Of Distant Memories was jointly commissioned by Black Dyke Band and the Worshipful Company of Musicians (with funds provided by John Iles) to mark the centenary of the first original test piece for brass band, written in 1913 for the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.
The idea for this work came to me as I was completing my Symphony in two movements for brass band in late 2011 (a work jointly commissioned by the National Youth Bands of Great Britain and Wales). During the compositional process several other ideas, more ‘traditional’ in character (particularly the long opening melodic span) came to me, and it was clear that they might form the basis of another, entirely different, composition - Of Distant Memories was the result. I completed the work quite quickly, within about six weeks, an unusually speedy process for me.
At the same time, I remembered that the first original test piece for brass band (‘Labour and Love’ by Percy Fletcher), had been written in 1913 for the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, and so the new work became a kind of homage to those early composers of original test pieces, not only Fletcher himself, but others such as Holst, Elgar, Ireland, Howells, Bliss, and Eric Ball; and the premiere was given by Black Dyke, under Nicholas Childs, at the 2013 RNCM Festival of Brass. The sub-title of the work, ‘Music in an Olden Style’, is indicative of the compositional process, the music being conceived in the form of a traditional tone poem (typical of such early test pieces). Indeed, the music is a quasi ‘style conversion’, treading the same path of musical gestures of those early test pieces. Despite this, some aspects of the work are more ‘modern’ in intent (eg scoring), although the percussion requirements are rather modest, certainly in keeping with the spirit of the age.
Of Distant Memories is in one continuous movement with an opening slow melody (the main theme), built around descending thirds, which frames fast and virtuoso music: first a quick-fire scherzo, interrupted briefly by declamatory trombones, and a ‘heroic’ march. All the while the main idea keeps re-emerging, albeit briefly and in different guises, but eventually we reach an extended slow section of highly lyrical music (reminiscent in its modality of the slow movement of Holst’s Moorside Suite) with challenging solos for the ‘end chair’ players. There is also a nod to the world of hymns, one of founding pillars of the brass band tradition. The fast music returns, with the addition of some 21st century ‘glitz’, before leading to a triumphant recapitulation of the work’s main theme, with a suitably climactic ending.
The work is dedicated to Nicholas and Robert Childs, two musicians I greatly respect, and with whom I have enjoyed a long and fulfilling musical relationship.