A Hero Passes

A Hero Passes was commissioned by the University of Kent, and receives its World premiere at tonight’s concert. Like Beethoven’s Eroica it is composed in the ‘heroic’ key of E flat major. But my piece explores the idea of heroism in a very different way, having been composed a few months after the death of my father, James King. Consequently the music is slow and reflective, with a sort of ‘distanced’ Romanticism and a main theme consciously reminiscent of Elgar’s Nimrod (also in E flat major) partly because Dad was fond of it, and partly because the evoking of ‘noble English’ characteristics seemed an appropriate symbol in commemorating the life of a kind and much-loved man. In the background hover ghosts of other composers my father admired like Sibelius and Mahler, and of course Beethoven, whose descending 3-note ‘Lebewohl’ (farewell) horn-call motif can be heard throughout the score, as if heard from under-water – Dad was a passionate swimmer - and I wanted to try to give the orchestral sound a kind of aquatic sonority. 

 

Some people prefer to listen to a new piece without reading too much information first, but the following description may help to follow the journey of the music: A Hero Passes is in a slow Rondo form, which means that the main theme appears three times, with two episodes in between. At the beginning, a mist-like drone with quiet horns herald the emergence of the main theme, after which the music floats upwards leading to the first episode: the 'Lebewohl' horn call can be heard at different speeds from different sections of the orchestra. Solo violin and trumpet (located above the orchestra) play in dialogue while the strings pluck the ‘farewell’ motif in a slow treading figure. The mood turns increasingly mournful as the ‘farewells’ become dissonant and plaintive. We hear sliding effects on brass instruments and timpani. 

 

Eventually this sorrowful cascade subsides with the welcome return of the slightly prolonged main theme. A somber second episode follows in A flat minor: low strings and bassoons play a murmering accompaniment, while slow melodies, in canon, fall from above. This builds to a considerable climax with soaring solo high trumpet, and horns playing with their bells raised. The main theme returns again, more passionately than before, and subsides, for the final time, to the sound of low trumpet and muffled drums.