Of Myths and Monsters - An outrage for concert band

Of Myths and Monsters was commissioned by The Glasgow Wind Band (conductor, Kevin Price) to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2012. They gave the world premiere on June 9th that year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

The Glasgow Wind Band, one of the UK’s most ambitious and forward-looking concert bands, has achieved great success at the National Concert Band Festival and had played Sparke’s Music of the Spheres there in 2010. Sparke wanted to continue the ‘space’ theme for this 40th anniversary commission and initially looked at featuring well-known constellations as subjects for the various movements. As many of the constellations are named after characters from Greek mythology, this led the composer to look into the stories behind the myths and decided to use these as the basis for the suite. The subtitle – An outrage for concert band – was chosen because the myths were used only as an initial inspiration for each movement, which were allowed to then find their own musical course.

1. DEATH OF THE LERNAEAN HYDRA

The second Labour of Heracles was to kill the Hydra, a many-headed serpent-like monster. He found that every time he cut off one of the heads, two grew back in its place, but was eventually able to complete the task with the help of his nephew, Iolaus.

The movement opens with grotesque, slithering phrases from the woodwinds, which depict the Hydra. This is followed by a series of duets, opening with the bassoons, which symbolise the regrowth of the twin heads. The mood subsides to introduce an ominous melody over bubbling clarinets, which builds to a climax featuring sharp, stabbing chords from the brass as Heracles’s sword beheads the monster. The music then depicts its slow death.

2. THE BOAST OF CASSIOPEIA

In Greek mythology, Cassiopeia boasted about her beauty and was punished for her arrogance by Poseidon, who sent a sea monster, Cetus, to destroy her kingdom. To appease the gods, Cassiopeia sought to sacrifice her daughter, Andromeda, to the monster by chaining her to a rock, but she was rescued by Perseus.

In this movement, Cassiopeia is characterised by a sleazy, blues-inspired alto saxophone solo. Fanfares in the middle section depict the heroic arrival of Perseus and his consequent fight with the sea monster. A tender melody symbolises the love between Perseus and Andromeda but the movement ends enigmatically as Cassiopeia is punished by Poseidon by being cast into the heavens, tied to a chair, and doomed to circle the night sky forever.

3. ORION AND THE FLIGHT OF PEGASUS

The third movement bears only a scant reference to Greek mythology and the two, unconnected stories of Orion and Pegasus serve only as oblique musical inspiration. Orion, the hunter, is represented by a brass fanfare which opens the movement and an agile 6/8 ‘hunting’ theme which follows. Pegasus is depicted by a floating and rhythmically vague central theme which leads back to a recapitulation of the Orion music.