Brookes, Phillip


Brookes, Phillip

A Boat Easy To Pull, Meditation for small orchestra, Op. 45 (first print)


Brookes, Phillip

A Boat Easy To Pull, Meditation for small orchestra, Op. 45 (first print)

My father-in-law died on 12 January 1988. His death was sudden, unexpected and life-changing for all around him. He was one of the most gentle, intelligent and perceptive people I have known, with an enthusiasm for life, for his family, and for his many interests. All this was made more poignant by the fact that he had been unwell from boyhood, a condition he carried with grace even when he could not carry anything else. At his funeral I read this passage from Three Men in a Boat part of which prefaces this score – and from which the title is taken. It was a favourite book of both of us:

[I call that] wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha‘pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal‘s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment‘s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment‘s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o‘er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work. Time to drink in life‘s sunshine – time to listen to the Aeolian music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us –

On the first anniversary of his death I sketched the opening 30 bars of this piece and noted ideas for the waltz at figure 8 and the scherzo theme (fig. 12). All were in turn based upon a short piece I had written in 1979. I have my sketch-book here as I write and his initials and the words “in memoriam” are clearly written above the sketch.

But these thoughts were lost during the next few busy months, which were especially difficult for my family, involving a move to a different part of England. I completed the score in October 1989 without a dedication and with no hope of a performance. Maybe the right time to discuss it never happened, or maybe I just forgot about it. Anyway, the score sat among my papers for 25 years without my thinking much about it until I found it again in 2015. I have now revised it and am at last able to make available this tribute to someone who touched many lives, mine included; and at last it has its intended dedication: For J.L.F.

It is, in essence, a fantasia on a Chaconne I wrote in 1980 – and which appears in its original form in the suite Where Once We Danced (MPH score 1399). The original was first performed at the Tudor Merchants’ Hall, Southampton on 25th July 1980, by an ensemble that included both his daughters. I always associate it with a warm Summer’s evening, the light fading gradually as I conducted it. But here it is extended to a 15-minute “ramble” (as Percy Grainger might have said) on the ground bass that underlies the Chaconne. The theme is transformed into a gentle waltz and a lively, syncopated scherzo that, for me at least, brings back memories of motoring in a ‘classic’ automobile. Towards the end, the original Chaconne is played in full. The whole is a meditation on gentleness, enthusiasm, integrity and contentment. Edward Elgar once used the expression “smiling with a sigh”: it seems wholly appropriate to this piece.
I always intended this as an intimate work for chamber orchestra and resisted the opportunity to increase the scoring beyond adding a second horn. It follows, therefore, that a small body of strings is called for. The strings should be at least 4:3:2:2:1, and should not exceed 6:6:4:4:2.

Phillip Brookes, Roxas City

For performance material please contact Musikproduktion Höflich (, Munich.

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