Eric Ball: Journey Into Freedom
Composed to be used as the Championship test piece for band competing at the Royal Albert Hall in 1967, Eric Ball’s Journey Into Freedom is one of his most popular works. The work has endured the test of time, being used twice more for contests, as well as being a Championship band staple.
Journey Into Freedom has strong links to the time it was composed as Ball had very strong ideas to what he wants both the listeners and players to realise:
“Whether they know it or not, today’s competing amateur musicians – and the tens of thousands more they represent – are helping to keep open the ‘Windows of Heaven’ in this harsh materialsitic age. Focus on some unexpressed longings of the human heart. In the realms of the spirit, mankind’s greatest victories can be won. May today’s brass band festival give us all hope and inspiration for these troubled times, as well as entertainment and happiness.”
By the time Britain had reached the late 1960s, people had seen the Cold War escalate which in turn affected the traditional values by disaffected youth. Journey Into Freedom was Ball’s way of seeking reaffirmation of his belief that love and spiritual fulfillment through God could still be achieved, even against such a depressing and violent background. It was every person for themselves at this time, with Ball’s music reflecting some of these emotions.
Composed in one big movement, Journey Into Freedom is described as a ‘Rhapsody for Brass’. The piece takes around 12 minutes to perform, and is split into six smaller sections that outline the general atmosphere of that section:
I) Moderato & Feroce (Violence and Materialism)
II) Alla Marcia (March of the Protest)
III) Moderator E Molto Feroce (Violence Returns)
IV) Andante con Expressione (Human Love)
V) Allergando Scherzando (Spectacular Waltz)
VI) Andante Cantabile (Love Transformed)
Ball utilises the strength of the band from all angles to create a truly violent opening. The machine-like motif is unyielding and brash in performance. Bitter muted cornets add to the sharpness of this rigid opening. The March of Protest section is slightly lighter in character, with chromatic movement leading the melodi content along.
The march-like tempo and style adds to the idea that this is music of protest and revolt. Ball changes the character throughout this section from light, to a sense of bravado and then a much more intense character which seamlessly leads us into the third section ‘Violence Returns’. The return of the opening rigid motifs are played with double to force from the opening. A countermelody is introduced now, which opposes the original texture through the band. The thicker texture adds to the intensity and drama of this section, with Ball also stepping the dynamics up too.
After another violent outburst the band settle down into the ‘Human Love’ section. Rich lower band lead a solo cornet into a loving duet with the euphonium. The warm accompanying parts leave space for the music to breathe here, unlike in previous sections. Freedom is sought through human love in this section, with the various solo voices representing people. The is a sense of hopefulness through the use of solo voices intertwining and communicating with one another.
The Spectacular Waltz is a moment of light relief from all the destruction and violence. The band play lightly and in a more comedic manner. With trills and other decorations embellishing the melody, the waltz is a welcome change from previous sections. Although lighter in character, there are fluctuations of shadows of what has been and was is to come. A sense of foreboding hangs over this garish waltz.
The final section takes the last two minutes of the piece. ‘Love Theme Transformed’ originated from a hymn tune by Johan Scheffler:
Oh love that formest me to wear
the image of thy godhead here,
who soughtest me with tender care
through all my wanderings dark and dear –
Oh love, I give myself to thee,
Thine ever, only thine, to be.
The first love theme returns, but this time it is more outspoken and lavish. The warm and rich tones from the lower band in particular add to the emotional edge of this final section. A stark contrast from the opening, the closing passages see Journey Into Freedom end quietly and full of love. Inner freedom has been reached.
Eric Ball’s explosive Journey Into Freedom portrays some of the violent realities of a world that he wanted to triumph using love and inner peace. From the tumultuous opening to the resolved final few bars, Journey Into Freedom might have strong links to the 1960s, but the music can teach us all something, whatever decade it may be.
“Then comes freedom. Then comes freedom.” – Eric Ball
You might also enjoy… Peter Graham: On the Shoulders of Giants