Fantasy For Brass Band: 4BarsRest take a closer
look at the forthcoming National Finals test piece for the First
Test Piece: Fantasy For Brass Band Opus 114
Composer: Malcolm Arnold
Published by Studio Music
Its a strange thing to say really, but Sir Malcolm Arnold
has been something of a peripheral composing figure to the general
brass band world. Apart from Fantasy For Brass Band
which was written for the National Championships of Great Britain
as far back as 1974 most of his original works for bands have been
confined to the lower sections, and although popular and accessible
they have not perhaps shown us how fine a composer for brass he
2001 sees the National Finals in Preston using two of his works
his Attleborough Suite for the Fourth Section
and Fantasy For Brass Band for the First Section. It
is the latter, which is without doubt the most substantial and will
for the most part give the competing bands a true test of technique
and more importantly, musicianship.
Dedicated to the artist, Tony Giles, Fantasy for Brass Band
is a composition that is just over 9 minutes in length
a dwarf in stature of a test piece compared to the Goliaths
of todays offerings and is essentially made up of four main
sections to form one continuous line of musical development.
The opening Prelude is marked Allegro Moderato at 112
crotchet beats and takes the form of repeated fanfares from the
top half of the band that are answered by descending runs from the
lower end. It is clean and clear writing that will demand the same
in the execution from both conductor and players alike. The dynamic
marking is forte nearly all the time so bands trying to whack it
out should beware! Only the bar before rehearsal-marking B is marked
fortissimo for the entire band. Cleanliness is next to Godliness
as my Gran used to tell me, so neat and tidy playing with rounded
full balanced sounds should do the trick.
The flugel introduces the first theme at rehearsal marking B which
is then taken on by the horn section (all mp and mf) before the
fanfare motifs are reiterated at forte level to climax with a fortissimo
series of repeated semi quavers before the introduction of the second
main section of the work, entitled Dance at rehearsal
marking E. If your band has kept its head up to now, then things
could be looking up.
The Dance is marked crotchet 96 and needs to be felt
at a slower yet bright and lively pace. The marking is Allegretto.
Again, it very clear and clean writing that will demand a lot of
musical insight to work properly. Throughout this section the dynamic
markings are clearly set out and will need to be observed with care
and attention as will the tuning at rehearsal marking G where the
bass end take over the tune. The music looks easy to play along
here, but keeping things together and balanced without rushing away
with things could be the key. Its all about control and with
backsides twitching and lips quivering at the pianissimo dynamics,
things could get a bit hairy.
The Elegy at rehearsal marking I is an absolute gem
of scoring. Again its a slower tempo (marked crotchet =72)
but its Andante con moto. Conductors who come over all dramatic
and poncy and slow things down to a dirge will not only kill the
music, but most probably kill their players as well. Its 33
bars of sublime simplicity that is the keystone of the piece, as
it requires both stamina and musicianship for it to come off. Dynamics
range from pianissimo to forte and there are two beautifully realised
solos for cornet and euphonium that need sympathetic execution.
The final chord will require a clenching of the backsides and brave
The Scherzo follows and it is here that the technical
demands of the music come to the fore. Marked Vivace
it is meant to be lively and animated rather than hell for
leather and hold onto your trousers. It's marked crotchet
=120 only so some liberties can be taken but conductors who think
their bands will be able to play it at up to a third quicker in
speed will need their heads examined. Try double tonguing at that
speed eh? its bloody hard work.
Its all about clarity again as the writing demands neat tonguing
technique from the entire band. Rehearsal marking L will be a pointer
to whether things are going to plan (fantastic chance for the bass
drum player to become a star) and from then on it could be a question
of keeping things under control. Cornets get to spike a top D or
four (there could be more splashes here than a five year olds paddling
pool) before there are a series of chromatic runs throughout the
band at rehearsal marking M that will need more than a bit of practice
to come off cleanly. (Bass players beware!). If things have gone
to plan, you will reach the final Postlude together
and still in control.
Just when you thought it safe to go back in the water, the fanfares
reappear but this time its marked pianissimo. Frayed lips
will have difficulty making this come off at a very quiet dynamic
level, but control again is the key. The answering runs from the
bass end are now ascending as a slow build up takes up the reins
and the band shoot off into the final Vivace (again only marked
120 beats) for the ride to the line.
Only in the last 7 bars does the final accelerando come and this
will need to be marked out to show that the band has something left
in reserve. Some great final spiked chords through the band (sop
gets some top Bs!) before the end bars (marked unison) finish
it all off.
9 Minutes of some great writing should make sure that only the
best bands get to grips with the music and should make the adjudicators
job fairly easy. Its a great piece to play and to listen to,
but it will require conductors to be more sensible than usual when
it comes to tempi and dynamics in particular. It should make for
a very interesting contest indeed.