Robert Simpson: Energy
Robert Simpson composed Energy in 1971 for the Brass Band Championships. GUS won playing Energy, and since then the piece has been used at the 1980 British Open, the 1991 National Championships of Great Britain, plus many others. Most recently Energy has been used as the set Championship Section test piece at the 2014 Butlins Mineworkers Contest. Simpson composed a lot of music in his lifetime which largely consisted of symphonies and string quartets. However, it is in fact his brass band works that receive some of the most attention.
The ominous opening of Energy certainly doesn’t match the work’s descriptive title. The band form a warm chorale, with Simpson’s sonorous textural writing being showcased here. The slow movement and the quiet dynamic adds to the atmosphere, as the louder bass interjections add an element of surprise and mystery. The chorale is then deconstructed as the sections of the band move away to create two sides, which then begin a musical dialogue.
The sonorous upper band against the rich and deep lower band creates light and shade within this introductory section of the piece. A trombone interlude leads to the first explosion of sound from across the band. As the dynamic begins to drop, so do certain instruments in the mix. A soprano cornet emerges and plays a sweet solo on top of a trio of horns. The tempo begins to pick up ever so slightly as a more light-hearted atmosphere begins to make its way in.
Another climactic section is reached, this time led by the lower band. Pairs of cornets decorate the bass end with scalic runs. A solo cornet then emerges, soon to be joined by a euphonium, more cornets and a horn. The tempo has picked up more significantly now and the central section of the piece has grown into fruition. A technical cornet interlude takes over as all the other instruments have a short rest. As Simpson begins to build the texture back he uses whole sections in very small amounts to create this idea of building a foundation.
The intensity and drama between the very quiet and very loud section that follows adds to the sheer excitement of Energy. Whirling patterns and scalic runs fill the air as each section is tasked with different parts of the puzzle. Piercing muted upper cornets try to pierce the veil of the warm middle band, and they do not succeed here. The tempo is picking up throughout this section, until the once slow theme is now rather quick. Simpson’s use of dissonance is even more obvious during this final section of the piece, with the clashes adding colour to the timbre.
Simpson sets up a mirror effect in the final section, with the disruptive basses fighting against the cornets. This time it is less obvious due to the speed that has finally burst into action. Another cornet interlude begins, this time the euphoniums and trombones attempt to join in. The final run of Energy is an explosion of colour and sound as the band unite for the most unison playing seen in the whole piece. A big final chord is heard before two more strikes to finish the piece off in a thrilling way.
Robert Simpson’s Energy is a slow burner piece that gradually builds up energy to reach the ultimate speed and character. Simpson uses sonorous textures, musical dialogue and effective harmonic language to ensure that Energy is a challenge for any band that attempts to play it.
Ⓒ Alex Burns