FIT FOR A KING - a new work to celebrate the birth of HRH Prince George - 22nd July 2013

FIT FOR A KING - a new work to celebrate the birth of HRH Prince George - 22nd July 2013

FIT FOR A KING - a new work to celebrate the birth of HRH Prince George - 22nd July 2013

FIT FOR A KING - a new work to celebrate the birth of HRH Prince George - 22nd July 2013

Variations on the famous Welsh melody Sosban Fach written in celebration of the birth of HRH Prince George of Cambridge, 22nd July 2013 is respectfully dedicated to HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales; HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and HRH Prince George of Cambridge.

Michael Tippett was commissioned by the BBC to compose a Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles [Suite in D] which was written to celebrate the birth of Prince Charles on 14th November 1948. A sixteen minute work for full orchestra, it was first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult.

Prince William, as far as can be ascertained, was not accorded such a piece. Redressing the balance is this loyal offering by members of the Central Composers’ Alliance. When the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy was announced, the Chairman of the Central Composers’ Alliance, David Fisher, resolved to bridge the royal generations by inviting his colleagues in the Alliance contribute to a joint work on a famous Welsh theme to acknowledge the lineage of the Princes of Wales from Dafydd ap Llywelyn to HRH Prince Charles. As this heredity will continue to HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and then HRH Prince George of Cambridge, this work is therefore respectfully dedicated to all three generations.

The melody of Sosban Fach was chosen by David Fisher as one of the most famous of all Welsh tunes. It hasn’t been chosen for its subject matter, though it is originally a nursery song, but for the popularity in the Principality as one of the most often sung songs in the Welsh language. It is best known for its association with Llanelli Rugby Union Club and by internationally renowned performers such as Only Boys Aloud. Robert Ramskill arranged the theme before the composers’ contributions were collected over several months. Dr Ramskill was also entrusted to the difficult task of editing and ordering the pieces for publication.

Serenata Winds, one of the pre-eminent wind quintets in the country, was engaged, by happy coincidence, to record the twenty-two minute work on July 22nd 2013 at the University of Coventry on the very day that HRH Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born.

Central Composers´ Alliance have received a card from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with this message:

"The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were most touched by the thoughtful gift you so kindly sent on the occasion of the birth of their son, Prince George. Their Royal Highnesses have been overwhelmed by all the wonderful messages and gifts they have received and send you their warmest thanks and best wishes."

We realise that this is a standard response but if there are any wind quintets out there who are interested in performing all or any of this exciting work please CONTACT US.

 

NOTE TO PERFORMERS: Should this piece [at 22 minutes] be too long to play as a set, it can either be performed in two halves: Theme & Variations 1-7 in the first half of a concert andTheme & Variations 8-14 in the second. Alternatively, you may play the Theme and any seven of the variations in any order you wish.

 

INTRODUCTION - ANDREW DOWNES:

As Honorary President of the Central Composer’s Alliance, I am very proud to be associated with this, the very latest compositional and recording project by the alliance.  We are very fortunate indeed to have the services of Serenata Winds, a superb ensemble of top professional players, and we must be particularly grateful to Robert Ramskill and David Fisher for putting in the groundwork and organisation, as well as all the composers for creating such beautiful music, to make this such a successful and exciting project!

‘Sosban Fach’ is a highly original work in both concept and operation. Despite the widely differing styles and idioms displayed by its 13 composers, considerable unity has been achieved through the careful laying down of parameters such as choice of original theme, and clarity of its arrangement, choice of instrumentation, and great care in the original guidelines provided.  Each of the variations displays clean instrumentation, and several contain clever use of canonic and fugal techniques.  Some movements are lively and dance-like, whilst others are deeply expressive and moving. All the variations show a great understanding of the techniques and musical procedures necessary.  They all have one thing in common – they are all of a very high standard!  And a well-known saying from the world of jazz can equally be applied to ‘Sosban Fach Variations’ – “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts!”

Theme [0´57"] - Robert Ramskill @ 00:09:

The first step towards producing the Central Composers’ Alliance ‘Sosban Fach Variations’ was to arrange the basic theme simply in a wind-instrument-friendly key and also in such a way that the some of the timbral potential of the wind quintet might be hinted at (in terms of how the instruments could be used in combination whilst still allowing the different characteristics of each individual instrument to be clearly heard). I was confident that, having been supplied with this basis, my fellow alliance members would then explore this potential in much greater depth. In this I was certainly not disappointed as 14 variations materialised which used the ensemble in all manner of inventive and highly imaginative ways, not to mention in a wide variety of musical styles. It then remained to devise a running order for these variations which would have some kind of make sense of these contrasts of mood, tempo and musical language. I tried a number of different possibilities but feel happy that the ordering which finally resulted produces a coherent, enjoyable and very satisfying musical journey.   

Variation 1 [1´34"] - Peter J Witchell @ 01:04:

My ‘Lively’ variation exploits the fun to be had with the jaunty rhythms set against the tune’s tragic minor key – just as Mary Ann’s household is in lively, but loving, turmoil!

Variation 2 [0´54"] - Adrian Woolliscroft @ 02:37:

My intention was to transform the theme into a perpetuum mobile type of variation in a vague tonality based around a sort of D minor. The main transformation of the first part of the theme is taken up by the bassoon and is treated contrapuntally thereafter with each instrument in the quintet able to make a contribution. A succession of trills leads an unequivocal coda in D major.

Variation 3 [1´57"] - Margaret Vickery @ 03:37:

My husband was Welsh and it is the hills and valleys of Wales that inspired this variation, which is based on the note intervals of the opening three bars of Sosban Fach.

Variation 4 [1´37"] - Colin Touchin @ 05:27:

My many happy memories of playing in and coaching student wind quintets include the early realisation that it is one of the most versatile and colourful of all regular ensembles, with no two composers ever creating or adopting the same sonorities when they write in this medium.  The subject-matter prompted me to incorporate a little tongue-in-cheek reference both to nursery rhyme and to one of the greatest 20th-century wind quintets; keeping the variation to the time limit yet making a miniature, complete in itself yet capable of fitting in to the overall scheme without knowing in advance what others would write, was an excellent discipline.

 

Variation 5 [2´00"] - Martin Watson @ 07:03:

When I read Sosban Fach, I thought that the Welsh folk-writer excellently presents the credible difficulties of juggling domestic life in an initially light-hearted way: a mother can´t cope because her servant is ill. The baby cries, the mother cuts her finger, and consequently the daft unwatched saucepans repeatedly boil over. Meanwhile the cat scratches another child. As the song moves on it takes on a deeper meaning as regrets about time passing are revealed: the baby grows up, the mother older, and the sick servant dies. The children playing at soldiers become adult soldiers marching off to war; and puss is no more. Using the song´s melody as a basis, I converted the images from text into sympathetic sonorities. These were then woven into the music to create a sensitive sound-picture. This variation therefore opens observing the excitement of the domestic scene as the mother dashes about solving one problem after another. The music then moves on to reflections on the past. The last two bars of the folk-melody are extended into a coda expressing the mother´s concerns for the present, uncertainties of and hopes for the future.

Variation 6 [1´15"] - John Middleton @ 09:02:

Since my grandmother was called Kate Middleton I could not fail to respond to this invitation to write a variation for a set to be dedicated to the new royal baby. My approach is simple and heartfelt and the warm sonorities derive in large part from the use of the horn almost exclusively in its lower register.

Variation 7 [1´18"] - David Fisher @ 10:16:

Over my triple time version of the “Sosban Fach” melody on the French horn I have placed on the oboe my favourite Welsh tune “Dafydd y Garreg Wen”. This is a ‘traditional’ Welsh air composed by David Owen, who was a famous blind harpist and composer of the first half of the 18th century and who lived near Porthmadog. “David of the White Rock” is named after the farm in which he lived. Around these two melodies the other three instruments play imitative phrases based on the two airs with a short homophonic section in the middle. Set in a ternary form, the B minor melodies are framed by sections beginning in D major which are based on the last eight bars of “Sosban Fach”.

Variation 8 [0´48"] - John MacDonald Mackenzie @ 11:31:

Writing this I thought about the Queen’s birthday parades with different regiments playing melodies from Irish, Welsh, Scots and English songs. I suppose that with my Scottish ancestry, it has an inbuilt flavour of Scotland and the idioms of the country.

Variation 9 [1´52"] - Sonja Grossner @ 12:17:

I was born in what was formerly known as East Germany so I wasn’t aware of the Welsh tune “Sosban Fach” but I was intrigued by it and glad to have the opportunity to add my variation which is in E minor. Although not programmatic, I feel, with its melodic lines, that it reflects a new start, for peace and a free world, and the end of poverty.

Variation 10 [1´01"] - Philip G Joy @ 14:09:

Liking the strong character of the theme and wanting to follow it quite closely I conceived of a scherzo based on the technique of octaves/overblowing combined with double and triple tonguing. I knew this would be exciting to listen to though very demanding to play. In order to permit a continuous pattern of repeated fast notes players would have to take turns in rapid conversation and with precision dovetailing. In this way there was also the possibility of a melody of intertwining instrumental colours. The final phrase utilises the deep registers and the last chord is a kind of neo-tonal tierce de Picardie.

Variation 11 [1´56"] - Kenneth Gange @ 15:08:

Having been born and educated in the Llanelli area I have known this tune all my life. Llanelli rugby team was known as the “Sosbans” and this song was associated with them. The opening four beats of the theme suggested to me the opening of the slow movement of Mozart’s Symphony 40 in G minor so I tried to marry the two pieces. Not quite another Musical Joke! Although Mozart’s original was in the major key I have used the minor key of the theme for this variation.

Variation 12 [1´40"] - Clement Jewitt @ 17:03:

Expressed diatonically, the Sosban Fach tune seems to be in a minor key. Its origin, I am guessing, is older, pentatonic except for what I understand as just an inflexion on one note near the end - marked to be played very flat in my version, which launches itself in partly skeletal form after some junketing about in the major version of the essential five notes to cheer it all up a bit.   

Variation 13 [1´29"] - Peter J Witchell @ 18:44:

I inherited a little saucepan from my dad – it was tiny, and he used it to boil one egg.  Sadly the handle fell off, but I was happily able to track down a replacement in Pwllheli – an ironmonger’s called, I think, ‘Evans, Evans & Evans’, where the family staff talked to each other in Welsh, so you were not quite sure what they were saying about you! So ‘Sospan Fach’ appealed to me as an apt tune for variations. The rise and fall of the melody, and the rhythmic features, such as the ‘Scottish snap’ - OK, I know it’s a Welsh tune! - presented many possibilities. I like music that that teases the listener – Sondheim often writes music whose mood is at odds with his lyrics. So the seriousness of my ‘Grave’ variation is cast aside by the frivolous ending, rather in the manner of the introduction to a Haydn symphony.

Variation 14 [1´56"] - Kenneth Gange @ 20:12:

From the theme I took the opening two notes and the shape of the last four notes in the fourth bar and developed them into a jaunty movement. I incorporated various phrases from the song but did not use the complete theme. As the “Dai bach y sowldiwr” appendage is not as I know it in my childhood I made no use of it. I have used a major key rather than the minor of the theme and have written in a linear style so that each instrument has some melodic input.

 

The variations are performed by Serenata Winds [www.serenatawinds.co.uk]: Clare-Louise Appleby [Flute]; Simon Dewhurst [Oboe]; Neil Aston [Clarinet]; Cath Butler [Horn] and Llinos Owen [Bassoon] and were recorded at the Ellen Terry Building, University of Coventry, 22nd July 2013.

Serenata Winds are playing the variations in a concert next April. Here are the details:

Saturday 5th April 2014, 7.30pm. The Ark, St Laurence Church, Alvechurch, Worcestershire, B48 7SB. Clare-Louise Appleby, flute;  Simon Dewhurst, oboe;  Neil Aston, lead and clarinet;  Cath Butler, horn;  Alison Brierley, bassoon.

Malcolm Arnold ~ Divertimento

Gordon Jacob ~ A Simple Serenade

Peter Warlock ~ Capriol Suite

Percy Grainger ~ Lisbon

Percy Grainger ~ Walking Tune

Gustav Holst ~ Quintet

Norman Hallam ~ Dance Suite  

Central Composers Alliance ~ FIT FOR A KING: Variations on ‘Sosban Fach’

 

 

The variations and their recordings were produced and edited by David Fisher & Robert Ramskill. The CD was recorded and edited by Alan Hames [www.alanhames.co.uk] and its design was by Hannah Platts [hannahplatts.wordpress.com] with the main image by Andrew Hurley used under Creative Commons License.