Uses of Anthem (An Dealbh Mňr) in the brass quintet

Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry

In the 2006 collaboration An Dealbh Mňr (The Big Picture), I worked with a choreographer, artists and the children of the primary school Bunsgoil Shlčite to develop a performance event given in Sabhal Mňr Ostaig College. It involved a semi-improvised score for childrens' ensemble in partnership with a dance performance by the children; the series of live performances was danced on a giant landscape painting, developed by the children with artist Julie Brook over two years, and was viewed by audiences from galleries above the space. The project was followed by BBC 2, who made a documentary about the project. The project was funded by EC, Highland Council, Bord na Gŕidhlig, Leader+, Scottish Arts Council and others.

While some of the material was developed by me and the young ensemble as soundscape, without notation, a number of short notated items also played a role in the performance score (c.20’) of An Dealbh Mňr; the most prevalent of these was Anthem, a chant designed to be memorized by the entire school. It formed interlude material on various solo instruments that linked the main episodes, as well as featuring within these; the performance ended as the children sang Anthem in a free canon of individual entries as they processed from the floor space up to a high gallery. Though the anthem’s musical properties were tailored to the above applications, I found that suggested itself as a musical thread as I turned to the composition of Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry. The Anthem appears in the brass quintet in a number of guises, from the most straightforward thematic presentations to imitative treatments in the manner of imitation on a point in the consort fantasia.

The most obvious presentation of this material is in the second movement, Chorale Prelude 1; the song is unchanged, but is given the ‘acoustic decoration’ of harmon mute in the other trumpet at cadence points, over a wine-glass pedal. The harmonic field of trumpet 2, while closely circumscribed, expands the harmonic aura of ‘Anthem’.

At the other end of the scale of integration is the free canonic use of this material for the central section of movement 6, the ‘finale’ of Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry. From bar 37 to bar 77 the entire fabric of the music is a free fantasia on the contours of ‘Anthem’; it can be seen from bar 42 to be treated in layers of augmentation, the strands using respectively units of crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver-crotchet (dactyl) and minim - though these cross continually from voice to voice.

An intermediate treatment of the material is found in Chorale Prelude 2, in which a freely modified statement in trombone is adorned with ‘acoustic decoration’ from trumpets; these mark cadence-points (in analogy to those in the first Chorale Prelude) with the distortion of ballophone technique (playing into the bell of horn or tuba while valves are oscillated) to produce a ‘steel drum’ tremolo.

Other aspects of the music developed for An Dealbh Mňr also appear in Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry: the gradual descent of a harmonic sequence that opens movement 4 was a notated approach to the improvised slow glissando that the children and I had evolved for a ‘glacier’ sequence in the earlier work.

c Piers Hellawell 2019