Dance Suite


Dance Suite


Biggest work since Sketches of Shetland, this is a five-movement suite of dances ancient and not-so-ancient. They are Gigue – Sarabande – Tango – Pavane – Salsa, and a more detailed description of them all can be found below. February 2021.

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This started off as an attempt at a new Capriol Suite, but soon threw its net more widely than purely Elizabethan dance forms. The harmonic twists of Warlock’s work are here, but edgier as we’re a hundred years later; I wanted to maintain the idea of familiar dance music with plenty of jolts. Call it neo-Elizabethan and neo-Latino!

The Gigue begins far from the major-key frivolity of Merrie Old England jiggery, and is much darker, almost threatening. We reach the home key of C minor and the theme appears, by now much more medieval in feel. The interjections of 5 then 6 quavers happen throughout this movement. An uncertain section where a quaver is missing – impossible to dance to! – leads straight to jousting pageantry, a run of the theme throughout the whole band, then a return to the darkness of the opening. Instead of building, this time the music fades and almost leaves us, but a late final burst in the home key gives a triumphant ending.

Now a lilting Sarabande, a solo cornet feature, in F major. The theme hesitates at times, and is at first unable to resolve, lingering in the subdominant Bb. After what seems like darker times ahead, the heavens open with a rather celestial section with two percussion keyboards, the glock and vibraphone. The solo cornets then take the second phrase of the tune in a short, lonely section, before the main theme returns in full glory. But it can’t get past the reflective, almost religious hesitations, so we have a final attempt at resolution, in a short coda. But again, the tune seems to come to rest comfortably enough in Bb…

Like the Gigue, the Tango is also dark, primeval; I had no interest in a touristy, rose-between-the-teeth version of the dance, this is back street Buenos Aires. There are recreations of strident tango music: the ultra-staccato bandoneon, the demonic, soaring violin, the click of cicadas in the night. This tango creeps in like the gangs of West Side Story, bursts into full-blown, proud Argentine passion, before fading off into the back streets again.

A Pavane is a simple Renaissance dance, slow and stately, and the music often takes the form of three unrelated sections. In this pavane, which features the Repiano Cornet, the harmony begins and returns to the seventeenth century (with kinks), but has an enhanced middle section. I liked the idea of the dancers treading the ancient dignified steps while the music swirls grandly hundreds of years ahead of them.

Salsa. Let’s end with a party in G minor. With bongos, maracas, a cowbell and whistle, this is the vibrant Latin American dance brought to the brass band. The theme, with it’s two variants, comes in after the basses and horns set up the salsa rhythm and feel. There’s a rather scrummy middle 16, which inverts second time round, before we swing up a gear into A minor, and this leads to a brief re-introduction of the start of the whole piece, the beginning of the Gigue. But we can’t stay there long, and are dragged back to the 21st century and its more riotous party music. Keeping this vibe, we dash headlong to the end, a wild and emphatic repetition of a major and minor Eb chord.


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