An insight into Philip Andrew’s Late Autumn and Shooting the Breeze

For our 25th Anniversary Concert in April we are excited to be playing two pieces composed by local composer Philip Andrews.

Here is an insight into the thinking behind Late Autumn and Shooting the Breeze..

Late Autumn was composed in October 2011 and is based on the poem of the same name by the Irish poet William Allingham (1824–1889). I came across it purely by accident when I was actually looking for another to use as a song setting. As I read the first few lines, pictures immediately started forming in my mind, and I was soon hooked on the idea of creating a piece of music centred on the poem that portrayed such imagery! The first three lines set the tone for me… October – and the skies are cool and gray O’er stubbles emptied of their latest sheaf, Bare meadow, and the slowly falling leaf. With my appetite sufficiently whetted, I was keen to get started while the inspiration was there…it’s not always available when you want it unfortunately! I decided that I would use a small orchestra for this, partly for practical reasons, i.e. slightly easier to get it performed (hopefully) but also because I didn’t want anything overstated that would detract from the essence of the poem. It’s scored for two flutes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, strings and timpani. The cor anglais has a fairly prominent part throughout the whole piece. I chose to use this rather than an oboe because the cor anglais has a more plaintive and haunting quality. I wanted an instrument that would suggest a lamenting wistfulness, and the cor anglais fitted perfectly with the soundworld I was trying to create. For some reason as I read this poem, all the images conjured up in my mind were in sepia rather than vivid colours, and I could visualise myself looking out across a bleak, austere landscape, partly shrouded in a misty haze. I pictured barren fields, trees shorn of their leaves, and milky sunlight trying its best to penetrate the discoloration of the scenery. A little cheer is added by the occasional song of a robin (flute) somewhere far off and unseen. The dignity of woods in rich decay Accords full well with this majestic grief That clothes our solemn purple hills to-day, Whose afternoon is hush’d, and wintry brief Only a robin sings from any spray. This is an elegiac piece of music, where hopefully the listener will also be able to picture the images mentioned above. Mostly of course, I hope they enjoy the music!

Shooting the Breeze.  For quite a while I’d had an inclination to write a piece of music that was light and easy-going; something straightforward, and without the confines and restrictions of form and development. Although as a composer there is something rewarding and challenging about developing a piece of music, it’s also nice at times to be free of those shackles and just write with freedom, and let the music be given its head so to speak! Prior to this composition I’d recently completed two orchestral rhapsodies, and some other rather deeper and concentrated pieces. Although I had enjoyed writing them – and felt pleased with what I’d produced – I was in the mood for something different; and a piece of ‘happy-go-lucky’ music seemed the ideal solution. This piece was composed at the end of October 2011, and was written as a bit of light relief you could say…deliberately uncomplicated and carefree. The title Shooting the Breeze refers to the origins of the phrase which simply means ‘idle chatter’ or ‘talking in the wind’. I can remember hearing this type of music when I was a child growing up in the 1950s. My mother would have the radio on (wireless as it was then known) while she busied herself carrying out the various everyday jobs around the house, such as ironing, sewing and cleaning up. Meanwhile I played my little games with this light and infectious music playing in the background – a common feature in those days. I didn’t realise it then, but it obviously imprinted itself into my consciousness! The main ingredient for these bright and breezy pieces of music was little more than a good catchy tune and clever orchestration, and that is what I set out to do with Shooting the Breeze. After a lively introduction, the main tune is heard for the first time on the strings. Eight bars later the woodwind, brass and a bit of tuned percussion join in on the fun. Shortly after, another tune is brought in by clarinets, bassoons, violas and celli. This second tune acts as a counter melody to the first tune as the piece progresses, and eventually the whole thing is brought to a lively and boisterous finale. Hopefully this is an enjoyable and fun piece for both the performers and audience alike.

Philip Andrews

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