About this Recording
8.574097 - CLARKE, N.: Mysteries of the Horizon / Dial 'H' for Hitchcock / Swift Severn's Flood (Vanhoorne, Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Thornton, Clarke, S.Smith)

Nigel Clarke (b. 1960)
Dial ‘H’ For Hitchcock • Swift Severn’s Flood • Mysteries of the Horizon • Earthrise


Nigel Clarke has always been fascinated by musical virtuosity and timbre, aspects that are strongly evident in his chamber, orchestral, symphonic wind orchestra and film scoring. But it is the brass band genre that has lent itself most to Clarke’s ‘no prisoners’ approach and passion for musical athleticism and colour. Clarke prefers to write with a subject in mind: ‘I love researching a topic for a work and getting excited about the subject matter.’ As an example, Dial ‘H’ for Hitchcock on this album is written as an imaginary film score in the film noir vein. Mysteries of the Horizon examines four René Magritte paintings. Swift Severn’s Flood is a war-like drama inspired by a line from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I. Earthrise deals with the story of Apollo 8 circumnavigating the moon. Clarke has always embraced and relished close collaboration with performers, conductors and literary writers. A notable collaborator is violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, for whom he has written two violin concertos recorded on the Naxos label [8.570429]. Clarke’s introduction to writing for brass band began while he was on the staff of the Royal Academy of Music. It was then that the trumpet player James Watson asked him to write a work for the legendary Black Dyke Band, and he subsequently became the first composer to hold a residency with them. Later, Belgian conductor Luc Vertommen persuaded him to compose for and accept a position with Brass Band Buizingen in Belgium. Today, Clarke is international composer in association to the world-famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band based in the former coal mining village of the same name in South Yorkshire, England.

Dial ‘H’ For Hitchcock (2016, rev. 2019)

A Psychological Thriller for Brass Band Written for Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Dial ‘H’ for Hitchcock harks back to the golden age of cinema and the genre of film noir attributed to Sir Alfred Hitchcock, where men were portrayed as rugged, but morally weak, liquor was strong, and the lit cigarette was a compulsory accessory. The heroines were strong-minded, independent, and seductive with perfect hourglass figures. The unexpected was around every corner. Clarke’s aim was to write a Hitchcock-style score to an imaginary thriller directed by the master of psychological suspense, and the listener is encouraged to make up their own storyline. Some of the slower music conjures up the harmonies and counterpoints from this iconic age of cinema; it is here that Clarke draws on his experience of writing for motion pictures. There are three sound effects that Clarke uses in Dial ‘H’ for Hitchcock: a ‘damsel in distress’ ear-piecing scream, a single cold-blooded revolver shot and a classic film noir police siren. So sit back, pour a whiskey sour on the rocks, light up a cigarette and let your imagination do the rest!

Swift Severn’s Flood (2009)

A Shakespeare Drama for Brass Band Originally written for conductor Luc Vertommen and Brass Band Buizingen, Swift Severn’s Flood is a musical portrayal of William Shakespeare’s fictional depiction of Sir Edmund de Mortimer’s brutal and bloody battle in 1402 with Owain Glyndŵr (‘Owen Glendower’) on the banks of the River Severn in Henry IV, Part I (Act I, Scene III). Swift Severn’s Flood is brooding and brutal in nature; the composer has contrasted these elements with occasional nods towards a type of monastic plainsong. To add to the work’s stark atmosphere, on occasions the score demands that groups of brass players blow through their instruments using various techniques to create elemental howling wind effects. Clarke’s work is also heroic in nature and requires great virtuosity with fast, furious running passages juxtaposed with extreme dynamic contrasts.

Henry IV, Part I
Act I, Scene III

Those mouthèd wounds, which valiantly he took
When on the gentle Severn’s sedgy bank,
In single opposition, hand to hand,
He did confound the best part of an hour
In changing hardiment with great Glendower:
Three times they breathed and three times did they drink,
Upon agreement, of swift Severn’s flood, …

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Mysteries of the Horizon (2012)
Concerto (in Four Movements) for Cornet and Brass Band

Mysteries of the Horizon was written for the cornet virtuoso Harmen Vanhoorne. The subject material examines four paintings by the iconic 20th-century Belgian artist, René Magritte. The movement’s titles are named after the paintings: I. The Menaced Assassin, II. The Dominion of Light, III. The Flavour of Tears, IV. The Discovery of Fire. Clarke has tried to capture the surrealist atmosphere of each of Magritte’s masterpieces. The composer commissioned a poem by the writer Martin Westlake to capture the atmosphere and sentiment of the work:

Mysteries of the Horizon (2012)

Ceci n’est pas un poème:
For pictures are a meaning and
That truth is the mystery.

Please bleed away from our averted eyes,
Your silk-scarfed neck
Separating off the peaks our mountain echoes.
Hat, coat and case, blackjack and net
Wait for the music to end as night falls.
Listen; the sun shines tonight and the lamp
Casts shadows on our reflections.
After all, why should we choose between night and day?
Isn’t that the poetry?
So, let us taste the tears and
May all hairy caterpillars munch
On leafy birds and approaching war
As we consider the eternal truth
That a flaming tuba
Is hard to light and even more difficult to play.

Ceci n’est pas un poème:
For pictures are a meaning and
That truth is the mystery.

Martin Westlake (b. 1957)

Earthrise (2010)
After a photograph taken from Apollo 8 in 1968

Earthrise is a musical celebration of one of the most iconic photographs in history. The NASA image AS8-14-2383 was taken by William Anders and the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968 during the first manned mission to orbit the Moon.

Clarke’s music emulates the speed and power of Apollo 8’s Saturn V rocket, using the earth’s gravitational force to catapult it towards the moon. Preceding the central section of Earthrise is a large-scale, multi-layered cadenza featuring most instruments in the band in freetime floating bars, portraying the weightlessness experienced by the astronauts on their odyssey. The final section of the work depicts Apollo 8 hurtling back to Earth at an incredible 25,000 miles per hour on its quarter of a million-mile journey, hitting Earth’s narrow atmospheric corridor and finally splashing down in the Pacific.

Stella Wilson

With thanks to: Alice Atkinson, Paul Baily, Tom Bullen, Norman Clarke, Rosemary Clarke, Stella Clarke, Andrew Coe, Sam Craggs, Peter Haigh, Griff Hewis, Trevor Machen, Ian McEllicot, Jess Monk, David Nichols, Chris Palmer, Steve Peacock, Sandy Smith, Nicky Stubbs, David Thornton, Harmen Vanhoorne, Luc Vertommen, Kim Ward, Roger Webster, Martin Westlake, Air-Edel, Besson, The Foundry Studio, The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Re:Sound UK, Soundbytes Media, Studio Music Company.

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