Dearest readers, welcome to Day ‘E’ of my October Alphabet Challenge! An exciting day it is indeed, and for today’s offering I shall be exploring Martin Ellerby’s Paris Sketches, which is a composition for wind orchestra – enjoy!

Born in England in 1957, Martin Ellerby has studied music, more specifically composition, at the Royal College of Music. He has also had lessons with the great Wilfred Josephs. Ellerby has composed a range of different genres of music including symphonies, concertos, brass band works, chamber music and much repertoire for concert/wind bands. As well as writing a vast amount of music, Ellerby has also worked with a range of different ensembles and worked in many prestigious concert halls such as the Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Barbican Centre and the Syndey Opera House. Ellerby’s work has been performed worldwide, and his works can be seen over seventy-five CDs.

Throughout my musical career, I have played many compositions by Ellerby, and these were largely in wind orchestras and brass bands. For this particular blog, I have chosen to look into his evocative Paris Sketches (1994), which is scored for wind orchestra. Many have commented that this work is both engaging and accessible for both the players and audiences. Ellerby’s style of composition, coupled with his keen eye for orchestration, makes this work atypical of his style, and is a credit to his talent. Instead of it being a one-movement work, Paris Sketches is presented in four smaller vignettes, each of them paying homage to some part of the French capital. Below is Ellerby’s programme note for this work:

“This is my personal tribute to a city I love, and each movement pays homage to some part of the French capital and to other composers who lived, worked or passed through – rather as Ravel did in his own tribute to an earlier master in Le Tombeau de Couperin. Running like a unifying thread throughout the whole piece is the idea of bells – a prominent feature of Parisian life. The work is cast in four movements.”

1. Saint Germain-des-Prés 

“The Latin Quarter, famous for artistic associations and bohemian lifestyle. This is a dawn prelude haunted by the shade of Ravel: the city awakens with the ever-present sound of morning bells.”

From the outset, this first movement is balancing a soft melodic line in the horns, with the percussion highlighting the unifying bell motif. There are luscious, long-note accompaniments, which accentuate the simple, yet effective melody. The trumpets are muted, as if they are sounding from a distance. This ‘dawn prelude’ is absolutely beautiful in the climax bars, and Ellerby’s orchestration here is rich and he utilises ‘bottom parts’ of instruments, such as 3rds and 4ths, giving a deeper tone to the composition.

2. Pigalle 

“The Soho of Paris. This is a ‘burlesque with scenes’ cast in the mould of a balletic scherzo – humorous in a kind of ‘Stravinsky-meets-Prokofiev’ way. It is episodic, but everything is based on the harmonic figuration of the opening. The bells are car horns and police sirens!”

This movement is entertaining due to its fast-paced nature and its general characteristics. Many of the phrases within this movement are exaggerated, giving off a fun atmosphere. For me, this movement has a similar nature to that of Uranus, from Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets. Littered with scalic runs and grace notes, Pigalle is carefree and evocative of the ‘Soho of Paris.’

3. Pére Lachaise 

“The city’s largest cemetery, the final resting place of many a celebrity who once walked its streets. The spirit of Satie’s Gymnopédies – themselves a tribute to a still more distant past – is affectionately evoked before the movement concludes with a ‘hidden’ quotation of the Dies Irae. This is the work’s slow movement, the mood is one of softness and delicacy, which I have attempted to match with more transparent orchestration. The bells are gentle, nostalgic, wistful.”

As the more ‘expressive’ of the four movements, Pére Lachaise is steady, calm and a vast change from the previous playful scherzo. The trumpets offer a soft bell sound during parts of the movement, resonating the ‘wistful bells.’ The Dies Irae figure in the glockenspiel should resonate at the end, so they can be clearly heard, linking them to the other movements.

4. Les Halles 

“A bustling finale with bells triumphant and celebratory. Les Halles is the old market area, a Parisian Covent Garden and , like Piagelle, this is a series of related by contrasted episodes. The climax quotes from Berlioz’s Te Deum, which was first performed in 1855 at the church of St. Eustache, actually in the district of Les Halles. A gradual crescendo, initiated by the percussion, prefaces the material proper and the work ends with a backward glance at the first movement, before closing with the final bars of the Berlioz Te Deum.

This fast and complex finale offers an interesting perspective of a Parisian Covent Garden. Triumphant trumpets supports the celebratory feel of this movement, and the percussion act as a driving force throughout the work. Nearing the end of this movement, there is certainly a military feel to the music, which is accentuated by the snare drum. The work ends with a very short note, with the bass drum and timpani dampened so that they do not ring out too much.

Paris Sketches encompasses Parisian life and culture, without being over the top or boisterous with its themes. The subtle bell motif is a wonderful way to unify all the movements, and once you know it’s there, it really rings out (figuratively and literally!). Both Ellerby’s compositional and orchestrating efforts are in full force during this work, and it really is a joy to play in a wind orchestra. His complex harmonies and unique rhythmic structures keeps both players and audiences on their toes when engaging with Paris Sketches. A fantastic way to celebrate Day ‘E’ of my October Alphabet Challenge! Join me tomorrow to see what Day ‘F’ has in store for us!

Happy Reading!

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