About this Recording
8.572166 - WILBY, P.: Breathless Alleluia (A) / Paganini Variations / Symphonic Variations on Amazing Grace / Euphonium Concerto (Black Dyke Band)

Philip Wilby (b. 1949)


Born in Pontefract in 1949, Philip Wilby studied Music at Keble College, Oxford. His interest in composition was awoken by Herbert Howells, whose extra-mural composition classes he attended as a violinist in the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Having worked as a professional violinist with the Covent Garden and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras, he subsequently took the post of Principal Lecturer, and later Professor of Composition at the University of Leeds. He has since composed extensively for Brass Band, and many of his works have been featured as test-pieces for major competitions throughout the world, including the British Open, British National and European Brass Band Championships. His 1999 brass band composition “…Dove Descending” was featured in the 2007 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

A Breathless Alleluia

A Breathless Alleluia was composed especially for this recording and is an affectionate tribute to Nicholas Childs, musical director of the legendary Black Dyke Band, and a leader of tireless energy.

Paganini Variations

Paganini Variations was composed in 1991 in response to a commission from the BBC. Subsequently chosen as a test-piece for the British Open Contest, it enjoys enduring popularity from Japan and Australasia, to Europe and North America. Based on Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice, the work exploits all the solistic brilliance of the modern brass band. There are sixteen variations, arranged in three broad groups, and the music is designed to show all the players at their very best. The music opens with a sequence of character studies, often involving solo groups or individuals, and culminating in a virtuosic Bolero played by all the cornet players in unison. The slow movement is heralded by a sequence of cadenzas, rewritten at the request of Harry Mortimer for contest use, but here using the composer’s original versions for the first time. The Romanza which follows, featuring the solo voice of the flugel horn, is the closest that this composition comes to the musical style of Paganini’s own time. The third and final section begins with a demonic crescendo and subsequent restatement of the original melody, before bursting into a flaming major-key coda so highly characteristic of Wilby’s earliest and most popular compositions.


The American Mark Jarman published his collection of Unholy Sonnets in 2000, and Wilby has set four of them to music. This recording contains the last and most serene of the set.

If God survives us, will his kingdom come?
But let’s row out to sea, and ship the oars,
And watch the planet drown in meteors.
If God forgives us, surely he will come.
Can we nail up a man, and do the same
To a child? Yes, and drive the spikes through tears.
But let’s row out to sea, and watch the stars.
No matter what we do, they are the same,
Crossing the bleeding sky on shining feet,
Walking on water toward us, and then sinking.

Surely when He grew up, God must have known
what sort of death was waiting for one, thinking
That with His coming, History was complete.
We’ll greet him as the children would have done.

© Mark Jarman


Part One: Soldier and Poet
Part Two: Panache

Cyrano takes as its inspiration Rostand’s famous drama concerning the French dramatist and duellist Cyrano de Bergerac. He was a wonderfully charismatic character who had as fantastic a way with the spoken word as he did with his sword. Tragically, however, he was always self-conscious about the size of his nose, believing that it would always get in the way of his romantic ambitions for his true love, the beautiful Roxanne. Roxanne, however, falls in love with Christian, a handsome young soldier under Cyrano’s command. With a combination of Cyrano’s words and Christian’s good looks they proceed to woo the lady.

There are two musical parts. The first, Soldier and Poet, contrasts Cyrano’s magnificent style as a swordsman with his softer side as a romantic poet. Both are made clear in the music, moving from flurries of triplets into more tranquil and lyrical textures, exploring the extremes of the soloist’s range. The second movement takes Rostand’s last word in the play as its title. Panache is a theme and variations on the popular seventeenth-century tune La Folia, building from the bottom of the texture upwards, developing a truly neo-baroque technical display. The most poignant section is the Balcony Scene, where Cyrano (the soloist) feeds poetic lines to Christian (here performed by Philip Goodwin) to pass to his beloved Roxanne. Inevitably, with true tragic-comic pathos, the apprentice cannot keep up with the master. The piece finishes with a final variation in true swashbuckling style.

A Brontë Mass: Memory (A Fragment)

Wilby’s Brontë Mass was commissioned by the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus in 2007, and first performed by them with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in November of that year. The fifth movement sets a fragment of text by Branwell Brontë, and describes the dependable power of music to awake emotional memories in the stoniest heart.

Memory! How thy magic fingers,
With a wild and passing thrill,
Wake the chord that lingers,
Sleeping silently and still.
Winds have blown, but all unknown;
Nothing could arouse a tone
In that heart which like a stone
Senselessly has lain.

Memory! Memory comes at last,
Memory of feelings past,
And with an Aeolian blast
Strikes the strings resistlessly.

Amazing Grace: Symphonic Variations

Originally written as part of the William Wilberforce anti-slavery celebrations in the City of Hull in 2007, the Amazing Grace Symphonic Variations were first performed by the EYMS Brass Band, to whom the work is dedicated. It is recorded here for the first time with voice and organ and uses the famous words of slaveship captain and subsequent reformer John Newton.

Concerto for Euphonium

Part One: Non troppo allegro – Dance: Zeibekikos
Part Two: Andante – Allegro vivace

The Euphonium Concerto, a tour de force for the instrument, was completed on New Year’s Eve 1995, and was written for Robert Childs. It has four movements, linked in pairs, and dividing the work into two parts. The First, an extended sonata structure, bore the original title Sarajevo Song and complemented the second movement Zeibekikos. This is a dance from the Greek islands, involving lifting tables in one’s teeth and ending with some traditional plate-smashing (here played by the composer and his daughter). The emotional heart of the composition is contained in the third movement, which opens with a muted cadenza and simple cantilena. The work ends in a brilliant fugal style encapsulating all that is most impressive about the traditions of the British Brass Band.

Philip Wilby

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