Thierry Deleruyelle: Fraternity


Composed for the 2016 European Brass Band Competition, Thierry Deleruyelle’s work Fraternity is a staple in Championship repertoire. Fraternity was also used at the 2017 British Open competition, where the work was voted the ‘Test Piece of the Year’ for 2016 and 2017. The work is highly programmatic and is split into seven sections that tells a story:


“Presenting Fraternity: A journey from the pitch black of despair to the light of hope and solidarity. A composition that ends in a hopeful non-triumphant ending leaving the listeners with their thoughts…”


The inspiration for Fraternity came from the disaster of Courrières. One of the most significant events in the history of coal mining, this disaster is acknowledged as the worst mining accident in history. A coal dust explosion caused the death of 1099 miners and children, the cause of which is still not known. This happened on 10th March 1906, which is why the work was commissioned for the European Brass Band Competition, to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the disaster. 

Fraternity pays homage to miners worldwide, as well as their hometowns, families and friends that bear the mark of coal mines. Deleruyelle dedicated this work to his grandfather, who was a miner in the coal mines of northern France, where he worked from the age of 12 years old.


The Music

Fraternity is performed as one movement of music, but is split into seven sections that play into one another:


I) Black Land

II) The Towering Colliery

III) From Light to Dark

IV) Extracting the Coal

V) Firedamp

VI) Bring out the Dead Miners

VII) Fraternity Prayer


I) Black Land

The representation of the miner who wakes in the cold and dark of an early morning in March, preparing for the day that lays ahead.


The opening of Fraternity is mysterious and foreboding in character. Opening with slow movement from the tubas, a solo euphonium emerges from the depths of the night to play a modal-based solo. The dark atmosphere is created to represent the night sky as the miner wakes up in the early morning ready to go to work. 


II) The Towering Colliery

It is a mining ground. The pit ahead, with its frame and gigantic wheels, imposes its presence. There is a pervasive atmosphere of heaviness and ice. It is just before 6am – miners start to arrive. They hang their token on the charging bank and take their lamp before assembling in front of the lift shaft cage.


A deep rumble from the percussion lead the band into the first climax of the piece. The grandeur represents the gigantic wheels and the frame of the distant pit ahead. The band begin to intertwine small fragments of melody, before another swell into another foreboding climax. The explosion of sound is heavy and sees the band moving as a united front, with only a solo euphonium playing a more virtuosic line. 


III) From Light to Dark

Miners are pressed against each other in the cage that will take them to a depth from 320 to 340 meters. They are engulfed in this black hole, the pit swallowing them like a gaping mouth.


A lone solo cornet leads the miners into the depths of the mine. As the solo builds, so does the tension. What lies ahead for these miners? Will they make it home today? As they become engulfed in the black hole, the band join the solo cornet as they represent the swallowing mouth of the pit.


IV) Extracting the Coal

Deep in the mine, each miner takes up his task and his post. The work begins. The diggers attack the seam to extract chunks of coal and put them into carts pushed by workers. The horses pull carts, attached one to the other, before the carts are taken to the surface in the lift cage.


Percussion leads into this next section with a jaunty beat. The tubas join in with the beat as other lower brass come in and out with various proclamations. The urgency in the music represents the urgency in the jobs that they are doing. The melody unites the band together, showing the camaraderie between the workers. The driving percussion push the music along, representing the carts being pushed and pulled by workers and horses.


V) Firedamp

6.34am, a thud, a terrible explosion devastates 110km of galleries in seconds. It is an explosion of a pocket of gas, then a dust blast that is responsible for the disaster. 1664 miners find themselves trapped.


After a sudden pause across the whole band, a low rumble emerges from the bass drum. The wind-like percussive sounds represent the moving dust. The alarming percussion create a tumultuous atmosphere that is certainly panic-inducing. The lower brass enter with a foreboding theme that keeps returning, each time louder and more foreboding.

The upper band moves as a unit through fast semiquaver patterns, dodging the whip crack and other percussive strikes. Accentuations from the percussion add to the panicked atmosphere of this section, with each part playing an important role in the building of this picture.


VI) Bring out the Dead Miners

The situation is alarming. The pit shafts are blocked, cages are jammed by ground movements and escape to the surface by the miners is near impossible. When rescuers reach some of the galleries they are confronted by an appalling spectacle.


As the panic grows, so do the amount of notes the band have to play. Interlocking semiquavers add to the tension until the band drop away completely. Led by the tubas and percussion, another mysterious section unfolds. The foreboding atmosphere represents the journey the rescuers take to find the miners. The eerie chorale that plays out shows the sights the rescuers are met with.


VII) Fraternity Prayer

The crowd gathers in front of the pits and streets are crowded. All are looking for a parent or close relative. Many miners will never be identified because of severe burns. They will be hastily buried in a common grave three days after the disaster which has cost 1099 lives. 


The band begins to resolve the chorale which leads to a deeply moving hymn. A solo cornet leads on the melody here, as the rest of the band offers steady accompaniment. There is a real tinge of sadness in this section, as families realise they will never see their loved ones again. A soprano and cornet duet sings out before the melody is passed over to the euphonium. 

The band begins to grow in dynamic together as the hymn reaches the ultimate climax of the piece. Accentuated by percussion, the band swell together to create colourful explosions of sound which, although tinged with sadness, are also full of hope. Fraternity comes to a close close with a loud chord, followed by a softer chord that grows into the final burst of sound. The ending is not triumphant, but in memory of the miners that lost their lives on that fateful day in 1906.


Final Thoughts

Three days after the disaster, searches were abandoned to allow the fires to be smothered and the coal deposits protected. Twenty days after the explosion, thirteen survivors managed to find their way through the galleries in total darkness. A fourteenth survivor was found four days later. Thierry Deleruyelle’s Fraternity is a homage to this fateful disaster in 1906. From the atmospheres created, to the explosions of sound and colour, Fraternity is a striking piece of music for brass band.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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