Piece of the Week: Fanfares for Orchestra

When I first came to teach at the School of Music at Colchester Institute, Essex, one of the many exciting things was the existence of a really good college orchestra, inspired by an excellent conductor, Chris Phelps. It wasn’t too long before Chris gave me the first of several opportunities to write for the orchestra. I had written for orchestra before, of course, and learnt something of the craft of orchestration from text books and scores, but the piece I wrote for them, ‘Fanfares’ (1985) was the first time that I had the opportunity to write freely for an orchestra of near-professional standard.

The piece was commissioned by Colchester Institute to celebrate its centenary, and my aim was to write a short exciting celebratory piece and also, perhaps, to try out some of the ideas that I had recently learnt in studying the music of Sibelius, Lutoslawski, and Reich. Sibelius for his ability to move seamlessly from fast to slow music and back again (e.g. the 7th Symphony), Lutoslawski for his use of interlocking pitch groups and his rhythmic structure based on number patterns (as in ‘Livre’), and Reich for his use of gradually changing motor rhythms. I think I assimilated all these influences into something of my own to make a colourful piece that gave the students something exciting to play and to demonstrate their skills.

[If you prefer not to read analytical notes, skip this paragraph.] So, with a background of driving repetitive rhythm, the piece moves though different ‘tempi’ but with a steady pulse throughout, using a number of different fanfare-type motifs, each one largely associated with a different instrumental group. Harmonically the music is based on two six-note groups (together using all the notes of the chromatic scale) and rhythmic motifs are often created from a simple number pattern 1-2-3-4-5.

You can hear the performance on YouTube here, and here are a couple of pages from near the end of the score: