The Music of Alan Bullard

The music of Alan Bullard – a semi-biographical account

Apart from a short song written in 1967 when he was a student of Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music, the earliest work that Alan Bullard now acknowledges is his Three Poems of W B Yeats of 1973. This work, (written for the chamber choir of Winchester School of Art, where he was on the staff) and a cluster of short choral works, (several of which found publishers such as Banks and the RSCM) written at about the same time, are almost the only pieces to survive a period when Bullard was finding himself musically and discarding much of his work in the process.
The opportunity of a permanent teaching post at what is now Colchester Institute caused a move in 1975 to the Essex countryside, and later to Colchester. Here encouragement by several colleagues and friends resulted in a growing musical confidence and a gradual increase in compositional output. Three Poems of W B Yeats, for example, was taken up by his colleague Ian Ray (conductor of Colchester Choral Society) who performed it with a group of students: he then commissioned for Colchester Choral Society three large-scale works – Dance of the Universe (1979), A Song to Saint Helena (1989) and Canticle of Freedom (2000) – and performed several other Bullard works with them and with other choirs. And it was through another colleague – the late Donald Hughes – that he was introduced to the Sing for Pleasure organisation and commissioned to write a work – Seasons – to celebrate Sing for Pleasure’s twenty-fifth anniversary and which introduced his choral music to a range of amateur and youth choirs across the country, including the Central Singers, Chichester (conductor Nicki Bennison) who included one of the movements – now published by OUP as Stocking and Shirt – in their winning programme in the 1990 Sainsbury’s Youth Choir of the Year.
At the other end of the choral spectrum, Alan Bullard was drawn in 1985 to write a ambitious setting of some challenging texts – the four sixteenth-century poems that make up Madrigal Book. This work came to the attention of Stephen Wilkinson and was the beginning of a long association with Alan Bullard’s choral music, resulting in several broadcasts by the BBC Northern Singers and several performances by the William Byrd Singers of Manchester.
Although Alan Bullard had written church anthems and carols before, it was the commission for the opening of the new sanctuary at Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester in 1986 which inspired him to write Great Shepherd of Thy people, hear and his subsequent involvement with Lion Walk Church as an elder and as a member of the choir resulted in several anthems suitable for small amateur choirs. His work in this area attracted the interest of a number of choirs, and later of Oxford University Press, and during the last few years he has been adding to their catalogues a variety of anthems and carols for different choral groupings and situations.
The first opportunity that Alan Bullard had to write an orchestral piece was when he was studying at the RCM: Dr. Ruth Gipps asked him to write Arachne which she then performed with the London Repertoire Orchestra. A few years later the string teacher and conductor Andrew Hodkinson commissioned an orchestral piece Riverside Suite for the Leicestershire Schools Junior Orchestra – the first of several works that he was to commission from Alan Bullard. But the first orchestral piece – Lyric Overture – that the composer now acknowledges also marks the beginning of a long association with Christopher Phelps, another Colchester colleague. Christopher Phelps premièred this work, and a later work Fat Cat, with the Ipswich Orchestral Society: he premièred Fanfares with the Colchester Institute Symphony Orchestra: and he premièred Sinfonietta and Scherzo for Swinburne with the Colchester Chamber Orchestra.
In the area of instrumental chamber music, Alan Bullard has responded to the encouragement of many over the years. His friendship with Alan Parsons, composer and promoter of many new music concerts over East Anglia and at the British Music Information Centre in London, has resulted in a number of works, ranging from vocal works such as The Solitary Reaper and Ground Song, both written for soprano Lindsay Gowers, to instrumental works such as Fling (the Manson Ensemble), Prelude and Metamorphosis (Landolfi String Quartet), Cyprian Dances (Derek Foster and Anthony Green), Lament (Gemini) and Suffolk Sketches for violin. This last was written for Beth Spendlove, who has been associated with Alan Bullard’s music since his move to Colchester, and has championed his music on many occasions both as soloist and orchestral director, and who commissioned Spring Pictures from him for a Purcell Room concert.
Bullard’s music has found particular favour with wind players: the Farnaby Brass Quintet, the Ebony Quartet, Chinook, and Saxology have all commissioned or performed works from him and recorded them either for broadcast or on CD: clarinettist colleagues Angela Fussell and Charles Hine have been responsible for the commissioning and performing of a number of wind ensemble works, and recorder virtuoso John Turner has commissioned several recorder solos and duos from him, including the successful Recipes, recently recorded on a Naxos CD.
In 1993 Bullard wrote a set of saxophone pieces for his son Sam, entitled Weekend. Their publication by ABRSM (Publishing) and the Board’s subsequent encouragement of Bullard’s music, resulted in his writing a number of albums for them, including those for piano, cello, flute, and trumpet (this last for his daughter Mary) in the successful Party Time! series. Bullard relishes the challenge of writing easy but interesting music for children, whether it be instrumental albums, (he is a contributor to the Pauline Hall Piano Time series) – large scale works for youth choirs such as Revolt! – written with his brother Nick – or the cantatas Nobody’s Son and Find that Baby! (both written with librettist Norman Hart).