Philip Sparke: A Yorkshire Overture


Born in 1951 in London, Philip Sparked studied composition, trumpet performance and piano performance at the Royal College of Music. Due to his affiliation with brass, Sparke is known for his many popular works for both brass bands and wind orchestras. Sparke has won notable awards for his services to music, including the Iles Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians for his services to brass bands (2000) and the 2011 BUMA International Brass Award for his contributions to brass music. Sparke’s music is a staple in every brass and wind band’s room with some of his most popular works including Jubilee Overture (1984), Madrigalum (2006), The Year of the Dragon (1984) and A Yorkshire Overture (1991).

The Music

A Yorkshire Overture was commissioned by the York-based music retailer Banks & Son Ltd in 1991. The premiere was conducted by award-winning conductor Graham Walker at a festival that featured school bands from across the whole Yorkshire region, alongside musicians from the Royal Air Force. Sparke has been heavily praised for his orchestration of A Yorkshire Overture, making it one of his staple wind orchestra pieces. 

Opening with shrill trills from the upper woodwind and percussion to set the scene, the brass soon enter with their bold fanfare. The fanfare turns into a call and response figure between the upper and lower brass, with this three note figure becoming one of the staple themes of the work. After this short introduction the music settles into a jubilant tune led by muted trumpets, flutes and tuned percussion. A snare drum can be heard underneath the tune which keeps the music driving forward without getting too slow and heavy. 

The clarinets play a key part as they accompany the melody as they keep the rhythm bubbling with their decorated accompaniment. This section leads to a legato second subject, which is now led by instruments in the middle of the ensemble, such as saxophones and bassoons. The clarinets once again accompany this section with the same figure of music as before, this time it helps grow the music into its first climax.

The music then moves into its main developmental section. Here Sparke takes fragments from the previous two sections and divides them between different instruments within the ensemble. The woodwind section are the main highlight in terms of development until the trumpets burst in with a short theme that quickly dies away. The main ‘Yorkshire theme’ is then passed between the saxophones and trumpets, with the upper winds playing a decorative accompaniment. This leads the overture into its full recapitulation section.

Closing with a coda that interestingly features some new material, the work comes to a close with a build up of the final new theme. The snare drum makes another appearance to drive the tempo along. The trumpets proclaim the final fanfare before the overture comes to a swift end. 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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