PROGRAMME NOTES

The Unicorns Suite With Brass

(1967/82) 

I. Six scenes from a story by John Heath-Stubbs
Soprano solo and brass band
1. Fanfares and choruses
2. Lullaby
3. Dance
4. Interrupted love song
5. A celebration fugue
6. The ballad of St Brendan
II. Suite for brass band

This is the Suite from The Unicorns scored for band without soprano soloist.

First performance by Britannia Building Society Foden Band/Howard Snell in a BBC Radio 3 broadcast in Manchester on 12 February 1987.

In 1967 Peter Dickinson commissioned an opera libretto from the distinguished poet John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006). The opera was never completed but, in 1980, when he was commissioned to write a work for Elisabeth Söderström and Solna Brass of Sweden, he turned back to the sketches and developed a six-movement suite which was premiered in Stockholm on 31 October 1982 and recorded shortly afterwards. The three vocal movements, Nos. 2, 4 & 6, use songs from the opera and Dickinson made a piano arrangement of these in 1986. The story tells of two unicorns discovered in a remote part of Africa. The two countries, Eastland and Westland, want to obtain specimens because of the magical properties of their horns, so they mount rival expeditions. The teams capture one animal each. The Westland technique was to charm a unicorn to sleep through the sound of a young girl singing – this is the Lullaby. Eastland used a dancer who tricked a unicorn into impaling itself on a tree trunk. The Westland singer and the Eastland boy dancer manage to fall in love but they cannot continue to meet because of their separated countries and ideologies – the Interrupted Love Song. But they plan to escape along with the exploited unicorns to an earthly paradise, the legendary Island of St. Brendan - described in The Ballad of St. Brendan.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

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