Sonata for Four Horns
October 18th 1981
Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill, Birmingham
Julian Faultless, Ruth Wilkinson, James Lowe and Richard Duckett
Suite for Six Horns
Recorded by the Vienna Horn Society
CDs Messen und Sonaten and Schlosskonzert
Roland Fritsch, Suzanne Langor, James Lowe and Roland Horvath, Jonathan Sharp and Michael Sollner, conducted by Franz Sollner.
Five Dramatic Pieces for Eight Wagner Tubas
18th October 2005
Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague
Hornists of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
After the performance of Sonata for 4 Horns at University of New Mexico in 1995: left to right: Jim Lowe, Andrew Downes, Stanislav Suchanek, Ellen Campbell, Doug Campbell
An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on September 3rd, 2022
SONATA FOR 4 HORNS Opus 22 (1981)
Most of Andrew's commissions for horn were brought about by one man: the late Dr James Lowe, physics lecturer in the UK and the USA and fanatical horn player, who had studied the horn with Andrew's father, Frank Downes.
In 1981 Jim Lowe got the backing of the British Horn Society to commission Andrew's Sonata for 4 Horns.
Letters from Jim Lowe about commissioning Sonata for Four Horns:
Commission confirmation from West Midlands Arts for Sonata for Four Horns:
The first performance was given by Julian Faultless, Ruth Wilkinson, James Lowe and Richard Duckett at the Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill, Birmingham, on October 18th 1981.
Premiere of Sonata for 4 Horns memorabilia:
The same players performed the work again in July 1982 at Birmingham University.
Programme for Birmingham University performance of Sonata for 4 Horns:
A few years after this, Jim Lowe took up a physics post at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, and quickly established a horn quartet and octet there. He was also fully involved with a composers' symposium which was held at UNM, and he recommended that Andrew should be one of the featured composers. Jim, with help from the British Horn Trust and Janice Lee Sperling MD, commissioned Andrew to compose his Sonata for 8 Horns for the UNM Horn Octet to play at the Symposium. Andrew really wanted me to go with him to this Symposium, at which his Sonata for 4 Horns and his song cycle, Songs from Spoon River, were also going to be performed. We had a wonderful time on this trip, which I describe in my blog posts: Sonata for 8 Horns, Native American Influence in the Music of Andrew Downes and Symphony No 4.
So the American premiere of Sonata for 4 Horns took place on 28th March 1995 at the University of New Mexico Composers' Symposium. The performers were Stanislav Suchanek, Ellen and Doug Campbell, and James Lowe.
Subsequent American performances took place at the University of Oregon in October 1995 by the Doug Campbell Quartet; at the University of New Mexico by the University Horn Quartet in April 2000; and at the 35th International Horn Symposium at Indiana University in June 2003 by David G.Elliott, Joanne Filkins and Mick & Karin Sehmann.
Memorabilia from the performances of the Sonata for 4 Horns at the Universities of New Mexico and Indiana:
Jim Lowe loved the pure sound of the Vienna horn and even joined the Vienna Horn Society (Wiener Waldhornveriein). He travelled back and forth to play with them and introduced them to Andrew’s Horn Quartet. Here is his article in their journal:
Translation of Jim Lowe’s article in the Vienna Horn Society Journal:
Consequently, the Vienna Horn Society (Wiener Waldhornverein) gave the first Austrian performance of Sonata for 4 Horns as a Horn Choir at a Salon Concert at the Josefina Fraternity Hall in Vienna on 23rd January 1998. Jim managed to arrange this just after our trip to Prague to hear the Czech Philharmonic Horn Octet give the first Czech performance of Andrew’s Sonata for 8 Horns (whose amazing history I describe in my blog post entitled Sonata for 8 Horns). Jim himself had his arrangement for 8 horns of Händel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba performed in the same concert in Prague and we all travelled by train to Vienna on 22nd January for the Horn Quartet performance. One of the members of the Vienna Horn Association, Roland Horvath, 4th hornist of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged for us to attend the Vienna Philharmonic Ball on the night of our arrival. This was a memorable experience. All the sumptuous outfits, the formation dancing and the views from the balconies of all the dancers were unforgettable.
Vienna Philharmonic Ball, 1998:
Cynthia and Andrew above and below, along with photos of the Viennese at the ball.
The following day Jim took us round Vienna, and that evening we went to hear Andrew’s Sonata for 4 Horns played by the Vienna Horn Society Horn Choir, which was amazing! After the performance, we all had a meal in a nearby pub together. The players and conductor were extremely friendly people. I was very happy to hear all the German and converse in German with Roland’s mum.
Vienna Horn Society programme:
Andrew Downes at the front left of the photo, opposite Roland Horvath
I myself had an article printed in the Vienna Horn Society Journal: an account of our evening at the Josefina Fraternity:
Jim also sent copies of the Sonata for 4 Horns to the ‘Vienna Horn Quartet’ and got this reply:
The Vienna Horn Association subsequently commissioned a Suite for 6 Horns and a Sonata for Horn & Piano from Andrew (I write about this later in my blog post entitled ‘The Premiere Performances of Works for Solo Oboe, Clarinet, Horn & Trumpet with Piano’) and in February 2001 they made recordings of all 3 works, plus Andrew’s Piano Sonata No 1 (described in my blog post entitled ‘The Premiere Performances of Andrew Downes' Works for Solo Piano’), on 2 CDs entitled Messen und Sonaten and Schlosskonzert. The Sonata for 4 Horns was performed by Roland Fritsch, Suzanne Langor, James Lowe and Roland Horvath. These 4 players were joined by Jonathan Sharp and Michael Sollner, conducted by Franz Sollner, for the Suite for 6 Horns. James Lowe himself and Anne Madison recorded the Sonata for Horn and Piano and Anne Madison the Piano Sonata No 1. The CD, on the Aricord label, was recorded in the Baumgarten Studios, Vienna, and produced by Joseph Kamykowsky.
The Vienna Horn Society CDs:
In February 2007, our daughter Anna organised a wonderful trip to Paris with her Central England Ensemble and even managed to secure an afternoon concert in the Eglise de La Madeleine for chamber groups from the orchestra. The pieces played had to be religious. Three horn players and one tuba from the Central England Ensemble performed the second movement of Andrew’s Sonata for 4 Horns, arranged by me and which we entitled "Gloria". I was delighted to play viola in Andrew’s String Quartet No 1 movement I, which we entitled "Jubilate Deo". The church was packed for the concert. Andrew and I had spent some time before the concert distributing flyers, which I had created in French, around the cafés in the locality of the Madeleine, and we had thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the Parisian atmosphere at the same time!
La Madeleine performance:
On the same trip, the whole CEE gave 2 concerts in the American Church and the American Cathedral in Paris and included Andrew’s Symphony No 2 in each.
In March 2008 the Horns of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the Sonata for 4 Horns, together with the Suite for 6 Horns and Five Dramatic Pieces for Eight Wagner Tubas for CD, entitled Andrew Downes: Music for Horns and Wagner Tubas. It is on the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Artesmon label. This recording has been broadcast many times on Musicians Page Radio, Los Angeles, USA.
Emails to prepare for the Czech Philharmonic Horns recording:
Quote from the Horn Call review of the CD:
'The hornists of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra have produced a first-rate performance of three excellent works for horns or Wagner tubas by Andrew Downes... The Sonata for Four Horns... is beautifully written with many musical influences and inspirations ranging from hunting motifs to Gregorian chant, and jazz to native American. It is well worth the time and effort of preparation for any quartet seeking to add a substantial, yet audience-friendly work to their repertoire.'
The Horn Call review of the Czech Philharmonic Horns CD:
In 2012 the hornists of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra gave 2 performances of the Sonata for 4 Horns: at Forest Theatre, Revnice, Czech Republic and at the Synagogue, Floss, Germany.
In 2015 an arrangement for violas of the Sonata for 4 Horns was played in the Recital Hall of Birmingham Conservatoire, in the final of the 2015 Andrew Downes Performance Prize competition, by the Saturday Bridge Viola Ensemble: Katherine Lambeth, Martha Evans, Katharina Von Colson and Lydia Handy.
SUITE FOR 6 HORNS OR HORN CHOIR Opus 69 (1999)
5 movements: Prelude; La Chasse; Romantische Mitternacht; Blazon; Postlude
‘The Horn Call’ was very complimentary about the Suite for 6 Horns also:
'The Suite for Six Horns... should be considered a strong addition to the Sextet repertoire... Each (movement) has a strong individual character that blends into a cohesive whole work. Downes has used the six voices to create a wide-ranging spectrum of sounds and emotions. This is a fine work which deserves many more performances.' THE HORN CALL
Having been recorded in Vienna and then Prague with the Sonata for 4 Horns, the Suite for 6 Horns (introduced in my account of the Sonata for 4 Horns above) has also continued to receive performances. It was performed by students from Chetham’s School of Music in the spring of 2001, just after the Vienna Horns recording.
The Suite was given its Czech premiere at Podebrady Castle, near Prague, by the Horns of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in March 2009.
In September 2012, horn students of the Brno Academy, directed by Ondrej Vrabec, gave a performance of the work in the St Wenceslaus Concert Hall, Nove Vcelnice, South Bohemia, Czech Republic. The Za rohem Horns Ensemble, again directed by Ondrej Vrabec, performed the work at Brozny fortress, Jamu, Brno, Czech Republic, in October 2012. Andrew was by this stage wheelchair bound and so we were no longer able to fly to the Czech Republic. We have been very grateful for breakthroughs in technology since Andrew’s spinal injury in 2009, advances which have enabled performers to send us progammes and recordings over the Internet.
FIVE DRAMATIC PIECES FOR EIGHT WAGNER TUBAS Opus 80 (2002)
5 movements: Prelude; Dawn of Love; New Life; Meditation; Jubilate
Back in 2002, following a bequest to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, money was given to the brass section of the orchestra to buy 8 Wagner Tubas. Andrew was delighted to be asked by the Horns of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to compose a work for them on these new instruments. They gave their first performance of Andrew’s Five Dramatic pieces for Eight Wagner Tubas on 18th October 2005 in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague. We were thrilled to make the trip to Prague for the performance and very glad that our friends and also Andrew’s 81 year old father, horn player Frank Downes, could come too. Frank was greatly respected by the Czech hornists.
In March/April 2008 the Horns of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra recorded this work, along with the Sonata for 4 Horns and the Suite for 6 Horns for their CD entitled Andrew Downes: Music for Horns and Wagner Tubas. The CD was released on the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Artesmon label.
The ‘Horn Call’ article described the Five Dramatic Pieces for 8 Wagner Tubas as follows:
... this interesting octet uses the sonorities of the Wagner tuba in very creative ways to describe the emotions of the five movements. The Prelude begins with soft chordal writing that gradually builds to dramatic antiphonal passages. It becomes calmer before returning to the opening mood, and ends in a gentle coda. Dawn of Love opens with long expressive melodic lines, then a hunting character emerges. Gradually intensity grows to an exciting and majestic end. New Life is sprightly and joyful with some somber reflection in the central part of the movement. Meditation includes solo passages and sounds influenced by Native American music. Flowing melodies with rich harmonies bring the movement to a close. Jubilate: O Be Joyful has a pulsating energy, with the octet performing antiphonally in two groups of four. A chorale that is rich and sonorous gives a fine example of the beautiful full sound of the Wagner tuba ensemble. Increasingly energetic phrases grow to an exuberant close.' THE HORN CALL
Meditation from this CD was broadcast on Rhubarbradio.com in July 2011.
An arrangement for mixed brass ensemble, by Rachel Coles, of the Jubilate, was performed, as part of Music for Youth, by the Northamptonshire Youth Brass Ensemble, conducted by Rachel Coles, in Cripps Hall of Northampton School for Boys, in March 2012.
Jubilate, O be Joyful, from the CD, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in May 2014, and the recording of the whole work has been broadcast many times on Musicians Page Radio, Los Angeles, USA. Movement 3 can be heard in the Czech Music Everything Radio Show, April 2016, as part of an interview with the composer.
'Gorgeous writing!' Petroc Trelawny, BBC Radio 3 (May 2014)
In 2020, the last movement of the work, Jubilate, was used by music teacher Iain Masson with his key worker pupils during the Coronavirus epidemic as an introduction to the music of Andrew Downes, for his 70th birthday year. The pupils wrote or drew their reactions to the music.
SONATA FOR 8 HORNS Opus 53 (1994)
I give an account of this hugely successful work, also commissioned by Jim Lowe, in my separate blog post entitled SONATA FOR 8 HORNS
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