Foden's look forward to the British Open

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 6 September 2019


On Saturday 7th September Foden's will compete at the British Open performing 'Dynasty' from the pen of Peter Graham

The music is a celebration of the Mortimer family who were a major influence in the History of Foden's Band. urther info on Harry and the Mortimers can be found on our Heritage website which also houses digitised recordings, images and articles on the family.

1936 Mortimer Family

Preparations have gone well under the Directorship of Russell Gray and we are looking forward to performing this work.

Explaining the piece, Peter Graham commented

'The life of Harry Mortimer (HM) reads like a musical adventure story. Born in I902, his earliest memories (as recorded in his autobiography) include playing cornet duets with his father Fred in the family cottage in Hebden Bridge Yorkshire, a favourite being a legato melody from Von Flotow's Martha which he suggested was “(lt's) just possible that this (Martha) set the pattern of my playing career"

He made his contest debut at the I9l3 Crystal Palace Contest on Labour and Love and whilst in his teens, with father Fred away on military service during the Great War, he supported his family playing for silent movies and music hall artistes including the legendary Marie Lloyd.

From I930, beginning with Elgar's Severn Suite at the National Championships and together with others of the Mortimer dynasty, Fred and brothers Alex and Rex, he led the Fabulous Fodens Band to unparalleled contest success both as Principal cornetist and later conductor. At the British Open he won on a record seven occasions in nine years, whilst his Nationals wins included, in I954, a remarkable first and third place with brother Alex taking second prize, on jack Beaver's Sovereign Heritage. He made the transition from brass bands to symphony orchestra as a celebrated trumpeter whose recordings spanned the globe. At the BBC as a producer he increased the broadcast output of brass bands to a level not seen before or since.

In his professional life he knew most of the great English musicians of the twentieth century, from conductors Sirs Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent and john Barbirolli to composers Sirs Granville Bantock, Arthur Bliss and Edward Elgar. An astute musician who knew the value of a judicious blend of the old with the vitality of the new, he was equally comfortable commissioning innovative works from Elgar Howarth (Fireworks, I975) through to conducting what he described as "the backbone of our repertoire" from prolific arranger Edrich Siebert. Whilst disappointed that Tippett and Britten were not persuaded to contribute to the canon, he was nevertheless quick to remind his audience of the merits of "the old classics of our repertoire, which exploited the unique tonal qualities of the brass band"2, nor express a desire that “would there were a few more composers coming on to the scene prepared to write interesting music with an occasional tune in it!”3"

Harry Mortimer was awarded the CBE for services to the brass band movement and died in I992.

About the music

In conversation with Martin Mortimer some time ago l mentioned that in the course of some background research for a project I had re-read his father Harry (HM's) autobiography, On Brass, and was struck by the possibility of a musical response to what was an extraordinary life. I thought no more about it until a telephone call from Martin a year later, inviting me to take up the challenge.

The result is Dynasty, which takes the form of a Symphonic Poem, a musical form first introduced to a contest audience at the Crystal Palace in l9l3 by Percy Fletcher in his work Labour and Love. Using key passages from Harry Mortimer On Brass as the source for the narrative, the work opens with a four-note leitmotif (Harry's theme, "as if descending from the heavens“), and the timeline unfolds as follows:

I - Harry
One's destiny decided at birth “I'll make him the best comet player in England".

2 - War
Why do the nations so furiously rage together? Fred volunteers for military service

3 - Theatre
And suddenly "l dashed to the rescue like a hero in the silent movies I was about to get to know so well"

4 - Journey
Comfort Ye A new life and new challenges

5 - Together
Come unto me "A golden age"

6 - Farewell
For behold. darkness "Fred's death surely marked the passing of an era”

7 — Amen
The Trumpet shall sound

Listeners familiar with brass band repertoire will recognise a few pertinent quotes within the piece. In my imagination Harry is joined by Fred on cornet and the euphoniums of Alex and Rex for the quartet cadenza from Sovereign Heritage by Jack Beaver in Together.

The Amen section from Handel's Messiah provides the basis for a contrapuntal flight of fancy as the work moves towards a conclusion. Other less overt fragments contribute to the story.

Dynasty has been co-commissioned by the British Open Brass Band Championships for the September 20l9 contest, and the Brass Band Committee VLAMO for the Belgian Brass Band Championships 2019.

Peter Graham, May 2019

Foden's band maintains a world class reputation for providing entertainment in the field of brass music with a tradition and unique style Mark Wilkinson