Heritage Suite – Notes from the composer

HERITAGE SUITE (What Hope Saw), by Nigel Clarke, is a six-movement work inspired by the bronze sculpture by Sarah Cunnington entitled `Hope’, which is to be found on The Green in West Malling.

The Suite is dedicated to and written for John Hutchins and the members of Eynsford Concert Band. The premiere performance took place in the Tithe Barn, the Pilsdon at Malling Community in the town of West Malling, Kent (South-East England) on 10 October 2009, given by Eynsford Concert Band under the baton of John Hutchins.

Historians often focus on the big events that shape our world rather than the fabric of day-to-day life that makes up our shared heritage. It was suggested by Eynsford Concert Band that I should write a work inspired by the bronze sculpture by Sarah Cunnington entitled `Hope’. The sculpture is in the shape of woman running with a dove perched on her hand. The woman’s cloak billows out behind her and contains eight panels describing the town’s local history over the centuries.

The eight images on the panels are the following:

  • The sculpture ‘Hope’ depicted as another meeting point for today’s thriving community in West Malling,
  • West Malling Airfield and its Second World War Mosquito squadrons,
  • Hop gardens and local agriculture,
  • The first recorded game of cricket, which took place in West Malling in 1704,
  • West Malling’s long history as a market town,
  • Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion crushed by Mary Tudor in West Malling in 1554,
  • The Black Death (1348-49) when only 15 local town residents survived,
  • The founding of a community of Benedictine Nuns in 1090.

Heritage Suite is a six-movement work that focuses on all eight subjects. To give the Suite a sense of unity, musical ideas from previous movements reappear in unexpected places implying that history often repeats itself! I have also hinted at a number of familiar pieces of music. The movements are as follows:

  1. Bric-á-brac Market – is a jocular movement that represents West Malling as a medieval market town, full of colour, energy and commerce as well as the odd eccentric character.
  2. Prayers & Plagues – combines two of the subjects depicted by Sarah Cunnington – the Nuns centre of prayer and the Black Death. The movement opens with a brass chorale based on my favourite Christmas carol `Coventry Carol’: We also hear a plainsong representing the Nuns at prayer, as well as eastern sounding phrases that remind us of the crusades fought over two hundred years between 1095 and 1291. The Dies Irae dominates the central section of this movement and represents the Black Death.
  3. Cornucopia – is a celebration of West Malling’s farming history in the form of a fanfare with references to the hymn tune `We Plough the Fields and Scatter’.
  4. Hop Pickers’ Round – is a light-hearted depiction of hop-pickers sampling local ales after a day of gathering the famous Kent hops.
  5. Warm Beer and Cricket – this title references the former Prime Minster, John Major’s famous quotation that England will remain a country of `long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers’. The movement combines two subjects – the first recorded Cricket match and the Mosquito squadron at West Malling Airfield.
  6. Wyatt’s Rebellion & Hope – starts with a simple march-like idea in the percussion and builds towards the work’s finale section (Hope), which triggered by the fanfare heard in Cornucopia brings the work to an optimistic and triumphant close.

Nigel Clarke, October 2009