Eric Ball: The Kingdom Triumphant
Eric Walter John Ball was born in Gloucestershire in October 1903 and was the eldest of 16 siblings. He learned to play the piano and organ and by 1919 Ball started to work in the Salvation Army musical instrument department in London. Ball is known for his extensive work as a conductor and composer, and it was in the Salvation Army that he developed these skills. From conducting the Salvation Army National Orchestra, to becoming bandmaster, with the rank of major, of the International Staff Band, Ball was a dynamic and versatile conductor.
After suddenly deciding to leave the Salvation Army in 1944 after the unfortunate death of his sister, Ball became involved in judging brass band competitions. Swiftly following this he also became conductor of Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, winning the National Championships the year after. Ball was also involved with the CWS band, where he won the British Open with the Manchester based band in 1948. Ball is also remembered as the editor of the much-loved British Bandsman magazine.
During the mid-1950s Ball stopped conducting competing brass bands so that he could concentrate on teaching and composing. Through his invaluable experience within the competitive brass band circle, Ball began to compose many test pieces for competitive bands including well-known works such as Resurgam (1950), Tournament for Brass (1954), Journey into Freedom (1967) and The Wayfarer (1976). Throughout the years these works have been used at a multitude of different contests and have been performed by a wide range of bands.
Composed in 1962, The Kingdom Triumphant is one of Ball’s most celebrated works. Certainly one of the most-performed by the top Championship bands across the world, The Kingdom Triumphant was premiered at the Festival of Gospel Song at the Royal Albert Hall. Ball said this about the work:
“The work is designed to remind listeners of the Christian doctrine of the Second Advent of Christ and the end of this age. Although in one complete movement, the work falls into three main parts: Vision of Judgement – Remembrance of the First Advent – Vision of the Second Advent.”
The piece opens with a dramatic drum roll that leads into a fanfare that starts in the lower band and moves its way to the top of the band. Supported by the percussion this powerful opening sets the scene effectively. Ball writes many voices before settling with the upper band to take the melody first. Ball’s lyricism is matched by the powerful fanfare that returns after the short interlude. This opening section is based on the hymn The Blast of the Trumpet – which is certainly heard in the big fanfare sections.
The stately feeling here is bold and this initiates a middle-band take over. The flugelhorn takes the reins along with the euphonium, as the upper cornets decorate. Ball’s rich harmonies are interspersed within the thick textures that dominate The Kingdom Triumphant.
Remembrance of the First Advent A haunting meditation on the medieval plainsong hymn Veni, veni Emmanuel (‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’)
The second section is initiated by a very quiet muted theme that is then followed by another proclamation of the opening fanfare. The power in this unison playing adds to the drama and intensity of this piece. The haunting meditation of this section is based on the plainsong hymn Veni,veni Emmanuel (‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’).
The finale section, based on the hymn tune ‘Helmsley’, is often regarded as the backbone of this piece. Ball’s handling of the hymn is appreciated through the rich texture, melody dispersion and satisfying harmonies. The light and shade effect between the loud tutti sections and the quiet reinstatement of the theme makes the finale feel even more grandiose. The Kingdom Triumphant finishes triumphantly, with Ball building from the bottom of the band upwards before finishing on the epic final chord.
Ⓒ Alex Burns