George Mowat-Brown

Marching Song

for percussion sextet

duration: 17 minutes

Marching Song
The initial sketches for Marching Song date from 1979. They follow a request from Morton Feldman for a piece for the percussionists at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he was the Varèse Professor. It is for a percussion sextet, with each player playing both pitched and unpitched instruments.

Although, technically, Marching Song comprises an introduction followed by twenty-five variants, it is intended to be perceived as a single evolving structure. It does contain within it, however, the possibility of some adjacent subsections being heard as extreme contrast – whilst most contiguous sections change with only minimal differences in the overall sound of the ensemble. An example of maximal change occurs when all six of the metallic, pitched instruments change to wooden, pitched instruments, at a different tempo.

As seems appropriate to a percussion piece, the principal controlling idea behind the music is that of duration and pulse. This is used to mirror the overall shape of: long/slow, changing to short, and then returning to long. The sixteen-item matrix, so beloved of Albert Durer – appearing in Melencolia I – is used as the basis of the introduction. The following twenty-five variants are statistical redistributions of the original that give a greater emphasis to longer durations in the earlier and later ones, with a corresponding preponderance of shorter value towards the centre of the piece. Within this scheme, each durational matrix can also be seen as a transformation, for each retains the relative idea of the longer and shorter values of the original.

This simplistic idea behind the underlying arch-like formplan is somewhat obfuscated in its realization through two techniques common to all of Mowat-Brown's music. The first is the interplay that can be achieved between the articulation of longer durations, through their subdivisions, being set against short durations, without any subdivision and, secondly, is the application of different mensural techniques allowing the use of the instruments in pairs to add one, or two, subsidiary layers that can restate, or foreshadow, parts of the structure of the principal layer, by rotating the music at differing rates of change.

Marching Song
does not emulate any particular type of march, but should be heard in connexion with the role of percussion in marches of many kinds and types. It was completed in 1988 and is dedicated to the memory of Morton Feldman.

Despite being Celtic in origin (Scottish and Welsh), George Mowat-Brown has spent most of his musical life in England. After receiving his musical education at Dartington, studying with Richard Hall and Helen Glatz, and the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Humphrey Searle, Alexander Goehr, and Edwin Roxburgh, he engaged in doctoral studies at the University of York.

Mowat-Brown has divided his time between lecturing in music for a variety of institutions (including the Open University), composing, conducting, and musical research. He has continued to work as a composer. Commissions include: Ballet Rambert, Cheltenham Festival, Leeds University, Alan Hacker, Jane Manning, St. David's Festival, Surrey University, Morton Feldman and Mensa. He has had a number of BBC Radio 3 broadcasts.

His conducting experience includes concerts with Lontano, the Northern Sinfonia Ensemble and New Matrix, as well as rehearsals with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Mowat-Brown has broadcast for the BBC and WDR Köln.

In the earlier part of his career, Mowat-Brown worked closely with composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, and (in Germany) Karlheinz Stockhausen.

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