World premiere of Philip Harper’s St James’s – A New Beginning performed by The Cory Band on 1 April 2023 in a concert in support of The Wren Project, a scheme to restore and rejuvenate the historic Sir Christopher Wren church of St James’s.
The piece was commissioned by St James’s Church, Piccadilly, to mark The Wren Project as part of the 300th Anniversary of Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the church in 1684. It’s also been selected as the Section 1 test piece at the 2023 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, and will be performed by 20 bands in September at Cheltenham Racecourse.
The piece is cast in four parts:
I. The Great Fire
The musical narrative begins with the Great Fire of London raging furiously. The bells ring the alarm and, as the capital city is engulfed by flames, panic and desperation are everywhere. As the fire burns out, we are left to contemplate the aftermath of the inferno: lost lives and countless buildings destroyed. Enter Sir Christopher Wren, the greatest English architect of the time, whose vision and courage were some of the most influential forces in the rebuilding of London, which rose to reclaim its place as one of the great cities of the World.
At the heart of the piece is the hymn tune “St. James” by Raphael Courteville (Thou Art the Way), the title of which refers to the St James’s Church, Piccadilly, one of the many buildings designed in 1684 and constructed by Wren in London’s renaissance. During the fire, the hymn tune is contorted in agony, then turned into a lament during the aftermath. Wren’s vision takes shape in the form of several obligato-style solos with the hymn tune becoming more and more important.
In Renaissance, as the skyline is rebuilt, there are continual optimistic rising lines in every phrase until, finally, the hymn tune is heard in all its glory as the building of the magnificent church is completed and the bells ring again, this time in great celebration.
There are many other musical references to the fire in the piece, for example the children’s nursery rhyme, London’s Burning, and at its conclusion, nods to George Frederic Handel and William Blake, two of many eminent people to be linked to St. James’s Church.
Sheet music available from www.musicshopeurope.co.uk