Joseph Turrin: Hymn for Diana

Context

Composed during September 1997, Joseph Turrin’s melancholy brass band work Hymn for Diana was dedicated in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. After Diana’s shocking death at the end of August 1997, Turrin quickly got to work and within a week this work was born. In the programme notes Turrin states that “I wanted to pay tribute to Princess Diana’s life and all that she represented to the people of this world.”

The work emphasises Turrin’s desire to not only express his intense feelings of loss, but also a new found hope, which he aptly represents in this work. Although published by The Salvation Army, the work is not loaded with religious meanings, instead listeners and performers are encouraged to connect with their inner spirits. Hymn for Diana is an emotional work that often goes down a treat in concerts. 

 

The Music

Set in a lilting 3/4 time signature Hymn for Diana opens with a stately chorale set up by upper band, whilst the lower band add a hypnotic warm accompaniment underneath. This chorale becomes the central kernel of music throughout this piece. The main melody here is led by the front row cornets, with the rest of the band taking it in turns to accompany the melody with a simple two-note phrase. 

The music begins to build in emotional tension, with the music becoming slightly lighter in atmosphere. Turrin describes this section as having a “waltz quality” about it. The cornets play a sequence on their own, which emphasises the opening hymn. The music builds into a small climax, with the moving upwards in motion.

The music comes down once more before starting to build for the big climax. The music flourishes in colour and the diatonic scales that are played across the band on different beats is explained by the composer:

 

“I thought of the memorial service on September 6th, 1997 from Westminster Abbey. At the conclusion there was this cascade of descending bells, so haunting and dreadful. I will never forget that sound.” 

 

It seems here, though, that Turrin uses these bells to create a sense of hope and positivity as the music returns to the glorious opening chorale. A big crescendo leads to an ever bigger rallentando, where the band pull the tempo back a lot. 

The main theme is presented again, with the lower and upper band starting a dialogue consisting of the opening theme. The piece begins to slowly fade away into the distance as Turrin thins the texture out across the band. The final ascent leads to a swell in the music, with the soprano cornet adding that extra decoration on top. 

The warm sounds from the lower band add a mournful drone at the bottom whilst muted front row cornets play the final section of the chorale. Three warm chords are then played by the rest of the band before the music fades away for the final time into a graceful silence.

 

Final Thoughts

Packed full of grace, compassion and emotion, Hymn for Diana is a musical representation of Princess Diana. With a touch of mournfulness sprinkled throughout, the raw emotion plays out across the work before slowly fading away once acceptance has been made. As Turrin explains in his programme notes: 

 

“Her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.”

 

Happy Reading!

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