Friday, March 30, 2012

Variations on a Welsh Theme

Years ago, when I first began to accompany brass band soloists at their competitions, I was given a piece called Variations on a Welsh Theme to play.  The theme for the variations is the beautiful melody, Watching the Wheat.  The soloist at that time was a youngish Eb cornet player - this is the instrument with the highest range in the brass band - and the soloist was superb.  (Unfortunately, family and work commitments have gradually forced him to put aside his work with the band.)

I really loved playing this piece.  At the time, most of the band accompanying I was doing was with hackneyed pieces that everyone had heard for a hundred years, or old-style variations with accompaniments that were tedious to play, to say the least.

However, these Variations seem to have been written for a soloist and piano, rather than the latter being a transcription of the full brass band accompaniment.  Which meant it lay under the fingers well, and could be played to full effect.  Apparently the composer, Peter Kneale, was an accomplished pianist, as well as having been a brass band conductor for a number of years.  He developed tinnitus and gave up conducting but carried on as a teacher until his retirement.

He grew up in the banding world, coming from an Isle of Man family with a great enthusiasm for brass bands.  He also had an interest in jazz, and some of his compositions reflect this.   He has published songs, but seems to best known for his pieces for brass.  Jazzamatazz, which started out life with a different and less striking name, is one such, and Blue John is a piece for trombone.

Anyway, all this is an introduction to the fact that tomorrow I'm accompanying several soloists at the Otago Provincial Brass Band competitions, which are in Dunedin this year.  (They were in Roxburgh last year.)  One of the soloists was going to play the Variations, and we practised it, and then she texted me a few days later to say that it clashed with a test (presumably a University test) and she'd had to pull out.  Very disappointing.  There aren't many pieces in the competitions that are written with a piano in mind, though some of them are still quite satisfying to play.  The piece I played in Sydney last month, Rustiques, by Eugène Bozza (photo at left), was also written for a brass instrument and piano, which made a big difference to the level of skill I could bring to playing it.  When the accompaniment is a transcription, you're often forced to leave out various notes because the human hands just can't manage them all, and often the sound the piano produces isn't ideal for playing the particular piece.  

So sadly, I won't be getting another go at the Variations at the moment.  Pity, it would have made my day!  

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