Silver Tree Fanfare

I recently finished a piece by duo Illumina for trumpet and organ.  In preparation for composing this, I studied several pieces in the canonic organ repertoire by Duruflé, Stanford, Messiaen and others.  I was somewhat disheartened, particularly by the beauty and complexity of Duruflé’s compositions, but later learned from Simon Johnson (whose recital I attended at Merton College, Oxford) that Duruflé was a perfectionist who kept very few of his works.  I found this oddly reassuring, given that Duruflé is a particularly tough act to follow, or precede, in a concert setting…

Aside from availing of  Richard Moore’s clear and detailed advice on the manuals available and the registration on the organ which would premiere the work, I visited friends in Amesbury in Wiltshire, one of whom is a church organist.  There I was given brief lessons in playing the organ.  At first, simply manoeuvring pedals and manuals in tandem during a read-through of ‘Walking in the Air’ was enough to stress me out and provide comedy for all.  After two days, I was smugly sailing though Flor Peeters’  Aria.  Though not a technically demanding piece, I felt I’d achieved something simply by means of limb-eye coordination…

After reading numerous online articles about composing for organ, I decided that I would leave the registration up to the organist.  One particular article stated: ‘Composers, don’t bother specifying the registration, as you will be ignored’. Perhaps not always the case, but I wanted to give the organist the freedom to choose from a palette of sounds based on simple suggestions of timbre.  The score was annotated here and there with brief instructions as to how certain sections should relate.  Twee adjectives such as ‘sparkly’ and ‘ghostly’ made their way into the first draft.  Richard sent me some suggestions of registration to approve via email, but I was happy for him to make his own decisions about what sounds worked best in rehearsal, as I wouldn’t hear the piece until the initial performance.

Despite all my studying of organ playing and writing, I had written enough for the trumpet to feel confident that my writing for it was idiomatic.  Then it was Ellie who contacted me suggesting that the relentless passages of virtuosic trumpet writing in my score needed a few breaks here and there, for reasons of endurance (this piece would be the first in a 45 minute concert of challenging pieces)!  Although there were moments to breathe, there were scarcely a few bars’ rest to be found for the trumpet.  I reworked the piece accordingly, maintaining its development but keeping in the ‘fireworks’.  The resulting effect was conducive to the effect of the piece.   The texture, rather than being predominantly dense, was now broken up into antiphonal passages, larger solo sections and an eventual musical homogeneity at the conclusion, better pronounced by the thinning out of the part.  The brief I was given when commissioned to write this piece was, ‘Lots of fizz and bang, please.’  I hope that the musicians, and audience, find some of each in this work.

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