The premiere performance of The Marshes of Glynn

Cantata for tenor solo, SATB choir and symphony orchestra

An account by his wife, Cynthia Downes

More info on this work

This work will always be one of my all time favourites.  It was composed for the Royal Opening of the Adrian Boult Hall and to mark the Centenary of Birmingham Conservatoire. 

The Conservatoire asked for a 4 minute work, but Andrew was determined to make his mark on the Centenary more than that, especially as the Conservatoire were also commissioning a much longer work from composer, Derek Bourgeois, to be performed in Birmingham Town Hall!

Andrew's first task was to find a text. He turned to my Dad, who loved poetry, for suggestions. My Dad introduced him to Sidney Lanier and Andrew was immediately taken with the lyricism of this poet.

From the first line of The Marshes of Glynn, Andrew was inspired, and I in my turn was bowled over by the beautiful music he was creating.

Each day Andrew played me the next section he had written. By the end I knew the work extremely well.

When Andrew's parents came over, I was determined that they should get as good an idea of the piece as possibe, so as Andrew played the work to his parents on the piano, I sang the soprano line. His Dad, Frank, then Head of Orchestral Studies at the Conservatoire, was, amazingly, impressed by my singing, and recommended that I should sing in the first performance with the Birmingham Conservatoire Chorus.

I loved going along to the rehearsals, directed by Damien Cranmer. The choir were extremely taken with the work. There was a real buzz as we approached the premiere. Everyone knew that this was going to be something special.

John Mitchinson, tenor soloist, the choir and the orchestra gave a flawless performance. The audience reaction was rapturous. Andrew had to keep coming on to take bows.  This performance was so perfect that it was made into an LP record, which sold like hot cakes.

By popular request a second performance was given in the Adrian Boult Hall by the same musicians and also one in Birmingham Cathedral by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society, at which Andrew had people queuing up for his signature on their LPs.

The recording was made into several editions of CDs, which have continued to sell. We put the recording on YouTube too.

The night of the premiere of The Marshes of Glynn was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  

I used to be a migraine sufferer. I would lie in a darkened room and ask Andrew to play the LP of The Marshes of Glynn. It totally soothed my pain.

Andrew's ankylosing spondilitis has caused him pain all his life. I realised that his beautiful composing was a way of alleviating his own pain.

Andrew's colleague and best friend, David Brock, kept the work alive throughout his own life (He himself died suddenly at the age of 67 in 2015) with his jokes about the Marshes of Glynn, which he called The Bogs of Bognor. On Christmas cards and postcards sent from his travels examining and recruiting for the Conservatoire, David Brock always linked the cards with the Marshes of Glynn. A post card which he sent from Australia had a picture Aborigines pulling faces. David wrote, "This was the reaction when I announced that I was going to play the CD of The Marshes." On the front of a Christmas card with robins on a branch looking in all directions, he wrote "The audience at the outdoor premiere of The Marshes of Glynn was somewhat inattentive."

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