Peter Graham: Gaelforce


Peter Graham was born in Scotland in 1958. He is most known for his works for brass and wind bands. He studied under the tutelage of Edward Gregson, where he completed a PhD in composition from Goldsmiths College, London. 

Many of Graham’s works are now staples in brass band concert repertoire with notable works including Brilliante, On the Shoulders of Giants, Summon the Dragon and Shine as the Light. Many of these works have also been arranged for wind orchestra and other similar ensembles.

Graham was Music Associate with Black Dyke Band between 1997-2004, and has also held the post as composer-in-residence with Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards Band. His works are often rich in melodic and harmonic content, as well as being challenging for bands and accessible for audiences. 

Gaelforce was composed in 2001 as part of a commission by Fodens Band. Set into three movements that seamlessly transition into one another, each of the movements are based on three traditional Irish tunes. Graham follows in the Cry of the Celts style and has remained one of Graham’s most popular works for both brass band and wind band. 


The Music
Movement I – The Minstrel Boy

Opening with a full band flourish, the Celtic drum rhythm leads the solo cornets into the main theme for this movement. The catchy melodies are replicated across the band, with the euphoniums offering a colourful counter-melody. The steady tempo of this movement adds to the clarity and emphasises the importance of the Irish tune here. Muted flourishes from other cornets come and go, with the lower band succumbing to the main theme about half way through. A full bad exclamation of the chief theme here is heard again, this time showcasing Graham’s rich textural writing. A drone note then leads into the central movement. 


Movement II – Tossing the Feathers

The lyrical central section segues from the previous movement, with the flugelhorn taking over the solo here. Top seats then join in to create a chorale of this theme, which is stunningly lyrical and warm in character. As this theme grows, so does the texture, until a quick muted cornet interlude takes over, which offers a unique sound to the mix. The flugelhorn once again steps forward to reiterate the melody, before the whole band then enter with the theme. This is a very pleasing movement in terms of harmony, texture and orchestration, with each part being integral to the overall effect.


Movement III – The Rocky Road to Dublin

The fast and vivacious finale movement starts off with the euphoniums stating the main theme. The tempo is quick and the quavers practically fly off of the page at this point. The solo cornets then joins, and once again we see Graham building texture by adding instruments to an ever-growing texture. As the percussion enter, the excitement builds and the technical theme begins to flourish. In the second half of this movement the bass end start their countermelody, which takes inspiration from the opening movement. As the final chord is built up, the cornets flourish into the final big chord of the piece.


Final Thoughts

Still a popular concert opener or finisher, Peter Graham’s Gaelforce brings together fiery melodies, lyricism and rich orchestrations all true to the Celtic theme.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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