For the first time in the history of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, a work by Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976) has been selected as a set test piece. On 16 September 2018 the finalists in the First Section of the National Championships of Great Britain will perform a suite from his score for a radio production of King Arthur. One of the greatest composers on the 20th Century, Britten did not compose any original music for brass band, but his orchestral sound world frequently features characteristic tones of trumpet, horn and trombone. In the spring of 1937, the 25-year old composer received the first of 28 commissions from the BBC for music to feature in radio productions.
His task was to compose a substantial score for an ambitious dramatisation of the life and times of King Arthur and his Court. The first broadcast of the radio drama, written by D.G. Bridson, was aired live on 23 April (St. George's Day) 1937, with the BBC Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Clarence Raybould.
In 1995 I prepared a 20-minute Suite for orchestra, which has been extensively performed. A second suite for brass band, Scenes from a radio drama, was prepared for Foden’s Band to perform at the 2015 RNCM Brass Band Festival. Foden's Band has recorded the suite for Doyen Recordings (DOY CD367)
The selection of scenes has been grouped into four movements.The Overture opens with a fanfare theme that binds the music together. This leads into a short ceremonial procession. The Wild Dance that follows offers virtuoso detail in the manner of a miniature concerto for band. Galahad and the Holy Grail presents three of the evocative orchestral and vocal items underscoring Galahad, Merlin's spell and a vision of the Holy Grail. Lancelot and Arthur, which is not being performed in this contest, comprises a solo percussion section and a galloping theme accompanying Lancelot's pursuit of Arthur, and the ‘Death Music’ which follows. The sonorous and athletic finale, The Death of Arthur, dramatizes his Final Battle and apotheosis - the journey to Avalon.
King Arthur (Scenes from a radio drama)
1. Overture and Wild Dance
2. Galahad and the Holy Grail
3. Lancelot and Arthur (not being performed)
4. The Death of Arthur
Music Copyright Music Sales. This version is published under license in the Faber Music Band Series.