Philip Sparke: A Tale as Yet Untold
A Tale as Yet Untold was composed in 2010 after a commission came to Sparke from the Cory Band. The band wanted a work to take to the European Brass Band Championships in Linz, Austria. Their winning performance of this piece at the Championships gave them their hattrick of victories at that contest. In more recent years, A Tale As Yet Untold is being used as the 2020 Championship Area test piece.
Sparke utilises the whole band for this work, in every sense of the phrase. Writing out 10 unique cornet parts for the whole section, plus singular parts for the rest of the band, A Tale As Yet Untold is a true test for all members of a band. Set in three movements each linked by a recurring and ever-developing theme, the work is powerful in both its presentation and overriding message. Sparke has commented on this work saying that it’s loosely based on “the power of the human spirit overcoming adversity, and how the beauty of music can help in this respect.”
Opening with a short burst of sounds from the lower band, the cornets emerge with a muted shimmering effect. Layered onto one another, this is where Sparke’s multiple unique parts for the cornets is at its most effective. The fast tonguing and sporadic effect creates an ethereal effect for the non-muted instruments to sit on top of. The main theme is then introduced by the flugelhorn and horns. The muted backrow adds to the melody by playing pointed fluctuating responses to the warm sound of the horns and flugel.
Other parts begin to filter in, with the euphoniums and baritones swelling in sound and bursting into cascading scales. The mix of timbres between the muted upper band and the non-muted rest of the band creates an uneasiness, with the warmth from the lower band shining through. The band begin to grow and swell together before a burst of sound as the band hit the first climax.
After the climax the band thins out in texture as a more agitated section begins. Solo lines emerge from the euphonium and solo cornet, which creates interlocking melodic themes that can then be heard around the band. From the big changes in dynamics to the jaunty melodies, Sparke’s writing in this opening movement is full of surprises.
After the rather jaunty and angular section, the mood changes again and moves to a much warmer atmosphere. The support from the bottom of the band creates a stable foundation for the rest of the band to sit on top of. Led by the soprano and euphonium, they announce the new theme. Accentuated by tuned percussion, this section is nostalgic in character and warm in presentation. A solo cornet joins turns it into a trio for a short while before the music jumps back into the agitated character.
The solo euphonium and cornet play the developed theme in unison before the band unite to accentuate the solo cornet line. The solo cornets lead into the next section which, after a lot of jaunty movement, offers some sense of weightlessness as the music moves onwards. The band unite here to create a big sound, with the upper band leading on the melody and the swelling lower band adding some really interesting effects underneath.
The lower band take over the melody and soon the soprano cornet takes it over before the band unite for some punchy quaver sequences. A drop in dynamic and a quick build up leads to the final rumble from the percussion before the band come together for the final dramatic three notes of the movement.
The much slower second movement is the longest of the whole piece. It’s intricate, ever-developing and showcases some of the principal players of a band. Opening with a chorale theme led by the lower cornets, horns and baritones, the slow start to the movement sets the calm scene perfectly.
The warm tones from the baritones and horns respectively create a serene atmosphere for the solo euphonium to play their beautiful solo. The solo is high in range for the soloist and features a mixture of faster technical work and slow-moving long notes to build the tension. As the solo pulls to its end, a small cadenza is built for the soloist by the cornets, who then come away to allow the soloist to reach to finish their solo before coming to a quiet finish.
The foundation is built up again, next for the solo baritone, who plays another cadenza-like section that is accompanied chiefly by the lower band. This solo sees Sparke utilising the luscious middle range of the baritone as it sits nicely on top of the accompaniment. Following the baritone solo, a solo horn emerges. With more tricky technical work, the intensity of the movement begins to build even more. As the the horn winds down their solo, a warm interlude is played before the solo cornet finishes off the cadenzas for this movement.
After the intense climax of the cornet cadenza, a flugel and horn led interlude plays out to bring the music right back down in intensity before the next section. After a small pause all of the cornets unite to play the melody at a delicate pp dynamic. Low in range and focusing on timbre and colour, the melody pushes the band into the first truly huge climax of the movement.
After a shimmering sequence from the upper cornets, a solo trombone leads this emotional movement to its final resting place.
The perky finale movement of A Tale As Yet Untold is set in 6/8. The jaunty style is emphasised by the sheer pace of the music. Opening with a solo cornet and euphonium, the jig-like feeling is set instantly. Tuned percussion adds to this effect before the band unites to play this opening theme. Again throughout this movement Sparke plays with dynamics and also time signatures to create a fluctuation of effects.
After a flurry of music, the euphonium and soprano cornet lead on the new theme which is expansive in style and opposes the opening character of the movement. The music soon turns back to the material from the opening with fragments of themes being thrown left, right and centre.
A solo cornet plays the opening material again and the band unite for the bold quaver movements, similarly to the first movement. The soprano and euphonium duet is then heard again, this time with more of the band playing it. This reprise in particular is really effective as it shows the growth in the musical content as well as the development of sound and textures that Sparke has been toying with for most of this work.
A syncopated theme is played and repeated by the upper cornets as the lower band play their developed themes. This section is heroic and it definitely tells us that the end is coming soon. If we hung onto Sparke’s words, this section would be the union between humans who have overcome adversity.
Big stabs and quaver sequences are heard before cascading triplets run throughout the band before the final strike to end this truly exciting piece of music.
Soon to be performed as part of the 2020 Area Contest for the Championship Section, A Tale As Yet Untold is a true test for any band. From the pressures felt on the top seats for the cadenzas in the second movement, to having unique parts written across the band, Sparke has been able to create a really dynamic and challenging work that is also a joy to listen to and enjoy as a piece of music.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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