Britannia

James MacMillan (1959)

Britannia 1994

3(III=picc).3(III=corA).3(III=bcl).2.dbn-4.3.3.1-timp.perc(3): bodhran or tambour/tgl/flexatone/duck call/vib/lg tam-t; 2wdbl/ 2cowbells/snare drum/coconut shells/5tom-t; cyms/BD/whip/klaxon/ duck call/referee's whistle/autohorn-harp-strings
Duration 
14
Genre 
Publisher 

Britannia was written in 1994 as a celebration of a major force in our musical life, the British orchestra. The work fulfils a commission from British Telecommunications plc with the Association of British Orchestras as part of the BT Celebration Series, and provides all the major UK orchestras with a new concert overture for performance in the 1994/95 season.

Britannia is a ten-minute orchestral fantasy based on ‘patriotic themes’. There is no programme of story as such but the tapestry of popular melodies and resonant allusions, given their new and unfamiliar contexts, may provoke some surprising scenarios in the mind of the listener, particularly at a time when petty chauvinism threatens to rear up once again throughout Europe. The piece grows out of a short sketch written earlier this year, Mémoire Impériale, which is based on a march tune by General Reid, an 18th century British army officer who established the music department at Edinburgh University. This theme and the ‘imperial’ themes of Elgar and Arne are thrown into a volatile concoction with other materials – an Irish reel (which becomes a jig), a Cockney drinking song, other march tunes and a hazy Celtic modality.

All the main ideas are presented in a quick and stark succession during the fast opening section. The slow middle part begins with a serene canon which is gradually undermined by military allusions on brass and percussion. This confrontation leads to the work’s climax followed by an unsettled coda.

Britannia is dedicated to Libby MacNamara of the Association of British Orchestras.

James MacMillan

(This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer)

Performances 
21.9.94 Barbican Hall, London: London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
24.9-11.10.94 European tour: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Libor Pesek
21.10.94 Ulster Hall, Belfast: Ulster Orchestra/Stefan Sanderling
9-20.11.94 European tour: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Walter Weller
25.11.94 Poole: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
27.11.94 Reading: Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Warren
29.11.94 Colston Hall, Bristol: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Stern
2.12.94 Bangor: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/David Atherton
7.12.94 Manchester: Halle Orchestra/Kent Nagano
14.12.94 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Gilbert Varga
14.12.94 Dundee: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Donald Runnicles
15.12.94 Fairfield Hall, Croydon: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Owain Arwell Hughes
27.1.95 Durham Cathedral: Northern Sinfonia/Heinrich Schiff
15.2.95 York: Halle Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
2.3.95 Cambridge: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
25.4.95 Preston: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Hickox
30.7.95 Lakeland Festival: Halle Orchestra/Kent Nagano
24.11.95 Gdansk, Poland: Gdansk Philharmonic/James MacMillan
plus numerous others
3
Flute
3rd doubling piccolo
3
Oboe
3rd doubling cor anglais
3
Clarinet
3rd doubling bass clarinet
3
Bassoon
3rd contrabassoon
4
Horn
3
Trumpet
3
Trombone
1
Tuba
1
Timpani
3
Percussion
bodhran or tambour, triangle, flexatone, duck call, vibraphone, large tam-tam, 2 woodblocks, 2 cowbells, snare drum, coconut shells, 5 tom-toms, cymbals,bass drum, whip, klaxon, duck call, referee's whistle, autohorn
1
Harp
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