Brian Daniels is represented in the animus catalogue by a fine selection of organ and choral pieces and this month we are very pleased to be publishing his setting of his own text Come to me all who labour which was the winner of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Choral Association 2006 anthem competition. We asked him to tell us about what led him into music and to give us some background to his compositions.
My first recollection of music is perhaps more from Berlin than Berlioz as my father was a dance band pianist before I came on the scene. During the war years my only access to a piano was at my paternal grandparents who had a player piano with many music rolls of differing genres.
It was from these that I enjoyed my first taste of classical (so called) music with excerpts from Beethoven symphonies, various overtures, Schubert songs and the inevitable Colonel Bogey! The piece which caught my imagination the most was the stunning scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I would ‘play’ this at break neck speed for the sheer hell of it!
It was from the player piano that I discovered how chords were built up as I was yet to start piano lessons. I would play the pedals slowly and watch the keys go down and when I found a chord I liked I would memorise the notes and play them myself.
I entered the village choir at 8 and was immediately intrigued by the sound of Tallis’ Festal Responses (done rather indifferently by the choir). Until then I hadn’t heard the sound of music much before Brahms and this was a real ear opener. I would stay up to listen to the Epilogue on the then Home Service so that I could hear the Tallis Litanies.
I started the piano at 10 when my father returned from the war and remember writing my first piece which I called ‘The Santa Maria’ without knowing what it meant then! I discovered later that the tune was identical to the motive from the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony which I must have heard on the radio at some stage.
Whilst at school I wrote a short suite for the school orchestra directed by the physics master who was a fine fiddler.
I progressed to the organ, perhaps too early, at 13 having reached grade V. I experimented with organ composition off and on and wrote a march for the local brass band when I was 17. (I remember making the mistake of assuming the bass (G) trombone was a transposing instrument!)
National Service took me to Catterick where I followed Ernest Hart (proprietor of Copeman Hart Organs) as Garrison Organist. Apart from normal organ service playing, there was a period of relative musical inactivity following my return to civilian life apart from writing a wedding march for my sister. There was an awakening when Clifford Brown my music teacher from Sidmouth suggested I studied for the ARCM diploma. I hadn’t had this in mind as most of my studies up to then were connected with my vocation in engineering. This new discipline was a catalyst which started me thinking about writing again. This didn’t go down too well with my teacher as he wanted me to concentrate on the exercises he set me; I managed to do both in the end.
Over the years in my various appointments I have written descants, chants and the odd carol arrangement; the sort of thing most organists do. My early retirement from the civil service in 1990 allowed me a greater degree of personal freedom to pursue composition as my only extended work up to then was the first string quartet. The advent of the computer played no small part in this although my first Amstrad PCW had limited capabilities and of course no MIDI facility.
At that time my choir at Holy Trinity Taunton was ‘tenorless’ and so I rearranged several anthems into three parts to provide material for the choir. One of these was included in the 1996 Wells Festival book. My first published pieces were ‘Lux Mundi’ which really grew out of one piece, the final movement ‘Tripudium’ which was written as a carol potpourri final voluntary for the 2001 Crewkerne carol service.
One notable piece is the carol ‘The fairest Lady of all time’ which was a prize winner in the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir carol competition in 2003 and performed in Wakefield Cathedral that December. This piece was ‘spontaneous’ in as much as that the idea of both lyrics and music came to me during a 20 minute walk with my dog. It was originally set for brass quintet organ and mixed voices. Thanks to the support and enthusiam of the North Curry Choir I have been able to try out and introduce some of my choral pieces.
There are other anthems which were included in previous Wells diocesan festivals and the recent 2008 one, included in this brochure, was prize winner in the 2006 open competition run by the Wells Diocesan Choral Association. The specification was for an anthem of about 3 mins duration which can be performed by any combination of voices from unison to four parts. This strict formula meant that any form of contrapuntal writing was off limits and one was restricted to the current trend of flexible voice parts.
I have also written some chamber music including a suite commissioned by the Bridport Chamber Orchestra to commemorate its 30th birthday in 2006, and a second string quartet.
Musical tastes change with one’s age and whilst I experimented with avant-garde styles popular in the 1960-70s I later found the results unsatisfactory to my ear. The first string quartet was written along these lines. I feel more at home with the classical use of dissonance levels as a fuel to create musical impetus (to me, if everything is discordant the forward movement of the music stagnates).
Apart from those composers beloved by all musicians, JS Bach and Mozart, I am a devotee of Mendelssohn, César Franck (particularly the Symphony), Benjamin Britten and Tchaikovsky.
I very much enjoy composition as it is like making an artefact. A blank piece of manuscript paper is like a rough hewn piece of wood awaiting the sculptor’s knife. However there has to be a purpose; the mindless spinning of notes is neither satisfactory to the performer or listener. I find it puzzling, when there is so much beauty available to a composer, that there is so much ugliness in some music today.
I am particularly attached to the motet ‘Drop, drop slow tears’ and the second string quartet.
The Trumpet Trilogy was written with trumpet stops in mind at three churches where I have done some work on the organs. The recent transcriptions from the Handel instrumental sonatas and the Russian ‘show pieces’ would have raised eyebrows 20 years ago. However, fashions come and go and one hopes that transporting this music to the medium of the organ will hopefully make it more accessible to the player and listener alike without offending the purist too much. This was certainly my intention.