisor)
    Additional Information:
    Schools: Colleges and Schools > College of Arts & Social Sciences
    Colleges and Schools > College of Arts & Social Sciences > School of Arts & Media > Salford Centre of Music Research
    Colleges and Schools > College of Arts & Social Sciences > School of Arts & Media
    Depositing User: Institutional Repository
    Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2012 14:34
    Last Modified: 19 Feb 2014 11:29
    URI: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/26693

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