Test Pieces

The Test Pieces for the 2016 National Championships of Great Britain


CHAMPIONSHIP - Journey of the Lone Wolf (Simon Dobson)

The 20 bands competing at the Royal Albert Hall will perform Simon Dobson's evocative portrait of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, whose own journey in life was marked by a sense of isolation and singularity. Journey of the Lone Wolf was commissioned by Professor Nicholas Childs in 2013 for the Black Dyke Band, and received its UK premiere at the 2014 Festival of Brass. It has subsequently been used as a set-work as well as own-choice selection throughout the banding world. The composition explores the complexities of a troubled soul; from Bartok's work in recording the disappearing folk songs and musical culture of the Balkans, to his loveless isolation in America and rather cold fascination with jazz.

He was repulsed by the evils of fascism, yet was unable to develop or maintain relationships even with those who shared his political and cultural outlook. He died a lonely man, isolated and almost forgotten - his funeral attended by a handful of people.


SECTION ONE - Ballet for Band (Joseph Horovitz)

Composer Joseph Horovitz celebrated his 90th birthday in May, with 2016 already seeing a welcome retrospective of some his finest works at the RNCM Brass Band Festival in Manchester in January. It included Ballet for Band, written in 1983 at the set-work for the National Final at the Royal Albert Hall, and which has since become one his most popular major test-pieces - played on numerous occasions throughout the banding world. It is a wonderfully elegant, mischievous composition - a brass band ballet, not of programmatic intent but of fertile imagination; beautifully crafted with a delicacy of touch as light on its feet as any arabesque. The composer has admitted that he had a clear vision of the characters that inhabit his score, yet has never divulged any details - leaving the bands and listeners, as he says, "...to exercise their own imaginations rather than being influenced by mine!"


SECTION TWO - Images for Brass (Stephen Bulla)

Stephen Bulla's highly descriptive work was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which took place between the 19th February and 26th March 1945. Casualties on both the American and Japanese sides were horrendously high, before the famous image of the raising of the flag on top of Mount Suribachi signalled the end of one of the most significant and terrifying Pacific conflicts of the Second World War. The work received its first performance by the brass choir of the U.S. Marine Band at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and is divided into four programmatic sections. The first portrays the sense of anticipation before conflict (Prologue), before the arduous journey to the scene of the battle (Approach by Sea) is followed by introspection and prayer featuring the hymn tune Melita (Chorale Prayer), and finally, the hostile confrontation itself (Engagement). There are frequent references to the Marines Hymn and the US National Anthem, particularly in the closing bars, depicting the ultimate raising of the American flag.


SECTION THREE - Lake of the Moon (Kevin Houben)

The travels of the Aztec people, as they headed south through North America looking for a new home, acted as the inspiration for Lake of the Moon. The composition contains small fragments of Oriental music and South American rhythms and occasionally, Russian Cossacks seem to raise their heads.

The journey from North to South is not without danger, which is represented by threatening sounds within the music. In the Adagio divoto the composer takes us along to the Texcoco Lake, which the Aztecs called the "lake of the moon".


SECTION FOUR - Music from Kantara (Kenneth Downie)

Despite the exotic sounding title, the origins of Kenneth Downie's fine composition are somewhat more prosaic. When the composer and his wife moved into a new home they were intrigued to find it called Kantara. Not wanting to upset the outgoing owners, and wishing to find out more, they decided to keep the name. Some judicious research found that Kantara was a ruined castle in Northern Cyprus which the previous owners had once visited. A picture of it was left hanging on the wall of the house for the new owners to enjoy. Written in 1993 for the National School Band Association Composer Competition, it has subsequently been used at youth and senior level - from the National Youth Band Championships of Great Britain to the Pontins Championship. The three-movement work is in no way descriptive, but each has individual character - from a light hearted spiritoso followed by a short lyrical middle section to an animated presto finale.