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Wilfred HEATON (1918-2000)
The Heaton Collection: Music For Brass Band
CD1 ‘Le Tricot Rouge’; Contest Music (1973); The Children’s Friend (1938); Victory For Me; Passing by; Partita (1986)
CD2 ‘The Golden Pen’; Just as I am (1947); Wonderful Words; My Treasure; ‘Glory, Glory’ (1988); Celestial Prospect; Martyn; Praise; My Master’s Will (1948); Mercy’s Light (1983); Toccata, Oh Blessed Lord (c.1940)
CD1: Black Dyke Mills Band/Nicholas J.Childs; CD2: International Staff Band/Stephen Cobb
Rec. CD1: Morley Town Hall, Leeds, May/June 2002; CD2: Henry Wood Hall, London, March 2002
SP&S: CD-SPS158 [2CDs: 61.06+63.34]


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I am ashamed to say that before this double album of Wilfred Heaton’s music landed on my doormat I had not heard of Heaton. The more I have discovered about him in preparing this review the more I realize that it is no disgrace and indeed to some of you he may be a new name. None of this is to disparage Heaton and his music. His obscurity, like that of many another neglected composer, was as much to do with his aversion to self-promotion as with the band world’s conservative reaction to his audacious music.

I had attempted in the 1970s to write music for eminent London brass and military bands but this is not something I have continued. I am not a bandsman myself and I must confess that at first I had no strong desire to unwrap the CD. However as soon as I played the first major work on CD1 (‘Contest Music’) I was hooked and quite astounded that this very fine, even great, composer had, until now, eluded me.

I have spoken to musicians who knew Heaton and who are trying to promote his music. From this I have been able to form a picture of the man and the creative musician. I have concluded that no matter what the medium Heaton would have been a very important composer. In fact it seems that he also wrote for orchestra, piano and other instruments and groupings.

He was born in Sheffield to Salvationist parents. His father was a bandmaster. Consequently Wilfred’s earliest musical leanings, from the age of eight when he started piano lessons, were nurtured through the Salvation Army. The earliest pieces on these CDs, date from the end of the Second World War when he was in his 20s. They are hymn-based variations (chorale prelude type works) for Salvationist bands, pieces like ‘Just as I am’. His earliest success was the march ‘Praise’ published in the 1940s and a work which has been played despite the neglect from which the rest of Heaton’s music has suffered.

I approached my friend the composer Arthur Butterworth, no mean judge he. The two composers had worked together for the peripatetic service in the old county of West Yorkshire. He told me what an incredibly modest man Heaton had been. He made no attempt whatsoever to promote his own music as he had written it primarily for the glory of God and for the use of the Army bands. Indeed he often had works played over and then would put them on a shelf to be forgotten.

‘Contest Music’, one of his last compositions, was rejected because it was too ‘difficult’ or possibly too ‘modern’. This happened several times. Arthur told me how hurt Heaton had been by the rejection of ‘Contest Music’ especially as he had in his mid-fifties come out of compositional retirement to write it. In truth Heaton was often well ahead of his time, at least as far band music was concerned. Salvationist bands or even the colliery bands could not handle the original way he treated traditional melodies. Heaton became increasingly interested in Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartók well ahead of others. This is apparent even in his earlier works. He was, briefly, a pupil of Mátyás Seiber.

In ‘Just as I am’ the result is a miniature tone poem, which takes you on a journey through differing keys and atmospheres. Paul Hindmarsh, the BBC producer who has done such a great deal in promoting and broadcasting Heaton’s music, has written about this piece in the excellent booklet notes: "The tune here is ‘The Fairest of Ten Thousand’ used for the words ‘At the feet I bow adoring’. Heaton’s setting is full of subtle nuances of phrase and dynamics. The interweaving textures are spun out like silk; the harmonies painted in illusive style".

One could speak of two sides of Wilfred Heaton’s music: a more conservative one, sometimes even witty and possibly in the light music category. The enchanting ‘Wonderful Words’ featuring two solo cornets and the March ‘Le Tricot Rouge’ fall into this category. Then there are the other works such as the twenty-five minute ‘Partita’ which runs to four movements. Here the fantastic Scherzo may well remind one of William Walton, a composer whose spirit hovers over some other pieces. Robert Simpson’s ‘hand’ is also intermittently apparent. Simpson surely influenced the three movement ‘Contest Music’. Anyone who can write an almost eight-minute Scherzo like this, controlling the material both harmonically and formally, has to be a significant composer.

Obviously Heaton knew the brass world intimately. Consequently he could take risks with his orchestration. ‘Partita’ is a huge test of stamina and technique for even the finest brass players. Accordingly it has had relatively few performances. Some of the music has had to be reconstructed. Various people have spent some time tracking down missing parts. Derek Smith, the New York Staff bandmaster, did much investigatory work to make the wonderful ‘Celestial Prospect’ variations a performable reality. Hindmarsh owns up to producing a performing edition of ‘The Golden Pen’. He added dynamics, articulation and percussion parts. The original score has not yet been located.

I greatly admire the achievements of everyone who made this project possible. Especially admirable is the work of the two bands represented. Both are magnificent, but especially the Black Dyke Mills who take on the two big works ‘Contest Music’ (incidentally commissioned for a contest before being rejected) and the ‘Partita’. All of the music requires immense virtuosity and must have been a real labour of love to rehearse. I suspect that much of the music was tried out regularly in concert before being committed to disc.

And, what a superb and realistic recording. Very powerful, all detail is available with excellent balance and bass response. I cannot speak too highly of the entire project. I believe too that more is to come, as an increasing amount of Heaton’s work is still turning up.

This double CD comes with two booklets with the first giving biographies of the composer and the bands, with the names of the players. The second is devoted to the music and what is known of its inspiration. Both feature colour photographs, all lavishly produced.

If you spot the CD in a shop ask them to play Track 5 CD2 ‘Glory, Glory’ a substantial concert March written in 1988, and ask if they can start it at about 3’50" if you are short of time. This offers a touch of Malcolm Arnold-type comedy - a breath of fresh air.

Gary Higginson

 



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