Derek Bourgeois: Serenade 


Derek Bourgeois studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, where he received specialist composition tutelage by Herbert Howells and conductor education from Si Adrian Boult. Bourgeois worked at a number of places as a lecturer, teacher and conductor, whilst also writing a wealth of his own music. Bourgeois spent most of his life in Britain, but after retiring in 2002, he and his wife settled in Mallorca. Following her death in 2006, Bourgeois then moved to New York City before returning to the UK for the final time. 

Bourgeois’ music covered many different genres, with a particular focus on wind and brass music. He often used his experiences to inspire him to write a wealth of different works. Holding positions like Chair of the UK Composer’s Guild and also founding the National Youth Chamber Orchestra of Great Britain, meant that he met a lot of different people, which certainly shows throughout his music. 

As aforementioned, Bourgeois was a prolific composer for brass and wind bands. Some popular works of his include: Blitz, Serenade, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Sonata for Trombone. His works have been described as “front-running”, “ground-breaking” and “pushing the boundaries”. Bourgeois symphonic works must also receive a mention. Although none properly perforated into commercial concert hall programmes, by the time of his death in 2017, Bourgeois had composed a massive 116 symphonies.


The Music

Serenade was one of Bourgeois’ earlier works, with it being composed in 1965. The work was actually composed for his own wedding to be originally performed by an organist as the guests left the main ceremony. Bourgeois wanted to be playful in this work, and instead of letting the guests walk out in a simple 2/4 time, he wrote Serenade in a fluctuating 11/8 / 13/8 time.

The orchestration for wind band has become the most popular for this work, with it being a staple in many band rooms. Serenade is only a couple of minutes in duration, but due to Bourgeois’ colourful orchestrations and awkward time signatures, the work becomes all the more interesting. 

Opening with an off-beat accompaniment from the lower brass that’s intertwined with a syncopated motif from the tuba, the clarinets enter to establish the main theme. The melody is syncopated with the accompaniment, and accentuates the strong beats of the bar. The flutes then take over the melody, this time changing the direction of the melody.

The flutes and clarinets then unite play their respective themes together. The saxophones also join in here before a rumble into the main section of the piece. With the band now all playing together the work unites to play the melody. As the percussion begins to filter in, the dynamics begin to grow and the glorious melody feels more natural with every rotation. 

The unrelenting brass accompaniment doesn’t falter at all throughout the work, even in the intense climax section or at the quiet end. The music comes to a quiet close with a tambourine accompaniment before a cheeky flute flourish to end this sweet work. 


Final Thoughts

As one of Derek Bourgeois’ shortest works, Serenade is a cheeky work that is playful through its use of time signatures and syncopated melodies. Although originally composed for organ, the wind band arrangement is far popular and is played fairly regularly around the world. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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