Martin Ellerby: Paris Sketches

Context 

Martin 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 Sydney Opera House. Ellerby’s work has been performed worldwide, and his works can be seen over seventy-five CDs.

 

The Music

Scored for a full wind orchestra, Ellerby’s Paris Sketches (1994) is one of his most technically demanding works. Presented in four short movements, known as vignettes, each section pays homage to some part of the iconic French capital. Ellerby writes in the programme notes:

“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.”

 

I. 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, the first movement balances 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. He utilises lower sections of the band, giving a strong and rich foundation for the upper band to sit on top of.

 

II. 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!”

There is a sense of excitement in this movement due to its fast-paced tempo. Phrases are purposefully exaggerated making it unexpected in places, but this adds to the uniqueness of the work. Littered with scalic runs and grace notes, Pigalle is carefree and evocative of the ‘Soho of Paris.’

 

III. 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.

 

IV. 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.

 

Happy Reading!

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