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    St. Magnus - Kenneth Downie

    Dedicated to Alastair Massey, an inspirational music teacher. Commissioned by the Scottish Brass Band Association for the 2004 European Brass Band Championships in Glasgow. This music is a set of variations on the tune known as St Magnus, which is attributed to Jeremiah Clarke. Most people will associate it with Thomas Kelly's hymn which begins: "The Head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now". The tune is very simple, consisting of just two, four-bar phrases. Neither is there much in the way of rhythmic variety, every note being a crotchet with the exception of two quavers, and the last note in each phrase. Within such a simple structure, however, lies considerable strength. THEME The listener is given the opportunity of hearing it twice, in full, at the beginning, starting with one player but soon taken up by the full ensemble. It returns in the middle of the music and is stated again near the end. This has been done quite deliberately in the hope that there will be an appreciation of what material is being developed, by the listener as well as by those with access to the score, who are able to see the visual connections. VARIATION 1 This takes the rhythm of the last part of the theme and also uses the shape of the opening as a recurring figure. The mood is whimsical and skittish, with short, teasing rhythmic figures tossed around the band, and quick interplay with percussion, at a fast tempo. An energetic flourish finishes this variation before the Andante espress. VARIATION 2 This commences with chords related to the opening of Variation 1. The cantabile on solo comets establishes a new, lyrical mood and there is scope for expressive playing in a series of short solo passages. The theme works its way unobtrusively into the texture before a reprise of the solo cornet melody and some more lyrical interchanges between Eb bass, euphonium, flugel horn and comets. The variation ends serenely with clear references to the last phrase of the theme. VARIATION 3 The first idea to dominate is clearly linked to the shape of the theme's first phrase. There is a frenetic feel to much of this variation, with considerable energy and instability created by extensive use of cross-rhythms. A thinning-out of the score marks a clear change to development of the start of the second phrase of the theme. This proves to be short-lived however, and the opening material returns leading to a restatement of the theme, "Maestoso," after which a euphonium cadenza links to Variation 4. VARIATION 4 Here we have some solos for euphonium, cornet, trombone and Eb bass set against a background of horns and baritones presenting a pensive statement of the theme's opening. VARIATION 5 This commences Allegro, with lively work for cornet and euphonium spreading to the whole band before attention focuses on the beginning of the second phrase of the theme which is initially presented in diminution, then in regular rhythm, then in inversion. An increase in tempo coupled with a decrease in volume, requires dexterity and control, with several metrical challenges thrown in for good measure. The same fragment of phrase becomes an ostinato which generates a frenzied climax, punctuated by short, dramatic silence, before the opening figure returns and the music gradually winds down. The tubular bells herald the final return of the theme, in augmentation, marking the start of the Finale. FINALE This features the running semiquavers of the previous variation sounding in counterpoint. A fast, furious coda speeds the work to a conclusion while references to the opening of the theme are still trying to break into the texture of the music. Kenneth Downie

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