Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All – Contest Music’s Hidden Tunes: Part 1 – 4barsrest

In the first part of his major assessment of one of the marching band movement’s most important works, Wilfred Heaton’s biographer Paul Hindmarsh searches for the hidden tunes found in ‘Contest Music’.

Part One: Finding a Voice

When composer Philip Sparke decided to secrete themes from Wilfred Heaton ‘Competition Music’ in “Variations on an Enigma” (1986) for fanfare, he or anyone else had no idea Heaton might have his own tunes hidden beneath the surface of his work.

Since its release for the 1982 National Finals, it has become a classic in the band’s repertoire, widely admired for its consummate craftsmanship and expressive range.

Heaton would probably balk at the idea of ​​an emotional context for ‘Competition music.’

Still, there’s no denying the stark beauty of the slow movement and the humor of the finale, during which he introduces what sounds like “Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All” on horn and euphonium after the big climax. .

It never fails to bring a smile. There’s nothing gratuitous about his music and he certainly wasn’t one for cheap laughs.

So why is he there?



Heat driver

Heaton was a private man and rarely revealed anything about the inner workings of his music or the nature of his inspiration.

Prior to the 1989 Open Brass Band Championship, when ‘Competition Music’ was selected as a test piece, conductor and composer Bramwell Tovey traveled to Harrogate to visit the composer.

Uncle Tom Cobley

When asked about the “Old Uncle Tom Cobley” reference, Heaton declined to be drawn.

A few days later, Tovey guided his Coventry City players to a memorable British Open victory. Heaton later confirmed to a friend from the Harrogate Town Band that the reference was a signal that he had put his “everything” into the track – “Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all”!

Each note has its place in a tense series of musical arguments. I doubt he would have paraphrased such a familiar ditty without solid musical justification.

Having spent years delving into every detail of Wilfred Heaton’s music and researching as much about his life as his reluctance would allow, I was convinced the quote held a key to unlocking hidden depths.

‘Competition Music’ is one of Heaton’s most beloved scores.

Every note

Each note has its place in a tense series of musical arguments. I doubt he would have paraphrased such a familiar ditty without solid musical justification.

I believe that it is far from being a random gesture, as I hope to demonstrate.



Bramwell Tovey inquired before leading Rigid Containers to British Open victory

Based

In March 2000, in what turned out to be our last phone conversation before his death a few weeks later, Wilfred let slip that ‘Competition Music’ was based on three compositions sketched in the early 1950s, more than 20 years before Geoffrey Brand was invited to provide a test piece for the finals of the 1974 National Brass Band Championship.

Wilfred told me that they weren’t written as a single entity but as exercises in various thematic metamorphosis techniques. He had been encouraged in this direction by one of the most sought-after teachers of the time, the Hungarian émigré Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960).

Wilfred let this slip ‘Competition Music’ was based on three compositions sketched in the early 1950s, more than 20 years before Geoffrey Brand was invited to provide a test piece for the finals of the 1974 National Brass Band Championship.

In the immediate post-war period, after returning from wartime service in the RAF, Heaton was determined to broaden his horizons and fulfill his childhood ambition of a life as a professional composer and conductor far away. of the group world.

Comfortable voice

As a teenager, his early gifts had resulted in some of his most beloved pieces, including meditation ‘Just as I am’and early versions of ‘To rent’ and ‘Toccata’. Now he recognized that he would need to harness his instincts with stronger, more reliable technique and develop, as he described it, “a voice I could feel comfortable in.”

Typically, he aimed high and traveled to London from his brass repair shop in Sheffield for sessions with Seiber.

The number of lessons he paid for is unclear. Seiber was expensive and money was tight. His apprentice Herbert Cocking thinks he couldn’t have afforded more than a handful.



Matyas Seiber (Credit: Julia Seiber Boyd Family Archives)

Heaton later recognized the value of “Seiber’s insistence on Bach studies above all else”. He brings all his students, even gifted ones, back to basics through a rigorous study of JS Bach’s inventions for two and three voices, establishing the value of each note, of each twist of the counterpoint.

Ideal

Bach became Heaton’s ideal of musical perfection. Before letting his students lose their own work, Seiber followed up with a deep and meaningful exploration of classic Haydn forms and the contemporary “equivalents” of his compatriot Bela Bartok, the pedagogical studies of the keyboard “Mikrokosmos” specifically.

How transformative this experience has been for Heaton can be heard in every bar in ‘Music competition’.

Seiber intended to offer a reliable technical basis for any style his students chose to work on rather than imposing a doctrinaire method. He encouraged all of his students to start with a fundamental theme.

Each bar

It could be any collection of organized pitches, from a single tune to a 12-tone row, as long as the composer maintained an “obligation to the pattern”, seeking the nuggets from which to develop a musical argument.

How transformative this experience has been for Heaton can be heard in every bar in ‘Music competition’.

But that was in 20 years. How can we account for the chasm between the initial inspiration and the final result?



Wifred Heaton

The 1950s were a decade of personal transformation for Heaton – a “radical reorientation”, according to him, embracing a complete change in his personal circumstances, spiritual outlook and professional life.

By taking on an apprentice, he was able to spend more time away from his brass repair shop, earning much-needed extra income playing the French horn, teaching and conducting.

The 1950s were a decade of personal transformation for Heaton – a “radical reorientation”, according to him, embracing a complete change in his personal circumstances, spiritual outlook and professional life.

In 1963 he closed the business and moved with his family to Harrogate for a fresh start as a freelance horn player, busy conductor and fully qualified instrumental teacher.

Open doors

Seiber also did what he could to open doors to the wider musical profession in the South, recommending that Heaton submit work to the Society for the Promotion of New Music, which Seiber had started with the émigré. Romanian Francis Chagrin (1905 – 1972) after the war. .

Heaton submitted two compositions, ‘Rhapsody for oboe and strings’ (Op. 1) and ‘Three pieces for piano’ (Op.2).

They were accepted and given premieres in London in 1954. With their post-concert discussion and forensic criticism, I suspect the reserved Heaton found these workshop sessions less than likable and continued to work in the studio. isolation from his music room without further tuition. or advice.

Trap

However, the composition proved to be an unsolvable problem. Heaton discovered through his exposure to the London scene that he didn’t much enjoy the cut and thrust, networking and self-promotion that came with being a professional songwriter.

“I felt temperamentally unsuited to it,” he observed on one occasion.

So he found himself trapped.

However, the composition proved to be an unsolvable problem. Heaton discovered through his exposure to the London scene that he didn’t much enjoy the cut and thrust, networking and self-promotion that came with being a professional songwriter.

What he wanted to write was too “advanced” for the Salvation Army of the day, but in his mind at least he considered the voice he had found to be too old-fashioned compared to pre- guard from music schools in London and Manchester.



The national championship had to wait until 1982 to create the work

three decades

Heaton had decided as a teenager that he would give up songwriting altogether if he couldn’t break free from the band world.

By his mid-thirties, he had practically quit. He wrote nothing new until he retired almost three decades later. All the great works that emerged in the years that followed, not just ‘Competition Music’were reworkings of music composed or sketched a half-life earlier.

Brass bands didn’t really catch up with Heaton’s musical adventures until the late 1960s, when Toccata was finally performed by the International Staff Band at a Royal Albert Hall festival for conductors (singers) HER.

Brass bands didn’t really catch up with Heaton’s musical adventures until the late 1960s, when Toccata was finally performed by the International Staff Band at a Royal Albert Hall festival for conductors (singers) HER.

Geoffrey Brand was impressed when he heard it and, sharing South African musical roots, he approached Heaton to write a test piece for the national final when he took over the national championships in 1972.

Four months

It took only four months for Heaton to put ‘Competition Music’ together – from December 1972 to March 1973. Brand was surprised at how quickly it was completed.

Of course, he was unaware that Heaton had unearthed material from his “ignored corner” as the basis for this single commissioned work.

What happened to the piece afterwards, its rejection, its occasional performance in concert, its publication and its eventual performance in the national competition in 1982, has gone down in the annals of brass band legend.

What secrets may lurk beneath the shiny surface of music, I will strive to reveal when I hunt for tunes.

Paul Hindmarsh

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