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FIVE MANX ROMANCES - Martin Ellerby
My Five Manx Romances were commissioned by the Isle of Man Wind Orchestra with kind assistance from the Malcolm Scott Dickinson Charitable Trust to celebrate the orchestra’s 20th anniversary. The first performance was given by the IOM Wind Orchestra conducted by Paul Dunderdale in St. Ninian’s Church, Douglas on 3 July 2018.
Comprising five contrasting movements the work celebrates locations visited by the composer on pre-composition research trips to the island, a short flight from Manchester. On these occasions acknowledgement is made to the guides (the conductor Paul Dunderdale, his wife Gill and Michael Morrison the orchestra’s chairman) who provided transport and illuminated the stories of the sites, five of which were eventually selected for musical depiction.
I use the term ‘romance’ in a much earlier interpretation, that of story, legend or saga. It also provides a link to join and bind the movements into a more effective, collective whole than ‘dances’ or ‘portraits’ which I have utilised on other occasions with regard to musical ‘suites’.
1 - Sky Hill - the 1079 site of a battle between invading Norse forces and the ruling Manx King is located near the town of Ramsey. There is a small stone monument commemorating the event which is discretely located on the battlefield. The Manx army lost and the result led to the eventual formation of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles. The music evokes a modern day visitor wandering about the site and letting their imagination flow – we see the warriors in brief glimpses, hear their war cries, share their anxieties and ultimately, in a reflective coda, join in their timeless, tributary chorale.
2 - Standing Stones – there are many ancient stone circles and other surviving fragments of the island’s history, often to be found in quiet and spartan locations, one of the most famous being the Braaid, an Iron Age roundhouse and two Norse long houses. This movement is cast as a ritual dance and imagines a part of an ancient ceremony from the aspect of an unseen observer.
3 - The ‘Lady Isabella’ - the Great Laxey Wheel named after the wife of the Governor of the day. This mid-nineteenth century water wheel has been restored to a working monument. I have tried to capture in this scherzo movement much of the entertainment value of this edifice as well as the ceaseless momentum of the machinery in motion.
4 - Timeless Towers – in addition to the ancient monuments there exists a series of later period towers placed in prominent positions where their main intention is certainly to be seen! One of the most famous is Milner’s Tower on the cliffs of Port Erin, built in the shape of a key and lock. This movement is rather mosaic in form and mixes and matches jaunty martial material with more dignified statements concluding with an expansive lyrical melody (in the same tempo) that leads to an inconclusive pause readying the visitor for another round on another day!
5 - Tynwald Hill - the finale takes the National Day of the Isle of Man and emulates the procession in St. John’s that starts in the Chapel and proceeds to Tynwald Hill. Much is made of surprise modulations and the climax reminds us of the opening Sky Hill fanfare but in a much more positive and assertive style. Thereafter a reflective coda brings the movement and the work to a close.
It was not intentional, but all the movements end quietly and with pauses. This is not to deny any loud moments but rather that the actual climaxes of some movements occur before their codas which are often placed to lead into the next subject.
Beginning in a B flat tonality the work closes with a chord of E major, about as far as one can stretch in key relationships! However, I might suggest that this represents the distance travelled in terms of ‘Island-History’ from early to modern times.
The work has been recorded on the MER label by the RNCM Wind Orchestra conducted by Jeffery C. Mathews.
© 2020 MEM Publications, UK
2 1st B flat Clarinets
2 2nd B flat Clarinets
2 3rd B flat Clarinets
B flat Bass Clarinet
2 E flat Alto Saxophones
B flat Tenor Saxophone
E flat Baritone Saxophone
3 B flat Trumpets
2 F Horns (horn parts can be doubled up to enable 4 players)
3 Trombones (3rd Bass)
Euphonium (part in bass and treble clefs)
5 Percussion – Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Suspended Cymbal, Bass Drum, Tubular Bells, Tam-tam, Tambourine, Mark-tree, Triangle, Side Drum, 2 Bongoes (with sticks), Wood Block (on stand), Clashed Cymbals, Low Suspended Cymbal, High Suspended Cymbal
C. 14 minutes