duration: 17 minutes
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
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
In the earlier part of his career, Mowat-Brown worked closely with composers
such as Harrison Birtwistle, Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, and (in Germany)
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