Peter Meechan: The Legend of King Arthur

Context

Commissioned by brass band Bürgermusik Luzern in 2010, Peter Meechan’s The Legend of King Arthur is one of his most adventurous works. Meechan was inspired by the endless tales of King Arthur, from the pulling of the sword from the stone, to his tragic love affair with Guinevere. Meechan’s work takes aspects of myths and tales of King Arthur to create a musical portrayal of his character. 

 

The Music

The work, although performed in one continuous movement, is made up of a series of much smaller sections that portray important parts of the story. The opening of the piece we hear Arthur’s theme in the form of, as Meechan describes, a “rock-inspired overture.” Depicting Arthur’s supposed final resting place, Avalon, the high-energy opening leads the listener into a sense of false security. 

Swiftly making way for a mysterious section, the listener is quickly taken into the story of Merlin placing the sword in the stone. A solo horn proclaims the theme, with muted cornets adding decoration in the distance. The stone was inscribed “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone is the rightwise born king of all England.” A solo euphonium takes over from the horn for some time, before a solo baritone also enters the mix. Tuned percussion adds colour to the timbre here, with the marimba adding a woodiness to the otherwise muted band. 

Soloists emerge from the band as the music begins to tell the stories of the different contenders that tried to pull the sword from the stone. As the music begins to build up and mutes are removed, the climax revels in Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and becoming the King of England. The fanfare cornet parts are regal in character, fitting with this idea of becoming royalty. 

As intensity in the music grows, particularly in the lower end of the band, we are transported onto the battlefield to witness Arthur’s greatest victory. The Battle of Mount Badon saw Arthur defeat the Saxon invaders, bringing much peace to Britain. Meechan’s extensive and all-encapsulating use of the band and percussion creates these epic walls of sound that really pack a punch. Arthur is portrayed as brave and a force to be reckoned with, and there are a number of instances throughout this work that you can hear this.

The bold music that continues depicts some of the other battles that Arthur faced during his time as King. Bombastic drums and unison playing in the band depict battles unfolding, with the quieter sections building up tension before battles commence. 

The penultimate section of The Legend of Arthur shows Arthur’s tragic relationship with Guinevere – his traitorous wife. After she went off with Sir Lancelot, who was Arthur’s most trusted Knight and friend, Arthur went to battle with Mordred, his nephew. The mysterious muted cornets return alongside heavy euphoniums and basses. The atmosphere here is slowly built up, with Meechan focusing on texture and timbre to create the desired effects. As the intensity grows, so does the dynamic of the music. The final battle runs straight out from here, which leaves just Arthur and his nephew Mordred left fighting. Mordred mortally wounds Arthur, which signals the return of Arthur’s theme, first heard at the start of the work. 

Arthur is taken to Avalon to die, and this is depicted with the solo horn playing the opening theme before a low rumbling begins. The lower end of the band unite to play a bold and regal-like motif. The strong bass trombone and tuba lines are decorated by syncopated cornets. The drum kit enters, bolstering the band even further. As the band unites for the final bars of the music, the percussion creates a huge roll before the thrilling last chord. 

 

Final Thoughts

Peter Meechan’s 2010 work The Legend of King Arthur takes some of the most famous parts of his story and adds some epic music to it. From the regal fanfares to the mysterious sorcery surrounding the sword in the stone, the work tells a very special story.

 

Happy Reading!

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