Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Gordon Jacob: The Overture Alexandra Palace

Gordon Jacob is perhaps best regarded for his contribution to the wind band repertoire. In some sense this is a little unfair as there is a good number of fine orchestral and chamber works in his catalogue. These include two Symphonies for full orchestral, a number of concertos and a Piano Sonata. Yet a consistent element of his work is compositions for wind instruments. In one sense he is the heir to Vaughan Williams and perhaps more pertinently Gustav Holst –both of who wrote considerable works for the medium.
The Overture: Alexandra Palace was written in 1975 as a response to a Greater London Council commission. The occasion was the celebration of the centenary of this iconic building which dominates North London. For a hundred years this mighty building had hosted major concerts and events connected with the life of the Capital. The Massed Bands and the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Marines gave the first performance of this work in the Great Hall on the 25th May 1975.

There is no doubt that Jacob was an inspired choice for this celebratory music. It is clear that the work owes something to the English ceremonial style of music of William Walton and Edward Elgar. Yet the important thing to note is that it is in no way derivative. Of course Jacob was never a ‘modernist’: in fact he was probably the most conservative of Charles Villiers Stanford’s pupils, preferring baroque and classical models to the prevailing neo-romanticism and serialism. Yet the Alexandra Palace overture is no simplistic or naïve piece of music. From the first bar to the last Jacob shows his handling of the instruments and his ability to conceive a logical formal structure.

Amusingly enough, Gordon Jacob referred to this music as the ‘Ally Pally’ Overture. Geoffrey Brand had incorporated the ‘fanfare’ parts of the score into the main body of the piece making this work a valuable addition to the wind band repertoire, yet not quite disassociating it from the original event.

Gordon Jacob's Overture: Alexandra Palace on SRC 108

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