Eric Ball: Resurgam

Context

Eric Walter John Ball was born in Gloucestershire in October 1903 and was the eldest of 16 siblings. He learned to play the piano and organ and by 1919 Ball started to work in the Salvation Army musical instrument department in London. Ball is known for his extensive work as a conductor and composer, and it was in the Salvation Army that he developed these skills. From conducting the Salvation Army National Orchestra, to becoming bandmaster, with the rank of major, of the International Staff Band, Ball was a dynamic and versatile conductor. 

After suddenly deciding to leave the Salvation Army in 1944 after the unfortunate death of his sister Ball became involved in judging brass band competitions. Swiftly following this he also became conductor of Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, winning the National Championships the year after. Ball was also involved with the CWS band, where he won the British Open with the Manchester based band in 1948. Ball is also remembered as the editor of the much-loved British Bandsman magazine. 

During the mid-1950s Ball stopped conducting competing brass bands so that he could concentrate on teaching and composing. Through his invaluable experience within the competitive brass band circle, Ball began to compose many test pieces for competitive bands including well-known works such as Resurgam (1950), Tournament for Brass (1954), Journey into Freedom (1967) and The Wayfarer (1976). Throughout the years these works have been used at a multitude of different contests and have been performed by a wide range of bands. 

 

The Music

Translated from Latin as ‘I shall rise again’, Resurgam is one of Ball’s most popular works. Composed in 1950 for a brass band contest, the work has been used for a range of different contests including the prestigious National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. What is intriguing is that it was used as the Championship section test piece for the area in 1952, but when it was used again for the area in 2011 it was used for the Second Section.

Printed at the front of the score are these words from the Apocrypha The Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-3:

 

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, 

and no torment will ever touch them. 

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, 

and their departure was thought to be an affliction, 

and their going from us to be their destruction; 

but they are at peace. 

 

Labelled as a tone poem for brass band, Resurgam is performed in one continuous movement that illustrates themes surrounding resurrection, landscape and the words seen above. 

Opening with the main Resurgam themes from the bass end of the band, the music grows into a luscious chorale motif which is revisited and repeated throughout the course of the work. After a small pause the tempo picks up slightly, with a duo of solo cornets playing an ascending figure which ultimately builds tension. The climax here comes from the ensemble creating dialogue between one another, with the upper band leading with a three-note motif that is adapted by the lower band in response. The dynamic contrasts in this section support the drama coming from within the music and makes this opening section one of the most impactful of the whole work.

The duo of cornets return with a repeat of the ascending motif, which is then developed by the upper band proclaiming an ascending three-note motif, whereas the first time the three-note motif descended. The band grows over the course of 12 bars, with the snare drum leading in with a roll. The upper cornets proclaim a loud ascending triplet sequence which leads to some crunchy dissonances across the band. The dynamic begins to come down again, with the horns playing the original cornet duo motif as the last cornet chord fades away. 

The next section, marked Lento tranquillo, mimics the opening of the piece. This time it is third below the original pitch, which gives a slightly more earthy sound to the upper band as their octaves drop to mingle with the middle of the band. The wash of sound here begins to slow down before another performance direction is written. Another dramatic triplet sequence is played by the band, which is now marked meno mosso e serioso. The small cut off at the end of the final resolution leads to a key change. 

The next section is marked Adagio e lamentoso, and is led by a cornet solo. The shift to the minor key here is important as it highlights the ‘lamentoso’ aspect of the performance direction. The cornet solo is modest, lamenting in style and smoothly moving between each phrase. The solo leads to the cornets playing a sequence of semiquavers in thirds which grows in dynamic and tempo until another pause. 

A euphonium solo opens the next section of the work. The solo is comprised of material from the opening, and is then echoed by other instruments in the band including a solo horn and a solo cornet. The triplet theme returns once more, but this time is much more developed. This new material leads seamlessly into the fastest part of the work so far. The switch back into 3/4 from 4/4 adds a strong tilt to the beat, which pushes the music along. 

The cascade of descending scalic runs leads to the band to cover some old ground again, this time they are higher in range creating a much more dramatic return of this motif. This leads to the longest scalic run, which goes from the top of most ranges down two whole octaves across the band. A quiet section is heard, with the tubas rumbling small passages underneath. Then one single crotchet is heard and followed by three bars of silence. Then another crotchet, but this time followed by two bars of silence. Then two quavers and a crotchet, and then three quavers and a crotchet. This builds tension through Ball’s clever use of unity within the band and the silence that is left between each proclamation.

This idea is presented again in a slightly different form, and then the band move together creating a lilting motif that leads to a quick chromatic scale that practically falls off the bars. The ascending figures lead to a loud and bold trill section that last all but five bars. Following this are two more silent bars. Opening the next section are the lower band, lead by the tubas and bass trombone. This loud and menacing opening quickly dissolves into another section marked Lento tranquillo. 

The Resurgam theme returns one last time in its original form from the beginning. This luscious chorale leads into another key change, that highlights the small developments that are being made in the main melody here. The band grow together for the ultimate climax which solidifies the band together in perfect harmony. The ending is tranquil and delicate, and led by a solo cornet playing a repeated two-note motif. The dynamic begins to lower with each repeat, and the final two chords are played by the lower band only, creating a warm and peaceful end to this incredible piece of music. 

 

Final Thoughts

Throughout Resurgam there are a number of juxtapositions between motifs which creates a musical argument between themes such as hope and despair. Although led by its tranquil and calm chorale sections, this is soon juxtaposed by stormy and turbulent sections. The music is relentless and restless at most points, and this is only remedied by the silent bars that are littered throughout the piece. Between the storm, sorrow and tranquil states, the music is continually swelling between moods and atmospheres, which again highlights the dichotomy between the various motifs. 

Ball’s use of silent bars gives the impression of a breath between sections. This short relief becomes expected between the sections, until one time it’s not. This gives the music a very personal feel to it as it creates a human-like voice between the notes. The ending is life-affirming and supports the title of ‘I shall rise again’. With the final climax not being the end of the piece it shows Ball’s true intentions for the work. The opening motif gets the last call, without the stormy response from the rest of the band. Quite simply it brings to life the last line from The Wisdom of Solomon:

But they are at peace.

 

Happy Reading!

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1 Comment

MIKE HARRISON · 30th July 2019 at 4:30 pm

Hello Alex, I read with interest your discourse on Eric Ball’s fantastic Resurgam, and appreciate your insights and interpretations of the sections. I would like to mention to you another Eric Ball tone poem “Ahknaton – An Egyptian Legend” in which the ‘menacing’ section prior to the last restatement of the main Resurgam theme also features, although this was written in 1947, some five years prior to Resurgam. The connection between the two, i.e. the shared passage may or may not have some relevance to your essay.

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