I came across this recording recently of Robert Childs back in 1994 giving the world premiere of my euphonium concerto “The City in the Sea” and accompanied by what was then, the Black Dyke Mills Band conducted by the legendary James Watson. Today, the Black Dyke Mills band are simply know as Black Dyke Band. When I wrote my concerto for Bob, there were probably only a hand full of players in the world that were capable of playing music of this technical difficulty, and this live(!) performance is of great tribute to Bob’s extraordinary playing abilities! Today, many more players can tackle such a work which shows how times have changed. I was very proud of “The City in the Sea” at the time of writing, as there was nothing like this in the brass band repertoire.
A live recording of the premiere of “The City in the Sea” back in 1995
About The City in the Sea
The Concerto’s title comes from the poem `The City in the Sea’ by Edgar Allen Poe.
The history of the East Anglian village of Dunwich is a chilling tale of the consequences of the gradual erosion of Britain’s eastern coastline. The capital of East Anglia in medieval times, Dunwich was an important port with nine churches and a population of 5000. Successive storms led in 1326 to the city being engulfed and effectively vanishing from the map. Today Dunwich is a quiet village offering little evidence of its proud past lying beyond the beach and sand dunes.
To this day the sea has continued to erode the cliffs away and threaten Dunwich’s last surviving church, All Saints, which stands on the cliff-top. Gradually all the tombstones in the churchyard have disappeared beneath the waves and only the last remaining one has been rescued and moved to the safety of the Dunwich Village Museum.
The demise of this medieval city has thrown up a number of legends and ghost stories: It is said that the bells of Dunwich’s nine churches ring out on stormy nights and that the ghostly forms of some of Dunwich’s medieval inhabitants can be see walking close to the shoreline. Dunwich’s ruined monastery, Greyfriars, is also linked with the supernatural, in that a ghostly procession of Franciscan monks is said to walk around the ruins chanting ancient verses.
Dunwich is also featured in a traditional legend of three holy crowns buried in East Anglia to protect England from invasion. It is said that one of the crowns was buried there and lost when the city was engulfed by the sea. The second was said to have been dug up at Rendlesham further down the Suffolk coast in the 18th Century. The third has not yet been found!
The work starts off with the eerie sound of a foghorn played on the Euphonium. This sequence of music eventually breaks into a piercing scream, accompanied by the mournful ringing of the submerged church bells of Dunwich. I have used at various points in the piece quotations from Debussy’s piano prelude ‘La cathedrale engloutie’ (the submerged cathedral). I have also used one of these quotations to recreate the image of the Franciscan monks chanting their ancient verses.