Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:


Although many major composers, among them Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bliss have been persuaded to enter the specialised world of writing for brass band, much of its repertoire down the years has been provided by people particularly associated with it. Not that even these have confined themselves to that, as we shall see. But their achievements are worth recalling.

There was a time when virtually all the music played by bands seemed to be composed or arranged by Williams Rimmer, born in 1862. He enjoyed his earliest musical experiences in his father's Southport Rifle Band as drummer and cornettist, transferring later to Besses o' The Barn Band. Soon William turned to conducting bands, major ones of the time like Irwell Springs, Wingates Temperance, Black Dyke (then styled Black Dike), Hebden Bridge, Besses and Fodens. All these did well in competition at that time; in 1909 William was a trainer or conductor of five of the six prize winners in the Open Championships at Manchester. The following year he retired from conducting to devote himself to composing, arranging and teaching; his pupils included that great doyen of the brass world Harry Mortimer. Rimmer became music editor of the Liverpool music publishing firm, Wright and Round, in 1913. He returned to conducting after the Great War directing Southport Corporation Military Band for two years. He died on 9 February 1936. So many other famous figures died around that time - among them Dame Clara Butt, Rudyard Kipling and King George V - that it seemed like the end of an era. In the world of brass bands Rimmer's death appeared to have the same cataclysmic effect. Above all his compositions were marches: Avenger, The British Flag, The Carnival King, The Comet, Dauntless, Dawn of Freedom, Faithful and Free, For Freedom and Honour, Kings of the Air, Jack o' The Lantern, Knight of the Road, Monarch, Ravenswood, Sergeants of the Guard, Sons of Victory, The Virtuoso, The Wizard, The Australasian, Black Knight, Cross of Honour, Honest Toil, North Star, Slaidburn, The Bostonian, Victor's Return, Viva Birkinshaw (a tribute to a one-time leading Black Dyke cornettist) and, best known of all, Punchinello and The Cossack, adopted by Fodens as their signature tune. Many of these, and I have mentioned only a fraction of them, are still played, as are the cornet solos Silver Showers, Hailstorm and Cleopatra the euphonium solo Weber's Last Waltz and the Rule Britannia Overture. Chiming Bells was a popular number around 1900 and the fantasia Military Church Parade was also played. Rimmer's arrangements were legion and included practically every operatic overture you can think of not least of them being Balfe's The Bohemian Girl which I enjoyed quite recently. He wrote for orchestra too The Bells of St Malo, The Coster's Wooing, the march Southport Belles, a Tarantelle for piccolo and orchestra and the gavotte Wedding Bells - all five scores include as a reminder of Rimmer's band association, a euphonium.

William's nephew Drake Rimmer continued the family tradition of writing for brass. Trained in Edinburgh, Manchester and Hamburg, his output for brass included some larger scale pieces than William's marches and cornet solos: tone poems on historical or literary subjects like Homage to Pharaoh, King Lear, Macbeth, Midsummer Eve, Othello, Quo Vadis, Rufford Abbey, Spirit of Progress, The Golden Hind and Venus and Adonis; the symphonic prelude Via Stellaris; the symphonic rhapsody The Flame of Freedom; and the suite Holiday Sketches. He too arranged and conducted widely.

John A Greenwood (1876-1953) was a protégé of William Rimmer and to a degree his career followed the same pattern: playing in a local band (he came from Cheshire), then principal cornet with major bands; and finally conductor and tutor to ensembles like St Hilda's, Black Dyke and Horwich RMI. His compositions and arrangements were much fewer than Rimmer's, but his memory is kept green by that popular trombone solo The Acrobat whose second quick section makes use of the device of pushing out the slide of the instrument to its fullest extent. This is still played frequently. As a conductor, Greenwood, unlike William Rimmer, was a martinet. One of his former players recalled that he was:

"A little chap and used to wear a posh suit with a waistcoat he had a watch on a gold chain. Whenever he started fiddling with the chain you had to watch out - he was about to make a lot of trouble for someone."

And Eric Ball said he "never saw Johnny Greenwood enthuse about anything." Yet I have heard from someone who knew him of several instances of his kindness and generosity.

Joseph Weston Nicholl (1876-1925), conductor of the West Riding Military Band 1908-10 and of Black Dyke 1910-12, had a different musical upbringing. His father was Halifax organist. Joseph a protégé of the great violinist Joachim, studied under him in Berlin and later with Rheinberger at Munich and Guilmant in Paris. Nicholl was a fine violinist, organist and pianist. His best known brass band composition was the tone poem The Viking recorded by Black Dyke in 1923; his arrangements for brass included Bach's Little Fugue and Reubke's Organ Sonata on Psalm 94: a far cry from the operatic overtures and Liszt tone poems and rhapsodies transcribed by William Rimmer. For military band he wrote a Festival Overture and a Commemorative Ode and March for the Jubilee of the opening of the Halifax People's Park. In other media he wrote an opera Comala the orchestral symphonic poem In English Seas, a Concert Overture for organ and orchestra (1904), an early Scherzo for organ and piano, the piano solo Carillon, solo songs, like The Bells of Ys, and sundry partsongs. He died, sadly early, of tuberculosis (ill health had prevented his being more than an adviser to Black Dyke for the last 13 years of his life); the National Champions, the St Hilda's Band, travelled to Halifax to join with his beloved Black Dyke in a moving concert tribute to him.

Thomas Keighley, born in Stalybridge, in 1889, studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music 1895-8 (he later became Professor of Harmony there). Like Nicholl he was an organist; he wrote several musical textbooks (First Lessons in Counterpoint (1929), First Theory Lessons for Pianists (1920), Harmony (1914) and a Manual for Music (1913)), along with piano pieces anthems, partsongs and arrangements for choirs like the traditional King Arthur Had Three Sons (SATB), Minka (SATB), Purcell's Nymphs and Shepherds (2 part) and Morley's Fire, Fire (TTBB, 1930). His major works were however for brass band and no fewer than six were adopted as test pieces for the Open Championships at Belle Vue, Manchester Macbeth (1925), the first original composition (as against arrangements) to be commissioned by those Championships, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1926), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1927), Lorenzo (1928), The Crusaders (1932) and A Northern Rhapsody (1935). The Crusaders was revived in 1941, Lorenzo in 1942 and 1964. Keighley was a well-respected teacher and adjudicator in the brass band world.

Denis Wright is unusual among brass band stalwarts in being born in London, in 1895. His musical education was at the RCM and, after service in the Great War, he took up a job teaching music in schools. His first contact with the brass band world came in 1925 when he won a 100 guinea prize offered for an original band composition. This was Joan of Arc, adopted as the test piece for the National Championships in London that year. Seven other major works by him were test pieces: The White Rider (National, 1927), Overture for an Epic Occasion (National 1945), Princess Nada (Open, 1933), Music for Brass (Open, 1948), Tam O'Shanter's Ride (Open, 1956) and arrangements of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture and Beethoven's 5th Symphony (both Open). Wright was General Musical Editor for Chappell & Co in London 1930-6 and was on the BBC's music staff 1936-66, during which time he composed works for brass band and orchestra together for use in BBC Light Music Festivals in 1957 and 1958, respectively entitled Casino Carnival and Cornish Holiday. He conducted and broadcast in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and on the Continent. He founded the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain in 1951. He died in 1967, having given forty years' service to brass banding not to mention his work in other musical areas. He produced over a thousand scores, mainly arrangements of which 800 were published. Other important original compositions for band we have not yet mentioned were the Carol Sinfonietta, a Concerto for cornet and brass band, a Trio Concerto for for cornet, trombone and euphonium with band, a piece with several Elgarian moments, the Glastonbury Overture, the Salzburg Suite, the caprice Columbine and the attractive tone poem Tintagel. In other forms we may mention merely as examples the Romantica for brass quartet, the Two Passiontide Songs of 1930 (for solo voice), the partsong (SATB) Pibroch of Donuil Dhu (1925) and, for orchestra, the Dance Suite, Opus 17 for full orchestra and Sketches for Orchestra and the Suite in 18th Century Style, both for strings.

Our final figure, Frank Joseph Henry Wright, who died aged 69 in 1970 was no relation to Denis. Australian born, he was well known in brass circles ass adjudicator, conductor and copious arranger. No fewer than nine National Championship test pieces between 1952 and 1971 were arrangements by him. His publications numbered over a hundred altogether, many fewer than his namesake. Original compositions were again fewer than Denis Wright's but Frank could point to the Preludio Marziale, the march Whitehall, the "diversions on an original theme" - Sirius, the suite Old Westminster and the trilogy Threshold. From 1955 he was Music Director to the GLC; he was awarded an MBE in 1966.

Some of these figures were self-made men like Rimmer and Greenwood others like Nicholl, Keighley and Denis Wright, studied formally at music college. All however served the brass band movement faithfully and well and played their part in enhancing the prestige of that movement.

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