Gilbert Vinter: Symphony of Marches
Gilbert Vinter (1909-1969) was most known for his work as a conductor and as a composer of brass band music. Vinter was a chorister at Lincoln Cathedral when he was a young boy. He later took up the bassoon. He conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Military Band and led several RAF bands during his career as a conductor.
As a composer, Vinter’s works for brass band have often been used as test pieces for contests due to their challenging technical work and firm roots in good quality brass ensemble playing. 1960 saw Vinter’s first major work for brass band surface. The Daily Herald newspaper partnered with sponsors of brass band contests to commission Vinter to compose a new work. From this commission Salute to Youth (1961) was born. Other popular brass band works by Vinter include Variations on a Ninth (1964), James Cook – Circumnavigator (1968), Spectrum (1969) and Symphony of Marches (1963).
Symphony of Marches was most recently used for the First Second test piece in the Regional Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. The piece tests a band in a number of ways, from technical playing, to stamina and control.
Comprised of three movements, of which the second and third often segue into one another, the work is about 12 minutes in duration.
Movement I – Maestoso
The opening movement plunges the listener straight into a tight fanfare played by the front row cornets. The accentuation of dynamics and clean tonguing sets the bar for the rest of this movement effectively. The fanfare is then repeated but this time with back up from the horns and backrow. Cascading chromatic falls adds harmonic colour to the no-valve fanfare.
Aptly titled Symphony of Marches, the band descend suddenly into a quiet lyrical march section. Here the band are tested on their unison and quiet playing. Fluctuating duets sit underneath a soaring soprano line before the melody begins again, this time with a counter-melody from the euphoniums.
The fiery atmosphere returns, this time with a full band and a bombastic percussion section. This is but a mere segue, however, as the music then finds itself in a complex web of counter-melodies in this technical section. The horns start this section with the front row quickly putting mutes into play a four-part highly decorated technical section. The mix of the piercing muted front row and the non-muted lower band creates a really interesting dichotomy of textures, which makes this section uneasy in atmosphere.
After this extended technical section, the front row unmute themselves and play in dialogue with the lower band as scales begin to be passed through the different instruments. The tempo begins to rall heavily before the coda-like section bursts into action.
The main fanfare from the begining can be heard from the upper band as the lower band play a countermelody. The band then unite for the final couple of bars before the big last note of the movement, which sees front row soar up to a top C.
Movement II – Grave
The atmospheric and slightly unconventional second movement is aptly marked Grave. The trilling upper band and a foreboding lower band swell together before the lower band, in particular the trombones take the lead in this short interlude. A trilling lower band lead to a trombone fanfare that gets slower with every repeat.
The lower band lead on the crescendo which sees the euphoniums in particular shine through in the dense texture. A trombone slide signifies the next horn melody that introduces the anticipated soprano cornet solo. The horns continue this accompaniment underneath the soloist. The soprano cornet solo requires a sharp tongue, lots of control and a player who has a good ear on them.
The solo ends and the baritones and euphoniums play a swirling figure that leads to an explosion of colour from the front row cornets and trombones. The band quickly comes down once more as a three-part cornet fanfare is played at pp. The fanfare leads to the band finally coming together to play the melody from the soprano cornet solo. The percussion accentuate here with loud cymbal crashes and tom-tom rolls.
The band unite for a loud triplet sequence before quickly fading away until just a few players in the lower band are left.
Movement III – Brioso
The jolly third movement starts with a bouncy accompaniment figure from the horns. A solo horn emerges with a jaunty off-beat solo. The front row and snare drum enter with fast semiquaver triplets which is opposed by a bass end soli. The band engage in dialogue once more as opposing themes are pitted against each other as the dynamic slowly builds.
A bombastic fanfare section begins with the cornets leading on the melody. A chromatic run from the lower band leads to the front row triple tonguing their fanfares, which is quite the test from Vinter. The opposing bass solo adds to the drama and intensity of this section. A harmonic shift builds on this tension even more.
A breakdown section is heard before an ascending chromatic figure leads to a full-band two-octave chromatic fall. The tempo is reigned in a bit for the next march section which sees a fun variation of the original march sing through.
Suddenly, the band go down in tempo and dynamic as another mysterious section pans out. Paying homage to the middle movement, a euphonium leads the solo in this section. Coming to a halt, a general pause is then observed before the finale section bursts into life.
The band interweave, each with their own variation of the theme. The band build until another chromatic section sings out as the brilliant and grand final section is heard. The original melody is played by the upper band as the variations begin to seep in.
The tempo quickly picks up for the last few bars of the piece. The exciting march builds in harmony and texture as the band perfectly unite for the final awesome tonic chord.
Gilbert Vinter’s Symphony of Marches is an effective test piece for a brass band because it comprises a real range of techniques for the band to master. From playing in perfect unison, to playing in the different styles of marches, Symphony of Marches is a true tests of a bands unity.
This blog is dedicated to John Hopkinson.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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