Herbert Howells: Pageantry


Herbert Howells was a well-established composer by the time his invitation to compose a work for the British Open Brass Band Championship was issued. The year was 1934 and Howells accepted the big task of writing a new piece for the top UK brass bands to compete with, and, with the guidance of his friend and brass band composer Granville Bantock, Howells produced Pageantry, an epic three-movement suite for brass band. 

The work was well received at its premiere at the British Open in 1934, and has since been used around the world as a set test piece, as well as many bands often choosing to play the suite as a showcase piece. It is a staple for most of the top bands, with it most recently being used for the 2017 Championship Section Area test piece. Still providing significant challenges to bands today, Pageantry has stood the test of time in the brass band world. 


The Music

Set into three contrasting movements Pageantry challenges and showcases many different aspects of core band playing. 


Movement I – King’s Herald: Allegro brilliante

As the title suggests, the opening movement starts with bold fanfares from across the band. The bright cornets sit on top as the theme begins to develop. The unison playing creates a huge wall of sound as the sections of the band quickly veer away to play their small pieces of the bigger puzzle. Control, stamina and technique is at the forefront of this movement with the animated and highly demanding fanfare outbursts dominating most of this movement. The character and atmosphere of this movement is regal, pompous and strong, which relates to King Herald. 

The very quiet middle section is a big change from the loud and demanding fanfares. The control needed here as the music builds up is key to getting the most out of Howells’ music. A reprise of the opening fanfare material leads this movement to its triumphant end. 


Movement II – Cortège: Lento espressivo

The slow middle movement is much more solemn in character and gives the band the chance to showcase its lyrical playing. Control and tuning are at the centre of this movement with the elegiac mood of the movement presiding over the music. The interlocking solo lines show off a band’s soloists, plus their ability to be perfectly in tune with their counterparts. The band unites for a fully flourished main theme. Howells’ rich orchestration here showcases a band’s sound, which needs to be deep-rooted from the bottom up to create the rich harmonies intended. After a swelled climax, this movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Jousts: Con brio

An opening cornet solo starts this finale movement off in an exciting way. Fragments of this melody is soon passed around the band, with the ensemble uniting on important parts of the development. This whole movement is a real tour-de-force for a brass band and relies on the band being strong within its core playing. The fizzing energy bursts in small pockets of sound as the music is built up over time. Climactic flourishes from the whole band creates a really effective twist in the music as the tension is laid down by Howells. A reprise of the opening material from the first movement is heard again, this time even more fully-realised than before. 

Howells’ orchestrations are so rich throughout this movement, with the deep harmonies singing through from all angles of the band. The upper band fanfare is challenged by a lower band counter-melody, which soon sees them unite for the final flourish of the piece. 


Final Thoughts

Herbert Howells’ Pageantry is an exciting challenge for brass bands. From the sheer stamina to the intricate and lyrical demands, it is no surprise that Pageantry is still a popular work today. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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