snapshot of score of Double Entendre

Double Entendre

for piano and stereophonic brass band — 1985

Double entendre… Double meaning… Double hearing… Hearing double… This is essentially a work which exploits dichotomies: piano and brass; left and right; fast and slow; consonance and dissonance; forwards and backwards; jagged and sustained; rightside-up and upside-down.

The idea I had for the opening was of cutting into a recording of a piano concerto just before the climax of the cadenza. Then I thought of piano and brass, which inevitably triggered thoughts of Xenakis’s wonderful Eonta — although my piece, equally inevitably, turned out to be very different from that. This naturally, given my previous association, led on to the idea of writing something for the Grimethorpe Colliery Band with solo piano, which Elgar Howarth encouraged me to do.

At the same time my then limited experience in recording had taught me something blindingly obvious about stereo: when a sound pans from one side to the other, it gets quieter in one speaker and louder in the other — when it appears to be in the centre, it’s at the same volume in both speakers. Clearly, it should be possible to imitate this with live instruments… and of course Stockhausen did it admirably at one point in Gruppen.

Conceptually, Double Entendre is very simple. Leaving out the percussion — which this piece does — the standard brass band can be divided into two identical ten-piece groups (4 B flat cornets and 1 each of tenor horn, baritone horn, euphonium, tenor trombone, E flat tuba and BB flat tuba), leaving just four instruments over (soprano cornet, flugelhorn, bass trombone and the third tenor horn). The two larger groups are to be placed as far apart as possible, with the small group gathered round the piano, which has the lid removed, in the centre (at certain points, members of this group are instructed to blow into the piano — not the tenor horn!). The band is described as ‘stereophonic’ because the sound is made to move between the side groups by means of dynamics, with less emphasis on antiphony (although there is some of that too).

Formally the piece is equally simple, and makes very strict use of my own version of serial technique. There are four fast sections, alternating with three slow sections at half the tempo of the fast sections. Broadly, the final section is a retrograde inversion of the first, but compressed in time and with the piano and band swapping roles; the inner two fast sections have a similar relationship (repeated notes in the piano become flutter-tongue in the brass). What happens in the three slow sections is less transparent, but again there are strict processes at work. It lasts between ten and twelve minutes depending on how fast the players dare take it — my MIDI recording (below — new, shiny mix!) lasts eleven minutes.

Apart from the very distant echoes of the aforementioned Eonta, the nature of the piano writing may have something to do with the fact that I had just been introduced to Conlon Nancarrow’s splendid Studies for Player Piano when I began this piece (for one thing, there are quite a lot of major triads around, in both the piano and the brass).

The best performance this piece has had — mainly because the students had six months to rehearse it — was the première (see below), the recording of which was lost. The Visions of Paradise performance was somewhat ill-fated, as part of the band’s rehearsals in Yorkshire were cancelled due to snow, so the results were less than perfect (it was after this performance that Elgar Howarth urged me to ‘write some minims!’).

Score extract (PDF)


Performances / broadcasts / recordings

Listen to MIDI version (11:00)