Dances for Small Orchestra
Browne, W. Denis
Browne, W. Denis
Dances for Small Orchestra
Edited for performance by Robert Weedon
Flute, Oboe (Hautbois), Clarinet in A, Horn in F, Cornet in Bb, Timpani, Triangle, Harp (or pianoforte),
1st & 2nd Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Double bass
William Denis Browne is probably best known for his song ‘To Gratiana Dancing and Singing’ and a handful of other songs for solo voice and piano. But his surviving oeuvre also contains examples of choral music and works for chamber orchestra, of which the two Dances for Small Orchestra are the earliest and most complete surviving examples.
Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, but with Irish heritage from both of his parents, Denis Browne exhibited profound musical ability from a young age. He attended Rugby School from 1903 where he became friends with the poet Rupert Brooke and in 1907 went up to Clare College Cambridge as organ scholar. He became perhaps the best known student musician at the university in that period and was cited by his tutor and confidant Professor Edward Dent as the ‘cleverest of the Cambridge musicians’ in a generation that included Clive Carey, Arthur Bliss, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and others.
After leaving Cambridge, Denis Browne worked variously as a teacher, critic, recitalist (he gave the first British performance of Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata) and composer. On the outbreak of World War I, he was persuaded by Brooke to join him as a commissioned officer in the newly-formed Royal Naval Division. In February 1915, they sailed to the Dardanelles in the eastern Mediterranean. On the voyage, Brooke died of blood poisoning and it is Denis Browne’s evocative description of the poet’s burial on the island of Skyros that has mythologized this episode in the war. This was the same incident that inspired Frederick Kelly’s Elegy
Denis Browne continued on to Gallipoli where he fought alongside the assembled ANZAC forces. He was killed at the disastrous Third Battle of Krithia in June 1915; his body was never recovered. In a letter written on the battlefield, he remembered Brooke: ‘I’ve gone now, too; not too badly, I hope. I’m luckier than Rupert, because I’ve fought. But there’s no one to bury me as I buried him, so perhaps he’s better off in the long run.’ In another letter sent shortly before his death, Browne instructed his musical executor Dent to destroy any works which did not ‘represent Denis Browne at his best’, leaving the tiny but high-quality legacy of scores held by the Archive of Clare College today.
The compositional history of the two Dances for Small Orchestra is complicated. A version of the work featuring an incarnation of the first Dance in A major was first performed at Clare College in March 1912, but the composer’s biographer Hugh Taylor suggests that the second dance played on that occasion was entirely different to the piece in D major found in this score. The second Dance was also arranged by the composer as an Intermezzo for string quartet or for solo piano. The first Dance in A appears in other guises as well. The composer was in the process of arranging it for larger forces as a Miniature Suite for Full Orchestra. This was not completed after figure D in the current score and it is unclear what the other movements of the suite would have been. The Dance also forms part of his
1914 one act ballet The Comic Spirit, now sadly incomplete as a result of a missing part book.
The edition presented here is directly transcribed from the original manuscript scores and performing parts of the Dances. The only significant modification made in this edition is the transposition of the cornet part from A to Bb; while at the turn of the century cornets were available in a multitude of adaptable tunings as a result of interchangeable shanks, if the work is to be performed today on instruments of any quality only Bb is widely available. The composer scored his later work The Comic Spirit for Bb cornet.
This performing edition was originally created for a World War I centenary commemoration project run by Cambridgeshire Libraries
& Archives. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in a performance by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel
on 24 June 2014.
My thanks must go to Mr Robert Athol, the Edgar Bowring Archivist of Clare College and the family of W. Denis Browne for their
assistance in its preparation.
R.A. Weedon, London, June 2014
For performance material please contact Musikproduktion Höflich (www.musikmph.de), Munich.
The Phillip Brookes Collection
210 x 297 mm