Piece of the week – Attitudes for solo guitar

Although I’ve written quite a lot of easy guitar pieces for sight-reading practise, Attitudes is my only professional-standard guitar piece – it was commissioned by the guitarist Martin Plackett in 1991 and it gave me a real opportunity to explore guitar sonority and colour.
It’s in three movements, and I took the standard guitar tuning of EADGBE (going upwards) as a way of making decisions about the melodic and harmonic content of the piece. It’s possible to use those tuning pitches to create a kind of mode by placing the same pattern of intervals above each one. Sadly I can’t find, and probably haven’t kept, the original sketches for the piece (which would have been interesting, for me, at any rate), but, as far as I can remember, I created motivic cells which were then transposed to begin on each of the open strings. So, there is something there for the musical analyst, perhaps – but, for the listener and player, what I hope is more interesting is the range of colour that the guitar can produce and which I aimed to utilise.
The first movement, ‘Dramatic’ begins with an improvisatory rising melodic line. I’m particularly fond of using the guitar as a melody instrument, as this gives the player optimum opportunity to colour and vary the sound. Then, later, contrast is provided by using the guitar chordally, and also a section with harmonics. Finally, the opening melody descends to where it started.
The second movement ‘Capricious’ is very fast, in strict time but with no clear time signature, and apart from a few contrasting chords played on the lowest two open strings, and a central pesante section, the melody is played in high position on the upper strings, giving a fleeting and evanescent atmosphere.
The final movement, ‘Pensive’, begins in what is perhaps a more traditional way – melody in the upper strings while the thumb picks out isolated bass notes or chords. Within that texture there is a big range of colour, though, and gradually the melody takes over and develops into a dramatic unaccompanied section moving across all the strings, returning, in the final section, to the opening texture, and moving to a coda which emphasises the pull between major and minor third which characterises the motivic units used in all three movements.

For me it’s been really interesting to revisit a piece that I wrote more than 25 years ago, and I hope you enjoy it too!

You can hear it, played by its dedicatee, on YouTube.  The work isn’t published (or even computer-set) but you can get very legible hand-written copies from me, and I’d be happy to send a pdf to any guitarists interested in playing it.

Piece of the week – A Summer Garland

As we approach the Summer Solstice, I’ve chosen A Summer Garland for this week’s piece. A suite of songs for SATB unaccompanied, it was commissioned by The Waltham Singers in 2002 as part of a project designed to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – as well as writing the piece I also led composition workshops in Essex schools, and the resulting student compositions were performed alongside my piece, in concerts in Great Waltham and Dedham.

A Summer Garland has five movements, which can also all be performed separately.
The first, May, Queen of blossoms, sets a poem by the early 19th-centruy poet Edward Thurlow: it anticipates Summer with blossom, bees, and bird-song.
It is followed by The Rose in June (poem by Thomas Howell, 17th cent.) – rich harmonies depict the ‘mildest month of June’ which is also the ‘lustiest time’ – and a final key-change introduces the ‘beauteous red rose’.
I had a lot of fun writing the third song, Busy Fly, and the words of the 18th-century William Oldys gave rise to many effects and buzzes!
Calmness is restored in the expressive July Evening (Lewis Carroll), ending with the words ‘Life, what is it but a dream?’.
Finally, Summer Queen brings celebration with a poem by Thomas Dekker (17th cent.) in which a country fair welcomes the holiday season with dancing and singing.

A Summer Garland has been performed by quite a few choirs, and this summer they include The Kelvedon Singers (Essex) and Capella Nova (Bath).
Here’s a link to the first performance on YouTube  I hope you enjoy it!
And here’s a link to the publisher

Piece of the Week: Three Blues for clarinet and piano

I wrote Three Blues over twenty years ago for three clarinettist colleagues at Colchester Institute, all of whom taught clarinet to the degree and post-graduate students at that time, and they attempted to capture something of the character of the three performers:
Carefree Blues is designed to capture the easy-going character of Stuart Allen: Meditative Blues shows Charles Hine in reflective and sombre mood, and Agile Blues depicts the late Angela Fussell, who was always rushing from place to place in her busy life, and very keen on her students playing scales!
They are not really blues in the traditional sense, but they feature much of the characteristic blues harmony with the occasional hint (in Agile Blues) of the 12-bar blues shape.
I had a lot of fun writing them, and they are quite often performed. In fact the next performance is Saturday 17th June, 3 pm., Castle Methodist Church in Colchester, alongside a number of other works by Essex composers.

Here is a link to a performance on Youtube

And here is a link to the publisher, Spartan Press, who also publish a version for Eb saxophone and piano.