Fergal Carroll: Winter Dances


Commissioned by the Cultural Services Department at the Warrington Borough Council in 2002, Fergal Carroll’s Winter Dances for wind orchestra was premiered by the North Cheshire Concert Band. The work, which consists of three short movements, is now a staple in wind orchestra repertory and is often used for both contests and concerts.


The Music

As the title suggests, Winter Dances highlights the different characters of the winter months – November, December and January. Through the medium of music and dance, Carroll ensures that each movement is unique with its own personal character.


Movement I – November 

Opening with the upper winds the repetitive nature of the introduction lays the foundation for the lower wind and brass motif. Carroll leans on syncopation throughout most of this movement which adds another layer of excitement to the music. Through colourful harmonies and rich textures, the various sections of November show the last remnants of autumn as as the impending darkness of winter sets in. Through the climax section near the end the wind orchestra unites to create a big sound before the tuned percussion turns our ears back to the introduction of the movement. After a reprise of the main motif from the brass, the movement moves towards a descending sequence before tailing off quietly.


Movement II – December

The quiet ending of November sets the scene for the slow and lyrical middle movement, December. Winter has now fully set in and here we hear peace and serenity between the instruments. Carroll’s use of muted brass and dramatically quiet dynamics add to the soundscape he is aiming to create. After the soprano saxophone finishes its solo of the main theme the rest of the ensemble take over and play the theme together. As the ensemble reach its climax during the last 30 seconds of the movement, Carroll’s rich harmonies sing out. Similarly to November, December ends quietly after the final chord fades away.


Movement III – January

The fast and charismatic finale movement takes inspiration from the opening movement with a strong syncopated motif to start. The fast moving scalic runs add decoration to the music as the bold theme keeps the tempo driving forward. Carroll’s use of tuned percussion in this movement is also pertinent, with the triangle and snare drum getting a good run. Off-beat full-band interjections take the music into the next section where the piccolo flute plays the main melody with only fluctuating clarinets to accompany. As the texture builds back up, with the help of the brass, the syncopation is brought forward once more. Carroll even adds a small clapping section for those who aren’t playing. The theme is built up one final time, now with Carroll’s fully-realised orchestration, January ends with a final bold chord. 


Final Thoughts

Now a wind orchestra favourite, Fergal Carroll’s Winter Dances takes you through the different characters of winter. From the farewell of autumn to the lyrical bleak midwinter, Winter Dances takes you on a seasonal adventure.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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